Tuesday was a holiday here, it being Qing Ming Jie or Tomb Sweeping Day. I was really happy because I was missing Tuesday’s speaking and listening class, which I hate. The teacher for this class, Tang Laoshi, is just an ordinary fluff ball of biases and prejudices. I could take it if she was a good teacher, but sitting in her class is just a complete waste of time. Well, almost. At least, I get to hear some Chinese, or so I console myself.
Fu Julie had agreed to come along, and it was around 10:30 when we set off. There was some confusion initially over the bus we had to take, but Da had been very precise in her instructions. “Take the bus from Jinsha Bus Station. Number 47 or 19.” And so we did. Walking through the bus station, I was fascinated by the ‘shower’ that each bus gets when it enters the station, of course, without the passengers. “Wouldn’t it be fun to be inside while the bus is being cleaned?” asked Fu Julie. I agreed. I had seen these automatic car washes in the U.S., and it seems a pretty fun thing to do. I wonder how our BMTC buses get cleaned back in Bangalore, if at all they are cleaned. Manual? However, having found our bus fast enough, we sat right at the front. A woman seated opposite me smiled. I smiled back. And that started an impromptu rapid fire Chinese conversation, with Birdy being the Chief Listener and Speaker. Fu Julie was rather awestruck. “You guys should be in the advanced levels,” she says. We laugh. The woman who was talking to us seemed to be asking fairly standard questions. It is a bit of a surprise to me as well that Fu Julie cannot understand a word of what the Chinese woman is saying. She is the star student in class, but surprising revelations are in store for me, more on that later in another post.
Qing Yang Temple or literally Green Ram Temple is set right on a busy street in Chengdu. The entrance fee was around RMB10, and it was here that Fu Julie discovers to her shock that she has lost RMB100 which she had kept in the outer pocket of her backpack. That proved a bit of a dampener because she was understandably, downcast for the rest of the time in the temple. But the temple! It was the first Taoist temple I had been to in China, and certainly one of the most temples, Taoist, Buddhist or Tibetan that I had seen. Stretching endlessly, there was a beautiful sense of peace that serenedaded the surroundings. The temple was originally built during the Tang dynasty’s reign in the 6th century although there have been several reconstructions since then. I had read a little bit about the temple before I left and I was looking for what had been termed the star attraction of the temple – the Eight Trigrams Pavilion and two bronze goats. The Pavilion is based on the Taoist philosophy that sky is round and the earth is square. It wasn’t hard to find at all – with the Chinese zodiac symbols carved in front being a dead giveaway. And the bronze goats were just as easy to find, guarding the Sanqing Hall. These bronze goats were the focus of attention of many Chinese. One goat though was considerably different – with a mouse’s ears, an ox’s nose, a tiger’s claws, a rabbit’s mouth, a dragon’s horns, a snake’s tail and horse’s face, a goat’s beard, a monkey’s neck, a chicken’s eyes, a dog’s belly and a pig’s thighs. Phew. Stroking the goat is supposed bring you good luck, and since I am always looking for Lady Luck in any form, that’s exactly what I did, following the Chinese who presumably had the same idea.
The weather had taken a turn for the worse, and both Birdy and Fu Julie were shivering as we strolled through the temple grounds. At one of the temples, we stood a while to watch a Chinese tradition. Carved on the wall adjoining the temple were the Chinese characters for good luck. You have to touch the character while walking with your eyes closed.
I think if Birdy and I had been alone, we would have tried, perhaps. But poor Fu Julie was still in mourning over the loss of her RMB100, and it didn’t seem appropriate. She seems to be a devout Christian, and I noticed that she didn’t try the ‘stroke the goat’ ritual either. There was a wonderful little teahouse and it was here that we found a vegetarian restaurant too. RMB6 per person, and although the meal wasn’t designed to please the Taoist Gods, it was perfectly fine considering that this was probably the surest you can come in China to having ‘vegetarian’ food. A little bit of greens, fried onions and tofu. That’s what we had. A little over an hour later, walk to the bus stop, and get off at Jinsha Bus Station again. My memory now fails me – I don’t remember what I did the rest of the day. The follies of not writing these diary entries the day it happens!
On Wednesday, we sat with Yoke and Dawei on the lawns outside the dorm. It was around 9M. Yoke was showing us pictures from his trip to Danba on his laptop. Sunflower seeds, Coke for me, and beer for Yoke. Dawei was the silent observer of all this. Danba looked outstanding – just the kind of desolation I am looking for, although perhaps I may not choose to go there later this year when my actual traveling period begins. Yoke and Ian went to Chongqing this weekend, and despite Yoke’s best persuasive skills, we decided not to go. Chongqing is just another Chinese city to me, and having been to many of China’s cities, this time I want to see the ‘beautiful China’ that I see on National Geographic. Which is why places like Guilin, Yangshuo, the grasslands in Mongolia, the ‘real’ Tibet in Sichuan Province – those spectacular mountains, the sparkling lakes, and the gushing rivers of China. That’s what I want to see this time.
This week we have another test, and the lessons are just getting tougher and tougher. I didn’t think that learning Chinese would turn out to be so life-consuming, but it is. I haven’t been able to respond to emails yet. Even as I write this blog post, I glance at my clock. 30 minutes was what I gave myself. Back again to studying those characters. Lunch. And then a little round of shopping to Computer City to buy a MP3 player. Why? So that I can listen to Chinese while sitting in the bus or walking to the gym. Think I am obssessed? Yes! There is no other way to describe it. This language will either kill you or strangle you. Either way, I am ready. It’s sweet life.