On the train to Chengdu, we slept hot and uncomfortable; whenever it stopped I woke to lay in my own sweat and cramped space. King had nightmares about existentialism he blamed on reading all that Sartre (or anyway the introduction by Dr. Hazel Barnes). I woke and watched out the window as we followed the route of some river neon green from all the factories; hours of factories on the river; how many hundreds of factories did I see, almost all abandoned, on the banks of that exhausted dying clot of water?
When we got to Chengdu our exit was hellish. Pressing at a snails pace with a hundred thousand people; moving less than a hundred yards in fifteen minutes. At last we emerged into the mad throngs of people outside, part of the gigantic annual two-way hemmorage of people back and forth to their rural homes for The Chinese New Year and then returning again to the ultra-urban coast. King says its the largest annual migration of people on the planet, and every year it gets exponentially worse.
Unfortunately I couldn't get any pictures of the riot police there; the most terrifying military presence I've ever seen. Huge armored vehicles were stationed all over throughout the square and men with huge automatic rifles, full body armor, etc. etc. etc. The government here is SO afraid of the people. And what a doped and sleepy leviathan the Chinese are...
We had a few hours to kill before we headed to the sacred Mountain, Qingcheng, where religious Daoism was supposedly invented (AKA the Orthodox Catholic Church is to early Christianity what Religious Daoism is to Daoism). We had nothing to do. Suddenly King remembered that he was going to pay respects to his late master's grave in a few days (the first anniversary of his death) and we could do that right now--what a thing to suddenly remember.
King had the incredible privilage to study with a student of Yang Chenfu (Above), arguably the greatest Taiji master in the last 200 years. Technically King and I practice the same style descended from this master, only our respective family trees look like this:
Yang Chengfu taught Zheng Manqing taught Wolfe Lowenthal taught Amalia Shaltiel taught Cory Coppersmith
Yang Chengfu taught __(Kings Shifu)__ taught King
Big difference. His remains are at the Manjushri Chan (Zen) Buddhist temple in Chengdu. So there we went, massive backpacks and all, pressing through crowds of maimed beggars and tourists and awful vendors (the moneychangers in the temple! Where is one to purge them?!) And inside I found the most beautiful of all the temples I've visited in China.
First of all, everything is GREEN in Sichuan. The bamboo, the ferns, the flowers--it's like winter doesn't exist here. The gardens and green spaces at the temple were the most refreshing place I've been since I arrived in November and found this industrial wasteland of sludge and grey and a total lack of urban planning.
So we found the mausoleum at long last. King went to go buy flowers as an offering and I stayed with our gigantic backpacks, resting and letting the people come by to stare at me.
When he returned I told him I'd stay with our stuff and he should go down alone. Such an epic episode, I thought; we arrive in Chengdu and our first task is to go pay homage to this dead master who King describes in the same terms as a sage or holy man--the kind of master we both wanted to find on Wudang but failed to.
When he emerges from the catacomb, he tells me he prayed for both of us in our pursuit of gongfu. Thank you, King. Thank you, King's Shifu.
This library of sacred texts sat just near the entrance to the catacombs.
The library of texts was closed, but on the top floor we found another type of library: this huge sort of menagerie of all the different buddhist deities, each in its little glass cubby holding aloft this or that many lotuses, or swords, or banners, or all the other icons of Chan buddhism. There must have been thousands.
On we continued. In one episode, as we take a train to Dujiangyen, King tells me how he survived the earthquake in 2008. His school sustained no damage, but nearly the entire town it was in was destroyed. Estimates say 68,000 people were killed but like everything that goes through the telephone game of China's government who knows about the truth...and as the hollow honeycombs of dozens of massive abandoned housing projects go by, he tells me how the Government has poured immense amounts of money into rebuilding very specific but impractical things, like the train station we arrive to: this HUGE glass and steel building the size of an airport except, it's in this tiny little rural town. While millions are still living in shoddy aluminum siding refugee camps, the government has put absurd funding into these unnecessary and facile displays of "generosity."
When we get out of the train station, cab drivers mob us. One man tells us no buses can take us where we are going because the road is under construction and only cars can get through. It sounded like a convenient lie, but King is immediately despondent. We may be stranded or have to go back to the big city. We wander around the parking lot while an inevitable swarm of cabbies is following us like vultures, repeating over and over again their offers. Anytime I go ANYWHERE with my backpack on, I immediately get HUGE negative attention from all sorts of shady entrepreneurs. I hate it.
The cabby is reiterating that the road is closed when another man walks up.
"Do you know who I am?" the man says, "I'll make you disappear."
We are saved by a Chinese Bureaucrat. The mind boggles. He tells us this cab driver has been lying to us and we should take such and such bus to such and such other bus. Hooray. We are delivered once more from ignominious defeat.
This bus is unlike anything else in China magnificently clean because at the front fulfilling a role mysterious in its breadth (collection, cleaning, crowd control, disciplinary enforcement, navigation, moral support?) squats an empress on her hot pink stool.
I have no idea what this is all about. I'm assuming it's a toilet ad.
We reach the back of Qingchen which as become developed with people's summer homes and hideous architecture and clots of car exhaust are slowly creeping up the mountainside. We reach a bridge and get off the bus and find an entirely new environment.
One more like the romantic visions of China I had as a kid. The China you see in the movies.
However halfway up into the bamboo forest of the mountain, I find this:
This hideous development. The government is launching an "urban/rural integration" project, which is their typically Orwellian language describing stripping the rural populus of its traditional housing and planting everybody into these...fucking hideous beach house things. I can't express how atrocious they are. This picture cannot do justice to how tacky and obtuse and artificial they look--and their placement on this mountain is like...augh. I can't even express how offensive it is.
At the roadside, we miraculously stumbled upon this local guy who insisted on taking us all the way up to the temple where we are seeking sanctuary. He tells us, however, that the old master we are looking for is gone. We have come to this super-remote place none of the tourists go because there is a Taiji master here 105 years old. However, because of the Festival, he has gone to preside over ceremonies at a temple in Chengdu. We continue up to the temple because it's almost dark and we need to sleep there--common tradition in China still. Like claiming sanctuary, being a visiting pilgrim or whatever--it's assumed that if you come to a temple they will put you up for the night, at least.
However as we pass through this horrible clot of new housing the government is building for the villagers here, a crowd of patriarchs surrounds us. Where are you going? Do you have somewhere to stay? And then this one hiding in the back, Mr. Gao, insists that we stay with him if the temple won't take us in.
And indeed, we cannot stay. So we go stay in Mr. Gao's house, where
people have been living for the better part of a century. There we encountered the aggressive, medieval hospitality I have always been looking for and never found in China. The real China.