Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It ain't Tibet. But...

Originally uploaded by statusqphotos
Sichuan province is right next to Tibet, and it has a bunch of Tibetan towns and temples.

Near Shangrila, yet another "old town" converted into touristy town, i went to a massive monastery, which is under massive renovation to make way for massive tourist profits.

It's really a shame to see so much history demolished to clear the space for new-but-old-looking architecture. Nonetheless, there's still lots to see, and 800 monks living on the premises.

Upon entering the place, a friend had the brilliant idea to buy some instant noodles. So i helped him do that. Then we asked for some hot water, and the monk pointed to the left. So we wandered around leftways looking for hot water, not finding any. Another monk directed us into this dark little shack, where a couple monks were tending a wood stove whereupon the kettle sat.

They invited us to sit down, and we hung out for 15 minutes shooting the breeze. With a bit of work, i managed to decifer that...

-the one monk was 26 and he\d been there 14 years.

-they meditate 7 hrs/day.

-his parents are not buddhist, they are farmers, and they are happy for him to live at the monastery.

-the ridiculous $12 fee (applicable only to those who are suspected to be tourists) to enter does not go the monks or monastery, but the govt.

-the relationship between the monastery and the govt is okaaay, but certainly not great.

Anyhow, that was quitte fun. i just wish i'd asked their opinions about the development.

The next day i finally broke out of the Tourist circuit, and got out to a little town in the middle of nowhere (nowhere being beautifully sparse green hills and rolling mountains).

On the bus i met a couple american girls, students of mandarin and religion. In our limited time in this small town, we wanted to check out the monastery even though it was already closed.

Light was long gone by the time we got to the monastery, and we browsed around its unlit outskirts. Finding an open door, the girls poked their heads into the courtyard where a security guard approached them.

But instead of sending us packing, he found a monk, and they agreed to give us a tour of the temple. (after we paid the $2 fee). Still, it felt totally wild as guided by flashlight, we walked up to the temple, and to see them unlock and pry open the massive gates for us.

Inside they turned on lights, lit candles, and tried explaining various images and objects for us.

Did you know that in these monasteries and temples, there's a lot of buddhist imagery of a disturbingly violent nature? Arrows in the eye, torture devices, being cut in half, rape by cow, etc etc. i had no idea.

Also there's a fair bit of sexual imagery, but the paintings are done in such scope and detail that it's easy to miss the detail of testicles and penetration. Pay attention, kids!

We also got taken upstairs to wear some monks were hanging out, one embarassedly quickly throwing a robe on over his wife beater. We suspect this is area isn't normally open for observation.

It all felt pretty special to get this unexpected private tour: "i can't believe this is happening" was often murmurred by us. It was pretty cool.

After that, of course we had some noodle soup and barbecue, and downed a couple bottles of cheap wine.

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