Sichuan Summer Camp Diaries: Week Two

10 July: Leshan Buddha

The day started when we left our hotel in the coach and headed for Leshan. It was a few hours drive, and once reaching the town, we had lunch in a nearby traditional restaurant. Upon entering, we were surrounded by red lanterns and little rectangular ponds. The food was scrumptious Chinese cuisine with a wide range of dishes, both meat and vegetable based. Close by we found a few stalls selling souvenir items, in particular jewelry with images of Buddha on it. We then made our way towards the Leshan Buddha. One way to reach the giant Buddha would be to climb the mountain, or go via the boat, which we did due to lack of time, and it proved to be just as enjoyable an experience. It was exhilarating being out in the sea and having magnificent views around us.

As we approached the Leshan Buddha, the sheer size and the detail of the stone structure amazed us all. It was a deeply moving moment standing so near and knowing that this is the largest stone Buddha in the world. We managed to take some great photographs with the Buddha, which was satisfying. The boat took us around twice and we learnt more about the history behind the statue; it was a tremendous feat that took more than 90 years to carve.

Being a major tourist attraction meant that there would be many tourist shops nearby, so after we all regrouped, we had a relaxing walk and did some shopping, finding all sorts of interesting bric-a-bracs and even monkey toys. The first day in Leshan ended and we made our way to our new temporary hotel on the other side of town. The hotel itself was amazing, with lots of on-site relaxing getaways such as hot springs and massage therapies. Once we had relaxed and settled in, it was time for dinner.

After dinner we explored the local area in the town of Emeishan. The stores are targeted to tourists, which contained a vast range of trinkets and food all relating to Emei Mountain and Sichuan province.

After shopping we got an early rest in preparation of climbing a mountain the next day and not knowing what we were about to see at the summit.

11 July: Emei Mountain

Emei Mountain is located within the Leshan region. It hosts spectacular greenery and scenery that has been uncorrupted through China’s mondernisation.

We started early in the morning to get a bus to the starting line of the mountain. The journey consists of small steps in a seemingly never-ending staircase, leading continuously upwards. We encountered scenery and wildlife, mainly consisting of monkeys. The monkeys were both cute but aggressive as they have been on a diet fed by tourists that has included grapes to coca cola. There were a line of stalls selling a range of food, drinks and clothes, including a lot of scarves and other winter wears. The climate got cooler as we went up, which was a delightful change from what we were accustomed to during our time in Sichuan. We then reached a point where we could either take a cable car or continue the stairway to the summit.

If you took the cable car, it was a five-minute walk away from the summit. For the group who climbed the stairs instead, they stumbled across many temples as they ascend to the top. As we reached the top, grand stairs below a giant golden Samantabhadra greeted us. Around the statue base there were places selling souvenirs to incense, so you can make an offering.

golden-buddhaIn the centre of the Samantabhadra there is a place of worship where a golden statue of Buddha resides. People pray on their knees to show their respects to Buddha. The summit skies were slightly foggy but cool which was refreshing after our exhausting climb.

We took many memorable photos and decided to have lunch at the stalls located 5 minutes from the summit, which had mainly pot-noodles. After lunch the group split into two groups where some descended quickly down the mountain by foot and the more tired of us took the cable car down.

This was one of the highlights of our trip, since we never thought we would see such a spectacular piece of art on top of a mountain.

12 July: Baoguosi Monastery

Post-Emei mountain trek, we started a little later in the morning than we were used to. It began with a hearty breakfast in a buffet style. We all met as a group at the hotel front entrance, where our tour guide then led us towards the Baoguo monastery. This was a 15-minute walk from our hotel towards the temple.

As we were going towards our destination, we came across a large bell tower in the town of Emeishan. The guide then told us the reason behind why white elephants are a symbol within the temples and monasteries. We learnt that the monk who brought Buddhism into China used elephants as a form of transport. During the walk towards the entrance of the monastery, we were surrounded by natural growing bamboo. There were people along the path with buckets filled with freshly boiled sweet corn on the cob for sale. We then walked past a large open area filled with mini market stores selling a range of items from second hand books to fans and souvenirs. After this brief stop, we headed in the direction of the Baoguosi monastery where we saw the impressive entrance.

When we entered the monastery, we were greeted by the beautiful architecture. We all went our separate ways in small groups to explore the vast monastery. Directly walking into the front gates, we immediately noticed some amazing intricate carved figures with vibrant colours. The air is dense with the smell of incense since people come here to pray. This monastery is dedicated to academia and therefore people burn large incense as offerings. As we delve deeper into the monastery, we see an area where people can go on their knees to pray. After our mini exploration, we went back to the hotel and got on the coach for the journey back to our main hotel in Chengdu.

13 July: Jiazhu Tea Plantation

We went to the Sichuan Jiazhu Tea Company. In the morning, we were shown a traditional tea making ceremony, which was elegantly demonstrated, by one of the apprentices at the teahouse. There was an elaborate setup to the tea set. The table has a drainage system for the tea-maker to pour away the wastewater after cleaning. Each piece of the tea set has a rightful place on the table. There is a deep rooted etiquette in the tea ceremony, for example the teapot must not face anyone, since in doing so is disrespectful. Each step in the tea making process has elegant actions from drying the cups to the amount of times you can scoop the tea leaves into the teapot. We all sat around the demonstration whilst drinking the delicious tea produced by the tea house. After the demonstration, some of the group was able to try replicating her techniques with her instructions.

The highlight of the day was the opportunity for us to pick our own tea from the plantation. After the leaves were picked, the tea was processed using a heated pan. The expert tosses the tea within the pan to dry the tea evenly. Some of the group tried this part out too. After the first stage of drying, the tea is shaped. We all got to try this stage out with varying degree of success. After the shaping the tea is then further dried in the pan to produce the final product.

In the afternoon we had a beautiful lunch. The lunch table was able to sit all 11 of us, and the Lazy Susan was so large in encompassing the whole table that it was motorized so that it continued turning. This allowed all of us to sample each individual dish.

After lunch we went to the processing plant and saw how the tea was processed in large quantities and then packaged. After the tour of the factory, we went into a lecture area where the group was able to try on traditional Chinese clothing.

14 July: Jinsha site museum and Huaxi campus tour / meeting Sichuan University students

The Jinsha excavation site was found accidentally in 2001 during real estate construction. The excavation site has a roof built over it and has been converted into a museum. We all went to the museum in the morning to attend a guided tour that was in English, so we all received earpieces to help us listen. The walls were numbered and this represented the layers corresponding to different time periods. The golden artefact is a golden sunbird. The sunbird symbol is widespread across Sichuan. It is believed that the birds guard the sun from evil. These are two major artefacts found at the excavation site amongst many others. At the end of our tour, we explored the souvenir shop. The shop boasted a large range of items, from inexpensive trinkets such as keyrings and bottle openers to very expensive 1:1 replicas of the golden mask that has been gold plated.

Sichuan University has another campus called Huaxi campus, where the medical school is located. After the museum tour, we went to Huaxi campus to have to walk towards the medical school and meet some Sichuan university students. Along the way to our destination, we saw some historic and beautiful architecture.

At the exchange, we introduced ourselves and did a mini presentation about our courses, describing each to them and then splitting into smaller groups to discuss this further. Our discussions included ambitions, what it is like studying in England and how our cultures are similar and differ from each other. The students knew a good amount of English, which helped with the language barrier. It was a lovely experience learning about each other’s cultures and making new friends, whom we still chat to through WeChat after returning to England.

15 July: Traditional Chinese medicine and Wuhou Park/Jinli Street

We visited a local hospital and pharmacy to explore the differences between Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and western medicine. TCM is based on traditions of more than 2000 years and include various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, exercise, and dietary therapy. We first split into two groups, where one half went to the pharmacy first and the second half saw the treatment rooms.

We met some of the doctors and learnt that on the medical course in China the doctors learn both traditional and western medicine, so that they can decide which type of medication would be most suitable for their patients’ treatment. The students explained to us the basic concept of the meridians and the balance in which the body is maintained and how treatment is used to restore the balance. They explained the concept of dampness and heat within the body and that the doctor would prescribe a concoction of herbs to treat the patient depending on the balance.

In the pharmacy, we saw some ingenious drawers with a built in weighing balance. The pharmacy utilises different medical herbs, plants and animals, which are stored in drawers, where the workers then mix the medicines according to the prescriptions. We also saw another pharmacy with pre-weighed bags of medicine in which they were shrink wrapped.

In the afternoon we visited Wuhou temple, which is the most famous and influential temple dedicated to Zhuge Liang, one of China’s famous historic figures. This was a beautiful place to visit and it was interesting to learn that Liang and his brothers tried hard to rule China. We then moved out into Jinli Street. Jinli Street is located at the east of Wuhou Temple and is a narrow street containing many old-world stores selling she embroidery, folk handicrafts, paintings and many more intriguing things. All of these stores are very unique but share one thing in common: no matter how busy the place is, the stores are peaceful and relaxing. There were many food stalls scattered around and we were tempted to taste it all. The atmosphere was utterly incredible.

16 July: Sansheng Village lotus pond and Bailuwan Wetlands

We left early in the morning (in our usual coach) to get a taste of the countryside in Chengdu. So we found ourselves in Sansheng village, roughly a 1-hour journey, and needless to say it was a strikingly beautiful green environment as far as the eyes could see. As we entered, we noticed the roads were wide and welcoming, and the village people could be seen working. Our first destination in Sansheng was the Lotus Pond. Stretching for miles in every direction, it was a lush field of grass and lotus flowers etched deep in the waterbeds. Although it was, as usual, a lovely hot day and clear skies, we all managed to have a relaxing walk around the length of it, encountering wonderful wildlife on the way and a stop for some delicious cold ice cream. During our walk around the wooden path along the lotus pond there were sellers of crowns weaved from the beautiful flowers of the village. The environment was a perfect place where we all took pictures and where the scenery mirrored on the lakes making the shots even more beautiful.  Along with us for this journey were a group of Chinese exchange students from Sichuan University, some whom we had met before two days prior, and engaged in conversations throughout the day, sharing information and learning from each other.

Shortly after, we were walking through the Bailuwan wetlands featuring abundant wildlife, rivers and lakes that span across the open space. The footpath was both wide and hilly, with the sun strong and clear skies making the walk exhausting but greatly satisfying. We stopped at several places where there was a small shelter from the sun and breathed in the impressive environment around us. It was a perfect place to get lost in, which several of us did whilst lagging behind taking scenic photographs, but we all managed to get back together again in time!

See the whole Sichuan Summer Immersion Camp blog series.

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