Sally in the Zen

Confessions of a Befuddled Zen Buddhist

Homecoming – Conclusion

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Truth be told, during the entire trip in China, I listened with only one ear to all the history that our tour guides recited.  Admittedly, if I didn’t think to write it down in my journal that I kept, I wouldn’t have remembered what had been said and done. 

Instead, because I’ve always been a visual person, I basked in the entire experience of being where I was, being in the moments.

Like when we were visiting Guilin.  We sat for a spell in a teashop, sipping yummy lavender tea.

Like being with Zen Mum and Zen Master at the Temple of Heaven and Earth.  We were told that standing at that particular level was essentially being between Heaven and Earth.  And I remember I had thought, COOL!

Kevin, our Beijing tour guide, took this photo for us.

 

Or when we went to see Chinese Opera.  Zen Master sat enthralled throughout the entire show while Zen Mum and I passed out.  In all fairness, Chinese Opera is an acquired taste.

Or the goosebumps that I felt as I took this photo from within the tour bus as we approached the Great Wall for the first time in my life.

Or when we were at a famous restaurant that was renowned for its Peking Duck dinners.  It took 40 minutes to cook these birds and once they arrived at our tables, it was quite a show.

 

And definitely during dinner meals throughout the trip, which consisted of 80% vegetables and 20% meat.  It seemed that most of the vegetable dishes centered around celery, celery and what did you say? celery.  After the second or third dinner meal into the vacation, I realized that I was quite a carnivore because I craved chicken and pork sooo much, and I really missed my meats. 

It took some getting used to, eating mostly vegetables — celery — but the cool thing was that we didn’t gain one pound throughout the trip!

Or when we took the bullet train from Shanghai to Suzhou, only to discover when we reached Suzhou, that we had been on the maiden voyage of that particular train.

Or discovering when we got on the train that it was unlike the Amtrak Acela Express, where there were no walking between the cars because there were no interior doors that allowed passengers to move around.

Or when I burst into tears when we were at the Red Theatre in Beijing, watching Chun Yi – The Legend of Kung Fu.  That was my “Amy Tan” moment of the trip.

Or experiencing the biggest culture shock of all:  squat toilets.  I didn’t take a picture of this unforgettable sight, but suffice it to say, if you can just imagine a toilet built right into the floor and all one has to do is squat, you pretty much got the picture.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Now that was a hard thing to get used to.

Thankfully it wasn’t a concern in the hotels. 

Although our trip happened in 2007, I can still vividly remember it as if it was yesterday.  The sights, the smells, the flavor of life there.  I had naively thought that it was probably going to be like an extended visit to Chinatown, like that in NYC. 

Boy, was I an idiot.

Zen Master, Zen Mum and I had agreed beforehand to not speak a lick of English while we were there.  We wanted to blend in and see where that took us.  From sight to sight, city to city, when we engaged with the folks there, we came away with one common observation that just tickled us when people spoke with us.

Everyone thought we were from Hong Kong.

All in all, China is simply awe-inspiring.  There really isn’t any other way to say it.

Would I go back for another visit?

In a heartbeat.

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Homecoming – Beijing – Part 2

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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?

MY CAMERA BATTERIES DIED!!

EVEN MY BACKUP RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES WERE DEAD!!

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

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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:

SLEPT LIKE A ROCK.

Next stop:  TIANANMEN SQUARE AND THE GREAT WALL

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