15.04.2015 - 23.04.2015
On Wednesday, my friend Ivo and I went to a local Sichuanese restaurant owned by some friends of ours. In an attempt to enhance our Sichuan dialect skills, they refused to speak to us in anything but Sichuanese. I find the differences between standard “Putong” Mandarin and the local dialect quite fascinating. Some of the discrepancies are minor; a simple change of tone or speed, for example. More drastic differences include complete difference in pronunciation, spelling, and so on. We finally managed to get our desired dishes and enjoyed our lunch.
Later that day, Ivo and I ate dinner with two Korean girls in our Chinese language class. We shared stories about our home countries and cultural differences. I found the Korean standard for age to be the most interesting of the things we discussed. They explained to me that in Korea, one is considered to be one year old at the time of birth and then turns two at the time of the New Year. In other words, somebody who is born on New Year’s Eve would be considered two years old only two days after their birth! My Chinese friend explained that the concept is similar in China; at the time of birth one is considered to be less than one year old but turns one at the time of the New Year instead of the anniversary of their birthday. I was totally unaware of these differences up until now.
On Thursday, I met two Chinese friends of mine and went to a famous authentic hot pot restaurant near my campus. We ordered both spicy and non-spicy pots as they warned me of the extreme spice of this particular restaurant. I was confident that I could handle it but I was wrong. It amazes me how easily these locals can eat such spicy food without even breaking a sweat! They explained to me that it is considered very rude for a foreign guest to pay for any part of the meal and demanded that I put my money away.
This weekend was my second ISA excursion; a trip to the Leshan Buddha and Mount Emei! I woke up at six on Friday morning, met Yoyo, my program leader, and boarded a train heading to the town of Leshan just south of Chengdu. After a several hour train ride, we arrived at the trail head and began our hike. Numerous ancient temples and arching bridges lined a rolling river surrounded by green trees and foliage. Old, local men sat at the river’s edge with bamboo fishing poles and waited for their next meal to bite their hook. The whole scene looked very rural! We continued and approached an ancient burial site. Caves carved into the face of a large mountain contained relics and coffins made of wood and stone over 1300 years old. The walls were intricately carved depicting men hunting animals, performing religious ceremonies, and so on. We stayed for a while and then continued our hike. The path to the Grand Buddha was like something out of an adventure movie. Rock faces that seemed to reach the sky to our left and sheer cliffs leading to a roaring river to our right, leaving us only two to three feet of path width! Every now and then, the path would tunnel into the side of a mountain leading us through dark and winding stairs of different size and depth. Then we arrived at the Buddha! At 71 meters, it is the largest sitting Buddha in the world. From the top, one can only see its head as the rest is hidden by the surrounding cliffs. Hundreds of Buddhist Monks and lay people lined up to descend the serpentine staircase down to the foot of the Buddha. We got in line and met some Tibetan monks who gave us some expert insight on the teachings of Shakyamuni. After three hours, I found myself standing at the bottom. It is almost impossible to capture the entire carving in one photo. To think that it was carved some 1300 years ago with simple tools as literally unbelievable. I was told that it took 90 years to complete! It was absolutely one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in person. I took some pictures with the Tibetan Monks I met and hiked back to our van destined for Mount Emei an hour away. Our nine person van consdted of Yoyo, our driver, six Tibetan Monks and myself. We spoke for a short while and we all fell asleep.
The following day, we began our trip to the peak of Emei Mountain. We decided to take a bus part way up as hiking alone takes at least ten hours. At the base of the mountain, the weather was hot and humid. After a one hour bus ride, the weather was cold, windy and rainy. We bought ponchos and began our ascent. The clouds were so think that we couldn’t see fifty feet in front of us. We finally reached the top. Dozens of gold-plated elephant statues lined the path to the temple. The temple, which many people may have seen in magazines, was breath-taking. Completely plated in gold, the statue depicts tusked elephants supporting the enlightened Buddha. It has several Buddha heads all of which face a different direction, making the statue equally visible from all sides. At the base of the statue is a door leading the temple. A 30 foot statue of the Buddha lay before dozens of Buddhists in prayer and song. The atmosphere was quite moving. Again, to think that people carried the materials up the entire mountain without the help of modern technology baffles me. To create it now would be amazing, not to mention creating it 1300 years ago!
The following week, I took my last few mid-term exams and a field trip to a Mosque and a Catholic Church. From the perspective of someone who is not religious, there didn’t seem to be much difference in the architecture, statues, and the general vibe. However, some religious students pointed out minor differences that I was unaware of. But they agreed; in general, both holy places seemed to be relatively similar to the ones back home.