China Trip 2001
The Following is a collection of emails sent to friends and students during my last trip to ChinaÂ (Blogs weren't really invented until the end of 2001 and I am a little embarrassed about the organization which seems old-fashioned now, but if you haven't read this yet, I hope you find it enjoyable).
This is the first installment of my 2001 trip to China. This will be a short one because I've just finally got my list together and I've been on line for an hour now.
I bought a Chinese Cell Phone today! The negotiations were Herculean. My language skills aren't so good so when a new friend here at Beijing Tech University offered to come along I said great. 8 People ended up tagging along for entertainmentâ€™s sake. It took a couple of hours, We went to two different stores, there are probably thousands of cell phone stores here, and hundreds of different models. Cell Phones work better in China than in the US because they have a better "system", I don't quite understand it, but I just called someone in the north west part of Tibet and it was crystal clear. Anyway...The first phone we managed to negotiate and pay for, wasn't actually in stock, so I had to get my money back...something like India, where there are many different types of retail 'components' which don't overlap. At the next store, after all the negotiations of features, pre-paid inserts, batteries and charging methods...I bought it...and then they said I had to be Chinese to get a phone number. The store people wanted one of my friends to show ID so the number would be in one of their names...I insisted they photocopy my passport and for some reason that worked...I actually don't know what happened. Then they said that the 240 Yuan worth of insertable prepaid calls which I had already paid for, was only worth 100 Yuan, the other 140 Yuan was for the number itself!!! The Qi of the particular numbers...like it has an auspicious 'ring'...go figure... We went out for tea afterwards.
I have been having a good time going into the parks early in the morning and doing gongfu/martial-arts with the locals...a few times it has turned into a game where I show a "form" then I get to pick someone else to show, than they pick someone...it's a great way to start the day. Basket Ball is big here too...Michael Jordan is a hero...all ages play together...they never seem to call 'walking' or "traveling"...it is a real group bonding thing...
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Breakfast here is great...Millet Porridge or Warm thick soy milk, or Huntun soup (Chaos Soup also known as wanton in the south) Pork Buns, tea boiled eggs...everyone eats all meals at the same time. I've slept through lunch (it's really hot here) a few times and by 1:30 the restaurants are almost empty.... Doing things in China is about doing things together. --Scott
PS a note for my students: everybody walks, stands, and rides bicycles with their elbows out!
PPS: With the metaphor of the "Great Leap Forward" being such a colossal failure...everyone here takes small, slow and easy steps...no one is in a hurry!
For those of you who don't know, I'm in Beijing. I've been hired by a company that does trips in Asia mostly for teenagers called Where There Be Dragons. We have ten students and three leaders in our group but I went over early so none of them will be here until July 12th. I met the other two leaders Amy and Frances and they are both fluent in Chinese, they are lots of fun...I'm going to be the slow one on this trip.
Being alone here is sometimes difficult but I've noticed that if I just stop and sit down, most of the time someone will come over and ask me what I'm doing. I continue to be amazed at how thoroughly inclusive the people here can be...they really like to do everything together. In America if you play chess in the park, people may come and watch, but here, if you pull out a Chinese chess set everybody swarms around. They all get in really close and talk boisterously about the next best move(s) the only people not playing both sides of the board are the two people playing. You wouldn't even have to know how to play...to play against the best players! For America's, this would be frustrating and inconclusive because the person who wins may have just had better advise. The 'bystanders' will actually pick up or move the pieces and have arguments with each other...while the 'players' look on.
I just played a grueling game of basketball with a bunch college students and teenagers...not having played seriously in 20 years...I think I brought my team down to defeat...this was an evening game, with NBA like rules. The morning games have a lot more older people...sometimes 20 people under one net (no net actually) those games are following some pattern...but it doesn't actually look like a game with 2 sides.
After a week with my $10 bicycle! It was stolen. It was worth $10 dollars in the US too, if I bought it at a garage sale in SF I would have tried to get it for $9. The question is why steel such a cheap used bicycle, especially when there are literally millions of bicycles everywhere! They tell me it is quite common, one theory is someone is taking large numbers of them to the country side where the economy is less developed. Another theory is that they take them from one university to the next and sell them to new students...with the excuse that they just bought the bikes off of students who are graduating. I almost bought another one today.
Oh yes...traffic. If you have ever been to India you know that it takes two people to drive a car there because every interaction with another car or an intersection is negotiated on the basis of some illusive "status." In China everyone drives pretty slowly...if I pressed down on the peddles of my bicycle people would wave at me to slow down. The way it works is not by right of way rules...as far as I can tell, nobody has "right of way" however people do drive very predictably and the cars have no dents! It is that feeling again of we are all in this together. If I want to turn left and there is space...I just do it and people accommodate me. When there are enough bicycles piled up at an intersection to block the cars...they just all creep out together and the cars stop. Sometimes it can be a crazy mess...but much of the time it works. They are building a lot of big roads and elevated bypasses here...I fear however, that the cars will keep increasing.... There are probably 5 times more cars here than when I was here in '97.
The subway here is fast, clean, and easy to understand...but getting to and from the stops is sometimes difficult.....Buses are pretty reliable but standing up on a crowded Chinese bus in the middle of summer takes years off your life. I'm mostly taking air conditioned taxi's now...no regrets.
The perfect Chinese fruit is Watermelon! Why? because you have to have a lot of friends to eat one! The watermelons are really good and in the afternoon everyone is either carrying one home or eating one in the park. The peaches are really good too. And while Iâ€™m at it I guess I'll mention the cucumbers are especially delicious.
I don't know if Emma Goldman would have approved of this revolution but they certainly do a lot of dancing! Last night in the park there were about 30 couples dancing to a tape deck playing Bob Marley (by the rivers of Babylon)...ballroomish... Lots of dancing in the parks...in the morning these old ladies do some dance in unison that really looks like taijiquan except they bounce and sway a little to the music. ---more later, --Scott
I've received several questions about religion which I will get around to answering...but they aren't simple questions.
I recently visited BaiYunGuan (White Cloud Temple) it is the official center for Religious Daoism (DaoJiao) in China. It is a training center for Priest/Libationer/monks...there really isn't a clear English term for it and I don't know exactly what the training is, or even if everyone gets the same training. The contacts I was given by Luc and Steven Bokenkamp didn't turn in to much. Luc's friends are no longer there and Steven's friend is retired and was sick. What is accessible to the public are about 12 or so 'shrines' to popular cults (gods)...the cults which are allowed in this type of temple all represent principles, for example: the principle of scholarship/being a good student (WenCang) or the principle of motherhood, or the four directions. This subject is very difficult to summarize...but if you ask a local Chinese person about religion they will say they believe (or don't believe) in those things...the Chinese word for believe is 'xin' and it perhaps is closer to the English word trust. These same people will make very little distinction between religions... Buddhism, DaoJiao, Confucianism...and.. local cults. Knowing something about the history of Religion is pretty rare, I haven't met anyone yet....People say to me that they go to many temples...people who are into it go to a different 'type' to make offerings every weekend...others go a few times a year to the ones they like...If asked people will express some preference for Buddha or Dao...but...it is a light preference, seemingly with out much behind it??? So Daoism or Daojiao to most Chinese is just a place to burn incense to your favorite god...I'll leave it at that for now and try to follow up later. Oh one more thing... Each alter in BaiyunGuan has two vases with flower offerings which are very specific to that deity and that time of year/place. I believe a clear historical link to the wonderfully elaborate (sometimes starkly simple) Japanese Flower arranging tradition.
On Luc's advise, I visited a Bagua Zhang lineage Shifu (martial artist). Sun Shifu lives in a high-rise apartment complex like everybody else and I had an address with the building and floor numbers reversed...however I found someone to translate for me while I was looking in the wrong building. Sun shifu was drinking from a large bottle with a snake in it and reishi mushrooms, wolfberries and Ginseng. My translator turned out to be faulty so communication was difficult...for about 2 hours...I bought his VCDâ€™s (cheap version of DVDâ€™s) and gave him my card.
The next day I got an email from one of his students who is American and wanted to meet me...so....I this time I went to where Sun Shifu practices/teaches and met with him and his students and a good translator...He is like third generation from the founder of Bagua for any of you who know what that means...Cheng Family Bagua...he is really good 69 years old...His senior student/teacher is a woman and she's really good too...His students do a form that has some pretty difficult twisting and unusual angles of the torso spiraling from up to down and also from down to up....O.K. you need to see it to get the Idea...but I liked it...we had a good discussion, demo of all the different walking styles and I learned some cool stuff form them....They take big steps and also go really low. He was "sent down" during the Cultural revolution and one of his students told me he cried when he talked about this time.
After practice we had a wonderful meal: Cucumbers (long small ones, slivered) with golden needle mushrooms, Cucumbers with tofu skins, bitter melon, and two kinds of dumplings: lamb with carrot and pork with fennel.... I got a lot of questions this time...so If I forget to answer you...write again... ---Scott
My 8 students and the other two leaders have arrived, the 9th student seems to have lost his passport, so he may or may not be coming on another plane. The ratio of leaders to students means I should get plenty of time to myself for retreat or email or following the wanderings of the dark mare.
Amy (my co-leader) and I met with a comparative religions scholar the night before the students arrived. His name is Wang Liuer which means Wang 62...we asked why the funny name and he said his brother was named 61 which was a year that had some special significance to his family, but he was just number two. He really did understand the history of religion and we had a great talk. His specialty is Christian and Buddhist mysticism, he presented the theory that mysticism is the source of all religions because religion is created in relation to 'inexplicable' experiences. I responded that that is a view from the outside and that deeply religious people 'live their religions' in a way that makes the mystic experience inseparable from daily life. It went something like that...anyway we really enjoyed each other and the fish was fantastic! We also ate Deep fried shrimp...the crunchy kind with the head and shell...not greasy...delicious.
The students are here and I started teaching them some Shaolin yesterday...at the beginning of the warm ups two guys in their twenties with a baby came up and joined us. In the middle an old guy came over to one of my students and tried to help him with his leg stretch...and at the end I was having the students hold the different stances and this middle aged guy came over and started giving corrections and making them sink lower, or for the one leg stances, get their knee up higher!!! He told us we could come the next day for more training!! Everybody joins in... We went this morning to Black bamboo park, there are a lot more people practicing there....so many....I scouted it out last week and pushed hands with some old guys and some young guys too...some of these young guys are big...fat even...and they were really getting rough with each other...slapping and grunting...it is so hot that some people have shirts off and the sweat is dripping/spraying. Lot's of Chen style Taijiquan...I visited Tiantai Park also...even more Chen style...Yang and Wu styles are here too 'though. The Chen style of push hands tends to move quickly to grappling and leaning in on each other...not the style I prefer...but there is something interesting to learn here. The coolest thing is that these guys are all just meeting in the park, they are not fellow students, they come every week and share a milieu...they get a lot of practice...for those of you who are wondering how I "did" against the locals...I'm not telling...but they all wanted to know my age and how long I've been practicing. There is lots of dancing in the morning...fan dancing (to keep cool?)...ballroom...Wushu, Shaolin...weapons everywhere...seems like half the people out in the morning have a sword over their shoulder. The students loved that, after their training, I was able to coax the interested watchers to show us some of their forms...Bagua here too...more of this Cheng family style. As to questions about YiQuan...I haven't actually seen it...I have seen some XingYi that could have been YiQuan...If they are just standing or practicing one movement...sometimes it is hard to tell...maybe.
New breakfasts: Black-bean Rice porridge...(good stuff, a little better with the optional sugar and watered down a bit.) Silken Tofu with a ladle of stock(pork?)--self seasoned with pickled turnips, cilantro, and choice of 5 sauces...I tried the tahini-ish one......People were waiting in line for Fry-Bread, which I haven't yet dared to try, and suddenly the propane tank tube leading to the wok started flaming...very exciting but no bang....yet.... ---I visit the Great Wall tomorrow for an overnight...outside... --Scott
I visited a Sui (500CE) dynasty Buddhist temple built on the sight of a (sacred?) well. The well was at the front gate and is an octagon. The 'temple' no longer has any Buddhist symbols in it, it has been converted into a spacious garden tea house. It is in a small Hakka village about an hour and a half ride from Chengdu by very rickety bouncy metal vibrating bus. We (Simeng and Justin) found the site by chance after buying a very cool bamboo baby basket backpack...which I wore all day...unlike most packs...bamboo packs don't leave your back all sweaty! Also they are light and strong(crash proof?) [See picture]
We also saw a lot of coffin makers...really heavy solid cedar coffins. Any way the "tea house" had two beautiful buildings surrounded by covered walk ways with tables all around...people relaxing and enjoying themselves, steles on one side showed dedications going progressively back in time. The garden was it self surrounded by a 15 foot? wall, which I think is part of the definition of garden here. Afterwards we visited a three story traditional house and it was marvelous. A huge open courtyard and then a smaller inner one...great use of space and air, really usable, rooms off to the sides and balconies above...it was built a little like a mountain with two ridges like arms that come around to face each other, like you are getting a big spacious hug?....some contractors and a couple of TV announcers were there and insisted we sit down and join their lunch already in progress...so Chinese to just decide to drag in some strangers...we had a great time.
I'm now staying at Sichuan University. Next move uncertain...I love the gardens 'though...If I sit alone...people usually come up and join me...If the conversation is in Chinese I get to practice but the details are inevitably rather simple...If the conversation is in English or mixed sometimes it is quite good...got in a long conversation with a Chinese legal scholar about everything under the sun. The flowers in Chengdu are beautiful...water lilies, lotus blossoms, and a bright red and yellow flower...more about gardens later...
Ice cream: There are so many kinds. I don't normally eat ice cream but...it's hard to resist: Last night I had a wheat flavored pop-sickle, 12 cents. I like the really little coconut ones, 6 cents. For 40 cents you can get the equivalent of a Haagan Das Bar. Today I had a black bean goo covered in vanilla ice cream dipped in white chocolate and nuttyflakes, 12 cents. There are mung bean, black bean, red bean, and purple bean. Strawberry with orange, chocolate with everything...I think the only one I've tried more than once is the coconut...
--I wrote a very long message on economics a week ago, but the computer crashed...I guess it's not my fate to write about such things...perhaps I'll be re-inspired later. best to you all, --Scott
Censorship in China seems to include my personal website. It also includes my father's (so I haven't been able to find out the answers to his quizzes from Japan). It also includes the Taoist Restoration Society website....I think what all these websites have in common is discussion of Qigong. Any information on Falungong is definitely banned. I suspect there is some kind of software that searches for key words. In conversations with University professors and students, including a wonderful professor of comparative law, it has become clear that people who show any interest in Daoism, Buddhism, Islam or Catholicism, or Protestantism (the five official religions), are jeopardizing their careers. This includes government workers or employees, party members, students, professors, many office workers (part Gov. part private) and military. The groups that are exempt from this rule are pick-up labor, farmers, entrepreneurs, and retail workers. The reason for this is that Marx-Mao-Deng theory is inconsistent with belief in religious things...if you don't fully take on the theory of Marx-Mao-Deng, you will fail to act in a way which is constant with the theory/consciousness-- and that is an exclusive closed system. All students must take and pass exams on the theories and ideas of these three men.
The numbers I hear for Daoshi (priest/monks) in all of china are 40,000. Almost all of those are QuanZhen Monks in "Temples". There are 3,000 in temples in Sichuan, but the official registered number is less. The Zhengyi tradition (which I am part of) live at home and marry. The scholars around here are giving me evasive answers when I ask, but it seems that there are Zhengyi Priests in Sichuan. They live in the absolute poorest regions of farmland and are known to all the locals, but none of the locals will say anything about it. The priests all have "day-jobs" and travel to do ritual when they are requested. One of the scholars I spoke with, Zhang Qing, said that they know this from anthropology-field work, but (if I understood him correctly) the Daoshi move location-- so the ones they knew about are no longer locatable. I have also heard that there are Zhengyi ritual experts teaching at Baiyun guan in Beijing and perhaps a few other places...but the categories Quanzhen and Zhengyi seem to be existing officially in Quanzhen mode, i.e. monastic.
Today I visited HemingShan, which means red-headed crane mountain. It is the place ZhangDaoling went on retreat and first gained a following, it is being called the birth place of Daoism. The mountain is in DaYi county and has 24 cavities, which correspond to the 24 festivals, and 72 caves which contain the 72 climates, including the Cave where Zhangtianshi went on retreat. The many buildings associated with Daoism in the area were all completely destroyed during the cultural revolution, including a Han Dynasty building which had been rebuilt many times over the last 2000 years, (I saw a photo). The buildings that are there now are not really of note, but the mountain is beautiful: Every available space is covered in corn and plum trees, both of which are being harvested now. The plums are delicious...I saw very dark red, bright yellow, and iridescent blue butterflies...cool mushrooms too. There are a few small meadows and small forested areas as well. The oldest Daoshi there wrote out some calligraphy for me and we drank tea. He wrote: Dao Fa Zi Ran, The mechanism of Dao is spontaneously natural? great to watch him write.
Other highlights: I managed to pay for the taxi ride of two female University Students who were helping me find my way in the rain....and after that they went nuts doing and paying for everything for me, they took me to Sanxingdui (archeology site) bought me Knife cut noodles, the mother and father of one of the women drove us all around in their Cherokee...Hot Pot for Dinner (which I really didn't like, pig brain!)...They wanted to have him drive me home (3 hours round trip?) but I managed to get away with a free bus ride and some snacks....Everyone seems to want to marry me to a Sichuan women...people peek over my shoulder while I'm on the Internet and ask if I have a girl friend.... Given this drive to spread the Sichuan Genes, it is astounding that there are still ethnically unique communities to the west and south.
Other High lights, I met a Daoshi at YangQinggong who took me to an inner courtyard and played the jin for me...it was amazing... ---Scott
Hi Everybody, I've settled in to Language classes here in Chengdu. There are some really huge cities in the world, Lagos, San Paulo, Tokyo...and then there are some very big ones, London, New York, Mexico City...but China must have 100 or more cities of this size. Great quote...I went out to visit an archaeology site and this college student said to me, "welcome to the small town of Guang Han" Oh, I said, how many people? "Oh, only five million." However, despite size and urbanization, I must admit China is lacking in Cosmopolitanism...granted it was closed to outsiders for a long time...but there maybe some real resistance to Cosmopolitanism in the social structure. I think it is often the case that Western analysts give 'credit' to the government for things which actually have there basis in Chinese social structures. There is a real conceptualization of the world outside China as really different than the world inside China. Nationalism is very strong here...the common history which the Chinese have been telling about themselves includes many foreign invasions...which always end in the invaders becoming more Chinese...rather then say...more Tibetan, or more Mongolian..... People don't really believe me when I tell them that everyone I know in San Francisco is good with Chopsticks. Despite the numbers of people, the focus is very local, and travel is still pretty rare. The bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Serbia is universally considered to have been intentional, and almost no body thinks that the downed U.S. spy plane should have been given back.
There are a lot of students in this Internet center playing video "death" games, it is noisy and smoky most of the time...but they are nice and they always bring me a cup of cool filtered water to drink.
I had a great conversation today with Louise, who is a friend of Elena's-- who I met at the Daoist conference in Seattle. Louise is an anthropologist who studies the contemporary movement of rural people into Chengdu...but she has opinions on everything. We drank great tea in the fantastic bamboo garden which is five minutes from my room... we ate white peaches, sunflower seeds, and sesame snacks...everything gets dropped or flicked on the ground....while we watch the giant lotus leaves and pink and white blossoms sway in the breeze.
She pointed out that Falun Gong was really unique in that it had no official connection to the government. There are lots of qigong organizations, and lots of individual teachers, but nothing else like Falungong...she agreed with me that it is/was a real challenge to the government. She said that people here have so little experience with "religion" that they can be easily drawn into cults of all sorts.
I really have to watch my tenancy to view things romantically. I presumed that Daoists in China would now be interested in recovering something of what was lost in the turmoil of the last century...but really they have just started up again from right where they are. Twice a month Qing Yang Gong(the city temple) has a trance-medium come in and dance and go into trance....I hear that it is heavily attended....QingChengShan is a gongfu school for Children in the Summer, they challenged EMeiShan to a competition this August. The little students there practice chanting the Daodejing at night. They gave me a warm reception...and made me demonstrate my gongfu, they really liked the 8 immortals sword, I was a little surprised to see people smoking cigarettes.
I watched a ritual in the morning.... Some tourist or perhaps a community representative...ran in near the end, spoke with one of the 9 Daoshi,(six were in yellow vestments and faced the alter the whole time, playing music and chanting) and I thought she told him to get lost but he ran back a minute later with about 10 pages of text,(the Daoshi had just offered some blank paper to the alter and then set it on fire and took it outside the ritual room...) they then offered and burned the text that he brought. I didn't stay for the whole thing, but it ended with a huge round of fire crackers which were answered from the temple to the east a few minutes later, and from the west a few minutes after that.
As far as I can tell Daoist sights are heavily focused on tourist, perhaps they view tourism as a national cult which needs to be "managed"-to see to it that it doesn't get out of control?.
Ordination of Daoshi takes 10 years and includes a full 2 year retreat in the mountains, I think most study Taijiquan, the study of more gongfu is an option, everyone practices neidan (meditation practices) in separate small rooms, but all in the same hall?, the study of ritual may be optional? the curriculum seems flexible...I'm left uncertain about lots of things. The Chairperson of QingYanggong told me that the Daughter of the Brother of the TianShi (the lineage decedent of the founder of religious Daoism) is living in Hawaii. Having read her website...I told him that I thought she was a little crazy...but he seemed convinced otherwise. I don't know what to think. I'm going with my Chinese teacher to an Yi (ethnic) Village in the southwest for a few days...there is some kind of fire festival there...After that I will fly to Hong Kong for a few days and then home...I return on August 20th. --Scott
I'm leaving for Hong Kong tomorrow, two days, and then home...it's been a long trip...but not long enough to actually figure out what's going on here. I went to the area around Xi Chang for a week with my language teacher and her girlfriend, who is also a language teacher. I told them I would be to embarrassed to go if they tried to pay for everything, so they came up with the brilliant solution that we would each give 500 Yuan, and we would share the money, and split up what ever was left in the end. They of course would hold the money...so it would seem as if they were paying for everything. We did this but, in reality, we didn't get to pay for anything because we were met at the station by one of their students who lives down there. His father and brother are Policemen and we got taken everywhere in a Mitsubishi SUV with a siren on top...the father seemed to have unlimited use of the car... easily lent the Keys to his sons...the brother was sometimes in uniform but the father wasn't.
We went to a mountain where a "Daoist Saint" once went on retreat. Actually he was a Buddhist when he went there, but then became a "Xian"...granting wishes and doing magical feats to improve the lives of the locals. Buddhists later took over the area and Built a temple which includes an alter for granting wishes which is the seat of this local god ("Daoist Saint"). Most of the people living in the temple/monastery were part of the Yi ethnic group, and they seemed to all be elderly, men and women. I had to be careful not to point to something I liked because it would likely be packaged up and handed to me by my hosts.
The next day we went to see a satellite launching and building station...(really high on my interest list <sarcastic>) all they did was take pictures...and I was in most of them...and it was hot and clear...so I'm sure I look sun-burnt. But then, I guess because I was with the police, they took us to see a top secret experiment! They took us to see some rice being grown in samples of soil from the moon, in special low gravity containers! They say they can produce 5 crops a year. Traveling around the countryside you see that every inch is planted...we went through this river valley which seemed to be all cannonball sized large rocks, but every inch of it was planted, rice, corn, squash, everything. The rocks were just piled up everywhere to make fences, building foundations, and just piles. Anyway, don't be surprised when you hear that the Chinese are growing rice on the moon. We visited a big lake, which was developed on all sides...lot's of Chinese tourists come here, but it is hard to see the appeal...it is hot and exposed, little shade...mainly people come to play mahjong...which they do all over Sichuan all the time anyway?
We also visited another "Daoist" mountain...There were two Daoists there but the alter was to the god of being a good student-- Wen Cheng? The other "temples' on the mountain were all Buddha's and Bodhisatvas. This is really the popular religion of China that has always been here...for people to ask for wishes to be granted, dreams fulfilled. Now instead of Kowtowing, half the people take pictures...the cult of photography we will call it.
After a few days of, this they took us to stay at the village farm where about 40 family members still live. The building was really cool, mud brick, one of the uncles is a carpenter so the wood work was well done. The Pig room is also the poop room...and there are chickens and ducks and turkeys and goats.... They killed two goats for the many feasts we had to celebrate our arrival. So now to food. The first time they fed me...I tasted everything...and everything was very hot and spicy... I think the coolest dish was a bowl full of fresh stir-fried ginger. After that I tried being discreet; to eat just a little of what ever seemed to have less spice...but they would just put things in my bowl. So I had to explain that I really couldn't eat anything "La" or "Hua" (hot and Spicy), it was really getting painful...it got to the point where I would sit down to eat and realize that my mouth, nose, and eyelids were still burning from the last meal. After a while I started to think the plain rice was spicy...perhaps they have been here so long the soil itself is spicy.
So many dishes...one that most Americans would cringe at was a large plate full of bacon...but actually there was almost no meat on the bacon...it was just the fat strips in a big pile. There were so many people at meals we filled two rooms...the center alter room and the one next to it. Everyone sits on two person wooden stools at square wooden tables. There were four massive power lines following the river down stream...one of them was very close to the house...someone wanted to know if I thought the power lines were beautiful? The family alter is in use and has the written characters (no idols) of all the important officials of heaven...locals cults, Quanyin, the god of thunder, education, wealth....The characters for heaven earth center seat teacher are in the middle. The ancestors of the Liu Family are thanked for their generosity on the right side of the alter. I saw a two year old running around making the international sign for "too hot" (waving a hand in front of the mouth), everyone just takes it for granted that things will be really spicy. Two year olds can eat with chop sticks...because it is O.K. to throw anything on the floor (except a drink of booze you have just been poured, but that's another story) and babies are allowed to get rice all over their face and run around with their bowls. They wanted to take me out to catch some fish...I was really at my limit of being carted around...and they weren't letting me get out of it...by chance I said what I'd really like is a place to sit and write. wow...that worked...they loved that...I got a room with a desk and they lit some incense for me... and said good bye. I finally managed to get away from this endless hospitality and good will, it wasn't easy, but they put me on the train to EMeiShan.
I hiked from the bottom to the top in two days...a really spectacular mountain. I spent the night in a Buddhist monastery in the clouds, I did my qigong etc...in what must be 'the' perfect spot. One final note, since Beijing is now the host of the Olympics I hear they are trying to get Bus Driving added to the list of official Olympic sports...India, Nepal, and Mexico are all said to have crack teams...the debate right now is whether the buses should actually carry passengers during competition and training. I saw 5 people puke on two different buses in one day, and another from the bus in front of us. ---miss you all, --Scott
One last note about Daoism in China. I had tea and peaches with two Daoshi; a man and a woman who are friends, about my age, and began their trainingâ€™s 11 and 13 years ago. They are both pursuing doctorates in the history of Daoist Religion at the Sichuan University. One did an Island retreat for 2 years the other a mountain retreat. They both practice mediation in the evening, chanting in the morning, and have studied ritual. At university they wear their hair up, but do not wear vestments or shoes. One lives at Qing Yang Gong (a city temple) and the other lives in a top floor apartment on Campus, where we had tea. She had just moved in so she said she had not set up an alter yet but planned too. They showed me a series of books from Taiwan used for teaching ritual there, part of one of the books had pictures of all the graduates. My hosts pointed to their friends. The guy received a request to teach in Hawaii for a year and was considering it. They are both brilliant gu jin players, the woman tutors at the university. I describe all this because I have raised the question of the difference between Daoism in America and Daoism in China. Are we the same? are we different? It depends on how far back one stands, it depends on where one focuses attention. Really we are human beings with real life appetites, finding expression for those appetites differs from place to place, and from generation to generation.... The opportunities we have for expression of a Daoist life are different, but our situation-- that of having to find our place in an ever changing world, in which the past may be helpful, but by no means a chart for our futures-- is the same.
My last night in Chengdu, I came upon a fortune teller with a modest crowd...he had the image of Zhang Daoling on a piece of paper on the ground and people were shaking sticks out of a small box on to the paper, a form of divination. He would then read from a little flip book. I started a little conversation with the people there and of course got asked again: ni xin bu xin? Do you believe or not? I answered that believing and not believing are the same thing...to which I seemed to get general agreement if not a bit of enthusiasm from the woman on a bicycle who had just checked on her fortune. Walking back I was haunted by the sounds of a wrinkled couple singing call and response with erhu accompaniment...perhaps they were blind...the womanâ€™s head tilted to the side, the man sat upright and played...he had a straw hat and his bottom row of teeth were gold...people seemed not to want to get too close to them...but they listened....they listened to these sounds from far away and long ago.... ------By the way my classes start on Wednesday 22nd, I will need the 21st for catching up on sleep! I hope to see you all soon. --Scott
PS I love hearing your thoughts on these travel notes.