Huangzhou, China is definitely a mixture of tranquil lakeside resting and a frantic flurry of e-bikes and taxis. The lake is wonderful as there are older people dancing in couples to traditional sounding music and old guys sitting about cooling themselves with their fans.
The silhouette of the mountains in the distance cap off the sparkling lake and the exotic view of junk boats floating across it. The city streets have been harder for me to tackle. There doesn’t seem to be a queue for waiting for taxis and I have had many stolen from me. A taxi driver tried to suggest that he would turn off the meter so he could charge me double of what I should pay, so I got out of the taxi and slammed the door. Taxis don’t always stop for me either. I thought it was just a coincidence at first; all of the empty taxis floating past me and then I realized that a lot of the drivers don’t want to pick up foreigners. I have also had taxi drivers that don’t want to take me all the way into the University campus because they will have to push a button for a ticket. One taxi driver was not phased by letting me out at the front gate which is a considerable walk to my building. Another driver yelled at me for motioning him to drive further onto campus.
Despite this city stress the haven of the temples in Huangzhou are comforting. I tried to take the buses to the Lingying temple which was a mistake. The bus was packed and I was sweating a little too much to be out in public. So I got off the bus at the next stop and I sat by the West Lake. The foreground was filled with pink lotus flowers and in the distance a bridge spanned from the shore to a small island. That was much better than the sweaty cramped bus. The temple itself was brilliant with Buddha statues carved into the rock face. There were giant statues of Gods and Buddha and chanting monks underneath them. I tried to burn incense which is done to pray to Buddha and the Gods but the fire was damn hot and my sticks were not lighting and the heat just made me sweat more. So I stuck my offering in the sand of a large urn with the tips slightly burnt as this was all a sweaty Canadian could do in the July heat.
So this 1700 year old temple made me gasp a bit with its immense statues and carvings. And I think about how funny it is that a Buddhist retreat is now overrun with streams of people living in a communist country that does not really sanction religion. I wondered how the communist party rationalized the Buddhist parts of the country. Here at the temple people were still kneeling on coloured cushions beneath giant golden Buddha statues and painted statues of Gods that raised high above their heads. The religion seemed quite alive for the people bowing towards the statues and waving sticks of incense between their two hands.
Walking further around the temple I walked up the stairs to a second building that seemed to be where the sound of monks chanting was coming from. This is something that immediately calms me. The collective chanting of bald headed monks in bright yellow robes is something that makes me stop, sit and listen. I found a nearby bench and I rested for a bit to listen to the chants. The same wooden instrument that I heard played at a Korean temple is used to keep time for the chanting. The echoing of the wooden object also helps to relax me. I have been reading a book by monk Thich Nhat Hanh with a foreword by the Dalai Lama the past month or so and I wonder if my book is even allowed to be read in China. I feel that it is a shame that pictures and references to the Dalai Lama are not allowed in this country. It’s interesting how a religion that focuses on grounding yourself in the present and cultivating your own awareness of others has posed such a threat to this government.
At this point I was melting and I moved to an area where I could catch a taxi. There were still people budding in line to get my taxi as I waited to leave the Lingying temple. Maybe inner peace and compassion only go so far in this world and hailing taxis is not the best situation for finding Budhhism in action.