2017
05.10

 

INCENSE BURNER

SYNOPSIS:  A few words about “Tibet”.  About a trip to the post office, the Tao Temple, some fortune tellers,  and nothing much else.

My time in China comes to an end.  I should clarify though:  I am not leaving China as far as the Chinese are concerned.  Tibet is China; at least since the invasion and annexation of 1953

We, the US, remained remarkably quiet when overnight, the Chinese invaded Tibet, destroyed about 5000 temples and drove the Dalai Lama into exile.  Actually, they probably would have arrested and perhaps tortured him, but he managed to flee with a few hundred followers, just in time to avoid that fate.  Today, he resides in a special Tibetan community in Darussalam, in India.  He is a person non-grata in China.  Much more could be said, but you can google all of this.

Strictly speaking, all of my blogging since Xiahe should have been done under the heading “Tibet” as Tibetan culture is not restricted to the Autonomous Region of Tibet but sprawls out from there into what is known as Amdo and XXX.  But I will stick to the more traditional understanding of us Western outsiders, when using the term Tibet. 

I had only one more site on my program:  A Tao Temple on the north side of Xining.   It consists of several Chinese-style temples meaning hipped- and gabled roofs with tiles — and a whole row of caves carved into the soaring cliff, all closed to visitors.  Darn! 

Finally, I had the feeling that there was a distinctly different religion at work.  Yes, the temples look similar, the butter lamps and the incense sticks used as offerings are the same, but there is also fake money and some paper scripture offered and burned, that I have not seen at any of the Buddhist or Bon monasteries.  To the great amusement of the vendors, I bought this money when I left — to take it home with me as a souvenir — rather than when I came — to take it up to the temple and burn it for my ancestors.  I hope my ancestors will forgive me. 

Also, before approaching the temple, visitors often have their fortunes read.  A whole row of fortunetellers are at hand but would not agree to have their picture taken.  One insisted that I sit down.  I told him that I spoke no Chinese, but he was not deterred and instead went on to study my hand.  He emerged with a big smile and a thumbs up.  Then I had to pick three sticks most likely related to the Tao Te Ching.  He started an entire lecture, which I occasionally interrupted, to remind him that I did not understand a word of what he was instructing me to do.  He kept on going.  And at the end he demanded payment.  I knew it!  I wiggled out of the situation by telling him that if he translated his sermon into English, he would get his money; no English, only a tip.  And I handed him the equivalence of a dollar.  And laughingly, he took it.  I wonder, what he said though.  But judging by his body language it wasn’t too bad.

I had never even heard of any of the deities worshiped at the dozen or so temples of the site.  Here are just a few of the names for your information:  Sanquing, Lingbao, Bigan, Guansheng, Deng Xuan, and the list goes on.  A good number of females and mother-figures had temples dedicated to them as well.  I burned a few incense sticks for them.  The male deities looked like they jumped out of some Hollywood movie about the Opium Wars.  Each of them had a thin, long, white beard dangling off their face.  Their hats were distinct as well.  A Tao priest actually came walking up the temple steps, but when he saw me with my big camera, he turned his head and walked a detour.  I don’t blame him.  I would have wanted a picture of him.  He had one of those beards!

I dared take a chance on the Chinese Post Office.  Ever since all of my souvenirs got snatched in Myanmar and the postage from my package soaked off in Indonesia, I am a bit wary about the reliability of the postal system in some foreign country.  But if the Chinese bureaucracy in general is any indication for the postal sector, I think I can rest assured that my package will make it home, content intact and postage still affixed.  A very sweet postal officer worked patiently with me through all the forms I had to fill out and when I nearly fainted at the price he quoted me on air mail, started all over with me to reduce cost by 80% sending it all off via surface mail.  What would we have done without our app-translators?  It was almost funny how we each typed and just held our phones up to each other.  Not a single word was exchanged, yet we communicated. 

Sign language should be the universal second language for all of us.  We could communicate world-wide, and instantly.  Why has nobody pursued that?  Or has somebody?

Time to pack!

Good night.

1 comment so far

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  1. Hallo Elisabeth,

    Don’t worry about the interpretation of the sticks. They read the signs from the first one and pick out the most auspicious, then go onto to choose from that sign’s particular menu and so on. You are very unlikely to hear anything you don’t want to. I don’t think it is much more likely to be reliable than those budgerigars we saw picking out fortune cards at the shrine in Shiraz.

    Greetings from Belgrade, by the way.

    (Don’t you find nowadays that when you get to your hostel you just want to put your feet up and relax? I don’t even have to post photographs any more but sometimes I’m just to tired to write. I think I’ll travel down to the Dalmatian Coast and take a couple of days off – I am retired, after all).

    N