This weekend, I fell in love with China.
(Hence the extremely long post)
There’s no question that I enjoyed my week of classes. But the wonders I saw this weekend just confirmed that in five weeks, I’ll be leaving a piece of my heart in the mountains of Chengdu.
Friday morning (8:30 sharp) we all piled onto a bus to head to LeShan Mountain. Zhang laoshi, her husband, and two children were officially in charge of our group, and our entire American caravan was overseen by a tiny tour guide who made sure we didn’t fall off any cliffs or get attacked by rabid monkeys (neither of which actually happened).
LeShan Mountain is renowned for having a gigantic Buddha carved into its side. The Buddha is 233 feet tall and sits casually in the heart of a mountain range, with most of us struggling to reach the tip of his toe. Though we took a bus to the top of the Buddha (I’m guessing about halfway up the mountain), we had a long meandering walk down a very narrow staircase to reach his feet. Since we were surrounded by tourists, we definitely got a lot of stares and my roommate, (Marthe), had to fend off strangers pulling on her hair – her Marley twists are probably the first African hairstyle for many of the Chinese people here.
After we passed the Buddha, we had a few minutes to explore the temple tucked in another mountain crevice. I am not Buddhist, but wandering past the throngs of people singing and praying with the monks, the ornate statues, and incense offerings gave me an incredible of serenity and peace. I wanted to pay my respects, but given my blatant foreign appearance, I was afraid of appearing disrespectful so I refrained. There was an incredible power surging through that temple, and in a way I feel like the temple was more meaningful than the giant Buddha.
After leaving the mountain, we stopped at a Zhuyeqing tea garden somewhere near the mountain. There, we watched a tea ceremony and tasted some of China’s luxury Zhuyeqing jasmine and green tea. Now, much to my dismay, I was not blessed with the tea appreciation gene. I don’t like tea, and I haven’t really enjoyed the tea given to me in various restaurants here. But this tea was by far the best tea I have ever had in my life. It was very earthy and surprisingly sweet, and I really wish I could have taken the entire tea house with me, but alas, such things just won’t fit through customs.
Now, at this point, we were ready for some serious nap time, but we were hustled into a beautiful five-star hotel and given 45 minutes to shower and change for dinner and a mysterious performance. The second floor of that hotel rang with shrieks of glee because for most of us, this was the nicest hotel we’ve ever stayed in. Now, with the mirror over our beds, the two bathrobes in the closet, and the window that let the entire bedroom see the contents of the shower, we soon gathered that this is probably more of a honeymoon destination rather than a field trip destination, but we were all basking in the luxury. The Summer A students, who have a Chinese-style squatting toilet in the center of their showers, were particularly happy to see a Western toilet in their rooms. Once we changed (the girls in particular broke records getting fancy), we had a twelve-course meal (the kind where the plates keep coming even when there’s no room on the table) and headed to see a performance nearby.
I don’t know how to describe this performance, in fact I don’t know what it was called in Chinese. The best description I can muster is a Cirque de Soleil performance mashed with elements of dance, opera, and comedy. My cheekbones were aching by the time it was done because my jaw kept dropping in amazement. I owe Chris and Michael many thanks, because they were the poor souls stuck on either side of me while I tried to capture the magic of the stage in my lens. I leave the pictures here for you to judge, because words can’t do these artists justice. The only thing my camera couldn’t adequately capture was the Sichuan face-changing performance, where multiple performers switched between six or seven masks in a matter of seconds. If you blinked, you missed the switch from a dark mask to a smiling red mask.
We fell into bed around 11, but were on another bus by 7 a.m. Saturday morning headed to Emei Mountain. This mountain had another giant Buddha, but this one was gold and shiny and not nearly as old. Since we were on the very top of the mountain, we could see snow-capped peaks on one side, a cloudy abyss on the other, and a floating pagoda on another. It honestly felt like we were on a cloud island – as someone who had never seen a mountain, let alone climbed one, it was a breathtaking experience.
Once we had warded off and photobombed all the tourists in addition to taking our own photo ops, most of us took a bus to a spot farther down the mountain so we could climb the rest of the way down. In total, we hiked about 5 miles down and I am now well acquainted with several new muscles in my thighs and calves but it was completely worth every slippery stony step. The mountain was lush with waterfalls, ravines, and greeneries and nature has never overwhelmed me in such a way before.
I have to give the driver of our bus a lot of credit, because even though he careened wildly around every sharp turn and aggressively cut off every foolish vehicle that stood in his way, he managed to drive a really large caravan of loud Americans safely down not one, but two mountains in the span of two days. Thank you sir, I appreciate you taking care of our lives.
Needless to say, we all slept on our way back to SWUFE and most of us slept until midday Sunday when we were introduced to our language partners – but that’s a story for another day.
Can’t believe I saw Buddha,