Sunday, May 8, 2016

Weekend Trip to Xiamen -- A Visit to A Temple, A Vegetarian Repast and an Interesting Conversation

On the second day of our trip in Xiamen, my mom and I went to a Buddhist temple and had a traditional vegetarian meal (pronounced "zai fan").  As you can see, the temple and surrounding park area was just packed with people.

The temple was huge and contained many details that I liked, including these lotus stone tiles and this beautiful stone window.

 The temple, called Nan Pu Tuo in Chinese, was made up of large compounds with huge rocks.  The rocks were carved with inscriptions and sayings from monks and spiritual leaders.

 There was a path to climb to the top, through a series of very narrow passageways.

 After our climb to the top, we came down to enjoy a traditional vegetarian meal, the kind you can get at a Buddhist temple.  This was our view during the meal.
 The food was quite tasty and well prepared, though it didn't feel as light as I expected.

This is a vegetarian dish consisting of a medley of mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, vermicelli, wood ear mushroom, cilantro and pine nuts.
 This is a taro casserole, consisting of mashed taro with corn and carrots, surrounded by seaweed and topped with a mushroom.
 This is soup made from boiling ginseng and various soy products.
 This is the stir fried noodles with celery, carrots and mushrooms.
The most interesting part of our trip that day was our long car ride with our driver on the way to the temple.  She was a woman who looked no older than 24, but was actually 37, married with one child (a 12 year old daughter).  Due to the insane snarls of traffic that we encountered as we made our way to the temple, we started conversing and asking her about life in Xiamen.  She was from a very poor, rural province in Sichuan, and she left home at a young age in the hopes of "making it" in a bigger city with more opportunities.  She worked for a factory that sent her to Xiamen, and it was here where she eventually met someone, married, and stayed.  When she spoke of her initial experience and living conditions upon moving to the city, her voice almost shook with emotion.

She said that looking back now, she is shocked at the poor living conditions that she endured.  At the time, she had come from very poor conditions in the rural countryside, so didn't know better.  She made RMB360 a month, and when she was paid, she immediately went to the market to buy a new outfit for about RMB10, then stocked up on essentials like soap, toilet paper, toothbrush and toothpaste.  After that, she would send a portion of the money home to her mother.  Now, years later, after innumerable hours of toil and saving and scrimping, she owned a house and drove a nice car.  At one point we drove by her apartment, and the pride in her voice was unmistakeable as she indicated her place.

I was incredibly touched, because her story spoke so much to strength, courage, and resilience.  Her story made me think of the Chinese character for "endure", which is a character with a knife hanging over a heart.   It was instilled in me from a young age how important was the ability to endure, and "eat bitterness".  It's a Chinese concept that basically speaks to the ability to dig deep and find strength and grit, to shoulder through and overcome hardship, and hang on and endure - this is a huge part of the Chinese immigrant experience in America, but also a huge part of the entire Chinese experience all over the world and in China itself.

It was a conversation that reminded me of why I love to travel so much.  Leaving her car after over an hour of conversation, I felt privileged to have been granted a rare and intimate glimpse into one local person's perspective and experience.

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