Posted by Ted on Jul 24, 2009 in Travel
The lesson of the last couple of days is don’t brush your teeth with tap water when travelling.
On Thursday, we woke, had breakfast, and walked through Puji Temple, the main temple on Putuoshan, behind our hotel. It was beautiful and crowded, and featured a huge gold Buddha, gleaming in the darkness. We then walked the grounds of the Botanical Gardens, killing time until 9a when we could use the business center at the Xelei hotel to review and digitally sign the offer letter on a house back home.
Afterwards, we took a bus up to the northern part of the island, to the cablecar that goes up Mount Putuo. It afforded a stunning view of other islands in the archipelago, as well as an even bigger temple complex than any we’d yet seen under construction. At the top, we enjoyed the cooler temperature and different smells. We walked down a few paths, one ending at a scenic overlook with a small gazebo, complete with two sleepers, escaping the morning sun. Then we took the long way down the south side of the mountain, via a beautiful stone stairway, through a forest of trees, occasionally opening up into vistas across the island and towards Guanyin in the distance. We passed a number of devout Buddhists on their ascent, stopping every few feet to bow in supplication, touching their foreheads to the cool stone steps every time. We stopped at the bottom for lunch, having the best dry sauteed string beans.
Afterwards, we took a bus to Puji Temple and began our long trip back to Hangzhou, via boat, bus, train, and taxi. We arrived back at the West Lake Youth Hostel around 11, feeling like we’d come back home. It’s a lovely hostel, traditional in architecture, set in the woods south of the lake, and staffed by friendly kids and an exuberant puppy.
Yesterday morning is when the painful lesson was learned, as I woke up to the classic travelers’ sickness. Thankfully, with the help of some Cipro, the worst was over in a few hours.
Taking the rest of the day relatively easy, we went to the Seal Engravers Society, and Liz picked out a chop to be made for her. While we waited, we had some tea at the nearby Sunrise Pavilion, overlooking the lake and the green hills beyond, sprinkled with classic Chinese architecture. With chop in hand, we then headed to the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where Liz got to see pictures of some of the major contributors to the art over thousands of years.
Conveniently, we were also near Qinghefang, a pedestrian street filled with medicine and curio shops, and a small alley of food vendors where we picked up some pineapple fried rice, and had a lovely conversation with a Chinese woman from Belgium, traveling with her mother and aunt. Afterwards, we continued our walk, but soon became weary of seeing the same stuff for sale, and caught a cab back to our hostel.
Posted by Ted on Jul 21, 2009 in Travel
Another truism about pilgrimages is that one never knows what lessons they will learn along the way. A few that we learn again and again are to forego expectation, meet setbacks with creativity and grace, and to be content with what one is given.
We woke early this morning to an overcast sky. We ate a leisurely breakfast of congee, hard boiled eggs, and steamed buns, and walked out to the 100 Step Beach, and then along a beautiful walkway down to the southern tip of the island to the foot of the 33-meter high statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy to whom the island is devoted.
There was quite a crowd gathered in anticipation, wearing sun viewing glasses and burning large amounts of incense. We hooked up with a fellow eclipse-chaser from California and his family, and joined the assembled in sharing the special moment in a place of spiritual significance and serene beauty. The clouds remained thick, but allowed the occasional glimpse of a blazing crescent. Totality itself was completely obscured, but was no less magical. The world turned truly dark as night, the Bodhisattva illuminated from below. True to Chinese mythology, a Dragon came and ate the sun, only to be scared away by the beats of drums. While it may have been the longest eclipse of the century, the five and a half minutes were over all too quickly, and the world brightened again. While we saw none of the totality, the experience was well worth the expense and effort.
Afterwards, we explored the temple and monastary, relaxing and enjoying the ocean breeze. We walked back up the eastern path, past the purple bamboo forest, and stopped for lunch just as the first torential rain of the day fell outside. When it abated, we left and walked through the grounds surrounding Puji Temple and to the local hospital where we barely negotiated the prescribing of Chinese herbs to help with my insomnia, only to get stuck waiting out another torrent of rain.
Posted by Ted on Jul 21, 2009 in Travel
The paths one takes on a pilgrimage are often difficult. Plans fail, expected roads are found to be blocked, and tricksters mislead you. This has always been, and must be so. A pilgrimage is supposed to be out of the ordinary. They are supposed to be hard. It is, in part, overcoming the obstacles to finally reach the spiritual destination which provides a sense of accomplishment. If it were easy, one might feel that they cheated, that they did not truly deserve the reward.
Today was such a journey. We left our hostel after breakfast, having checked the train times to Ningbo online. Of course, we discovered that our information had led us to the wrong train station only after there was no way we could get a cab to the Hangzhou East station in time. Two hours were lost waiting for the next train.
The ride through the countryside was lovely, past verdant rolling hills, farms, and small towns. Being the only white people in our car, we were a source of fascination for the old man and young teen sitting across from us. Hungry, we took advantage of a passing food cart and enjoyed the best ramen noodles that either of us have ever had.
We arrived in Ningbo worried about making the last ferry to the island, being stuck within reach of our destination. Somewhat lost and stressed, we were saved. As luck, divine intervention, or simple business opportunity would have it, we were approached by a kind gentleman who simply said “Putuoshan?”. Clearly enough non-asian pilgrims come through Ningbo for just such a need. For 300 yuan, he escorted us into a cab and to the ferry terminal, purchasing our tickets for us. He made a good 100 yuan off of us, and it was well worth it.
Finally on our guaranteed way, we settled into our bus ride to the fast ferry dock and onto a packed ferry to Putuoshan. We watched the sun set over the Zhoushan archipelago of lush green islands, the waterways filled with Chinese tankers. We passed by container cranes, similar to the familiar ones in Oakland, but red and perhaps even more of them. While ours at home mostly unload, these surely do more loading, spreading ‘Made in China’ goods throughout the world.
We finally arrived at Putuoshan under a clouded sky, and were assailed by hawkers of lodging. After giving in to one of them, we were taken to a nearby hotel where we were lead down decrepit, smoke filled halls to a musty room with 3 single beds and then to a better room at a higher price. My gut said to leave, so we took our money and went back to the dock to try our luck again. We found a similarly priced option, in a nicer location, with a more straightforward management. We enjoyed a dinner on the outside patio of crab that we’d picked out ourselves, fried rice, and the most amazing, yet simple, Chinese cabbage and mushrooms.
Already, we feel that we have achieved our goal. Even if the morning weather obscures the eclipse, we are on a beautiful island in the East China sea, and that is reward enough.