Published in China
There's a Buddhist temple in Cangyuan that I wanted to visit so I head over there. It's a really interesting small broken down temple, which when the doors are closed I can't tell if it's closed permanently or not. I see some robes hanging on a line outside of what looks like a small room, so I realize that it's probably that the monk is tired or something. It's closed for the day when I get there around 5pm. I find out later that only one old monk really runs the temple, so it's understandable that it's often closed and often open irregularly with no schedule. This temple is completely surrounded on all sides by massive construction of new buildings and apartment complexes. It's almost symbolic how unappreciated and run down the temple grounds appear to be as if there is such a total lack of interest. I'm not sure if the temple is still operating or not.
I head to the next temple, which I find by world of mouth and asking people. This temple is uphill looking over most of the town. I meet the monk there who tells me to have a look, then I immediately go towards the temple, but it's doors are also closed. I take a few photos of the outside, golden dragons, large dai drums, a wa drum, and a bell. I notice the temple ceiling scorched on top and sides blackened with soot, perhaps from fire ceremonies. They're doing construction all around the temple, installing piping and renovating the bedrooms. I ask the monk, who is dressed in yellow orange robes to open the door. He decides to open the door and let me have a look. Once he opens the door, and I can tell this is an artistic temple. The large Buddha in the center is golden, and the rest of the temple is fully decorated and painted. The monk and I attempt to have a conversation in Chinese, which is somewhat unsuccessful, despite my year and a half of studying Chinese; it is really difficult to communicate. He tells me that the temple is over 300 years old, and that he's been living there for 28 years, since he was 10 years old. He's the sole caretaker, and lives there alone. He tells me about some of the interesting decorations and paintings in the temple, which are really old and wearing away. In 2005, someone donated some interesting structures to the temple. I get the impression that the temple doesn't often fill up with people, due to the large structures that take up a majority of the room. I manage to get a photo of the monk, who was a great guide explaining all of the things in the temple. I was really happy discovering the temple. It was really beautiful, and I felt like it was more beautiful because he had simply maintained it for so long. His energy was really interesting... he transformed his entire life by maintaining the temple, which was an outward reflection of purity and grace.
Another day I head to another Dai Buddhist temple, and it happens to be the full moon. I show up sunset is just begun. Two monks and a group of 10 people are sitting around two tables about to eat a feast for the full moon festival. I tell them I want to simply take a few photos of the temple, and they insist that I join them for dinner. I tell them no no no, but they simply don't take no for an answer. I take the photos of the interior, do several prostrations, and then join them for the feast. There is so much food prepared. It's around 12 preparations. I chat with some of the students of Kunming University, and talk to the monk about their culture. They want me to speak in English a little, and the students can also speak a little. He gives me a friendship bracelet, and says some prayers for me before I leave.
Later in the week, I visit next temple, which like a large community. Outside I see the community sitting around tables ready to eat lunch. Thinking I'm going to have a quiet time in the temple, I enter and start exploring. A group of 7 or 8 children come into to the temple to ask me questions about my life in Chinese, and tell me how much they love me in English! They were really funny in the photos, and most of them were young girls who were too shy to get their photo taken. The boy wasn't shy at all, so I got a picture of him holding up one of their scrolls, which is written in the Dai language. The Dai have a written language that's similar to Laos or Burma. They followed me around for an hour and even wanted to visit the large lake with me until I told them to go back home because it was too far and their parents might worry.
Published in People
BenLao is a small border town in China sharing a border with Myanmar. It's a small remote village about 2 hours drive from Cangyuan. The town is on the border so much that I can see the mountains of Myanmar, as a local pointed out at the first dinner I enjoyed there. I take the mornings to eat breakfast, explore the weekly market, or do laundry in the hotel. One morning, I woke up and went to the local buddhist temple for a young boys initiation ceremony. They used local paper crafts and umbrellas were hanging from the ceiling to decorate the temple. One day, I went to the white stupa, which was really resplendent and beautiful with big white towers reaching into the clear blue sky. The temple resembled Myanmar temple construction with long spires and buddhas inside.