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 – Suzhou – Part 7

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At 7:15 AM the next morning, Zen Master, Zen Mum and I were in the lobby of the hotel where we met Ms. Lee, our driver and Jacky Chang, our escort to the train station.

HA!  We met Jacky Chang!  Get it?  Jacky Chang?  Jackie Chan?  Jacky Chang?

Okay, so you had to be there.  But he was a cutie!

Ms. Lee took us to the Shanghai Rail Station, while Jacky was there to escort us straight onto the train platform.  I thought it was kind of strange, because why would we need help getting to a train?


Think sardines in a can.  That’s exactly what it was at the train station.  O.M.G.

With my one hand on Jacky, we formed a human chain, where I held on to Jacky, Zen Mum held on to me, and she held on to Zen Master.  He told us to hold on tight and not let go because as we slowly made our way through the mass of bodies, we would have been utterly lost in that unyielding crowd if we became disconnected.  Jacky will forever be my hero.

The train ride was only 1/2 hour and it was our first time on a bullet train.  I don’t know if they called it a bullet train because of its shape, which was sleek and thin, or for its speed. 

But trust me when I say that “bullet train” is an apt description for the speed part because it flew across the landscape.

John, our tour guide, met us at the station and we went to see some of the highlights in the city of Suzhou.

We saw the Pan Gate.  According to Wikipedia, this structure is 2,500 years old. 

This was the view opposite the Gate.

It was a magnificent structure.

John took this picture for us.

Then we went to see this pagoda.  Unfortunately I didn’t write down its name.


Nor did I listen to John when he was telling us its history.  I just remember thinking Oh My.

But the real highlight was the Silk Museum. 

These are the cocoons and the silk threads that are produced from them.

The worms munching on mulberry leaves.  I don’t remember if these were real worms or not, but it was a convincing display.

And here is where they start pupating.   

And then they’re cooked!

At this point, we enter the “kitchen”.

Here is where the cocoons are cooked, cooled and threaded into the rig.  The process is kind of like threading a sewing machine.

Multiple cocoons are threaded and eventually unwound into the spools on top of the machine.

And then the silk threads are further combined through this machine.   In what way, I don’t remember.

In the very very end, what is the result?  Handsome hand-crafted silk clothing.  Fascinating.

I apologize for my lack of recall of critical details, but I was in the Oh My mind fog throughout most of that day.  That’s why I don’t remember if I took this picture at Suzhou or at a museum that we had visited earlier in either Xi’an or Beijing.

I vaguely remember that it was a museum that displayed authentic historical imperial clothing, but I just can’t remember what city it was in.

But I promise that the next time I get a chance to visit such fascinating sights again, I will keep more thorough notes and pictures!

Final stop:  HANGZHOU

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