Sally in the Zen

Confessions of a Befuddled Zen Buddhist

Homecoming – Guilin – Part 5

Click here for Part 4:


After being in Xi’an, dry and dusty as it was, we hopped on another plane ride and landed in the city of Guilin

What a contrast this city was to the one we just came from.  It was extremely humid, hot and quite moist. 

When we had landed into this wonderful city, our tour guide (I forgot to write his name down in my journal) took us straight away to climb this mountain. 

It was one of the main tourist attractions because it offered an awesome view of the city.  But first we had to climb this bad boy.

See those steps behind Zen Mum and Zen Master?  See how steep they are?  We had to climb quite a bit of them to get to the very top of this hill.

Did I mention that it was humid, hot and extremely moist? 

This is important to point out because as we made the slow climb up, I was wearing fleece.

Fleece + humid hot moist weather + the steep climb up a hill = wilted Sally in the Zen. 

Also, humid hot moist weather + the steep climb up a hill = sweaty Zen Master and an absolutely exhausted and irritable Zen Mum.  At one point in the climb, Zen Mum just stopped and almost refused to continue, she was that drained.

But she persevered.  And it was worth it in the end.

Interesting tidbit:  according to Wikipedia, photos of this city were used in Star Wars III:  Revenge of the Sith, for the planet Kashyyyk.

Yes, yes, what in the world was I thinking, wearing fleece?  I asked someone in our tour group to take this photo and I don’t remember who it was.  At this point, I think my brain was slowing seeping out my ears from the humidity and the climb.

The next day we woke up refreshed and gungho to explore the new territory known as Guilin.  But as we walked outside, the humidity and moistness smacked us silly in the face again.

After breakfast at the hotel, our tour group boarded a riverboat and cruised down the Li River for a bit.  It was probably the humid hot moist air that invigorated Zen Mum to try her hand in taking pictures for once. 

I’d say it turned out pretty well.  The humid hot moist air did absolutely nothing for my hair.  I think I was puffier than a poodle.

We cruised down the Li River for four hours.  And the sights were magnificent.

And it started to rain and mist throughout the rest of the cruise.

Since I had packed only fleece and sweatshirts, we went out and bought lighter clothing for me.  It was a lovely light green shirt and it shrank after I wore it one time.  But I still kept it as a souvenir.

The next day we went to Elephant Trunk Hill.  See the rock formation behind Zen Mum?  Elephant Trunk Hill.

There was an amusement ride near Elephant Trunk Hill, if you could call it that.

I called it the bubble ride.

I wanted to jump in there and roll all around the water but Zen Mum was adamantly against it.  She was concerned that the bubble would pop with me in it.

I guess we’ll never know because I didn’t go on it.  Note to self:  the next time we ever get to visit Guilin again, jump on bubble ride when Zen Mum turns her back.  I run faster than her.

During the evening, after dinner, we went for a walk.  And at night our hotel was lovely.

The two days that we stayed in Guilin were lovely, albeit humid, hot and quite moist.  I am never going to stop saying that because that is one of the most vivid details that I recall.  It wiped us out so thoroughly that we didn’t even have the energy to take in any dinner shows or evening entertainment.  We went straight to bed after our brief evening walks.

The overall feel of Guilin was more old school than Xi’an.  It wasn’t as modern or bustling, and it actually felt quite quaint, rustic.  Surrounded by picturesque mountains and being so close to the river, it didn’t nothing for my hair or clothes but did everything for my spirit. 

I adored it. 


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Homecoming – Xi’an and Terracotta Soldiers – Part 4

Click here for Part 3.
After the city of Beijing, our next stop was Xi’an.  After a 1-1/2 hour flight, we arrived into a city that was some 300 miles from the Gobi Desert.  This factoid was according to our tour guide named Yang, so I can’t guarantee its accuracy.  How could I possibly forget this piece of trivia when I was this close to the Gobi Desert for the first time in my life?

It is a beautiful city.  I imagined how I would live in such a place, with such architectural structures surrounding me on a daily basis.  Stepping out of my home, I’d merely look up and see history on just about every turn.  It is a magnificent city.

But for all of its appeal, Xi’an’s greatest appeal is the Terracotta Soldiers.

It was a sight to behold with my own eyes.

Not a single soldier was the same. 

I was in complete awe to be standing there witnessing this, when Zen Master took this photo.   Hence the spaced-out look on my face.

The Emperor of the Qin Dynasty was buried in terracotta.  And let me throw out a few more factoids offered by Yang.

Emperor Huang was 13 years old when he came into the throne.  There were 7 feudal states at this time, with different currencies and different leaders.  At the age of 22, the Emperor started a fight between the other 6 states, and by the age of 40, he conquered them all.  He had standardized the currency and language throughout the land, and built the Great Wall. 

Emperor Huang was one of the most important emperors in the history of China.  He had built more than 700 palaces and possessed more than 3,000 concubines. 

At the old age of 52 years old, Emperor Huang passed away.  His funeral was a 3-day affair, and ultimately buried with him were 160 scholars, many childless concubines and servants.  Tour guide Yang said that the scholars, concubines and servants were all buried alive.

And to guard the Emperor for all eternity were 7,000 soldiers, numerous carriages and horses, all made of terracotta.

Utterly amazing.


Immediately after this, our tour group went to lunch at the restaurant within the museum and the food was phenomenal!  We watched as our noodle dishes were freshly made right before our eyes.   Here’s a video made by Chefs Without Borders – La Mian Chinese Hand-Made Noodles –  who had the pleasure of experiencing what we saw and tasted during our lunch.  I was Googling for something that came close to what happened during our lunch and found this.

The overall adventure in this city was fascinating.  But I have to admit that the air was quite smoggy.  Sometimes I wondered if the Gobi Desert was also partly responsible for the dust that seemed to linger in the air around the city.  Towards the end of our two-day stay, Zen Mum and I had developed a cough that consumed us.  We were almost at wits’ end by the time we left, our coughing was so fierce. 

But you know what?  I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I loved that city.


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Homecoming – Great Wall – Part 3

Click here for Part 2

How often can we say that we’ve been at one of the Wonders of the World? 

Oh, talking to me?  The Great WallOh, been there, done that.

We were at Ba Da Ling – the Northern Pass of the Great Wall. 

Zen Mum and I went up a little ways and it was quite a workout!  High in altitude and very steep in incline, it made for good times.  Zen Master took this picture just as we were taking a breather.
See that tower behind us?  That was our destination before heading back down.

Then I grabbed my camera back and sprinted up the way until I thought I was gonna fall over and roll down the Great Wall.  But not before I took this picture of Zen Master and Zen Mum chugging along.  At this point, Zen Mum chose to stop and take a break…

…while Zen Master and I continued the upward climb just to see if we could reach the top of the next crest before passing out.

And it was during this time that Zen Mum began climbing again.  So we waited for her…

…and then…TA DA!  GO TEAM!  We came, we saw, we conquered the Great Wall!

We were proud but pooped.  If only they had elevators for the way back down to the buses.


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Homecoming – Beijing – Part 2

Click here for Part 1

How did it feel to be in a country where I was part of the majority?  Pretty awesome.  And intimidating.

I have never been part of a majority before.  What if they asked me for directions?
All I knew was how to order a cup of coffee.  And my one-two-threes, since the conversational Mandarin CDs focused a bit on bartering.  I may not know what they’re saying to me, but by God, I know how to barter!

After breakfast, our tour group piled into the buses and then we landed at The Gate of Heavenly Peace, otherwise known as Tiananmen Square.

I snagged someone (I don’t remember who it was) in our large tour group to snap this family photo.  Don’t mind all the water bottles that we were hanging onto.  We were just petrified of accidentally drinking anything besides bottled water.  But I had packed tons of Immodium in my bag, so we were good.

Then Kevin, our tour guide with his little tiger hanging by its neck on his tour flag, waved to all of us and we were on the move…

… and crossed Chang’An Avenue, heading towards Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace.

And O.M.G.  We were in!

And there was the Emperor waving at us!

Zen Master needed to remind me that it was just an actor.  But that was fine, I still gave him my princess wave.

And finally, as we set off to go deeper into the City, to bask in the place where emperors of history past reigned, where empresses roamed, where the concubines’ quarters were, what happens?



Was it kismet?  Was it fate for my batteries to die at that one place on that one day?  Did it mean I wasn’t supposed to take pictures?  Or did it mean that I needed to get more rechargeable Duracells?

Or was it simply a case of my completely forgetting to plug in the recharger the night before? 

I’m leaning more towards this one. 

C’est la vie.

Next stop:  GREAT WALL

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Homecoming – Part 1

Click here for previous related post:  Homecoming


In April 2007, Zen Master, Zen Mum and I signed up for the The Best of China Cities – 12 days tour with a 6-city itinerary:  Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, HangZhou, SuZhou and Shanghai.

Translation:  TRIP OF A LIFETIME

As an American-born Chinese, I make Zen Master proud by being unable to speak my own language.  English is the first language that I recollect when I was a child, Chinese being secondary.  In light of our trip, I’d thought it would be a good thing to be able to speak some Mandarin.

So, you know, I could blend in and not be a complete freak.

The library is my bestest friend, and it lent me some conversational Mandarin CDs for a few months prior to our departure.

I had kept a journal while in China, and here verbatim was the first page:

Friday, April 6, 2007: 

Woke up at 4:00 AM.  13-hour plane ride painfully long.  Saw for the first time Palom Plateau – mountains near Beijing.

Translation:  Woke up early to catch bloody long flight out of either Atlanta or Chicago (I don’t remember which) to Beijing.  As the plane neared Beijing, saw rugged mountains (LAND!!) and when we finally disembarked, I threw myself on the ground and rolled around on terra firma because I’d forgotten how it felt.  Can we say claustrophobia?

And can we say:  Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

WOW!  Too bad I couldn’t get a better picture, but the tour bus was going too fast!

Oh my!

I’ve always had problems with anyone invading my personal space.  That went out the window here.  We learned pretty quickly that there was no such thing.

The final entry in my journal for this day:



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The other day Zen Master came over and knocked on my head, not unlike Biff in Back to the Future“Hello, anybody home?”  He kept knocking on my head.  “Hellloooo?”

“Uh, did you need something, Zen Master?”  But he had walked away.

Sometimes I truly believe that women are not the only ones who PMS.

Zen Master is 68 years old this year.  Although you really wouldn’t know it by the way he constantly gripes about being on the cusp of 70, and on some days, he talks as if he’s already 70. 

Zen Master arrived in the United States in the late 60s, touching ground in New York City where he subsequently met Zen Mum through her relative, and they married.  In all of these years, he has had only one opportunity to go back to China to visit his family, and I vaguely remember that time.  It was during middle school and my brother and I had to stay behind because it was during the school year.  But that was the first chance for Zen Master to finally and formally introduce Zen Mum to his mother, my grandmother.

My grandmother has since passed on, joining my grandfather who is the first to pass many years earlier.  Whenever Zen Master speaks of his mother, he grows quiet until he has to get up and walk out the room.  He vividly remembers growing up in rural China with his family, the hardships and impoverishment.  Grandfather had always left home looking for work, looking for food for the family.  His mother bore everything in the homestead, and at his first chance of getting out of the farming village and finding gainful employment, almost immediately Zen Master returned his due by providing for her, Grandfather and Zen Master’s three younger siblings.  That support would continue steadily and without fail every year while simultaneously trying to etch out a living and a family here in the States.  This support especially for his father and mother continued until their very end.

I met my grandfather when I was quite little and still lived in New York.  I have never met my grandmother.  I have never been to China. 

I had read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and she had noted that when she first arrived into China, when she stepped off the plane, it was like finally coming home.  I have always wondered if that would happen with me. 

So tapping into my many years of savings and my many annual bonuses, when Zen Master and Zen Mum finally retired, we went to China.


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