So let me give some background: David and Spring are two Chinese English teachers in Chengdu who have become a part of my family over the past few years. They participated in a teacher exchange with my mom’s student teachers when she was an instructor at GSU. My mom met them when she took a group of teachers to China and stayed with David. Next year, they came to Atlanta where I met them, and last summer I got my first taste of China when my mother and I attended their wedding. David calls my mom his American mom and he is my Chinese brother (gege!). It was only natural to spend my National Holiday vacation visiting them.

During these last few days, my acquisition of Chinese language and customs was put on hyper speed and I was exposed to a lot of interesting aspects of their culture, some wonderful and some frustrating.

As is their way, they made me part of the family which I liked and gave me TOO MUCH which I didn’t. I could not open my wallet the whole time and was in fact made a bit uncomfortable by the lengths they went to for my comfort! In my Western mindset, I want to be able to visit people I know well and am close to on an informal level. I want to crash on their couch and go with the flow and not have a big deal made over me. Impossible. My first night, Spring and David pick me up at the airport to take me to a HOTEL to sleep in a HOTEL ROOM… by myself… which he paid for…. all because his mother was worried I wouldn’t get a good night sleep the eve of our drive into the mountains.
my lonely hotel room
Me in my personal private hotel room haha.

The next day, we joined up with Spring’s relatives, forming a three car caravan packed with 15 of us in total. There were Spring’s parents, her aunts and uncles, and her cousins all along for the ride.

A Chinese custom I am having to adapt to: no solid plans. I like this because it matches well with my natural disposition of tardiness and overall up-in-the-airness, and it allows for breathing room in itineraries and unexpected adventures. For instance, on impulse we stopped at a famous temple we were passing on our route.
temple
Spring and me at the temple

Temples here are like part religious site, part tourist trap. ANYthing the Chinese can charge admission to, you better believe they’ll be charging admission to. This includes religious places. It was an interesting combination at this temple; on the one hand, it was crowded with people snapping photos, on the other, people were shouldering each other aside to light candles and incense and pray at the altars. The Chinese buddhist faith kind of reminds me of Catholicism in a way, especially the medieval Catholic trend of purchasing religious merit. In these Chinese temples, you pay to pray. The more you pay, the more potent the prayer. Like patron saints, there are different buddhas and bodhisattvas particular to different kinds of wishes. David spoke skeptically about this, saying “if you have an exam, you shouldn’t study, you should come here and pay for good grades” rolling his eyes. But a lot of Spring’s relatives are believers, and Spring in her own way also participates in the tradition although maybe not with religious fervor.

temple

incense
You can buy the different candles and incenses at the temple store. The bigger more expensive ones are more spiritually potent, of course.

part religious site, part tourist site.

wishing tree
wishing tree
Wishing tree. You write your wish on the red string then throw it up as high as you can. Of course, you pay a fee for this.

explaining
David, being the master tour guide that he is and explaining EVERYTHINGGGG.

pretty temple roofs

Spring said she was praying for a son
Spring, praying for a son (but I think she really wants a daughter :~))

At every turn, there is a stunning statue or relic, and at every other turn, a little something to buy or spend money on. It’s a fascinating combination of spiritual faith and consumerism.

I quite enjoyed this sidetrip as it was a uniquely Chinese experience I couldn’t have gotten if I were on my own. I was the only westerner there (as with many of the things we did on our trip), and it was one of the ways I was grateful to be made part of the family and for the breeziness with which Chinese people change plans and forego schedules.

The other side of this double edged sword I experienced at the end of the day, when we finally got into the mountains and were tired and cold and hungry. No reservations were made at any of the inns we were planning on staying at. They were all full. And it was hectic and stressful figuring our where we would all sleep, but somehow it always seems to work out and we found some spare rooms in local people’s houses above their restaurants and tofu stands.

the little mountain place we stayed at

Stay tuned for tales of “skipping tickets” at 5am and daring cable flights through the clouds!

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