вторник, 22 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part VIII): Historic sites and Buddhist temples

We woke up on New Year's Day 2013 in China. Mum and Lawrence had been looking after the girls, so we had a nice lie-in. This was to be our last full day in Jinan, before heading back home via Beijing on 2 January. Lawrence rang to make sure we weren't too late, as my sister-in-law, Miao Miao, was keen to show us one more tourist sight before we left.

Earlier on our visit Miao Miao's Dad had shown us around the historic centre of Jinan: Daming lake. This bascially consists of a large park area enclosed by remains of the old city wall with a lake in the middle surrounded by various old buildings, including Buddhist temples. As in Beijing the layout is very open with wide spaces. The old Chinese buildings are pagoda-style and made of brick with intricately carved and painted wooded roofs.

To the untrained Judeo-Christian eye Buddist temples centre around a statue to which worship is offered in the form of incense sticks, other gifts and by bowing down, often with hands held together in a prayer-like gesture. It is difficult to tell, as we didn't get to ask anyone questions, but it would seem that the religious devotion is driven more by specific personal needs than by a sense of worship per se. Chinese, while very contemporary and holding to a scientific worldview, are quite superstitious and attach a lot of importance to the number eight and the colour red. A local custom is to attach red ribbons to special trees as a token of luck.

On the final day of our trip Miao Miao took us to a Buddhist site on the mountainous edge of the city. The complex was rather like a large park. We climbed up the hill and then walked down the hill among various very large statues of Buddha and other related figures, including a female representing kindness. For most of the visitors, possibly including us, the spiritual/religious aspect was incidental and on the square in front of a HUGE and apparently well-fed Buddha (right) were various go-carts and similar rides for children. While there were cushions for genuflexion and a tray for incense sticks in front of the statue, the overall ambience around the statue was more of a day out than worship or religious devotion. It was standing in front of this Buddha that Miao Miao starting to ask me probing question about faith and whether all the religions were not indeed the same.

The central piece of Buddhist site was the cave of ten thousand Buddhas, which basically did exactly what it says on the tin. The cave has obviously been renovated as a tourist site and is a warm, well-lit tunnel decorated by ten thousand (or certainly a very large number) of Buddhist statues. This part of the complex was more conducive to devotion and culminated in a shrine chamber where people were clearly earnestly engaged in acts of worship.

After the park we returned home to a meal of home-made Chinese dumplings and other food. If it weren't for the intenstinal after-shocks of our 'steak' house meal a couple of days before, we would have had a larger appetite, but it was tasty all the same. We were able to spend some more time with Miao Miao's parents and her sister and family (the latter all speak English) and to present some gifts from home.

In the evening I spent some time with Mum and Lawrence, going for a foot massage and then for a few games of pool with Lawrence. All good. I got to bed quite late and we had an early start catching the train to Beijing the following morning.

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