Chengdu to Emei Shan this time, to go and climb another mountain. I am starting to feel the amount of time spent on transport in China. Everything is so far away that to see anything you really have to be prepared to travel, a lot. A word of advice to anyone wanting to travel around the orient, give yourself at least 2 months, or alternatively, choose a few destinations and see the rest another time. Either this or spend half your holiday traveling.
So the bus from Chengdu was only three hours, a relative hop, skip and jump compared to the rest of our journeys. From Emei Shan bus station it was a 20 minute taxi ride to the hotel and bobs your uncle, were there. We found a place called the “Teddy Bear Guest House”, and I can happily recommend it to anyone heading out this way. The rooms are comfy (130 yuan for a twin), the staff are friendly (aside from the occasional grumpy old fella who keeps switching off the communal room aircon), and the food is good (except maybe for the burger which tastes a bit fragrant?). One of the staffs, or perhaps owners kids, was running around, and she was a very cute addition to the feel of the place. Her and I played a few rounds of hide and seek, made funny noises, and she helped me out with a game of pool, all with gales of laughter. Watch out when she is around the dart board though, there is a reason we don’t normally let 5 year olds near sharp objects.
After a good sleep I decided to head out for a walk on my own, I wandered along the street, passing old people selling walking sticks and funny little peach fruit things. The walking sticks are for all the tourists soon to be heading up the mountain, which is Emei Shan’s calling card, and where I would be heading the next day. But today was just a random stroll in a random direction. As it happens, my legs took me to a temple near the base of the mountain, a light walk up a slight slope and an hour later I found myself at a charming little temple, called Fuhu.
I was at first hesitant to go in, thinking, “been there done that” probably applied to the situation, but for 6 yuan entrance, it seemed a shame not to, and I was enjoying being out on my own. When entering, the first thing you see is a giant effigy of some buddhist god thingy or other, and there are two prayer mats where locals prostrate themselves before going on to the rest of the temple. This scene is not new to me, unique to this particular scenario though, were the cans of coconut milk in glass structures given pride of place before the almighty what his name, a strange appearance in this most holy of places, I wonder at the meaning of canned milk?
Walking through the rest of the monastery, I have to say I was struck by its beauty and the peaceful ambience it imbued upon me. It maintains its old religious feel, and for whatever reason, there were not many tourists around, so I had the place pretty much to myself, shared only by a few holy people wandering around here and there. The roof’s slant away to a point in that uniquely asian way, while the rest of the structure seems built out of materials which are a thousand years old, the heavy wooden doors mostly closed for eons, and the tiles worn from monks going about there daily routines through the years really give it an unspoiled feel lacking in most of modern day China.
Little old me, looked into every nook and cranny of this complex, with its dozens of structures. There are minimalist rooms which obviously house its tenants, and court yards with incense and candles constantly burning. Each courtyard (of which there are about 6) has three vessels, one is made to hold the candles, the red wax of which covers it and fills a container of water waiting underneath. Another is full of ash and sand, and holds the remains of a million offerings in the form of burnt out incense sticks. I do not know the last ones use, it is an ornate metal structure, hollow inside and rising to a point about 3 meters high. The three of them together form quite a sight in the otherwise spartan courtyards.
As I walk past old men chatting under beautiful gondolas, and old ladies jostling away while trying to light their incense sticks, I feel grateful to be able to see how these people live. There is a closeness in the chinese which I find very compelling. They are not as guarded as us, and seem very open and honest with each other. It is hard to tell because of the language difference, but their body language suggests that they have an unspoken respect and fondness for each other, not all I am sure, but I witness it more often than not, and feel a little bit sad that we don’t have this closeness with others in our own countries. I feel it when I see them dancing in the streets (which happens everywhere), or men holding hands as they walk up a flight of stairs, I see people helping each other with their children when trying to sit on a bus, or even, heaven forbid, squatting next to each other when they go to the toilet. There is just something about them, they seem more like the hippy vision than most places I have been, just, like, totally one with themselves and each other man.
Anyway, back to the monastery, just when I was enjoying the spectacle of people, I walked into a large room at one of the highest points in the complex, and staring down at me were 500 life-size effigy thingies, with oversized heads to match their exaggerated expressions. Each appears different, and each is doing something which I am sure has more meaning than I could possibly discern. Some smile down at me while others stare with ferocious looks on their faces, one has tiny figurines of children swarming over it, while another rides a peacock 10 meters long. It is a marvelous surprise, and I wander through its halls alone trying to find the meaning of each figures pose, shocked that aside from the woman sleeping at the entrance, I am the only one here. Then, as I make my way to the centre of the room, I am confronted by a 2-3 story high golden statue, 5 or 6 figures melt into one, facing every direction, the one I know is Shiva, destroyer of worlds, magnificent in scale and exquisite in detail. As far as I know, Shiva is a hindu god, but sure enough, there she stands.
I make my way out of the temple, past ponds of turtles and goldfish, past buildings with unknown purpose, and past the old men and old ladies, all of which have a surprised look as I walk by, and even more so when I look back, smile and say in a distinctly non-Chinese way, “Nee How”. But the smiles and laugh I inevitably get back always warm my soul. I walk back down the path and pass one of the ugly/cute little dogs which seem all to have been bred from one busy little mutt, I snap away while its proud owner giggles at me. Although it is quit contrary to what I have heard, Chinese people seem to love their dogs (in a non-edible way), or so it has been everywhere I have seen so far.
I pass over a bridge and am invited down to the stream which flows underneath it to refresh myself with some tea. Deciding it looks delightfully cool, I make my way down and order a glass of their finest. Unfortunately whatever the local brew is does not suit my taste buds (it tastes a bit like cabbage and spinach tea), but the icy water keeps me there and I order lunch by pointing at a few pictures (with my fingers crossed). The restaurants have cemented out the side of the stream so that it sits a few inches to a foot below the water’s surface, and a few chairs are placed here so that you may remove your shoes and be embraced by the cold clear waters flow. It is beautiful and incredibly refreshing, sitting in this little valley surrounded by jungle, temples and running water. A more wonderous locale for lunch would be hard to come by.
The lunch itself was interesting, some sort of chicken, chilli dish. They have these peppers in Sichuan province (where I am now), which make your mouth tingle and go a bit numb, like pins and needles, it is fun the first few times you try them, but gets old pretty quickly. My meal was infused with these and after a few bites, I kind of felt like I had been sleeping on my tongue, and so, admitting defeat, I ate a bit of rice and left the rest of my meal to be re-cooked and handed to the next passer-by (I assume without any proof what so ever). I then celebrated the scene with a smoke, one last round of feet in the water, and made my way back to the hostel, fully satisfied with the day, and looking forward to the big hike the following morning. How naive I was…
P.S. Although I took a few photos where there were no photo signs, I assumed they were akin to the no smoking signs, and only did so if a local started snapping away first, usually after offering a prayer, so it can’t be too bad, can it?