Monday, October 20, 2008

I Left My (Obama) Pin in Tian Tai City

...there on a chair, it called to me...  

But I didn't see it, after if fell off the pocket of my jacket, cuz I was too busy watching the fun and games, the kareoke singing, the balloon popping, the word riddles, the hug it out game, the social of socialism played out in the after dinner festivities of our school trip to the Jiangshu province.  My friend Leslie had given me the Obama pin before I left Los Angeles, a little pin, simple, with his face, and I have worn it proudly through my China travels.  

Alas, I didn't keep track.  

We left Lida at 1pm on a Friday...teachers and staff could sign up for this trip, organized and heavily subsidized by the school.  I went with 6 others from our unit, the Lida Global Initiative. There were a total of 3 buses, 180 in all.  It took us 4 hours to get to Tiantai--a white-knuckled ride with lots of honking, you know, Chinese-bus style.  The highlight was the crossing of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, which is the longest bridge in China, clocking in at 36km.  Its interior travelside is painted 7 different colors, each color stretching for 5 km.  It saves about 60 km of travel.

Of course the first thing we do when we arrive is go to a big banquet hall that specializes in feeding tour packages.
Second from the left is Sarah and then Michelle, who all work in the office, and Mr. Liu.
Here is Luna and also Deb, one of the other English teachers, a bright mate from down under. As soon as we diners were finished, the round tables were struck, the floors were quickly mopped and the space was turned into our performance area.
Here are Sally and Sarah, sitting exactly where the Obama pin was last seen.  The festivities were opened with a declaration that everyone have fun.  A microphone was involved, and fervent speaking occurred, but there was not the same shouting into the mic that I had experienced at a Shanghai wedding the week before, where somehow the louder it is, the more meaningful and sincere it is.

There were two MC's and also two carts of snacks that went around, with watermelon seeds (like the way we eat sunflower seeds) and little packets of preserved innards, sweet seedless tangerines, and also hard and dried fruit candies.  It's great to see a whole work organization enjoying each others performances; there's no ego or self-consciousness involved--everyone participates as entertainment and there is the constant refrain of 'have fun.'  It was amusing but long.  We were ready to leave and there was still a good half hour of 'we need 18 people to make 6 sets of pine trees that have 6 squirrels living in each.'  The amazing thing--there was not alcohol involved, but damn, I still lost my Obama pin.

The next day we traveled another 2 hours to Xian Ju or 'Gods' Residence' where mountain peaks resemble shapes that the tourists are to identify.  For instance, here is Profile of Soldier Hero:
Though with his puckered lips, you'd think they'd name it Profile of a Soldier Lover...
Muah!  Can you guess what this next one is?
The tip of a brush pen, called The Mighty Brush Pen.  There was also one called 'Screw Peak' next to 'Shy Girl' which our super young and inexperienced tour guide did not even point out the first time we passed.  We noticed on the way back what looked to be a peak in the shape of a button mushroom with a longish stem.  We asked her if that was 'Screw Peak' or 'Shy Girl' and it turned out it was both, and the interpretation would be left to the viewer.
Aha--signs of environmental consciousness.  A sign.

At dinner the night before, there was talk of the waterfall that we would see.  Turns out the rain has been low this year and the waterfall has dried out except for a spritz at the top.
When walking through this landscape, which was lovely but not necessarily grand, I overheard someone say 'This scenery is not very impressive.  There really is nothing to look at.'  With crowds and crowds of people, as is anywhere in China, it is hard to take in nature.  The Chinese want to be awed by beauty, and many a times it can fall flat, especially when their numbers are more awesome than the greenery.

Even Michelle and Luna are complaining that our the tour package has shown us basically three hours of touring and the a day spent on the bus.  They are such lively girls who translate a funny Chinese poem to me (it rhymes in Chinese):  On the bus we sleep, off the bus we photo, when we get home, don't know where we've been.

On our way out, I purchase a small Buddha amulet--it's gold string had caught my eye. I didn't think of it at the time but it is a new small object to wear instead of a pin.

We took another two hours back to Tian Tai City to catch the last hour of a 1400 year old Buddhist Temple, built during the Sui Dynasty.  The last time it was renovated was in 1279, and the policy now is to not make any renovations or preservations for that would go against the naturalness of the Buddhist doctrine.
Many people have chances to buy incense and pray to the various temples housing the different Buddhas. A particularly fertile and plump Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy, who endows asking parents for sons had a particularly hearty worshipping.  There was one woman who was there to thank Guanyin for her present gift.  There are monks all around and lots of workers upkeeping the grounds.
I'm particularly drawn to the dragons at the corners of all the eaves, there to protect.
And on the tops of the roofs are the buddhist horizons.  It looks similar to the campaign O of Obama.
Here is a 1500 year old plum tree that has never been treated.  It thrives on the good spirits of the monks and chanting.  There was one bout of termites during the Cultural Revolution, but otherwise, it has survived amazingly.  So we are told.
IIt is interesting to see everything in a kind of natural decay...these are ancient structures after all.  But it balances all the shine that so symbolizes modernity.  I would not want to see a new coat of paint on these buildings, but there is a somewhat feeling of neglect.  Here it is the spirit that rules, yes, but we know that this culture privileges the material at this moment.
We return to the banquet hall for another dinner and I have a chance to ask about the Obama pin.  It turns out that the manager did see it on the seat as he pointed to the vicinity we were sitting.  He thought that it was part of the fun and games and so he tossed it.  He apologized profusely.  

The final day we drove to Tian Tai Mountain.  On our way, we picked up our local tour guide at a designated spot.   She was a live one, telling us accompanying poems about Tian Tai mountain, a place that Emperors liked to come visit because of its beauty and tranquility. We were to be driven to the top of the mountain, where we would then walk down and be met at the bottom by our bus. She asked us to not take too much stuff and to watch our step and not take photos and walk at the same time.

She tells us the 'tai' of Tiantai is usually pronounced with the third tone, the down-up tone, like how Taiwan is pronounced.  But for this place only, the 'tai' of Tiantai is pronounced with the first tone, the neutral tone--same word but a different tone to sound its singularity.
It is an awesome range, much more grand and impressive than the day before.  It's hardly a mountain climb--there are stairways built all the way down.

And smack in the middle:
Local entrepreneurs.

There was a bit of rock climbing in some cases.  Our merry band was always in good spirits and very happy to pose and take pix.  Getting out of the office and into nature opens the heart of all. The phrase for 'happy' in Chinese is 'kai xing'--literally meaning 'open heart.'

And continuing to descend, there is a slow crescendoing sound of water.  Alas, a waterfall promised.  From far up you can hear its faint titter, and it is wonderful to follow the sound as it gets fuller and fuller.  It is certainly clear and natural, the 'big natural' as nature is called in Chinese.
And speaking of full, we were but another tour group landed at the bottom of the mountain.
There's a constant jockeying for position and pose.  I tried to just sit and watch the waterfall, but the excited voices and the constant direction and countdown to smiles gave it a whole other layer of experience.
Yes my cohorts Deb and Michelle happily snapping photos, too.  

And as you look up to the top of the waterfall, just to the right of it, you can see a line of poetry. The Chinese like to make a line out of 4 words.  The first word is 'jing' or 'gold', the last word is 'tian' (like Tiantai) which means 'sky' or 'heaven.'  Together it is the 'golden court' in this 'well's view of the sky,' on this mountainside, an inscription of hope.

Just beyond the tunnel leading out of the waterfall cove, there are snack stands and a man, who has set up shop--
to read your life, your future.  This then opens into a huge vast expanse of the clearest water...
with geese loungingly swimming, the stone guards insuring tranquility...
The air is a relief.  If only there were time to sit on one of the stone benches, all the good nature and good spirit surrounding.  This final bridge brings us to the other side of the lake, where all the buses wait.
One last look from the bridge.

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