We wrapped up work in the early afternoon and headed out one last bit of sightseeing. I’ve been to two of the three major temples in Shanghai – Longhua and Jing’an but for some reason I had never been to the Temple of the Jade Buddha. The story goes that the temple was constructed in 1882 as a home for two precious Buddha, made entirely of jade that had been brought here by a monk. The original site was destroyed during the final throes of the Qing Dynasty but rebuilt in 1928. The Buddha thankfully survived.
The subway was our conveyance of choice so we hoofed it over to Louguanshan Station and grabbed the 2 line to our crossover point at Zhongshan Park. Once arrived, the walk between the stations, all stairs, turned out to be about as long as it would have been had we chosen to skip the first leg on the train. Finally we got there, waited a few minutes and the train came along. It was crowded, Andy and I got squeezed in by some high school girls who kept saying something about English and spent most of the time giggling and comparing the size of their forearms and their skin tone.
Six stations down the line we parted ways at Zhongtan Station in the midst of a big city of fancy high rises. You could tell by the cars and the neatness that his is where the more prosperous live. The buildings were situated along an es curve in Suzhou Creek and there happened to be an old steamer bringing a load of logs down to somewhere along the Huangpu. Kind of an odd contrast.
One way you known you’re in a more well-heeled part of town is by how crowded the streets here. They were empty, which is always a nice break from the bustle on your average road.
We headed off cross-country and finally made it to the block where the temple sat. After an abortive attempt to enter via the automobile gate we found our way around the block, purchased tickets ($2.50) and went inside. A young man came up and introduced himself and told us that photography was allowed in the front part of the complex but not beyond. I went over and prayed at the Happy Buddha and he asked me if I was a Buddhist, he having noticed that I knew the proper position and hand motions. He said he watches westerners praying the wrong way all the time. I told him I did not practice much in the US but that I enjoyed doing it here both for personal reasons and for respecting the Buddha. He liked my answer and he liked my Chinese.
A group of monks came out and chanted while worshipers threw bags of paper prayers on the incense burners. The air was filled with swirling ashes and the sweet smell of incense. I wandered around, stopping here and there and taking a few photographs, even though allowed it never feels right. The place was not crowded but there were quite a few westerners wandering about looking as though they could not wait for this part of the tour to be over. Many Chinese were praying here and there. I walked out back and took a shot of the Koi in the feeding pond. Many were colors I had not seen before and the boil of them in the water created an interesting swirl. I had to buy a second ticket to see the Jade Buddha ($.75), clever marketers these folks. It was located on the second floor of the back-most building at the top of a winding staircase. You enter the temple and you are bathed in a palpable feeling of peace. The room was dark, very quiet and when I got there populated by a single attendant. I asked if I could pass the rail and pray, she said no. So I stood there and just looked at it. Of the two Buddha, one is sitting and one is reclining and they are quite remarkable, made of clear white crystalline jade. This room held the sitting Buddha. It was paneled in dark wood and over head in little niches sat hundreds of small golden Buddha. I stayed there staring for quite a while until some gabbing people came in and broke the spell.
This Buddha and its temple was quite remarkable. It was about 15 feet tall and behind it, stretching 30 or more feet up into the top of the temple was a vast carving of various saints, angels and demons. It was impossible to photograph well, so I just took a section for your enjoyment.
After perhaps an hour we had seen it all so we headed back out into the street planning to make our way to the subway station and our next stop in the Old City. After walking a bit and haggling with a young woman over some postcards we concluded that a cab would be a better option. So we flagged one down.
I took the front seat because I had an idea where we were going, something as it turned out our cabbie did not. I asked for Yu Gardens, the biggest tourist trap in Shanghai, figuring it would be the easiest thing to communicate and also figuring there was no way he would not get the destination. Wrong on both counts.
We sat there for what seemed like 10 minutes while he looked at my map. Granted, it is in English, but it’s also in Chinese. And I began to wonder if he had ever seen one before. Finally he sort of shook his head and off we went into the rapidly growing rush hour traffic. I held the map, trying to figure out where he was going and we seemed to be heading more or less in the right direction. We would pass familiar landmarks, which was a big help in building my confidence.
But it soon became obvious that we were taking a really odd route. So I asked him at a red light where we were and he tried to show me a spot far out in the eastern suburbs which was clearly not correct. I adjusted our destination at a stop light, figuring we could make it on foot and suddenly the light bulb went off. With a big smile he told me “Very good, I understand you and you understand me!”
Right. This is the first trip where I feel that my Chinese is actually blossoming into something usable. Feels good, like all those hours of study might actually be paying off.
We got out and went on, hoping to find the Antiquities Market, last visited back in January. But after much wandering about, my memory was incomplete and we never did find it although we were very, very close.
I took this last shot wandering by one of the popular “wedding complexes” down by the Old City. A bride’s gown, hanging on a wire as a visual welcome to the goods inside. It would blow madly from side to side with every passing bus. Nothing meaningful in that, just an odd little sight in the city.
We had dinner at South Beauty, one of the better, fancier Chinese restaurants that I know of. Not much English is spoken and the waitress had a real problem with our beer order. We had five dishes – beef with Sichuan chiles, garlic prawns, chile covered lamb chops, beef in tangerine sauce and duck with wild mushrooms. We also ordered white rice.
In true Chinese fashion, four of them came one on top of the other and then we had a ten minute wait for the duck. Of all things, the rice was next to last to arrive. It was saved by the fact that the presentation and taste was remarkable. Served in little bamboo buckets in individual servings, it was fragrant and loaded with mushrooms and corn. Quite nice. Overall, every dish was great, especially the beef with Sichuan chiles which was so loaded with those special peppercorns that my mouth was numb for 15 minutes.
We ended the day at Starbucks for a coffee and desert. What better way to drag our consciousness back from the heart of the Orient to our own little worlds.