July 9th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Taersi monastery

Breakfasted this morning in the market.  (Why do I spend so much time detailing exactly what we eat?  An obsession with the trivial, I suppose.  Except, of course, when one is travelling, food is not trivial.  It attains the status of religion, sometimes raison d’etre of the whole travelling life.  On a more mundane level, before one gets carried away entirely, it’s so much easier to write about food, meals, actions – “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons” – rather than the real stuff of life, which is mental + emotional. But keeping a diary of one’s thoughts rather than one’s actions is too much like hard work… especially when viewed from the retrospect of about a week, as this diary now has been for months.  But enough od such speculation.)

The breakfast was splendid, a sort of fritter – a nice change from dumplings.  And the sponge we used to eat every morning before that.  We then caught the bus to Taersi – once we’d found it.  That proved a hideous business, + nearly brought us to one of our rows.  The bus didn’t leave from where we’d been informed, but from just across the road, but that minor dislocation caused us such difficulties.  Everyone we asked seemed to point us back in the direction we’d come from, so we found ourselves batted back + forth like a table-tennis ball.  It didn’t make an auspicious beginning to our day, but luckily we had an hour to re-compose ourselves on the bus journey.

We had hardly got down from the bus, however, when ill-fortune struck again, + my flip-flop broke.  I had to hop painfully over the rough surface of the road until we could fund some string + make a rough repair.  From then on, tho’, the day went pretty well.  We soon began to see people dressed in different, brightly-coloured costumes, such a pleasant change after the Mao drabness, but the touristy nature of the street was a little intrusive, with stall after stall offering trinkets + other junk (tho’ there was also some attractive material + some truly beautiful hand-woven carpets.  Beyond our price tho’, regrettably.)

The monastery was thro’ at the other end of town, up on a hill, but before we set ourselves to exploring, we were encountered by a familiar face: Jacob, the Dane from Dali.  As then, he is sick, so thinking to spend some time here to rest + recuperate.  Walking around the monastery were many monks, young as well as old, to our surprise.  I’d heard that the post-Mao regime had relaxed its strictures against religion, but wasn’t aware Tibetan Buddhism was being allowed to grow to the extent this seemed to indicate.  There were also many more Tibetan people – even so, they didn’t dominate the scene to anything like the extent we’d heard.  And it was also impossibly difficult to take photographs – we attracted so much attention ourselves that we weren’t able to obtain the necessary unobtrusiveness.  The monastery itself was large, spread over a great number of buildings climbing up the hill.  As always with the temples of Eastern religions that we have seen, there is a cluttered fussiness about the shrines, + lacking a guide or any other way of gaining information about the places to put into context for us, we ambled rather aimlessly from one site to another.  There were occasional noticeboards in English, but they were brief, and waffled appallingly, saying, really, nothing at all.  There was, however, a grandeur about the place, + I liked the Great Hall, where, we were informed, novices would gather to meditate + listen to lectures given by the Dalai Lama or the Lama of this particular order – it was related to, but not the same as, Tibetan Buddhism, I gathered.

Guesthouse

The hotel attached to the monastery was very nice, however, a 2-storied building ranged around a courtyard, clean + immensely attractive.  We stayed there for a while, chatting with various travellers staying there, some of whom we’d run into early in our China trip.  Most of them seemed prepared for a long stay, up to 2 weeks.  I couldn’t possibly imagine such a thing, nice as the place was – is it only us that have itchy feet?  We were able to exchange our copy of “Glass Bead Game” there for a biography of Diana Cooper, English socialite.  It’s funny – lots of people had turned up their noses at Mr Hesse, yet the lady thought she’d got a real bargain.

We ate a yogurt there, an unsweetened one this time, before strolling out to sit on a wall in the square + take photos of people.  Whether they’ll turn out successful is dubious, I think.  And then, after walking purposelessly around for a while, I buried myself in a book during the bus journey back.  It was Orwell’s “Burmese Days”, remarkably similar to Burgess’s Malayan trilogy in mood + subject matter.  While we were lounging about our hotel room, there was a knock on our door, + a well-spoken Englishman came in to ask if we had any books to swap.  We offered “Maltese Falcon”, which he seemed pleased enough with, + gave us a book about modern China called “Alive in the Bitter Sea”, a critical work which is on the prescribed list – there is a note written inside saying it is not to be taken out of China.  Presumably, the author of that note feels that, having smuggled it in, it would be a waste of his efforts should it be taken out again.  This time it was our turn to feel delighted at the deal we had made.

In the evening we met Jude + went to the Swan once again to eat.  It was an excellent meal once again, + this time, even with the addition of beer + peanuts, much cheaper.  They can only have made a mistake, but I’m afraid we didn’t pause to question it.

And further explorations of the very different culture we are exploring, with a trip up to the monastery, as well as very welcome enjoyably social meals.

  1. Pamela Blair

    This trip in China has become increasingly impressive, as has everything since leaving Australia. But once one gets in the groove of traveling, it probably seems like nothing, compared to the eyes of an outsider. I’m pretty blown away by your travels.

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