Finch

Xi'an -- Wild Goose Pagoda (Sanzo), the City Wall, and Getting to Guilin

The next morning dawned wet and drizzly, and we had to go through the routine of packing up all our suitcases early enough for the bellboys to get it all and pack it up to go to the airport. Our flight to Guilin was an evening flight, and we had the Wild Goose Pagoda and a visit to a jade store and climbing the Xi'an City Wall all scheduled for the day.

It surprised me to learn that the Wild Goose Pagoda was actually the home monastery of Xuanzang, or Triptaka, also known in Japanese as Sanzo. *laughs* Yes, you Saiyuki fans might get to see some of the history behind the monk who went on the Journey to the West.



Sanzo and the Wild Goose Pagoda
That's him, there on the left, with his staff and monk's robes. The hand motion really reminded me of the anime. This is the monastery where he brought 657 scriptures back to in order to do the translations from Sanskrit to Chinese that took up the rest of his life, after the journey to get them in the midst of the second century AD. The emperor at that time helped him build his library and the temple to house it.

The Wild Goose Pagoda is behind the statue, and it is a 1500-year-old pagoda that is leaning just a bit to one side. It is one of the major Buddhist Temples in the country, another is the Lama Temple that we'd visited, but the Lama Temple is more Tibetan. The Wild Goose Pagoda is at the foot of one of the mountains that borders the city, so it's in one of the more expensive neighborhoods. Xi'an itself was, at one time, considered the "heart" of China, if you look at the whole map of the country, it's in the center.

Raining
When we got there, it was raining pretty hard. Luckily, Sherry had borrowed several umbrellas from our hotel and passed them out to everyone.

One nice thing about the rain was that it really did limit the number of people that came, and we were able to take our time between the various parts of the complex of small shrines around the Pagoda. I really enjoyed the feeling of the rain, and we'd brought our rain equipment instead of using the umbrellas. I had a rain jacket with a hood, and it was amazing to just feel the fall of water all over and around me.

I was having some trouble with my asthma at this point. Some of it was because of the down comforters and pillows in the room, but some of it was also with the all-pervading air pollution that was in all the cities. The rain was cleaning the air, and it felt amazing to be able to breathe again.

Sherry told us that becoming a monk included eating a completely vegetarian diet and getting nine dots burnt into their bald scalps using burning incense. During the Tang Dynasty, the monastery was home to 3000 monks. Today, there are just ten who take care of all the grounds.

With Attendents
There was an open courtyard before the front temple, and the walk was peaceful. There were also three tiers of steps and stone panels between each of the platforms.

Once we got up to the temple, Jevons and Sherry said that the men should step in and out with their left foot first, the women should step in and out with their left foot. They wer also very clear about no one taking pictures while within the temple. This shot was taken from without. While we were standing there, looking and listening to Sherry tell us some of the story of the Buddha, a man came in and kowtowed using the cushions that were set up right in front of the gold-leaf covered Buddha.

I loved seeing him knee down on the lower cushion, put his forehead to the upper one, hands turning out and up. He did seven of them, and then bowed and backed away, stepping out left foot first. Jevons explained that the three joss sticks are for the three parts of life: the past, the present, and the future.

Sherry noted that all of this was built during the Tang Dynasty and restored to what it had been, and a lot of the new buildings in Xi'an tried to emulate those of that Dynasty. She was pretty happy about the fact that one of the Tang Emperors was a woman. Now I want to research that a little more for stories. Jevons noted all the fish that were carved all over, because fish were a symbol for diligence because as far as people could tell, fish never sleep, so they were a reminder to the monks as to how diligent they should be.

Temple Courtyard
The inner courtyard had a bunch of smaller shrines. One of them included an intricate, five-layered filigree representation of the birth, life, and death of the Buddha. Much of the carvings were in ivory, sandalwood, and jade, and it was utterly beautiful. There was white, purple, green, and yellow jade. Again, they said that there should be no pictures of it from within the shrine, but the pictures from without really didn't do it justice.

From outside the room, Shelly gave a full and completely account of the Indian prince who was born with all the holy signs, and how he'd walked away from his rich life, wife, and family into history. It was restful to hear her tell the story, and it was interesting to have Jevons later comment that Buddhism was great for controlling people because when people were unhappy with their situation, Buddhism said that they deserved it, had earned it in a previous life, so they should stop complaining and get on with it.

But I was fascinated to learn that the Buddha's ashes were buried in 19 locations throughout India and Asia. They were forgotten for 200 years until someone decided to find all of his ashes and redistribute them all again. I love that the only one I wrote down was that his teeth were in Sri Lanka. *laughs*

Guanyin
Guanyin was a male god of mercy in India, but once he got to China he had a sex change into the female goddess Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. She's got weapons to destroy the evil, and gifts of all kinds for the good. She's become female so that all the women would have someone to pray to, when all the other aspects of the Buddha were male.

From the stories that I've heard, she's less about mercy than about justice. Her room was covered in carvings of the acts of mercy she's done. Her middle eye sees all. Her palms are held together to convey her attitude is that of a listening god.

A girl and her friend came in, and the girl kowtowed while her friend watched. So I didn't feel quite as strange just looking. When everyone had left and no one was watching, I bowed to her and then did three kowtows, and it was oddly comfortable, as the cushions were set at the perfect height to make it easy. But I wished for nothing, only thanked her for being able to see her and for the mercy already in my life. The guides said that you could wish for anything in the shrines, but if you got your wish, you had to come back, and I have no plans to come back to this particular temple.

Buddha of Wealth
Another shrine was to the Buddha of Wealth. Yes, those are giant coins on the roof. So one can pray for wealth. That was interesting to me, but not exactly what I'd expected.

Next door was a gift shop that none of the guides could endorse. And then we went down to the garden.

Happy Buddha
It was fun to see this guy, the quintessential "Happy Buddha". They said it was good luck to pat and rub his tummy, so a lot of us lined up to give him a good pat and get our luck. I figured we were in pretty good luck just being where we were.

The flagstones were pretty slick with water, but the cool weather felt good, and the gardens were lush with water and growth. Shelly said that the rain was a good thing, as it made the weather very easy to deal with rather than the heat they usually got.

Reminds me...
From there we went into the graveyard for the various monks that were buried there. All of them had been cremated, and their ashes were set in niches around the garden. I loved the design of this, because it reminded me of Celtic knots and designs.

Xuanzang is not buried in this graveyard. He died at 64 while visiting another monastery, and they decided to cremate and bury him there instead of here.

After the graveyard we went into the gift shop, where they had Chinese Horoscope stamps for everyone, and they wanted to sell us a lot of other things. The paintings really weren't very good. I saw a ginger-colored jade bracelet that I was kind of longing for, and the lady there saw it. She got it out, and the instant I touched it, I backed off. I had to just walk away and talk about it with John. Then, out on the front step of the store, she brought the price down to less than half what they were asking to start. That was pretty... bemusing. When I really got to process it after the instant of contact, I realized it was plastic. So I refused it, and walked away, but I realized that I really did want a stone Buddhist prayer bracelet of that ginger color.

Ginger Jadite Teapot
And, of course, our next stop was the jade shop. This is the color of what I wanted. *laughs* I couldn't afford the tea pot, sadly, but I was able to buy a bracelet of much smaller pieces of stone, and a pair of lavender jade fish earrings for much more reasonable prices. The bracelet, this time of real stone, was on sale for even less than they were asking in the gift shop, so I felt pretty good about that.

Jet had a goal for most of the trip, which was to get a carved ball of jade with multiple layers, and he got one with a marble inside two hollowed spheres of jade. There were holes to see in, but it was very cool how they'd carved it so that it held the sphere and ball within. He loved finding it for a price he could well-afford.

The guide at the jade shop had a long explanation for how mountain jade wasn't as good as jadeite, which was transparent and had color that would grow with wear. Jadeite is also harder than regular jade and comes in the many colors that was used for the carvings in the shrine. She had lovely examples of all the differences between them, and the displays were setup between qualities of jade, jadiete, and all the colors as well. It still didn't quite convince me to spend hundreds or thousands on a true jadeite piece, but I had fun with what I got.

But it did explain why older jade pieces are worth more. The long wear and use and contact with human skin and oils gives the piece more luster and depth of color. Chinese tradition says that jade will protect the health and strength of a human being if it is applied to the correct points. It's why they give jade bangles for children to wear.

All The Way Around
From the jade store we went to the City Wall. It wasn't nearly as hard a climb as the Great Wall, and it's in much, much better shape. It's 600 years old, now has 17 gates, is 12 meters tall (so only 70 steps up), and encloses the city in a circuit that is just a really nice, long walk. It took from eight to ten years to build. I loved the view from up there.

The wall and all the various tombs around the city made it difficult to put in a subway system, because there were just so many historical sites around the city. Finally they had to bring in a detection team to make sure they weren't going to run into anything they shouldn't and went ahead with the city subway.

We went in by the Shooting Tower, and went up into it to find yet another gift shop; but this one had a map of the entire Silk Road up on the wall. That was fun to see. Xi'an is the beginning of the Silk Road, so had a pretty big Muslim population of Chinese. They traded a lot of silk for Arabian Horses. It was also how Marco Polo first came to China, so he fell in love with Xi'an first, but eventually made it to the last city of our tour, Suzhou, which he called the Venice of the East because of its canals.

Airport Games
We got to the airport in the evening, and the kids had a lot of fun kicking around Jet's toy from the Temple of Heaven. He was carrying it through security at every airport and holding onto it on each plane to take care of it and keep it from getting crushed with the travel. He was being very careful with it, but also was happy to have fun with it while they were waiting.

They served a beef bun on the plane for the snack, and it was filling enough for dinner. I loved it, as it had onions and beef in a baked bun, wrapped in foil and with the usual drink, it was just enough. We arrived in Guilin rather late, and got introduced to our Guilin guide, Lily.

The first thing she said galvanized me, because she said that Guilin meant "Osmanthus Forest" in English. Osmanthus blossoms are a golden flower that, when dried, makes for a beautifully floral tea! I had one source for pure Osmanthus blossom tea in Santa Cruz, but last year they stopped carrying it... and I really wanted more. Given the name of the city, I hoped that I'd be able to get some while we were there. She also spoke of the karst mountains, the deep limestone caves, and the rivers that ran through her city and the natural beauty that was all around.

There were four of the ethnic minorities in Guilin and the city is in the midst of the Drum Autonomous Region, so there were, of course, the Drum, the Miao, the Dons, and the Yao. She was of the Drum, and they sing as their courtship ritual, the girl carves a proposal ball that has 12 sides for each of the months, and she has to present the ball to a boy, and he gets to accept or refuse the proposed marriage. But a lot of the courtship rituals have to do with singing traditional songs. We ran into an example of the singing later, purely by accident.

At the hotel, I asked Lily where I could get the blossoms, and she said that the pure blossoms aren't even available in other parts of China, much less the US, but that I should be able to get an osmanthus and green tea mix at the tea plantation when we went to visit that. That kind of sidestepped my question, but... I was hopeful anyway. We got in pretty late, and Jevons just took our passports, gave us our keys, and we went to our rooms. Housekeeping, even at that hour, came up to our room and remade our beds with silk instead of down (more about the silk batted comforters in Shanghai)! So I actually slept easy that night.

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Tripitaka! Hee. I think I vaguely remember the Wild Goose Pagoda being mentioned in the Journey to the West, yes.

That shading of jade is really beautiful - no wonder you wanted beads in that colour. I've seen ones (jade beads, that is) in yellow, or orange, but not that mingled coloration there.
I was quite happy with my 'scrap stone' beads, as they did have all the colors...

*grins* It's fun to read the books after knowing a bit more about the history as people here understand it and to see how the books influence the understanding of what happened. *laughs*