Mt. Huashan China
Guoliang Tunnel China
Emeishan: Sign at the entrance to the
$65 four star Emei Grand Hotel where I stayed for the first night in the
area. The place is set up for large conferences with everything spread out
and not really comfortable for a lone traveler.
Hello from Mount Emeishan,
During the forty minute bus ride from Leshan to Emeishan we passed a panorama of fertile farmland. While many fields were planted in corn or rice, a great variety of other crops mingled among the larger spreads. Companion planting is obvious and the smaller fields suggest cultivation is mostly done by hand. After harvesting, rice is spread out on any available flat surface both along rural highways and on private patios or driveways in town. The ally in front of my hotel became a drying surface with both men and women spreading rice on woven mats every morning after breakfast. One afternoon I paused to watch an old guy using a hand cranked winnowing machine to separate the grains of rice from chaff. Everybody gets into the act, it seems.
The results of a thirty year old government sponsored campaign to replant trees are apparent, especially along the highways. The general impression in this region is green, and "Green" is indeed a common slogan throughout China! All this attention to the environment comes none too soon as air pollution is atrocious. In every city I've visited smog obscures everything more than a few hundred meters away, burns the eyes and smells unpleasant.
This is Emeishan, Number One Mountain Under the Sun. At the moment I am enjoying my $15 room in the Teddy Bear Hotel-hostel complete with a big decorative stuffed teddy bear! Meals at both the four star establishments and this cheapo hostel always provide gastronomic memories for an hour after eating. The Chinese cooks don't know how to cook without an infinite variety of hot, HOT spicy peppers. I never knew there were so many different kinds. Some are mild and flavorful, but most are stinging hot with after tastes that linger for hours! The peppers used in cooking really do have various tastes and textures, something that escaped my notice until now.
With so many ancient temples and monasteries, much of the mountain feels like a well maintained garden. For centuries Buddhist monks and brothers have been lovingly landscaping their surroundings. Buddhist structures; monasteries, temples, pagodas, sculptures, pathways and stairways paved with stones and numberless engravings add to the natural charms of the mountain. Mount Emeishan is more beautiful than the government promotional literature suggests. But reverence for the Buddhist traditions has been eroding. Rent-A-Monks running around the temples pretending to be the real thing create the impression of an amateur play in rehearsal. It is possible that young novice monks are pressed by the government into half heartily putting on a good show for the tourists.
First impressions of Mount Emeishan are created long before one sees any of the ancient Buddhist temples or monasteries for which the mountain is most famous. The #1 Mountain Under the Sun Pavilion sits at the top of the boulevard connecting the tourist area with the actual city a few kilometers away. It is a marvelous Chinese structure with typical ski-jump roofs surrounded by a spacious plaza complete with man made waterfalls and ponds.
My second day in the area provided a time to visit the Wannian Monastery where monks have been studying the ancient teachings of Buddhism for more than a thousand years. In several temples on the grounds I stand before trios of Buddhas. The special place held by these particular three historical figures reminds me of the Holy Trinity of Christianity. The comparison has deeper historical significance too, as my recent research discovered. The number "three" figures prominently in Buddhism. The groups of Buddha statues seen in temples throughout China represent monks that epitomized the three essential practices of Buddhism: virtue, compassion and wisdom. Then there are the three basic characteristics of being itself taught by Buddhism: impermanence, suffering and illusion. Finally there are the subjects of veneration suggested by the original Buddha himself referred to as the Three Jewels: the historical Buddha, his teachings and the community of believers. This monastery complex is so big maintenance must be a full time job for an army of scrapers and painters. It reminds me of the challenge faced by sailors on a naval vessel: chip and paint, chip and paint, and then do it all again... until the boat sinks. I took so many photographs while visiting the Monastery I made a separate page to display them.
The third day in the area I finally made it up to the Golden Summit, the principal destination of people visiting Emeishan. Like a ghostly apparition the spectacular golden Samantabhadra statue slowly emerges from the dense fog. Here at the 3100 meter high summit I am spellbound by the immense golden pagoda supported on the backs of four six tusked dazzlingly white elephants. Almost as soon as it becomes visible the 48 meter high tower again fades from view! Continuing to climb the wide elephant lined stone staircase, the vague silhouette of the structure pulses into view periodically. It reminds me of an adventure swashbuckler from my youth featuring a "ghost ship" that appears than disappears repeatedly. Finally, standing up close to the base of the monument only the white elephants are clearly visible, the golden Buddha still hiding in the fog above. So, I wait. Patience pays off and eventually all the fog disperses briefly revealing the entire sculpture soaring brilliantly for a few majestic moments. I took so many photos at the Golden Summit I've created a separate page to display them.
One afternoon I took a local bus into the city center. On walks around the outlying streets I see grandparents minding the little ones, as usual. Grandmas cuddle the babies or push the strollers; grandpas play with the toddlers. Sometimes a parent will be nearby to keep an eye on the giddy oldsters. Smells abound: wet feathers and chicken blood near a neighborhood slaughter house, stewing noodles, pungent smoke from an old man's cigarette poking up at a right angle from the holder clinched in his darkly stained teeth, an odd slightly mellow sweet smell of unknown origin and others remind me this is definitely China for all the senses. There seems to be an infinite variety of fragrances in this country. Mosquitoes bite here, but strangely the welts don't itch and disappear after a few minutes. Boy, is that ever an evolutionary survival success story for the little critters! One is never far from a well marked public toilet, usually spotlessly clean and with no obvious commercial connection. The Chinese have figured out people need to pee even when they don't need to buy anything! Curious, I counted the number of country women wearing pants and dresses: for 100 pants I counted only 4 dresses. That compares to 58 dresses for 100 pants in an ultramodern Chengdu shopping mall.
For the past month I've been seeing displays of elaborate gift boxes containing "Moon Cakes" on sale at special marketing stands everywhere I've traveled. The Chinese celebrate the Moon Festival for the same reasons Americans originally celebrated Thanksgiving, gratitude for bountiful harvests. Boxes of various sizes and shapes filled with small disk shaped cakes sell for $10 to $50. The elaborate metal boxes remind me of those used as packaging for American fruit cakes around Christmas time. I bought one of the cakes, a four inch diameter, one inch thick heavy, moist fruit filled concoction and ate the whole thing! The strange flavor and big chunks of candied fruit must require an acquired taste. If I were Chinese, I'd find some other way to celebrate a good harvest.
I thought I knew all about the "cat and mouse game" from a lifetime of using the expression to describe stalking and hiding situations. After over seven decades of laboring under that assumption, a real cat and mouse played out the life and death drama from start to finish before my patient eyes. A mouse leaving a rice bagging room caught the attention of a local cat which promptly pounced on it. The entire drama took an hour but the mouse finally succumbed to the torment and stopped responding to the cat's effort to prod it into yet one more escape attempt. The mouse never really had a chance, of course, but the cat employed various ploys to make it think it did. The cat would back off, turn its back and pretend to ignore the mouse. Time and again the mouse would make a run for it, all the while under the watchful eyes of the wily cat. Sometimes the cat would give the little rodent a lot of time to execute its escape plan, but in the end always cornered the little guy, picked it up gently and brought it back to a place where the cat could watch it run a while before again pouncing. What's going on here? Is the cat simply playing as has so often been suggested? Or, has evolution devised a more cunning purpose? I've often wondered if predators that prolong the killing of their prey might be tenderizing their food before eating it. There is no doubt the little mouse exhausted it entire supply of adrenalin before succumbing. Does adrenalin saturated meat taste better? I see a PhD thesis here.
Later the same day I paused to watch a trapped butterfly ceaselessly butting its head against at store window attempting to escape. I watched for fifteen minutes as the fluttering continued without much variation. The determined flyer's brain told him there should be plenty of flying space beyond the window pane, but some invisible force kept him from it. It occurred to me this is a perfect example of primitive cognitive dissonance. I remember experiencing something similar during an earthquake as the "solid" land rolled like a stormy sea. I watched in disbelief. That could not possibly happen, but I could see it actually happening. My brain locked up, unable to process the conflicting data. Finally the land settled back down to a "solid" surface and I pondered the "impossible" event I had just witnessed.
Fred L Bellomy