Monday, September 23, 2013


Hey, do you know how Chinese people name their kids? They throw them down the stairs and whatever sound the kid makes going down is what he is named: Bing Chong Ching.

Such ‘jokes’, usually told with a slightly uncomfortable but fully malicious snicker serve to enhance and perpetuate the stereotype that the Chinese are barbaric, stupid, incomprehensible and uncultured. As a blogger living in China I have dedicated my writing career and, to some extent my life to demystifying this culture and undoing these cruel stereotypes.

It is natural for humans to mock, deride, belittle, combat or fear that which we do not understand. China and her culture, having only recently made herself available to The West, naturally receives and is the target of much misunderstanding, speculation, awe and wonderment. I side with the latter two.

After my first trip here in 2008, I was completely enamored with China and all things Chinese. Upon my return stateside, I would go to friends’ houses with my camera’s memory cards and, if permitted would expound on and glorify every single aspect of what I had witnessed in the 3 weeks I spent here.

I recall visiting some friends, ‘deep Texans’ you might call them. They had never set foot on any non-American soil, indeed never ventured outside of Texas. Under normal circumstances they are kind, tolerant and intelligent. Imagine my surprise when, among the OOOHHHs, AAAHHHs and gasps of surprise one of them said: why do they have to be so different? Why can’t they be more like us?

I did my very best to not choke on my disbelief. Surely she couldn’t have said that, right? I had to have misunderstood! How can a person who is American wish for one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures to be ‘more like us’ when we, as a culture have only been around for 237 years?

I sure have my work cut out for me, dispelling myth and misunderstanding. It seems that there is no end to the mockery and misapprehension. No matter what, people are still going to fear and/or ridicule what they do not understand. When it comes to China, cruel jokes, stereotypes and ethnocentrism will probably be the order of the day long after my fingers quit hitting the keys. The best I can do is try to educate and/or correct negative impressions and not tolerate malicious humor.

But Chinglish… Chinglish is a different matter. Chinglish can be downright funny.

I’ve stated before that everything from street signs to menus are written in Chinese and in English. All Chinese are compelled to learn a second language, and that language is English. Most Chinese assume that every foreigner is an English speaker and they do their very best to communicate in the foreigner’s purported language. I respect and appreciate all that. However, in the rush to get onboard that international trend of duplicating everything into English for the comfort and ease of foreigners, it seems some translations… well, you could say meaning gets lost in translation, to borrow a cliché.

Chinglish. The Chinese are well aware that they make many mistakes when speaking or writing in English, and they are ashamed of it, even though individual Chinglish mistakes are probably not intentional or even detected. While English speaking nations laugh at Chinese attempts to translate, the Chinese bow their heads and vow to learn more, study harder and translate correctly.

I too am guilty of laughing when I read any Chinglish. For one because it is so darn funny but also because, now that I can read Chinese, I wonder how in the world they come up with some of those translations!

A fire extinguisher, literally ‘extinguish fire bottle’ in Chinese somehow became ‘hand grenade’. None of the characters on the sign indicate ‘hand’, let alone ‘grenade’. I wonder how they came up with that translation.

Here is one I’ve seen quite often, regarding walking on grass. The literal translation of the four characters displayed on the sign is ‘small heart slippery topple’. Somehow that translated into ‘Slip and fall down carefully!’

Nuance is to blame for a lot of these mistranslations. By no literal stretch could ‘small heart’ become ‘caution’. But if you think of someone’s little love, perhaps a mother for her child or a burly man for his delicate bride, suddenly ‘small heart’ becomes something worth protecting… hence the ‘caution’ derivation. The rest of the sign does convey the intended meaning, namely that one might slip and fall if not careful.

Did I forget to tell you that the Chinese love adjectives and adverbs? Hence ‘careful’ becomes ‘carefully’, even in general conversation.  

More often than not the Chinese language conveys meaning through graphic impression rather than actual words. The character for ‘person’ looks like the legs of a person walking: . , the character for ‘woman’ could be interpreted as a female crossing her legs while holding out her skirts.

While there are over five thousand drawn characters, actual sounds number only in the hundreds. Context and tone sometimes gives no clue as to intended meaning. It is common, during conversation with a Mandarin speaker to ask which meaning any particular sound represents. In cases like that the speaker will pose the intended meaning by referencing a more popular use of the sound.

For example: my Chinese name is GAO LE SI 高乐思. The first character means ‘tall’. The second one could mean ‘music’ or ‘happy’ depending on context and/or pronunciation. The final one ‘SI’ could mean all manner of things, from ‘s**t’, through ‘silk’ to ‘dead’, but is intended to mean ‘thought’.

You can see that it is very important to convey proper meaning. If I let people fill in the blanks about my name, they might assume I’m called Tall Happy Crap. Or Tall Music Dead. My standard introduction goes something like this: “Hello, my name is Gao Le Si, the ‘Le’ meaning ‘happy’ and the ‘Si’ that means ‘thought’.” Rather lengthy, but necessary. The added bonus to this introduction is that all my Mandarin friends nod their heads in appreciation that I understand the vagaries of their language well enough to get specific about the meaning of my name.

Another way in which meaning is communicated is by drawing the character. Often you will see people embroiled in conversation use their index fingers to draw characters in the palm of their hand or on a surface close by.

One character that is most often misused and mis-translated is ‘GAN’. It is a simple character: 2 small horizontal lines and one longish vertical line: . It is supposed to depict a shield, and can mean anything from ‘dry’ to ‘empty’, from ‘futile’ to ‘do’ and from ‘main part’ to ‘having to deal with’. Very versatile, this GAN.

It is also slang for the F-Bomb.

Let me disabuse you of the notion that only venerated, older, bearded Chinese men wearing silk robes and stroking their sparse mustaches while sitting tailor fashion on silk cushions are experienced, wise, capable and trusted enough to translate. The average Chinglish author is mid-twenties with an English Major Bachelor’s degree, fresh out of college. Someone who is more likely to use ‘Gan’ in slang form than any of its other meanings.

Thus, many restaurant menu items including Gan – intending to mean ‘main part’ or ‘having to do with’ are translated into F-Bomb. A dish consisting mainly of duck becomes ‘F**K the duck”. A delicacy involving shrimp and cabbage becomes ‘The shrimp F**Ks the cabbage’. Heavens forbid you should want something dry, or dried.

Like dry noodles. Most often noodles are served in a broth, with veggies and a little meat. One type of noodles is served dry, though. If you have any loyalty to this blog or are familiar with Hubei Province cuisine, you will know that the region’s signature dish is called Re Gan Mian. ‘Re’ meaning ‘hot’, ‘Gan’ meaning ‘dry’ and ‘Mian’ meaning ‘noodle’.

You already know that ‘Gan’ can have several meanings, including a very naughty one. Did you also know that ‘Mian’ also has several meanings? Besides ‘noodles’, ‘Mian’ can mean ‘flour’ or ‘face’. Not really sure how the same character can represent 3 such varied concepts. Not even going to venture a guess.

But now that I think about it… let’s put Re Gan Mian under the Chinglish microscope. ‘Re’ translates to ‘hot’. In English, ‘hot’ is slang for ‘sexy’ or ‘desirable’. ‘Gan’ we’ll use in its slang form. ‘Mian’ would be ‘face’ for the uninitiated (it was the first meaning I learned for that character). All this time I thought I had been enjoying a local specialty when in fact… OH! NO!!!

I’ll never be able to eat Re Gan Mian again!!! Somehow I just can’t see myself going to my favorite noodle stall and saying: “Yeah, give me a bowl of ‘Sexy F-bomb Face’ to go”. *SIGH!*    

NOTE: Credit for this entry goes to my conspirators. I had compiled a collection of Chinglish found on a Chinese website and sent it to all my friends, Chinese and Western. During our weekly chat my conspirators told me they had forwarded that compilation to some of their friends and had gotten rave reviews. It was while talking with them that I stumbled onto the Chinglish translation of my favorite noodle dish. We laughed our fool heads off, and another blog entry was born. 



We Are LIVE! In Three… Two…


We are officially back. Done vagabonding, done vacationing, done leisure-ing. Time to return to patterned life: school, teaching and, of course, blogging.

We welcome you back and hope you will welcome us back as well. Lots of stories to share!

Stay tuned.    

Monday, September 2, 2013

Go Figure

I hesitate to use the word ‘mystical’ to describe the feeling and events of the day, lest it somehow damage my credibility. However, the way the day played out could not be told of under any other heading.

I am no stranger to such happenings, one of the most recent ones being at the temple above the Le Shan Giant Buddha where, although the front part of the temple thronged with tourists snapping pictures and devouts genuflecting, it was behind the spectacular altar where the meat of the matter played out for me. (see The Giant Buddha, posted June 2011).

Here again was that feeling of impending… something. I walked through the portal that was guarded by two giant stone turtles, each housed in its own pavilion. I was struck by the silence and a sense of timelessness.

This abandoned temple is built like so many other such relics, along the east-west meridian line. Except for high noon, the main path is highlighted by the sun’s trajectory. Building archways all line up with and coincide with the width of the meridian path. Courtyards or lawns fill the spaces left and right of the path, between buildings.  

The first building’s passageway was occupied by a young couple, benefiting from the shade to play with their small daughter. As they were the only people I encountered directly during my entire time there I asked them why there were no other people. They replied: “The weather is too hot for people to be outside.” Strange… people were outside this time yesterday, and it was equally hot.

Never mind. I continued on after giving their little girl a small treat.

Come the second set of pavilions housing giant turtles, about midway through the park I decided to picnic under the watchful if not slightly menacing gaze of one of the turtles. I sat on the pavilion steps, unstrapped my pack, pulled out last night’s leftovers and set to. In spite of the heat I was good and hungry. The shade and a small breeze afforded me comfort while I ate.

During my meal, not an ant or fly came to investigate the smell of food. I ate at a leisurely pace but still only a handful of people walked up the meridian, and no one seemed to notice me at all. Even a couple whose dog was off the leash did not have to call their pet back. I would have thought that the dog would have smelled my food and come running.

I felt invisible.  

All during that time the feeling I woke up with that morning, that I should go home grew to a certainty, and then to an imperative. 

Pulling out my phone I sent a text message to my friends of the day before. Not making any excuses but leaving no room for doubt, I informed Celine I would not be able to visit her home, spend the night or travel to Yi Chang with her, as we had previously planned. She did not send a reply. Whether I had offended her and thus caused her to snub me or whether she even received the message never came into question. I was acting on pure impulse, directed from somewhere much greater than where I was.

One doesn’t argue with such a voice.

Picnic finished I disposed of my trash in the provided containers. So… it was not as though the park was totally neglected. It did have some modern touches like those waste cans, and some sprinklers in the grass. It was just mostly devoid of people. I walked on.

To the right, beyond the original boundary wall, a small stream. Back into the enclosure and straight ahead, a few outbuildings, no doubt the home and workshop of caretakers past. Now skirting the facility rather than walking the meridian path I came to the absolute back, and then followed the boundary wall around until the meridian line manifested itself again.

This last building, the greatest, was the Taoist temple. It too was deserted, somnolent in the midday heat. Well, not completely deserted. After traversing its width I met a monk seated at a table to the right of the main enclave. We exchanged silent greetings.

In all, the temple had 5 separate altars. I paused in front of each one. Here I did not have that feeling of profound mysticism like I did at the temple in Le Shan, the feeling I had been looking for and in fact been expecting atop the mountain yesterday, but I did feel the reverence and awe true places of worship instill.

That inner voice was clamoring again. TIME TO GO! It insisted. GO HOME…NOW!!!

Bowing, I took my leave from the monk and the temple. Following the meridian line straight out I emerged back onto the main road and the noise associated with daily life. There I pondered on how to get home with no train ticket currently in my possession.

I recalled from the previous day that my friends had to board a long distance bus, and that our driver friend had dropped them off at a blue fronted building, not far from where I had emerged back onto the main road. I was unable to locate that building, even after asking a couple of English speaking residents for directions.

It seems Wu Dang has more foreigners living there than many other places I’ve visited, and more than I usually see within a comparably small area in Wuhan. These two men, one older and more dignified, the other substantially taller than I, clad in a ‘wife beater’ type Tee-shirt and tattooed, were very friendly and approachable but unable to direct me to the bus station.

Spying a fleet of green buses and knowing that such buses make the run to the train station I headed toward them. The first person I encountered was a bus driver who, without knowing I needed a train station, gestured for me to board his bus. I asked him if he was bound for the train depot. He assured me he could get me there. A fare of 8 Yuan guaranteed my passage. Within minutes of my boarding the bus filled up and we were on our way.

That feeling of ‘meant to be’ was still with me.

When we came to the train station I had arrived at two days before the driver instructed me to debark. The ticket taker, presumably his wife argued with him that I needed to ride further. Now I’m a bit disturbed, knowing I am to be on a train, Wuhan bound. How was I going to do that if I’m riding shuttles all day? It was already mid-afternoon. The likelihood of my finding passage on a train was lessening the longer I rode the bus.

I had to force myself to obey the flow of things. So far everything had worked out perfectly, why would I presume to defy circumstances by imposing my will?

There is a concept in Taoism called ‘wu wei’ – literally ‘active not doing’. The idea is that one is not to oppose the natural force, flow or order of things. Kind of like when Obi wan Kenobi instructed Luke to ‘feel the force’ and ‘let the force’ guide him. Not that I think of myself as a Jedi, but the concept is similar.    

Another thirty minutes saw us in a town of middling size. Now seated at the front of the bus I heard the woman instruct the driver to let me off. She then turned to me and gave me directions to the train station, about 100 meters ahead. The bus was headed into a tunnel and further down the road. I thanked her, shouldered my pack and followed her instructions.

As you might have guessed I was indeed able to get a train back to Wuhan that very afternoon, scheduled to leave in just over an hour. The money in my wallet was exactly enough to pay the 173Yuan fare. Go figure.

Again, that sense of fate. Had I insisted on catching a train from the small station I had arrived at two days ago, I would not have had the wide variety of choices this larger city and train station offered. I might even have had to spend the night. By going with the flow I found I had bought first class passage on a bullet train. I was scheduled to arrive in Wuhan a little after 9PM.

That was going to make it difficult to get a bus back to campus. Most buses headed that far out stop running right about that time. Once in Wuhan and at the bus stop, consulting the itineraries I found that only 1 bus line ran later than 8:30. Turning around I saw that that very bus had just pulled up. A rush to board, a flash of prepay card and I was on the final leg of my journey home.

The next day, waking up in my own bed, I noticed that the knee pain from my injury incurred during my spill into the lake the week before, so severe as to nearly cause me to forego climbing the mountain was completely gone.

Go figure.                    

Should Have Played the Lottery

To say the least, my trip to Wu Dang Shan was strange, and that banal term doesn’t begin to describe how it went down.

I always get a little stressed embarking on a new journey. I am old hat at traveling and really don’t know why I stress. I can pack in less than 5 minutes and not forget a single essential. Buying tickets is no longer the daunting ordeal it was when I first arrived in China. Nevertheless I sweat it, but then calm myself by reassuring the Nervous Nellie side of me. I have reserved seating so it doesn’t matter whether I arrive at the train station an hour early, as long as I get to the station before the train actually leaves. Being as I’ve been making short jaunts all summer I basically left my bag packed, grabbing it on the way out. That type of stuff.

If you’re wondering about clean laundry: I’ve adopted the Chinese habit of hand washing my clothes every night and hanging them up to dry on the conveniently provided hangers and hooks in my hotel room. Traveling with 3 changes of clothes – one to sleep in and two ‘day’ outfits is plenty. When I post the pictures you will not need to wonder why I’m always wearing the same clothes.

Train boarding time. I now avoid the trademark Chinese frenzy of boarding, where one must rush down the platform and into the cars. These days I wait till the crush has diminished, then lope easily into my assigned car and find my reserved seat or berth.

Car 6, seat 16 – easy enough. Wait a minute… there’s someone in my seat! I approach the young man, a teenager traveling with his mother and tell him he is in my assigned seat. I show them my ticket. The boy’s mother points out that my ticket was for yesterday’s train.

That has never happened before.

In my defense: I have to buy my train tickets the old fashioned way. Whereas the Chinese can now log on to the official railway site and book their passage online, picking up the ticket once they arrive at the station, I have to go to the station and hope for the best when desiring travel on a specific date. This time, when I asked the ticketing official for a booking to Wu Dang Shan for the next day, he said there weren’t any. “What about the day after?” He promptly printed out a ticket after checking my ID. I paid the quoted price and he shoved my change, ID and ticket back through the window. I never gave it a second thought.

I should have because that is when the weirdness started.

With all the pushing and shoving that seems an integral part of Chinese culture, standing in line is quite a challenge. Those that buy their tickets at the station are the ones with no computer access, such as migrant workers who have a different set of ethics like cutting in line, usually carrying everything they own and moving parcel and piece up one by one when the line starts moving. The din is untenable. Behind the bulletproof glass the ticketing officials speed through their duties and cannot be heard very well.

First piece of luck: just after I got in line with about 10 people ahead of me a window right next to the line I was standing in opened up. I was the first to notice and jumped to be the first at the newly opened window. Within a minute or two I had my ticket. No time to stop and look at it with legions of ticket hopefuls crowding and shoving around me.  

Fast forward two days: travel day. Getting to the train involves no fewer than 4 checkpoints where railway officials look at your ticket and approve your progression. On my departure day all 4 officials looked at my ticket, motioning me on to the next checkpoint and ultimately into the car I was supposed to ride in. That’s when the kid’s mother pointed out I had a ticket for yesterday’s train.

I went to the conductor who had waved me into my assigned car and told her I had a ticket for yesterday’s train, but if she wouldn’t mind I’d be happy to stand in a doorway or aisle all the way to my destination – 6 hours worth. She smiled and agreed. Apparently paid passage is paid passage, no matter if it was yesterday’s. I rested my bones in a seat close to the door while the car continued to fill.

The woman whose seat I was occupying boarded. Immediately I got up, resigned to my fate of standing. She urged me to sit a while longer. The Chinese are great at standing, have I ever told you that? The train lurched out of the station 10 minutes later. The conductor disappeared, embroiled in duty. Feeling guilty in spite of this kind soul’s letting me rest, I got up and stood in the aisle, assuaging her protests that I should sit longer.

The conductor returned a few minutes later, instructing me to go to car 13 and choose any seat from the 50-range on up (each car has 118 seats). Turns out this car was reserved for railway personnel deadheading back to their home city, and it was virtually empty. I had a whole bench to myself so I spread out, riding comfortably all the way to Wu Dang Shan.

Not bad for a girl with an expired ticket!

My arrival was not spectacular, only that the bus I was supposed to board to take me straight to my hotel had closed its doors and wasn’t letting anyone else on. Reasoning that it was a city bus I decided to wait for the next one, only there was no ‘next one’. Meanwhile there were a bunch of people demanding the privilege of driving me to my destination for a mere 60 Yuan. I’ve been a victim of that before. No thanks.

And then there was this one who offered a shared ride into town for only 15 Yuan. That was a deal! Three other parties and I climbed in. This driver featured again the next day, coming back down the mountain.

After enjoying the mountaintop and all it had to offer (see previous post), we hit city level rather late and it was doubtful that my friends would be able to return to their home. Just as we were debating solutions here comes my driver friend from the day before, volunteering his services again for a mere fraction of what everyone else was charging. Celine and Amber made it to the depot in time to catch the last bus home.

Now alone with the driver, I asked him to please let me off in a populated area so I could buy some dinner. I had not had much to eat because I was waiting for the girls so we could breakfast together. They had already eaten. Temps soaring during midday left us no desire to sup before climbing. Factor in mountain climbing, and by 5PM I was ravenous. The driver ignored my request, dropping me off at my hotel on the edge of town. As though I WANTED to walk more after climbing a mountain! I plodded back toward town, cursing the buses that stop running at 6PM.  

Here is where the weirdness REALLY gets weird!

Not a street vendor or hole in the wall restaurant to be found on this main drag. When I finally did find an eatery, they served me two dishes instead of the one I had ordered. It took forever for the waitress to reappear with 5 different ‘to go’ cartons. I had no idea what was in them. The bill came to 73 Yuan. I cursed the fact that I had again been cheated.

Back at the hotel and now sated, I reasoned that maybe having 2 meals worth of food was not a bad idea. The dishes were certainly tasty. The portion I hadn’t eaten would do for my breakfast. I slept deeply and well, but woke up with an overwhelming desire to go home. In spite of a noon checkout time, the service person knocked on my door at 10AM, essentially forcing me out of the room about an hour before I had planned to leave.

It seems all my plans are going straight to the dump!!!

Evicted before I could enjoy my breakfast and hours before I was due to meet my friends, again I headed into town, this time on a bus. The thronging masses crowding the walking street I had seen yesterday from the bus window were absent today. Into this hush - a vacuum, you might say, I strode with my full pack nestled against the small of my back.

Toward the back of town, across a desolate, sandy strip I spied what appeared to be an ancient wall. It was in fact a temple enclosure, not renovated or populated. Whereas such relics generally charge an entrance fee, this one appeared to be free. With muted reverence I stepped in, discovering a silent courtyard, devoid of people. 

Let’s explore it in greater depth in our next entry, shall we?


Karate Blogger

Why am I having such trouble getting this entry out? Normally I would accept such a damming up of words as meaning the entry is not ready to be written. In this case, I’ve written all the events surrounding that trip except for this initial foray into adventure. I’ll give it another shot. Please forgive me; I sense this will not be some of my best writing.

Ever since watching the version of Karate Kid that came out in 2010, starring Jacky Chan and Jaden Smith I have made the temple featured in that movie one of my traveling priorities. This temple, home of the Shaolin Kung Fu discipline and the foundation of the Taoist philosophy, is situated atop the Golden Roof Mountain, for centuries only accessible to the heartiest and most devout. There the monks develop self restraint and the art of harnessing energy, the Tao, and incorporating Taoist philosophy into every aspect of their life. One could compare it to The Force, as elucidated in Star Wars.

Jacky Chan says in the movie: “Kung Fu is not an art, it is a way of life.” And echo of  the philosophy expressed by Obi Wan Kenobi

Here I am, a three-year resident of China and I finally have a train ticket to that revered destination. To add gravy to those mashed potatoes, I have students/friends who live in that city and will meet me and guide me through my visit.

Strange: this whole year I’ve been in a rather deep, pensive mood. Even more pensive than I usually am. The more time goes by the less company I seek. It has really put a strain on my general attitude, especially since all the traveling I’ve done this summer has involved visiting. No reflection on my wonderful, welcoming friends, but I felt relief that Celine and Amber could not meet me at the train station as planned.

In the next two entries I describe pretty much everything other than climbing the mountain and visiting the temple. Ashamed of my own negligent narration, here goes.

Celine, Amber and I were to meet at the foot of the mountain, only 6 bus stops away from my hotel. Easily enough we found each other. I had forgotten how vividly beautiful Celine is! How vibrant and full of life! Immediately my misgivings about being in company vanished. We all hugged and chattered like magpies while ransacking the usual outlays of tourist kitsch that are the bane of any attraction I’ve visited thus far.

The heat was intense and the sun merciless. Being at the foot of the mountain, we were not getting any breeze. Time edged closer to noon with the sun directly overhead. Because of that and also because of my dismal haircut I decided to buy a hat.

We clowned a bit, trying hats on. Celine looks good in anything she wears. Amber, dimmer in the presence of her more flamboyant friend but nevertheless a pretty girl found her look wearing a wide brimmed creation. I preferred the fake felt fedora but selected a light colored straw Stetson lookalike for its cooling properties. Ultimately everyone ended up buying the same style, same color hat.

How ironic! I lived in Texas for years but had to come to China to buy a Stetson!

Remember: I was pretty hungry because I had not yet eaten anything, but the heat robbed me of any desire for food. Still: we’re going mountain climbing. That is not something you do on an empty stomach. I should probably pack in some carbs. The girls were still full from their breakfast. We compromised by snacking on small cakes and vacuum packed snacks the Chinese are so famous for.

The girls got to witness firsthand the effect fish has on me. Gagging, spitting, doing my best to not throw up right then and there. Maybe they remembered from our class discussions that I cannot stomach even the smell of fish. After my fit and guzzling long draughts of water, they asked me why fish has such an effect on me.

It has to do with a bad piece of fish long in my past that made me sick immediately after eating it and laid me out for days afterward. Even now I cannot stand the smell of fish or seafood.

There! Mystery solved, reason revealed. In future entries, when I mention fish derogatorily I can refer you back to this entry for the reason why.

In the meantime, my appetite is now even less. Celine, the coordinator of this jaunt decides it is now time to climb the mountain. One last spit, one last chug of water and off we go, to the bus that will take us the first part of the mountain.

Warning: another Chinese illogic coming up!

I paid 240Yuan bus fare to get halfway up the mountain. Celine and Amber got a substantial discount for being students and for being native to the area, but still paid a hefty chunk. All others on the bus I presume were legitimate, out of town tourists like me, and paid the same fare I did. Being as I paid so much for this excursion I intended to fully enjoy the experience. Imagine my consternation when all who were close to windows drew the curtains closed because the sun was too bright!

Too bad no one has told them that bus windows are usually coated with UV protectant. Or maybe someone did, and the knowledge defied absorption.

Whatever their reason, my view going up the mountain was limited to the half of a window next to Celine. I too could have selected a window seat but the knee injury incurred a few weeks ago in Chi Bi, in conjunction to the usual problem I suffer with leg room called for me to take an aisle seat. I handed Celine my camera should she spot anything picture worthy from the window.

That child is a cloud fanatic!!! It is not all bad; she took magnificent pictures of clouds. Unfortunately she ran down the camera’s battery so much that it needed a recharge once we got atop the mountain. Fortunately I did have my charger with me and there was a hotel that had a convenient outlet. We allowed 30 minutes for the battery to charge. That was another one of those freaky things that was just right.

I am ashamed to say that I am pathetic. Given my age, excess weight, poor physical condition, and my bum knee I had no lack of excuses to not climb the multitude of steps that led to the temple. After paying outrageous fares for buses – and not being able to enjoy the sights, and another 170 Yuan for the cable car, the final automated leg before only stairs made the temple accessible, I opted to park myself on a stone bench, giving the girls my camera and citing poor health as my excuse.

They weren’t going to climb the stairs if I wasn’t. They would have no fun if I couldn’t be there. They felt terrible at my inability to fully enjoy the excursion. After much prodding and arguing, they finally left. I sat on my stone bench, massaging my knee.

And thinking. What kind of person have I turned into that does not rise to a challenge? How can I claim this temple has been a targeted destination of mine if, when faced with the opportunity to visit it I park myself on a bench? Since when do I allow myself – encourage myself! – to wimp out???

Nay, I say! Never! I send the girls a text message to wait for me. Slowly but surely I am coming up that mountain, whether I’m fat, out of shape, fear a heart attack or have a bum knee.

It was not as bad as I had projected it to be. In fact I was barely winded when I summited. Maybe I’m not in as bad a shape as I thought I was! That’s good news indeed. There were a multitude of stairs to climb and I did have to rest occasionally, but no more often than anyone else. And, as usual people were very kind and encouraging to the big foreigner, smiling and shouting ‘Jia You! Jia You!’ (go on! Go on!).

The wind on the mountaintop made my spirits soar. The sights of distant peaks, either shimmering in heat’s haze or shrouded in cloud made me feel as though on majestic ground. The joy at reuniting with my friends and sharing this moment with them… at that moment, my heart was full.

I was disappointed to not feel any type of mysticism. It seemed to me that the monks were either costumed workers or not typical monks who embrace their belief wholeheartedly. Whole areas of the temple were off limits, among them the sights exposed in the movie. I didn’t expect license to prowl over every square inch of the temple. I would have been happy with just one or two iconic sights. As it was, there were only a few buildings and platforms for tourist enjoyment.

You should read the next post to find out where I found that deep connection to the mystic unfathomable.