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Published: October 20th 2011
I'm falling behind on these, clearly, but I only have a couple days left before we go into the full thick of it with shows, so I am going to make a push to try to catch up. Forgive me if things aren't as detailed as you'd like. I already feel like I am writing a ton. Also, even when I'm connected to ethernet, the internet here is painfully slow... adding a single photograph to this blog takes around 10 minutes... for that reason I probably won't be adding as many in the future. Anything I talk about is definitely on the flickr page, so I encourage you to go there and take a look...
Anyway, so Putuoshan - after visiting the big, new temple, we took the cable car up to the top of the mountain, which is where the most famous temple is. Datri's comment as we got on the car was - "You know this was probably made in China, right?" and I have to say, that gave us pause. That's been a joke in the US for decades now, but we really had no idea how much truth there was to it until we got here
and started seeing work done the Chinese way. I'm super excited about working in the US again where some thought is put into what might be more efficient or make things more well done in the long run, rather than just picking up whatever tool happens to be handy and starting to work. Ugh.
Anyway, the temples are really cool - very old, and for the most part really beautiful, but even when the Chinese people are visiting places like this - very old, very respected, even worshipped - there's no sense of solemnity. The idea of quiet respect and stillness seem completely foreign everywhere we have been, and it's really hard to feel like something is meaningful when the thousand people around you are talking really fast at full volume. This is the single biggest cultural thing that is killing us (myself and a few select others. I won't speak for everyone here... ). In everyday life, I really do try to practice being present, listening, being polite and respectful of the others around me, and attempting to cut a very non-disturbing path through the world around me unless the situation calls for otherwise. I've always thought of
this as a vaguely eastern idea, but it turns out that it's not the Chinese way at all. In fact, many things I thought of as Chinese seem to be very foreign or non-existent here.
After viewing a couple of the temples, the three of us were all hungry and suffering from low energy, but since there wasn't much in the way of food at the top (dragonfruit and a rice snack did a bit to tide us over) we decided to walk down the road, back towards our hotel and get an early dinner. Now, at each temple, we'd seen various pilgrims (my word, not theirs) doing ritual walks to the temples, up the road. The easiest form of this consists of putting your hands together in a prayer position, and bowing slightly every three steps. The more intense, and full fledged version means going to your knees and bowing forward, arms in front of you, and forehead touching the ground, also every three steps (then of course rising to your feet again, walking three steps, etc). We saw quite a number of people doing this, and didn't think too much of it (I've seen this kind of
thing before, at other religious sites in other countries), but now, as we walked down the road that they'd all been coming Up, we gained a whole new respect. Basically, it wasn't a road at all, but a staircase. A very wide, very steep staircase. That was easily a mile and a half or two miles long. I'd suggest that you try going to your knees every three steps on a three mile uphill stairway sometime, just to get a feel for it, but the fact is there are no hills/mountains/stairways that are long or steep enough in Austin. All our legs were a bit wobbly after walking DOWN that many stairs, and Masumi was sore for a couple days. I wouldn't have wanted to walk up it, much less stop every three steps and bow or kneel. This is why I chose this title for this entry and the last one... the true believers here were pretty badass.
After finding some dinner (good, but nothing outstanding) we found our way back to the hotel, and eventually that night back to Hundred Steps Beach, our chill stop by the ocean. This time we did a very small amount of rock climbing which got us to the top of a large boulder overlooking the waves, crashing a little less violently than the night before, but with a once again full looking moon. I took some more moonlight photographs, and essentially the three of us just enjoyed the clean air from the ocean, the breeze, and the night.
The next day, we got up and headed for the ferry. On the way we stopped at a noodle place and ate some hand-pulled noodles for breakfast, which was probably the best meal we had on the island. The shop seemed to be owned by a husband/wife, with her taking our orders and him making the actual noodles in front of us. Stomach's full, we proceeded to catch the ferry with little trouble and head back to Shanghai on a fairly uneventful trip. All in all, it was a good excursion, and I learned a fair amount, even if nothing we saw was in English. The biggest thing though, is that even though I still have some affinity for Buddhism versus the other religions, I don't think there is any chance of me becoming a full on Buddhist. I guess I'm just destined to remain a searching agnostic for all my days.
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