峨嵋山 Mount Emei, China 2010

The bleary, overcast sky did not bode well for us when we left for Mount Emei in the morning.

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Mount Emei is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China and traditionally known as the place of englightment of Puxian Pusa 普賢菩薩, a boddhisattva. My mom, a Buddhist, was awaiting for the chance to climb Mount Emei and to pay homage at one of the many Buddhist temples near the mountain top. Mount Emei was selected as the location of the first Buddhist temple built in China in the 1st Century. The ascent to Jingding [金頂], our destination, is an hour’s hike from the mountain’s peak.

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We took the cable car up to Jingding, where the gusts were something fierce. The fog was so dense that we literally could not see beyond 10 feet in front of us. All of Mt. Emei was shrouded in icy mist–something my mom and I were not dressed for. Neither of us expected the temperatures to drop below 50 with windchill. After about 20 minutes of running around taking pictures of the temple, I was ready to head downhill. Most of the people in our tour group took refuge in the convenience store at the peak.

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We walked several steps down to see wild monkeys toying with items (water bottles and even a camera) that were likely stolen from tourists sucked into their cuteness.They taunted us with sad, pleading eyes as they snacked on corn or bagged peanuts.

The further we continued down the mountain steps, the more my fear of heights started to take over. Looking down, I saw only steps upon steps–a few hundred. My legs grew weak and my mom suggested that perhaps I should ride the 滑竿 [hua gan] down. 滑竿 is a method of transportation were the passenger is carried by two people in essentially what is a stretcher made of bamboo; the seat is merely a slight bump for your bottom to rest on and all you can do to not fall off is to hold onto the sides.

I didn’t think about this when I agreed to get on. It ended up being far more terrifying than just walking down. I was lifted over the shoulders of scraggly, weathered old men and I held on for my life as they raced down the face of the mountain, carrying me at a 30-degree angle. I may or may not have shed a few frightful tears. When we reached the bottom of the steps, I stumbled off the cot, legs nearly buckling and hands tangibly shaking. Never again.

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We concluded our final night in Sichuan province with a few of their specialties:  湯圓 [tang yuan]/glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste, and 擔擔麵 [dan dan mian]/spicy noodles served with chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, crushed peanuts, and some white sesame sauce. The 湯圓 was the best I’ve ever had anywhere; I still daydream about it once in a while. Its skin was amazingly “Q”–tender but chewy, still slightly sticking to your teeth–and the black sesame filling was perfectly sweet.

And oh boy were the 金银饅頭 [jin yin man tou], or deep-fried steamed buns, amazing! There was this thick, crunchy golden layer of fried goodness; once you broke it open and the steam from the hot buns kissed your face, you’d take that pillowy-white inside and dip it in sweetened condensed milk. Mmmmm.

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Leshan Giant Buddha, China 2010

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We flew out from Jiuzhaigou early in the morning to explore one of the Buddhist wonders of the world: 樂山大佛 [le shan da fuo]. 樂山大佛, the Leshan Giant Buddha, was a large sculpture carved out of a cliff face during the Tang Dynasty. This masterpiece is the largest stone Buddha in the world and the tallest pre-modern statue in the world–it even survived the 2008 Sichuan earthquake with nary a scratch.

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Because the line would have been impossible to get through, our tour arranged for us to view Leshan Giant Buddha from the water. That way we would not have to deal with the rain or be standing on weathered, stone steps dug into the sides of the mountain. The statue stands 233 feet tall and the Buddha’s shoulders reach as far as 91 feet wide. To put that into perspective: 23 stories high and 9 stories across.

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What a feat of engineering.

Locals have a saying that goes, “the mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain”. This arose partly because the mountain in which Leshan Giant Buddha resides is also thought to be shaped like a slumbering Buddha when viewed from the river and 樂山大佛 sits as its heart.

The Chinese monk who led construction of the Maitreya Buddha in 713 hoped that the presence of Buddha would calm turbulent waters that plagued shipping vessels traveling down the river. He was right. Leshan Giant Buddha sits at the intersection of the Minjiang, Dadu, and Qingyi rivers, and so much stone was removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river that the currents were altered and water became safe for passing ships.

Even more impressive is the drainage system installed into Leshan Giant Buddha–which operates to this day. The pipes carry away water after rain to reduce weathering.

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We returned to our hotel to dry off after the river cruise ended; our accommodation for the night was at Hongzhu Shan Hotel “红珠山宾馆”. A famous hotel regarded as one of the most beautiful places to stay in Mt. Emei, ” 峨嵋山” [e mei shan],  it’s hidden in the midst of dense forest and even has its own lake. Hongzhu Shan Hotel is famous because many Chinese dignitaries, such as Deng Xiaoping (who lead China towards a market economy after the death of Chairman Mao), choose to stay there when they are in the Emei area.

Although the rooms were huge, when we stayed there was a lot of construction going on and as a result our bathroom remained partly unfinished…certain tiles were missing and the handles on our sink sometimes came off. Sad. But there was a rather adorable note from the hairdryer that really brought everything together. It reads:

“I can help you to:

                                         – relief aching after climbing the Mt. Emei

                                         – dry your shoes

                                         – dry your hair

                                         – wish you have a nice day!

I was going to need all of that hairdryer’s help for the next day–a hike up Mt. Emei to Baoguo Temple.