Six Months in China, 2011
I arrived in China in May. My goal was to spend 3 months in temples where I could focus on zazen (zuo chan in Chinese), and to visit the famous Dun Huang Caves of Western China, where the Silk Road used to pass, and where Buddhism came to China from Central Asia. I also had hoped to visit Xi’An, the ancient capital of Tang Dynasty China, which was called Chang An then, where many a Zen Master was called to preach to the emperor. And finally, to visit Zhao Zhou, the Old Buddha’s temple, so famous for his simple and direct way of Zen.
The plan was to stay in Xiamen, where I have many Chinese friends, for a month, then go to a new, small temple outside of Xiamen, known as Tong Bo Yan Si. Stay for two months, then return to Xiamen to renew my Chinese visa, and stay for another month or so there, before going traveling to Dun Huang and “Far West, Wild China” for a month, Then I had planned to return to Xiamen for a final month.
Things did not go according to plan, with a number of twists and turns, but all in all it was a great trip, and I hope to return next year to do something like it again.
My first stop was a stay in Xiamen at Yoga Village, a yoga studio and guest house. It is located in a fine large old brick house, pretty unusual in modern China, since many old buildings have been torn down. The cost of a room varies between about $20 and $70 a night I think, but the owner, Lily may consider special rates for serious yoga and spiritual practitioners who plan to stay for longer times. Lily and the other teachers there have a very pure practice. Yoga Village is somewhat unique, in that Lily wants to keep yoga as a pure spiritual practice, free from the corrupting nature of money. Therefore, she holds classes on a pure donation basis. If you get to Xiamen, be sure to visit and take a class, and meet the nice people there. By the way, I am mentioning Lily and Yoga Village out of the gratitude I feel for her kindness to me, and her purity of practice–I was not asked to make this endorsement.
Yoga Village is also conveniently located near Zhong Shan Park., which is named to honor Sun Yat Sen, the first President of the Republic of China, after the Qing Dynasty ended in 1911. After Mao, he is probably the most revered person in China, and, maybe even more than Mao.
One day, as I was walking in the park, I noticed something quite interesting and a very telling example of the strength of Chinese culture. A father was showing his son the statue of Sun Yat Sen, and specifically teaching his child, maybe two years old, the Chinese characters. Teaching his kid to read at the age of two. That is not the first time I saw this, too. Chinese place a HUGE emphasis on education for their children. And lots of people want to meet foreigners to practice their English.
Chinese have an inherent love of nature, and everywhere you go, you will find natural art, like stones arranged in an artistic way, often with calligraphy etched on them.
I find billboards in China quite interesting. They often have a public education component. Smoking has been a very big deal in China for years, and at least up to a few years ago, when you met someone, another man, he’d greet you and offer a cigarette. But the government is now engaged in a public education campaign to discourage the habit. Not far from the park is a big shopping area that has just developed in the last few years, indicating that a consumer economy is clearly emerging. One of the billboards on a “no cars allowed” Walking street on Zhong Shan Road, was this sign.
Here is another billboard at a bus stop, advertising a hospital that specializes in cosmetic surgery.
They’ve come a long way since everyone wore Mao jackets!
Another very interesting phenomenon, is that the government is making it very easy for people to own gold and silver. On Zhong Shan Lu, or Middle Mountain Road in English, in 2007, there were just a few shops, but now they have many shops both Chinese and international. Walmart has at least THREE large stores in Xiamen, but unlike in the US, where it caters to the lowest priced goods, in China, they sell things that might be otherwise unavailable, such as organic food. But in addition to these stores like Walmart and large international department stores not seen in America, like Tesco (British) or Carrefour (French), there are many Gold shops selling jewelry, coins, medallions and so on. Very high end items that could cost thousands of dollars.
I don’t know who buys them, but someone must be.
There is also a large number of antique and art shops, several “Antique Malls”. Here is a picture of my “brother”, Meio Guang Fashi, an expert in Chinese art and antiques, talking about an item in one of the many antique shops in the Xiamen Antique Mall.
Lots of Chinese are amateur art collectors and there are antique flea markets where you can buy all sorts of things that may be a real find, or they may (more often) be junk.
In China, history is a lot different from our version. We sometimes might be in parallel universes. One of my favorite shots is in a store that sells a lot of memorabilia.
However, the kind of revulsion that we harbor for Hitler and the Nazis, and for the Evil Empire Soviet Union, they simply don’t have. Chinese reserve their anger for the Japanese, who caused terrible suffering for the Chinese people during the 1930’s and 40’s, and still have never apologized. Most Japanese are not even told about the atrocities their country committed.
While staying at Yoga Village, I decided to use one of the skills I had learned at the Zen Center, baking bread, since everyone loves fresh bread. I also hope that it is a way to introduce Zen ideas to younger Chinese, who have often lost sight of their culture and heritage. Lily saw Ed Brown’s film, How to Cook Your Life, and hopes a version with Chinese subtitles will come out, since without Ed’s comments translated, it looks like just a cooking school, and not a film about self cultivation. One Saturday morning, I held a bread baking party, making pancakes, muffins, and quick breads, but since most Chinese don’t have regular ovens I used a microwave oven and a rice cooker, which is hardly seen in the West. About twenty people showed up, and we had a lot of fun mixing batter, chatting and eating.
I was about to head off to Tong Bo Yan Si, when a porcelain crown I had done two years ago, chipped badly when I bit on a grape seed. It took another ten days to finally find a dentist and get the tooth fixed. I settled on the Military Hospital, #147. A pure metal (gold/palladium alloy) crown that I think will last a long long time cost about $250. They serve Chinese military, but also civilians and even foreigners like me. They would have charged me even less, but I wanted a crown that I was sure could last. Yet, the same crown in the USA would cost 4-5 times more.
As a result, people could go to Thailand or China and get a vacation and care comparable to the USA. It’s called Medical Tourism.