Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shihtoushan, Dec. 2009, Pt. 2

...was awoken at 5 by a bell ringing from one of the temples on Shihtoushan. Slept again, but had to get up for 6:30 breakfast. We found ourselves the only ones there. It was a simple meal of congee and veggies, thankfully less oily than usual. There was also a triple-decker sandwich of peanut butter and tofu, as well as the obligatory steamed buns. We decided to save these for lunch, and as we walked toward the door to look for a baggie, the caretaker yelled at us for wasting food, until he figured it out. We relaxed and read in our room until 9:30 or so, then decided to go over the mountain. A long steep flight of stone steps led to the top. There was a woman about 30 meters above us. I heard her shriek, then yell something down to us. I thought she was talking about some stones that had fallen just beside her and were now rolling our way. Then I saw the snake, about two meters long, greenish yellow with black dots. It was racing downhill toward us, veering suddenly up the slope again when it got close. At the temple at the top of the hill, we again found the woman talking to a couple of old nuns, gesturing wildly to tell them that the snake had fallen from the cliffs above, landing at her feet and scaring the crap out of her. She laughed and pointed in our direction. In her broken English, I caught two words: "beautiful," and "poison." Much later, I came across a picture of this type of snake. A Russell's Viper, one of the most deadly in the world.

At the next temple, we met a friendly young nun who spoke good English. She spent the next half hour explaining all the figures here, to our relief, since they'd been puzzling us since yesterday. Our talk was occasionally broken by another visitor, who paid this nun great deference. It was apparent that she was someone of great respect and importance, but we never got her name. Further down the mountain was another temple, a cave temple like the others, but this one was an actual cavern rather than a ornate building erected across a gap in the cliff face. The entrance looked to have been re-carved, evidence of rebuilding after the 1999 earthquake. The monk we met there had a kind face but didn't speak. Miki commented that the women's temples seemed softer than those of the men. This point was proven at a small Confucian temple back up on the ridgetop. Three old men were sitting back in conversation, and seemed quite reluctant to let us enter. OK, fellas, keep your boys club...

We ate our lunch at a pavilion above Chiuanhua Hall , then dropped down a steep narrow trail through the jungle. Midway down were some Chinese characters carved into the rock wall, alongside some bizarre cuts that looked like the face of a gorilla. At the bottom of the steps was a rowhouse, abandoned but for a single residence in the middle. A man was sitting inside, watching a TV that blared its drivel into the jungle. As the bus stop was directly across the road, we in turn sat and watched him. Chinese homes are open like dollhouses, so we could his every move. When an exercise program came on, he sat astride his scooter which was close to the set, then followed the arm and neck stretches onscreen. This finished, he returned to his seat further back, yet could only remain seated for a few minutes at a time. He'd get up, go pull some weeds, then sit. get up, walk across the road, return, and sit. He repeated this for the 45 minutes we were there, though we don't know how it all turned out since the bus came by about then and took us away.

We followed the river back to the city. One stretch of hillside had been cleared of jungle in order to erect graves that were almost the size of some Japanese apartments. In Asian societies, the dead always get the best real estate. The temples that served them also made the occasional appearance, their ornate roofs always looking in need of a shave.
On the train platform, we sipped our long awaited tapioca shake and nearby, a woman popped her son's pimples. We walked from Chung-li's station, past the youth culture monuments that flanked the station, moving back in time past shops that served the needs of their parents and grandparents. Later, after dark, my friend Slavek showed up with a couple of colleagues from the University, one French, the other Mongolian. We sat at a dark back table of a local drinking hole, eating wings and drinking beer. The design was of any similar establishment back in the States: long bar, funky art, pool table. A few of the local expat teaching crew were in attendance, served by a friendly Chinese girl with perfect English. Accent American, of course. I thought of all the other expat nights I've crashed -- Seoul, Nanjing, Miyake...

On the turntable: Talking Heads, "Stop Making Sense"

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