CHINA JOURNALTuesday, May 7 through Thursday, May 9, 2002
Someone said the morning was dreary, but I find that having the drizzles simply enhances the beauty and quietness of the Chinese gardens. We started this morning in Hangzhou at Yun Lin, The Soul's Retreat. Built in 326 A.D., it is one of six Buddhist monasteries in China. China may be crowded with people, but each of these temples and holy sites we have visited has acres of beautiful, hilly land that is like one huge garden, so subtly done that you think it was God's work...and in a sense it was. Inside one dark cave there are 388 figures carved out of the rock wall and a long rock ledge where the monk Hu Pao slept. (He was the one for whom the tigers pawed the spring.) It was a bit of jarring realism when, at the entry, the beggars who were amputees were all lined up for the day. I had to wonder about the amputations. The arm amputations were all so uniform, right above the wrist and most of them double amputations. Heart wrenching.
A walk up through the garden took us past many stone sculptures up to a huge, very active temple. On our way up the hill we passed a man who was standing on one leg flat against a tree with the other leg up straight in the air against the trunk...a 180 degree spread. He was flattened against the upright leg with his hands clutching the tree. Here was a real tree hugger. When we came back down the hill a half hour later, he was still there. I wonder how he walks away at the end of the day. He was not a beggar. This was his calling, I guess.
Driving away from Hangzhou, we stopped at the Longjing Tea business where we were, of course, served tea, but also given a lesson in how to drink it. Outside a man was sitting in front of a large wok that had a controllable fire underneath it. Next to him was a flat basket of tea leaves. He was hand roasting the tea. A handful of tea leaves went into the wok. He then methodically with a flat bare hand rubbed them over the bottom of the heated wok and then pulled them up the side to the edge where, with the other hand helping, they were flipped over and the process began again. He did this for fifteen minutes with each little batch that might have filled one small tea box. He must have asbestos hands after doing that for years.
We arrived at the well-known West Lake and took a boat over to Fairy Island. One of the few signs in English said the temple was called the Pavilion of Heart Concurrence. The Buddhists say you cannot speak it or read it. You have to feel it in your heart. I liked that. It was a beautiful island garden with three pavilions which reflect in the water...especially well known for the reflections onto three stone pillars in the water under a full moon.
Being in a Chinese group I found that there were several days when we saw no non-Asian faces and on the other days fewer than a handful. While the English speaking tours have their own restaurant stops set up to feed busloads of people, so do the Chinese. Ours were always outfitted with round tables and Lazy Susans, almost a necessity when sharing dishes the way the Chinese do. What tickled me most was the rinsing-the-dishes ritual. When I first arrived in China, I thought maybe that was Fu Ling's fetish, but it isn't. At the tourist restaurants where you are sitting at tables for eight or ten, the first thing put on the Lazy Susan right off is a pot of tea and a big plastic washbasin. Everybody pours a little tea in their tea cup and saucer to swish around, rinses their chopsticks, and pours the tea into the washbasin, which is then removed before the food is brought in. Unlike at home, rice was usually the next thing to appear. Apparently as the eldest it is almost obligatory that I go first...so someone always served me rice in my bowl. Usually one person would stand and fill quite a few bowls before turning the paddle over to someone on the other side of the table. After that you are on your own.
Since we were in the heart of the silk industry country, we stopped at the silk factory. The work in action was fascinating. It was the right time of the year to see the machine where the silk thread is unwound from about four soaked cocoons at a time, with the new thread being started by a very quick hand motion when one of the cocoons was about unwound. Another interesting spot was where one lady, who has obviously done this for a long time, puts her thumbs into a cocoon in a particular way to open it, washes out the remains of the silkworm, spreads her fingers out to stretch it into a large web and fits it over a form about the size of a very large hand mirror. You wouldn't think the silk would stretch that much. But the next step was to take a ``mirror'' full of a dozen or so cocoons and stretch them open even more into one layer for the filling of a silk-filled comforter. Eight ladies, two on each side of the full size comforter, all reach way into the center to get the edge of the ``mirror'' silk. They all pull out their direction at the same time and it stretches to the full comforter double bed size. Pretty impressive, those silk worms! It obviously takes many layers and many cocoons to make a thick enough batting.
The company really wanted to hurry us into the next room where a lady talked about the qualities of real silk, and then they put on a high fashion show of all silk clothing. It looked like a Paris fashion show with pairs of tall, thin, unsmiling models walking down the stage in pairs with their arms held perfectly still. I've only seen this before on TV. Then, of course, was the visit to the handy salesroom next door.
It was still daylight as we drove to Shanghai. At one place there was a permanent (not temporary) official highway sign saying: ``Rear end collision. Keep space.'' I saw two of those and wondered if it happens often enough that they just leave the sign up.
The skyline of Shanghai was very unusual. My first thought was that the architects here have been having fun for the last ten or twenty years. The high rises are separate enough that each one stands out. The most distinctive part is usually the top where some are built as pyramids, as stepped pyramids, as unusual stairsteps, as flairs, or, my favorite, a huge lotus flower that could double as a crown. Even down the sides there were charming variations on the normally flat rectangular walls. We shopped in the old district where, as day faded, the lights outlining the buildings and Chinese rooflines came on for quite a show. We took the night drive on the Nan Pu bridge under the Hang Pu River. We went up the TV tower, the tallest in Asia, and could enjoy those fun buildings at night. They have gone all out in lighting effects up the full length of the buildings culminating in special effects on those delightful rooflines. It is an impressive scene of which they are justly proud. The one jarring note is the presence of too many big advertising neon signs, like the big Bayer aspirin circle on top of one of the high buildings. It is too bad that they are willing to compromise the look in order to get the big bucks. Shanghai is a big city with terrible traffic so I was glad to see the sights at night, but that is all I need of Shanghai. After a walk on the ``Lover's Walk'' on the Bund, along the river, we headed to the Lin Qing Hotel in the heart of an old Chinese neighborhood (as opposed to a Western tourist area.)
Our morning drive around Shanghai showed the electric trolley lines, the nine year old Yang Pu bridge whose supporting cables are placed to give a design statement. It is stunning as a piece of sculpture whether it works as a bridge or not. Wires were strung between trees in front of businesses to hang either laundry or the wares to be sold. Here the laundry arrangement from most apartments consisted of two metal poles going out at 90 degrees from the window, with little metal u-shaped brackets along the way to hold the bamboo poles. (I could imagine losing control of a pole full of laundry trying to get the second end of the pole into the bracket.) The intersection to enter the Nang Pu bridge was built like the Tehachapi loop. You circled over your own path to get enough elevation to enter the bridge. While others shopped, I visited the Museum on the Bund. Two interesting facts were that wheelbarrows came into use in the 1860's. That seems awfully late to me. Most interesting was that the transport tricycles came into being in 1937 because of the petroleum control. They certainly took hold!
After lunch we were off to the train station, which in Shanghai is quite modern and very busy. They keep it pretty clean for the number of people traveling through it. As you sit in the waiting room for your train, a man comes down the aisle with a machine that washes the floor in front of you (you tuck your feet under as he goes by). Cui Hua had bought so much that the Tank took pity on her and accompanied us all the way onto the train to carry packages. It would have been a real struggle without that help. Liu Jian Goa, the driver in Tianjin, would meet us at the train so we were okay at that end. Our train car was newer than the last one but had the same layout. Cui Hua and I both had bottom bunks this time. (Good thing. Can't imagine her sleeping with all her stuff in the bunk.)
Seen from the train: a man wading through a paddy throwing seeds from a large flat basket. I had bought bananas, apples, and pears in the station to eat on the train. Zaijian is the word for ``goodbye''. It is also the word for a ``finely cut pear''. So Cui Hua said the Chinese never cut a pear to share because that is like saying ``goodbye''. Cui Hua bought a Ramen bowl out the train window. From the man going down the aisle I bought a can of ``mixed congee'', which had broad bean, green bean, sweet rice, millet, malt, peanut, job's tears, longan pulp, and sugar. It was in a can the circumference of a Coke can with a plastic lid over the pull top. Inside the plastic lid is a small folded plastic spoon that snaps open to be about three inches long. It works.
We had had a whirlwind trip, what the Chinese call ``gazing at flowers from horseback''. Isn't that a great description!
We arrived in Tianjin on Thursday morning at 10:00 and, instead of Liu Jian Goa meeting us, it was Cui Hua's army boyfriend with a lovely bouquet for her and an army friend to help carry all her purchases. (She telephoned him nightly so he knew about the packages.) We went right to the office and worked until it was time for my afternoon classes when Liu Jian Goa delivered me.