Saturday, April 20, 2024

The sites and sounds of China


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The Nation’s SUNDAY SUN Editor Carol Martindale recently visited China as part of a media delegation from Latin America and the Caribbean.At the invitation of the State Council Information Office the group toured a number of provinces across China, as well as the capital Beijing and Shanghai, where the World Expo is currently going on. During the coming weeks, she will be reporting on the sites, scenes, the culture and cuisine of China.There is no doubt that China’s culture and traditions are revered not only by tourists who visit but also by its citizens who display a pride and respect in showing them off to the world.Today we look at three attractions and sites that China is most proud of: the Leshan Giant Buddha, the Emei Mountain and the Wannian Temple.“The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain.”His large and imposing presence is a sight to behold. For sure, you would be in awe of the Giant Buddha of Leshan, a huge carving out of a cliff in the city of Leshan, in the Sichuan province of China.At 71 metres tall (233 feet) Dafo is the tallest stone statue in the world.The Giant Buddha towers over the point where the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers meet, and faces the sacred Mount Emei. It is there that he sits, majestically in solemn stillness with his large hands resting on his knees.The statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha gazing across the river with heavy-lidded eyes. Maitreya, according to literature, is the future Buddha, who was especially popular during the fourth to seventh centuries.Visitors stare at the Buddha from tourist ferries and from a terrace next to his ear.To catch a glimpse of the Buddha, which is a world cultural and national heritage, members of the media team, along with some Chinese officials boarded a ferry which would pass close to the Buddha.“Keep your eyes open; don’t miss it,” we were told.We took the advice and kept our eyes glued to the cliff. Thanks to the slow pace of the ferry, we were able to take in the full view of the Buddha.According to its history, there are 1 051 bobs linked together from the back of its head to the back of its feet. Its shoulders are 28 metres (92 feet) wide and its smallest toenail can accommodate a seated person. Each eyebrow is 18 feet long.There are also several drainage passages hidden in the Buddha’s hair, collar, chest, and back of the ears, saving the Buddha from serious erosion and weathering. Even though it has been maintained regularly throughout its 1 200-year history, it is still a bit mossy.The Leshan giant Buddha was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.The Emei MountainOn the trip up the Emei Mountain, also located in the Leshan City, in the Sichuan Province, we were all seeing green.It was a rainy day as we boarded a coach for the mountain, which is a popular tourist destination in China. On both sides of the long and winding road up there was a backdrop of green landscape. It took about an hour. Half way up, the colour of the road changes – it’s no longer grey, but a shocking blue. This, explained the guide, was to ensure safety. “The driver’s eyes gets accustomed to the road, so because it is a long way up and because the road has a lot of turns, the road is painted another colour,” he explained. It then turns back to grey after a point.Along the way, we saw some adventure seekers trekking up the hill, a journey that would take at least three days with some rest in between, our guide said. We were also cautioned that we might spot some “very large” monkeys. We were comfortable with that, until the guide went through a 15-minute speech about what we should, and should not do. “If you drop anything, don’t pick it up. Wait until the guide picks it up. Don’t go into your pockets for anything because the monkeys will think it is food you are reaching for.” We decided to stay clear of the monkeys.We were just happy to view the sights that awaited at the mountain.As we disembarked, a different world awaited.First off, with the altitude of the Emei Mountain at 3 099 metres, the temperature difference is quite sharp between the mountain foot and mountain peak. And with the rain and fog, we were given heavy blue rain coats which helped to fight off the cold.Now we were ready to explore.A large silhouette appears from the foggy atmosphere. Then after a couple blinks and the clearing of the fog, there appears a large Buddha regally sitting on a gold and white elephant.We were in awe as the image, like a magnet, drew us to it.It was the statue of Puxian Bodhisattva riding the white elephant which was made in Song Dynasty more than 1 000 years ago.The Emei Mountain has a rich cultural heritage of Buddhism, and has become the world-influential Buddhist Holy Land with around 300 monks and 30 templesSome kneeled and prayed to them, while others simply looked on. Gifts of Pepsis, apples and other fruit, and other bizarre products were offered up to the Buddhas.Monks moved around overseeing the upkeep of the temples and buildings, making sure the traditions and respect were upheld. The Emei Mountain is one of China’s four great Buddhist Holy Lands. It is said that Buddhism entered the Emei Mountain in the first century.The Wannian TempleAfter visiting the Giant Buddha, and taking the trek up to the Emei Mountain, it was off to the cable cars to swing over to the Wannian Temple, also located in the Emei Mountain area.The rich history of the Wannian Temple was evident from the moment we mounted the steep steps – not as challenging as those of the Great Wall.The Wannian Temple, the most grand on the Emei Mountain, is the oldest surviving Emei monastery, which was reconstructed in the ninth century.But history shows that it has gone through it’s fair share of name changes.Built during the Jin Dynasty, at that time it was called the Samantabhadra Temple, but was changed to the White Water Temple during the Tang Dynasty, and the White Water Samantabhadra Temple during the Song Dynasty. Then in the Ming Dynasty it was called the Wannian Temple, and remained so until now.The Wannian Temple houses a series of temples with numerous Buddhas depicting the past, present and future.The visit to the temple was short, but the history and the view rich.NEXT: We take an EASY stroll along the historic Pingjiang Road in Suzhou.


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