My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Zippy Baby and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees (July 22, 2010)

I didn't wake up with a voice screaming, "IT'S YOUR LAST DAY HERE!" in the back of my mind, and although it did come up in our conversation, I don't think AJ was too terribly worried about it. (I'll have to ask her one of these days -- I think she only cared that she had her daughter with her, never mind where!) Still, there was a bit of a different feel to the morning, as if everything was being run through a different filter; we'd gotten through the "we'll meet her soon" stage and gotten through the "I hope she's bonding well" stage and through the "so this is China" stage... now we were in the "it's almost time to go home, how the heck do we pack?!?" stage, so everything felt a little different. While I had all these odd thoughts bouncing around inside my head, the Pipsqueak did the smart thing and grabbed a few extra Z's while Mommy and Uncle ran through the by-now-well-established morning routine.

Happily, it was one of our more leisurely mornings; we had a slightly later than usual departure time for our tours and a more relaxed schedule for the day, so we had plenty of time because we'd both become good Early Risers. (Okay, I'm lying through my teeth; AJ is an early riser but I never have been and never will be... Let's just say ya does what ya gots to do and I'd gotten used to it.) The Pipsqueak had finished inhaling her first bottle of the day and was occupying her usual spot in the middle of a bed (curiously studying a couple of Dollar bills she'd pulled from Mommy's bag) when AJ said, "Let's put her down and see what she does." For some reason, up until this point it hadn't occurred to either of us to give the little one more real estate than what's available atop a hotel bed -- so we honestly weren't sure how mobile she was on her own. I picked Miri up, gently retrieved the money, and put her down on the carpet. My niece looked up at me with a surprised expression, looked around the room, and then.. Zoom! Surprise, y'all -- the kid can crawl faster than you can walk!

She checked out the area by the beds, then zipped to the other end of the room (by Mommy, of course) and investigated the bathroom, pulling herself up onto her feet in the doorway for a moment for a better look at the counter (on the video I was busy taking, I can hear myself telling AJ "Uh oh, she found where we're hiding her bottles!"). Then she sort of walked/crawled/wobbled to the louvered wood doors on the closet and happily banged on them for a few minutes. Somewhere in the middle of all the activity, AJ turned to me and said, "We better get those baby gates put up fast when we get home!" (Note: Those fershlugginer baby gates will have a future post all to themselves.)

Eventually we corralled the now-mobile Pipsqueak and got downstairs for our last tour outing in China. (Dude, don't say it that way, it sounds too scary.)  In the lobby, we found that it would be just us, Lucy, and Papa & Baby S; everybody else was either a bit under the weather, too tired to get up early, or had too much shopping left to do (or too much laundry left to pick up!). That was okay; we were all pretty much family by this point, so AJ & I were glad for the company as we got onto the minibus.

Our first stop for the day was the famous Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, a Buddhist temple almost 1,500 years old in downtown Guangzhou. It started out with a different name (Baozhuangyan) but roughly 1,000 years ago a famous writer/poet called it by the new name and it stuck. The temple's been burned, rebuilt, and modified in various ways since its establishment, but it's occupied the same spot the whole time. (Kind of makes the Pueblo Indian settlements in the southwestern U.S. look young!) I wasn't sure what to expect, so it was a surprise when the bus pulled up to an unassuming gate in an unassuming (but high) wall on a busy street in the old downtown area.

Walking through the gate, we (mostly) left the modern city behind. We passed ancient guardian figures painted on the inside of the gates, and guardian statues (including one holding a rather impressive sword) by a covered gallery just inside the entrance, and then strolled into a large, open courtyard area. The central courtyard is dominated by the tall, beautifully intricate tower of the Flower Pagoda, with a less imposing but also beautifully decorated building off to the right. There was a steady trickle of people coming in behind us, and as we moved further into the courtyard I caught an occasional whiff of incense being burned ahead of us. (Dude, this ain't a tourist trap, it's the real thing!)

As we crossed the open area, we came up to a large cast-iron vessel. Each level was different; it looked like a pagoda on top of an incense burner on top of a teapot (but was actually one piece), and it was easily ten feet from top to bottom.  Near the top, there were two large openings in a hexagonal section, and Lucy told us that anyone who tossed a coin into one of the holes so that it dropped down into the vessel would have a wish granted. I had no coins with me, but Papa S handed me the Chinese equivalent of a penny and told me to give it a try. I wasn't sure it was a good idea -- I've been known to repeatedly miss tossing a ball into a bucket just a couple of feet away -- but everyone looked so hopeful that I couldn't say no. I turned to face the target, hefted the coin a few times to get a feel for its mass, took a deep breath, and made a wish for everyone to have a safe, comfortable trip home. I gently swung the coin up in an underhand toss...

...and was shocked to see it sail through the middle of the hole and drop straight down inside. Even the little dragons that decorated the vessel seemed a little bug-eyed at my success, but I undeniably made it on the first try! (Yay, me!) We all agreed it was a good omen, but I don't think anyone -- with the possible exception of my sister -- realized just how rare an occurrence it really was!

We continued to the back of the courtyard, past a large cast-iron vessel full of sand that had many sticks of burning incense in it, placed there by worshippers making requests of the three massive golden Buddhas in the pavilion just beyond. As we walked, Lucy pointed out various details in the buildings around us (for example, the fish figures on the rooftops were one form of the son of the dragon spirit -- though I doubt the original architects thought of adding decorative colored electric bulbs). While admiring the intricate wood carving and ironwork, I couldn't help but notice the modern apartment buildings practically leading over the temple walls... another one of those old vs. new contrasts that seemed to be a trademark of Chinese cities.

My attention quickly got pulled back into the past as we looked at the three magnificent golden figures of Buddha. I don't have a lot of photos because Lucy (who admitted she's a practicing Buddhist) said it was considered disrespectful to photograph the figures inside the building.  I did take one shot (she said it was OK) from outside, but it really doesn't do the huge statues (each slightly different from the other two) justice. One detail we noticed was a (relatively) tiny swastika on the chest of each Buddha. Lucy was a little embarassed and tried to explain it wasn't that swastika, but we all already knew that it had been an ancient symbol of mystical importance for centuries before being misappropriated by a European leader in the mid-20th century and were simply able to admire the art & work of the shrine.

As we moved back into the courtyard, Lucy pointed out a small statue off to one side; it was the writer/poet Su Shi -- aka Zizhan, aka Dongpo Jushi, aka Su Dongpo -- the man who had first written of the six banyan trees from which the temple drew its name. Although we decided not to wait for a priestly blessing of Miri & Baby S, we spent a while longer looking through the temple. There were examples of architecture of many periods, and a small Thai-style Buddha in a shrine off to one side in a smaller courtyard, and many locals quietly stopping to pray, place incense offerings in the braziers, or just sit and enjoy the quiet shade under the large flowering tree on one side. One of the more modern touches was a white-painted square wooden post in one of the flowerbeds, with an inscription in a different language on each side; its photo is below. (I hope they really mean it...!)

As we prepared to leave, I was again struck by the sight of modern buildings looming over the ancient architecture of the temple buildings. Two quick glimpses were another one of the dragon spirit's sons serving as a focal point for families in the apartments next door, and a wall where someone obviously had a little fun when an old window was bricked in.

We finally headed back to the gate to leave, pausing for one last refreshing moment in the shade of the large flowering tree between the two courtyards. As we headed out through some ongoing renovation work, AJ noticed a slight "oops" on the part of the workmen and asked me to take a photo. (Excuse me, sir, but shouldn't the stairs go around support columns instead of through them?)

Back out on the sidewalk, as we folded the strollers and started getting back into the bus, we stopped for a moment to look at the bas-relief panels in the wall across the street. They showed scenes of everyday city life in old China -- and there was our friend Chicken Man, handing out olives to the children! Lucy said it was an old tradition, but unfortunately didn't know its source or the perceived link between chickens and olives. (I wondered if it was due to their egg shape, but I'm still looking for the answer.)

We boarded the bus and rolled back into the crazy downtown traffic. We were headed for the main city park and the statue that served as Guangzhou's mascot.

NEXT: Some really, really big goats...!

No comments:

Post a Comment