My final day in China I awoke bright and early and came to Lu’s apartment again as his dad was playing the violin. I packed up all my things and put them in the car and said my goodbyes to Lu’s mother, grandmother, and dog Burbur. We left about 9:30 to go to Lama Temple, a Tibetan Buddhist Temple.
The Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty ordered the construction of Lama Temple in 1780 to welcome the Sixth Panchen Lama to China from Tibet. (In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a ranking system similar to the Catholic Church, only it has to do with the reincarnation of gods or really important people. So instead of the pope saying he is St. Peter’s successor, it would be like the pope saying he is St. Peter. Dali Lama is the highest, Panchen Lama is the second highest.) The building of the temple was meant to promote peace between the Tibetan and Chinese people. If I understand the history correctly, this was a time when China had very little power in Tibet, though they were trying to gain more by controlling the Dali Lama.
There are a great many religious relics at this temple, and dozens of statues of various versions of Buddha.
It’s interesting to note that the Indian version of Buddha tends to be thin, while the Chinese version tends to be outrageously fat, and the Tibetan seems to be somewhere in the middle. Of course, pictures were strictly forbidden inside the various temples, but I could take pictures outside. Here’s one statue:
Here’s another one. I don’t know what the colored tassels hanging from the ceiling are for, but if they’re like the much less colorful Japanese version hanging in the Iga museum near my home, they are trappings that follow the statue whenever it moves somewhere. Just decorations, basically, like stained glass windows.
And these are some of the instruments used in worship; shells lined with gold, though I’m not exactly sure what they were used for. The explanations were all very vague, my questions unanswered by the tour guides, and sometimes I had to wonder if anyone really remembers what they were for.
Here is the robe the Emperor wore when he came to worship here:
Lama temple was the only temple I went to in China where there were actually worshipers. And lots of them. The smell of incense was thick in the air and made me a little sick to my stomach. Traditionally people take three sticks of incense and bow before the statue. Here’s what that looks like, at a respectful distance, but with zoom:
You can’t see it in the video, but after that they go into the temple with the incense and bow again, then put it in a little incense holder, and prostrate themselves before the statue. I didn’t think it would be very respectful to video tape them doing that in the inner temple.
Whoever said religion in China is dead-- lied. Or did they? It’s hard to know whether the people even know what they’re doing. But I’ve covered that before with reasons why I think they don’t understand, (for one, they tell me they don’t understand it), so I won’t restate my reasoning, except a few new insights on Buddhism I learned recently.
I just felt very sick being there. And sad. It’s a statue. Yes, I realize it’s supposed to symbolize something more, but no one seems to know what that something is. There are dozens of sects of Buddhism, and none of them agree about who or what God or gods are, or even if they exist. While denominations of Christianity do not always agree, we at least all believe in one God, that Jesus is His son and our savior, and in the Bible as the Word of God.
Some Western Christians think that the parts of the Bible that go on and on about not worshiping idols are obsolete, except in a symbolic way meaning that idols can be money or power or approval or success, etc. That is true, but sorry to break it to you, Western Christians, there are still millions, maybe billions of people in India and China and Tibet and probably other places worshiping idols, so those parts of the Bible are NOT just symbolic. Some people still need to hear them.
OK, off my soap box. I’m not saying I didn’t like Lama Temple; I’m really glad I went there. It was a real eye-opener. I shared some of these thoughts with Lu, and we had some really deep, interesting conversations. I think our friendship has grown much stronger since we were able to share these things.
Moving on, Lu and his father took me to lunch at another instant boiled mutton restaurant. Man, that stuff is soooo good. It amazes me what genius ideas haven’t crossed over from culture to culture, whereas some really stupid stuff you would never imagine (ehem, some anime shows) have made it over. For example, carrying stuff on your head in Africa! Nobody does that anywhere else, but look how much straighter their backs are! Chocolate cheesecake. I made it for my friends, and they said I should get the patent in Japan, because it doesn’t exist here! Half the stuff I cook my Japanese friends ask, “why don’t we have this in Japan?” But of course, I’m using Japanese ingredients you can’t get in America. The other day, I took some delicious Japanese mochi (rice cake) and mixed it with Brazilian dark chocolate to make the most amazing desert ever! Apparently no one has ever done it before. I can’t believe that! How long have the Japanese had access to chocolate? How long have Americans had rice flour? Not that hard to figure out! The problem with America is that we don’t have all the delicious fresh seafood, giant fruits, and sweets the Japanese have, and the problem with Japan is that they don’t know how to cook their delicious food well! They pickle and boil everything. So, I prefer a mixture of the two cultures.
Which is why I love Chinese culture so much. I think it’s the perfect balance. Japanese ingredients, fried in sauce. Politer than Americans, but not so much that they embarrass you like the Japanese. Laid back, but hard working. Generous and considerate, but not afraid to tell you if they need something or if something is inconvenient for them. They hug and touch you (unlike most Japanese), but not too much like some Americans. Friendly, but not obnoxiously so. Very family centered. Ancient culture, modern mindset. I’ve never met a Chinese person I couldn’t get along with; in fact, I’ve never met a Chinese person I didn’t want to be friends with. They’re always very appealing to me.
On the way to the airport, I saw some guys playing traditional Chinese chess. Here’s what that looks like:
Lu was hoping to show me a famous Cathedral while I was there, but we couldn’t fit it in. That just means I’ll have to go back next year! I was kind of sad to leave. But on the previous note, Christianity is much more popular in China than Japan. Only about 6% of the population, but that’s 70,000,000 people. So there are quite a few churches.
Lu dropped me off at the airport and I was able to find my gate just fine. It was Christmas Eve, so on the way I found these girls dancing and singing to Christmas songs. They pulled me up and got me to sing “Jingle Bells” with them! That was fun! We were being video taped, so maybe I’ll be on China television twice! Crazy. Here’s a picture after the song.
Afterward, they gave me a Christmas card and the little...bat(animal)/bat (thing you play baseball with) I'm holding in the picture. I have no idea what it's supposed to mean. I wanted to stick around and just get a video of the girls, but they kept pulling me up to sing and dance with them and I didn’t know the moves or the words, so I took off! That was embarrassing; I won’t show that video. I’ll just remember how lovely and fun the first song was and forget the one after. It was nice, because I felt like I got to take a little part of China home with me for Christmas.
My plane arrived in Osaka 8:30 pm. I hadn’t realized how good I had gotten at Japanese until I landed and was wondering how I would find a way back to Nabari so late. Then I heard some girls talking in Japanese, and low and behold, I understood them! Going from a country where I only understood a handful of words and phrases to where I had been studying that language for almost a year made a world of difference! Then I was glad to be home. I asked the girls what bus I should take, and they helped me find it. I talked with them all the way home in Japanese and English. They were really nice. Japanese people are nice too and mostly I get along with them just as well as Chinese people. So I wasn’t sad anymore.
And my Chinese friend Li was at Nabari station at 11:00pm to help me with my luggage. He wanted to hear all about China, and told me about his trip to an island south of Osaka to go fishing. He promised to take me some time, maybe when it’s warmer.
So that was China! The next few days, Christmas and so on, were crazy, but I’ll save them for another post!