A Travellerspoint blog

An Adventure to the Leshan Buddha and Mount Emei

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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.

Posted by exg07161 08:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Trip To Qing Cheng Shan

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Blog Entry 6
April 15, 2015

Last Thursday, I decided to take a walk and stumbled upon a traditional Chinese pharmacy. Glass cases filled with trays and bowls of herbs, roots, seeds and so on lined the walls. The scent of the store was something that I have never experienced back home. Curiously, I asked the pharmacist what the items were. She told me in Chinese, “This helps with indigestion, this helps reduce a fever, and this helps a person sleep.” How interesting. Although I was not at all sick, I debated buying something just for the sake of testing its legitimacy. Just then, my friend Aasim, who is studying to become a doctor, walked in and dissuaded me. Perhaps I will make a purchase before returning home.
Later that day, I attended my history class and reviewed for my midterm exam next week. Again, the detail of our class is great. For example, we are expected to know the names of the three Northern Warlords during the early years of the Republic of China and which part of the country they controlled. They are Zhang Zuo Lin who controlled the northeast, Feng Guo Zhang who controlled the Beijing area and Duan Qi Rui who controlled central China. However, all three men were taken down by Chaing Kai Shek during his Northern Expedition in 1927. After class, Shen Shen, a Sichuanese girl who sits in on our class, and I decided to get dinner. Because I had my bike and she did not, we put it to use in the Chinese fashion in which I peddle and she sits in the back. I felt very Chinese for that bike ride. I recommended that she bring me to a restaurant where locals eat and I was led to a small noodle stand a few blocks away. She taught me some more Sichuanese words and we discussed whether or not pursuing college is a beneficial choice for everybody to make. I told her that in the United States, college is extremely expensive and for those people who need to take out loans to pay, a college degree is not always worth the cost. I explained that, for example, a person who attends a college that costs $60,000 a year might graduate with almost a quarter million dollars in debt, thus counterbalancing the benefit of obtaining a degree. The situation in China seems much different. First of all, college is not nearly as pricey. Secondly, because of China’s large population, one who is accepted into a college almost always attends because of the competitiveness. In high school, students study for years to pass their college entry exam. Therefore, we concluded that it really depends on where one chooses to go to college.
On Saturday, I woke up early and met a group of people to go on a trip to Du Jiang Yan and Qing Cheng Shan. Du Jiang Yan is Sichuan’s famous irrigation system that was built hundreds of years ago and Qing Cheng Shan is perhaps Sichuan’s most famous Daoist mountain. We took a two hour bus ride and arrived at Du Jiang Yan. The entrance path was beautiful; dozens of intricately carved stone animals and fountains emitting water, numerous fish-stocked ponds surrounded by traditional style tea houses and Daoist monks predicting peoples fortunes. To top it off, the weather was hot and sunny, bringing the forests of green trees to life. We continued and saw the three main dam sites. Beyond the rocky river lay archaic-looking rock cliffs topped with ancient Daoist temples. It looked as if I was seeing a painting. We toured the area for a while and got back on the bus headed for Qing Cheng Shan. We were dropped off at the foot of the mountain and took the cable cars up. Being the last person of our group in line, I was in a car with five middle-aged Chinese women. They would ask me a question in Mandarin and after I would answer they would laugh and discuss my response in the Sichuan dialect, making it impossible for me to understand. I think they were more excited to talk to me than I was to talk to them! We got off and started up the mountain. I have recently discovered that hiking in China means climbing seemingly endless staircases. Every twenty minutes or so, we would come upon a Daoist temple or praying site at which food and souvenirs were sold. Eventually, we made it to the top. A large Daoist temple with statues of various gods and incense burning sites attracted dozens of people. I found a t-shirt decorated with the symbol of the Dao and bartered with the entrepreneur until I had the price decreased to thirty percent of what she was asking. Just then, my friend Celine, who is from France, and I got lost from the rest of the group and speculated that they had already started down. We began descending the mountain and, about half way down, received a phone call from the rest of the group who was still waiting for us at the top. Apparently, we were going down the wrong path and had already hiked down for at least an hour. Thus, I asked a fellow Chinese hiker if we were taking the correct route. He gave me long, detailed directions and, surprisingly, I managed to comprehend what he said well enough to make it to the bottom! I suppose my listening comprehension class is paying off.
On Tuesday, I met up with Ivo and two Koreans from my class who took us to a traditional Korean restaurant. We took our shoes off outside and sat on the floor at a table about two feet off of the ground. Being unable to read the menu, I let them decide what I should eat. I was brought a dish of grilled meat and vegetables alongside a dish of rice. The taste was excellent. That evening, I met my Professor and her daughter to teach some more English. As planned, we went out to dinner. Again, we chose a Korean restaurant; I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had eaten Korean food for lunch. I taught my teacher’s daughter, was taught one-on-one by me teacher and sat down to eat. We discussed my potential plans for after graduation. We ultimately decided that it might be best for me to return to China for a longer period of time. Three months in a place is not long enough to become fully immersed and learn as much of the language and culture as I would like. The more I think about it, the more excited I get; potentially living in China for an indefinite amount of time sounds like a dream come true! For the first time, I have a clearer understanding of what it is that I want to do after college.

Posted by exg07161 02:06 Archived in China Comments (0)

Living the Chengdu Life

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Blog Entry 5
April 7, 2015

Two Mondays ago, my Daoism class took another field trip. This time to a famous Buddhist temple. We arrived on a very special day; the local monks were about to perform an annual ceremony. The main temple was filled with women wearing dark brown robes symbolizing their marriage and also their dedication to practicing Buddhism. I approached one woman who had just finished a prayer and asked if she would mind if I asked her about her religion. I soon discovered that she was also learning to speak English, so we spoke in a combination of both languages. She began by telling me about the life of Shakyamuni, the Buddha, and why Buddhists model his behavior. She then went on to explain how his teachings of Anatman, the pure mind, life and death affect their daily behavior. When I learned about Buddhism in Vermont, I was somewhat under the impression that Buddhists live in ways that we might see as limiting, restricting, or extreme. After speaking with this woman, I discovered that the lives of Buddhists and Americans, for example, are not all that different. We simple focus our energy on different aspects of life. She asked me if I would like to participate in the ceremony and I excitedly accepted her offer. We read/sang prayers out of an ancient style book (written from top to bottom instead of left to right) lead by the temple’s monks. The energy of the room was amazing; hundreds of devout monks, nuns and practicing lay people chanted 1300 year old prayers in unison. Unfortunately, a wave of illness came over me and I was forced to leave the temple before the rest of my class. I returned to my room, slept for two days straight and was fully recovered an additional two days later. Perhaps the ceremony had a stronger effect on me that I had imagined!
Later that week, after recovering, I was anxious to make up for lost time and meet some more Chinese people. I heard of this thing called “the English Corner” where Chinese people go to meet native English speakers. The Chinese get an opportunity to practice their Chinese while foreigners get a chance to make Chinese friends. However, I was not interested in speaking English all night, so I compromised and spoke some of both languages. I was amazed by some of the student’s ability to speak English many of them did not even have an accent. They asked me a wide variety of questions, inquiring about American culture, U.S. politics and my first love! One person, who had heard of Vermont, asked me about “feral hogs,” telling me that he had read about problems with population control. The next hour of conversation revolved around the difference between wild pigs and feral hogs, and how I would solve the problem if I were in control. (I wasn’t even aware that we had a problem!)
That evening, I went to the bar to meet a Kiki, A beautiful Chinese girl whom I met several weeks before. She is planning to study at Boston University for her master’s program, so we have started a sort of language and culture exchange. I forgot to mention that I have also recently began learning the local Sichuan dialect. They say it is one of China’s most complex dialects to learn, but it sounds so interesting, so I decided to brush up on it. Also, the local shop owners, restaurant employees and townspeople prefer to speak their native dialect, so I figured it could only help with my goal of immersion. Thus, Kiki taught me Sichuanese words and phrases for an hour or so. In exchange, I taught her how to dance, as she was a bit nervous about dancing publicly. What a good time! Later, I met up with my friend Ivo and we decided to go to another bar. We have created a habit of avoiding the foreigner bars altogether and searching for the most authentic Chinese establishments. We found one, met some locals who insisted we drink with them, and practiced our language skills yet again. However, practicing in places like bars is very useful because one gets to experience a different level of political correctness. In other words, the Chinese spoken in bars or clubs has much more slang and common verbiage than one would learn in a classroom. To top it off, we played the Chinese dice games that we had learned several weeks before, demonstrating our understanding of the Chinese bar culture.
The following day, I decided to buy a bicycle. A classmate of mine told me to, “Go to the Zhou Yan Chao Bridge and look for the guy sitting on the scooter. You can ask him to buy a bike.” I was not all that busy so I decided to follow his vague instructions. I walked to the bridge and, sure enough, I saw my man. “Qing wen,” I said, “Wo keyi mai yi liang zi xing che?” (Excuse me, can I buy a bicycle?) The man got off of his scooter, walked down the street with me without saying anything for several minutes, and told me that he could. He made a phone call to another man who also rode up on a scooter and asked me to follow him. I was lead down a dark, narrow alley filled with bicycles, most of which I presumed were stolen. I found one that I liked and asked the price; he told me 280 yuan. Within five minutes, I talked him down to 150 and left riding my new bike! As I learned from my first trip to China, bargaining is definitely a part of Chinese culture.
That night, a group of Chinese students asked Ivo and I to join them at the KTV; the karaoke bar). We took a cab and found our new friends already in their private room singing popular Chinese songs into a microphone. Of course, they encouraged us to participate. We sang the few Chinese songs that we are able to sing before resorting back to “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. We found out that the Chinese people that we were with are from XiJiang, China’s most northwestern province home to a large minority population of Uighurs! They told us about life back in their home and the political problems that their families have faced as a result of the Cultural Revolution and modernization. They told us of their dream to come to the west while we explained that we were interested in living in the east. I suppose the unfamiliarity of a new place is what attracts people!

Posted by exg07161 03:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

My First Excursion

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Blog Entry 4
March 31, 2015

Two Sundays ago, I met a few friends for breakfast at a Muslim restaurant. Before I continue, let me say that I had no idea China has such a large Muslim population before coming. Just about every street has at least one Muslim restaurant and it is extremely common to see Chinese Muslims walking down the street in their burka or other Islamic attire. The cultural diversity within Sichuan alone is quite impressive. My good Indian friend, Aasim, who is Muslim, has been teaching me a lot about Islam as well; fascinating. To continue my experience eating breakfast, we sat down and watched a cook pull noodles by hand before cooking and serving them. From what I observe, it seems they stretch the noodles, which are still in thick, doughy state, out to the length of their wingspan, fold the dough, twist it several times and repeat the process. Watching this noodle preparation never gets old!
The following day, I attended my Daoism class and presented my PowerPoint on Lao Tzu and whether or not his teachings are still relevant. I described the abstract concepts of Wu Wei (non-action) and Zi Ran (naturalness) and applied them to modern day scenarios. Ultimately, we concluded that Lao Tzu’s teachings are, in fact, still relevant.
The following day, I met my teacher and her daughter at a local café. Her daughter, Xu Lang, whom I expected to be roughly my age. As it turns out, she is eight years old and is planning to attend school in the western part of the United States. What a cute kid! My teacher suggested that her daughter calls me “gege”, meaning “older brother” in Chinese! I taught her for forty-five minutes and then my teacher worked one-on-one with me. The pressure was on; without the attention of my classmates, my teacher focused on me. In an attempt to make a good impression and show her that I am a hard-working student, I tried my hardest to speak as fluently as possible. Luckily, she is a very understanding teacher so she excused my errors. I showed up to meet them a bit nervous and left with a huge smile; it went much better than I had expected. Talk about immersing oneself in the Chinese language!
After my morning classes on Thursday, I went to the gym and met Li, and employee who was also working out. In Chinese (of course) he asked me about weight lifting in America and then if I would be interested in partnering up with him to exercise. As you could imagine, I agreed. We taught each other exercises common in each other’s country and also the names for them. That evening, I met my newly acquainted Dutch friend, Ivo, and a group of Chinese people that I met one day playing ping pong for dinner. We planned to have Korean barbeque. Korean barbeque restaurants are not similar to American restaurants; the table has a sort of built in stove or grill on top of which one puts their tray of selected meats, vegetables, eggs and the like. In other words, you choose your own food and cook it yourself right at your table. Being unexperienced in this type of cooking, I asked my friends to help me determine when the meat was cooked thoroughly enough to eat. Ivo, on the other hand, took his chances and paid for it later; he got food poisoning and missed two days of classes! My Chinese friends told me that Korean barbeque restaurants are very popular amongst the Chinese and that they are commonly visited by couples looking to have a romantic date. How interesting!
On Saturday, I had my first ISA excursion, a trip to Huanglongxi! Huanglongxi is an ancient city approximately an hour and a half away from Chengdu by bus. I asked Yoyo, my program leader, if I could bring my Spanish friend, Paloma, along, and she approved. Luckily, Paloma is in the same level class as I am, so we were able to speak Chinese for the majority of the time. We walked to a busy bus station where we bought tickets and waited in line. When we reached our destination, I noticed that the area was significantly less developed than Chengdu; more trees, less industry, smaller homes, etcetera. We walked through the gate and saw buildings thousands of years old alongside a magnificent water fountain. Statues of China’s past heroes, political leaders and great thinkers were present throughout our journey. Vendors sold food, souvenirs and pets; bunnies, turtles and mice. We approached a bridge spanning a beautiful, remote river and I noticed that the path alongside it was sparsely populated. We decided to take a look. Ancient-style row boats floated on the willow-surrounded waterway. Intricately carved stone bridges dating back hundreds of years were visible every hundred yards or so. The only people around were elderly couples who appeared to be local to the area. This is one of the first times that I have heard complete silence since my arrival to China. We climbed a vacant ancient look-out tower giving us a view of the river, bridges and busy vendor-filled streets in the distance. What a relaxing day! On our ride home, I sat next to two middle school Chinese students who were also visiting Huanglongxi. After about twenty minutes of conversing, the girl to my left fell asleep and naturally rested her head on my shoulder. She would then pop her head up in embarrassment before repeating this pattern. Eventually, I told her, “xiu xi, wo de jianbang shi ni de zhen tou.” Translated, this means, “rest, my shoulder is your pillow.”

Posted by exg07161 06:50 Archived in China Comments (0)

Life in Chengdu

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Blog Entry 3
March 22, 2015

On the afternoon of the day that I wrote my last blog entry, I got out of class and decided to join a couple of my French friends in going to Jinli, an ancient walking street nearby our campus. We hailed a taxi and got driven there for 9 kuai (about $1.50)! I have recently discovered that talking with taxi drivers is a very beneficial way to practice your Chinese. They tend to speak very common, practical Chinese and seem to represent the average working person well. We got to Jinli and started making our way through the busy streets. As usual, vendors and shops attracted crowds of people in search of food, clothes and other souvenirs. The local snacks are so different from what we have back home. Cooked rabbit heads, cooked whole fish on a stick, pickled chicken feet and so on. After Jinli, we walked to a nearby Tibetan street (literally a street full of only Tibetan shops, goods and people. I split off from my friends and watched an old Tibetan man play a two-stringed instrument with which we created the most beautiful songs. I saw his bowl with a few coins and one yuan bills and added ten more to his savings. I also entered a Tibetan arts store in which I bought a beautiful wall hanging of the Great Potala Palace in Tibet.
The following day I had one of my first ISA events; an afternoon at KTV. KTV, one of China’s most popular sources of entertainment, is a place where groups of friends go to rent their own private room and sing karaoke as if you are the artist. They give you a microphone, a television with the song’s lyrics, food and drinks. Our party consisted of my program leader Yoyo, her girlfriend and myself. For two hours I listened to two Yoyo and her friend sing love songs in standard Chinese and in the Sichuan dialect. I too sang some Chinese songs and a few songs in English. On our way out of the KTV, the elevator that we were in randomly stopped and powered off. Even the emergency call button was out of order, so we were forced to wait for thirty minutes. Another prime opportunity to practice my Chinese!
On Monday, my Daoism class took a field trip to Jing Yang Gong, a very famous Daoist temple. We saw statues of gods, sacred animals and other deities. For the last hour of class we went to the temple’s tea house where we relaxed and drank local green tea. I decided to split off from the group and asked to join an elderly couple sitting on the opposite side of the pavilion. I think they were more excited to see me than I was to see them. We discussed the political history of China and the United States and ultimately concluded that if both nation’s leaders could sit down and discuss things over a cup of tea, as we were doing, things might get done more effectively. What a great conversation. Unfortunately, my language skills are not at a level where I can comfortably speak about politics, so I simply did the best that I could. However, learning from your mistakes is the best way to lean.
On Wednesday, my professor asked to speak with me after class. Because I was a bit late, I assumed that I was about to be scolded. To my surprise, the exact opposite happened. She told me that she thinks that I am a good hearted person and that I am “very smart.” She then asked me if I would be interested in teaching her daughter English; for those of you who do not know, one simply does not reject their Chinese teacher when asked to do something. I suppose Confucius’ key relationship, teacher to student, even applies to non-Chinese people. However, I felt quite honored to be asked and I agreed with no hesitation. We shall meet every Tuesday afternoon for the remainder of my trip! It didn’t occur to me until after our conversation that learning English is most definitely a part of the Chinese culture. As a foreigner, the least I can do is play my part and participate in further globalizing the world!
Last night, after completing some of my Chinese homework, my Indian friend, Aasim, and I decided to grab some shao kao, barbequed vegetables, meat skewers and fish sold at grills posted on every street. This, in my opinion, is one of Chengdu’s greatest representations of the food culture. First, you select your skewers of choice and give them to the employee manning the grill. He the proceeds to lather the food in oil before barbequing the food for fifteen minutes or so. During the last few minutes of cooking, the grill man dumps spicy chili powder on all of the food, coating them in a thick layer of tongue-numbing spice. Shao kao has thus far proven to be the only thing that, at times, is too spicy for me to eat. Although the flavor is unbeatable, the spice can be overwhelming. Regardless, I plan to accustom my taste buds to the local standard!

Posted by exg07161 09:08 Archived in China Comments (0)

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