Wednesday, February 4: This morning, Alex and I go for a walk in our Kunming neighborhood in search of a breakfast place. We find a bakery where we sit at an outdoor table and eat some Chinese-style breads, which taste nothing at all like the breads we’re used to having in the West. They always have some strange unidentifiable flavor in them. Even when they’re supposed to be savory breads, say one with a hot dog inside of it, the bread is still sweet.
Our flight today to Lijiang isn’t until 7:55 p.m. I have several issues I’d like to take care of today. First, we’ve decided we want to go to visit Qiongzhu Si, the Bamboo Temple, so we need to arrange a return taxi to the hills 10 km to the west of the city. Second, we will be arriving in Lijiang by plane quite late this evening, so I’d like to arrange an airport pick-up with our hotel, the Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Resort. I know Lijiang is an old town, with pedestrian streets, and I don’t want to arrive at the gates of the old town late at night and have to walk all over the town looking for our hotel. Thirdly, I’d like to arrange to pay extra to keep our hotel room until 5:00, at which time we’ll leave for the airport.
First, I text my student assistant Angela, and ask if she’ll write my request to keep the room until 5:00 in Chinese. She does so, and I show the receptionist the message; she agrees and charges us an extra 100 yuan. Second, I text my teaching assistant Jack, because during exams he looked up the information about our Lijiang hotel and wrote the name and address in Chinese. I ask him if he could call the hotel in Lijiang and ask for the airport pickup at 8:40 this evening. He takes care of that for me. Third, I show the Chinese name of Qiongzhu Si in my Lonely Planet China to the receptionist and I say “taxi.” It all miraculously falls into place, but as you can see, nothing is easy in China, especially when no one speaks English. Lucky for me, I have student assistants and teaching assistants and students who can help me to get along.
We hire a taxi to take us up to the temple; the driver will wait for us while we explore. It’s a larger temple than I imagined it would be. The Bamboo Temple was established during the Yuan Dynasty as the first temple dedicated to Zen Buddhism in Yunnan. It has been burned down and reconstructed several times. The present structure mostly dates from the late Qing Dynasty.
The temple is most renowned for the painted clay sculptures of the 500 Buddhist arhats. In Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat is a “perfected person” who has attained nirvana. In other Buddhist traditions the term has also been used for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment, but who may not have reached full Buddhahood.
The sculptures, known as the “sculptured pearls in the oriental treasure-house,” were created during the reign of the Qing Emperor Guangxu (1875–1909) when the temple was undergoing major repairs. Li Guangxiu, a folk clay artist from Sichuan Province, took five assistants to Kunming where they spent seven years (1883–1890) creating the 500 clay sculptures (Wikipedia: Qiongzhu Temple and Lonely Planet China).
I’m not sure who this multi-armed god is in the temple below. I always thought the multi-armed gods were Hindu, but this is a Buddhist temple. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d really appreciate it! 🙂
According to Wikipedia, the arhat sculptures are distributed over three buildings: 216 each are in the Fanyin Pavilion and the Tiantailai Pavilion, 68 are housed in the temple’s main hall, the Daxiong Hall. In the Fanyin Pavilion and the Tiantailai Pavilions, the arhat sculptures stand beside a central Buddha sculpture in six rows, with three levels in each row. Each arhat is about one meter tall and is characterized by unique facial expressions and body gestures. This is a radical break from the usual fixed style of Buddhist sculptures. Through the use of exaggeration, the artists created lively images. Some arhats are reaching for the moon with extremely long arms, some are crossing the ocean on extra long legs. There are bare-footed monks and naked-bellied Buddhas. Some are lost in deep thought, some are telling each other good news. Some are tranquil, some angry, some surprised, some curious. One is scratching his back, another is poking his ear.
I love this temple so much!! Not only is it colorful and well-maintained, but it surprises me that it’s here at all. I really didn’t know there were any Buddhist temples in China. I find in Yunnan Province, much to my surprise, there are many. I also love all these arhat statues and the gorgeous grounds. Or maybe I’m just happy to have blue skies and reasonable temperatures!
Below, to the right of the Buddha, you can see a crowd of arhats, one with an extraordinarily long arm. 🙂
I venture off the beaten track a bit and find myself on the fringes of the monks’ living quarters.
I make my way back to the temple complex, as I don’t think I’m supposed to be in the monks’ quarters!
There is a vegetarian restaurant in one of the buildings, and Alex and I order some potatoes with peppers. They are very oily, so I don’t eat many of them.
After lunch, we continue to explore the grounds. I love the architectural details on these temples. I get so excited by buildings sometimes that I think I should have been an architect.
We see a path going up a hill, so we follow it to this long and colorful pavilion.
Alex of course has to do some hand stands as he’s a personal trainer and a calisthenics connoisseur. He loves to do handstands in all kinds of outdoor places.
I love the view of the rooftops from the pavilion.
After thoroughly exploring this temple, we head back to our hotel, where, since we paid extra to keep it until 5:00, we relax until it’s time to leave for the airport.
I’m not hungry in the evening, as these Chinese meals with rice always fill me up. Alex, who can eat anything anytime, opts for some beef noodles at the airport. Our flight is slightly delayed but without incident, so we arrive at the Lijiang airport close to 9:00 p.m.
The driver sent by the hotel to pick us up is late. After a couple of phone calls back and forth to the hotel, we finally meet up with him and get into his rickety van. He begins his drive on the expressway, a very nice highway, but soon he veers off and begins driving on an old potholed road adjacent to the highway. He drives on this road, bumping along uncomfortably, for nearly an hour!! Sometimes the road veers away from the highway, and it looks like we’re out in the middle of nowhere. Then the road goes back to where we can see the highway right beside us. I guess he’s trying to save money on the toll or something, because he never gets on the nicer highway until we are almost to Lijiang!
He takes us to the south gate of Lijiang Old Town, and he walks us through the town quite a long distance to our hotel. I’m sure glad we arranged the hotel pickup because it would have taken us forever to find it.
Once we arrive, we check in with Merry, a wonderful Chinese young woman who speaks excellent English. She turns out to be a big help to us during our time in Lijiang. We will be here for 4 nights as Lijiang is supposed to have a lot of fun things to do in and around the town. We’re thrilled with this lovely hotel and the beautiful town. We can’t wait to explore tomorrow. 🙂
The only negative is that the room is quite cold and all we have is a space heater, pictured above, to heat up the entire space. As you can imagine, anyplace in the room out of range of the heater, such as the bathroom, is icy cold. Luckily, the bed can be heated up. It’s not like an electric blanket; the actual mattress heats up. It gets too hot if you leave it on all night, but it’s quite cozy when you’re just lounging around on the bed.
Alex’s bed is in a loft area up some stairs. It has a little space heater too, but his bed doesn’t heat up like mine does.
After we settle in to the hotel, we go out in search of food. It’s very late for dinner by this time, but we do find a little restaurant where we have quite a delicious meal, topped off with some tea, and a beer. 🙂