Leshan - Big Buddha Belly

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Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Saturday, March 19, 2011

What does no school, a Friday, and WSU funding add up to? 

 Answer: A bus ride to Leshan to see the Giant Buddha!

 The bus ride takes approximately 2 hours, probably more, consequently it was an early morning for catching the bus at 7AM. Being on the bus for 2 hours allowed for me to catch up on some sleep that I missed that morning, it was much needed. We finally arrived in Leshan at about 12 after two stops for breakfast and lunch along the way. Lunch was terrible. Some Chinese restaurants are too much for my tastes, for example giving us a whole fish on a plate and having us tear it apart with only chop sticks and dodging bones, eyes, etc. Gross. Anyone who knows me, knows that I do not even like cooked fish.

Right when we got off the bus we were surrounded by merchants heckling us to buy their goods. I have found a love for bartering for items that I never intend to purchase. My biggest problem when I want to buy something is that I barter way way way too reasonably; however, when I have no desire to purchase the item I barter hard and always get a ridiculously cheap deal to the point where I almost feel obligated to buy the item. This process usually acts out like this: A man comes up to me waving a Buddha and jibbering in Chinese, I reply "1 yuan," (clearly this is an absurd price as that is about 20 cents for a wooden or metal Buddha statue), the man replies "okay!" Wait, whaaaa? Seriously? One yuan? You might be surprised but this happens A LOT. I would consider buying it but my suitcase has limited room and realistically the item will end up packed away in a box collecting dust and in 20 years end up in a garbage can. Had I been intending to buy the Buddha I would have started at 20 yuan and overpaid by 20 times, maybe I should just not buy anything I want? Nah.

The path to the Buddha winds up around a hill. As you walk you notice that the walls of the cliff have caves carved into them where smaller statues of Buddhas are resting, most the time with some sort of ancient inscription. Every once in a while there will be a gazebo over looking the cliff that drops straight down to the water. The water looks absolutely filthy, I am fairly certain that the toilets drain straight into the river. eww. Each gazebo provides a nice view of the city and river, without all the smog I would say the view is fantastic, but that will not happen for several years, maybe decades. During our climb to the statue we passed by a pond that was lined with a dragon which was incredibly gorgeous and felt so ancient and traditional. Another statue we passed by was a tiger, passing back through this path at the end of the day we took some pretty legit pictures with this tiger. The tiger appears to be paid completely of marble, whether or not that is the case I am not sure, it might not even be more than 5 years old, who knows. Finally reaching the top of the hill we reached a staircase that led up to and through a temple that opened up on the other side to reveal a court yard with the Buddha at the far side and a larger temple to the left.

Knowing that the Buddha will consume a large majority of our time we chose to look through the temple first. The temple had a small entrance room before the larger part of the temple and its' court yard. This entrance room was filled with a Buddha that wore a gold garment, very majestic appearing, almost Kingly. Four other statues lined the edges of the room and depicted Buddha's warriors, or at least appeared to be his guards. The statues appear to be new, but there is a chance they are restored statutes or replicas of the ones that originally stood in their place. Continuing through the entrance room was a large court yard filled with more Buddhist candles that have popped up around many parts of China. In the actual temple across the courtyard filled with prayer candles was the large temple in which four actual monks were chanting in it to the golden Buddha that was encased in the temple. Their chanting was very mesmerizing, it reminded me of a Greek Siren, except without the death part. For those of you that do not know what a Siren is, it is a creature in Greek mythology, specifically in the Odyssey by Homer, described to be a bird-woman at sea that would sing so beautifully that sailors would sail to the island captivated by the music only to meet their fate at the hands of the Sirens.

After a bit we wandered back over to the Buddha. Interestingly, the entrance to the Buddha starts at the head. Peaking up just above the ground your standing on is this giant Buddha head with curly hair and droopy ears. When you look at the Buddha from this angle he appears to be sleepy with half shut eyes, but at the bottom of the Buddha when you look up at him from the water he appears to be looking directly at you with open eyes, the effect is pretty neat. I was most shocked not by the size of the Buddha but the super droopy giant ears. Apparently gaging your ears is a very old tradition (gaging is when people where the earing that puts giant holes in their ears). In order to truly fathom how large the Buddha is, you must see it from the base and look up. To accomplish this you must walk down hundreds of stairs. This is easy said than done. I should refrain from using the word "walking" at this point because you actually have to fight your way to bottom. The line to get down takes about 30 minutes to forever depending on your ability to combat with the crowd. In line are probably 500 people, and thats an underestimate. As you travel down the stairs there are excellent spots to take pictures of the Buddha or the river. However, if you attempt to pause to frame the picture then you will delay your climb down by 15 minutes. During this climb down there are people pushing you in the back, ducking and sqeezing through at your legs, pulling you, cutting corners by climbing and tons of coughing and sneezing. If you decide to give into the pushing and pulling then you literally get no where, in fact some how you move backwards. Therefore, you must fight fire with fire and begin to push and claw your way through the crowd. Can you imagine a crowd of people battling each other through the line in an attempt to get on Space Mountain at Disney Land? Of course not. In the USA people wait in line patiently, but in China its every man for himself. At some point during the battle, Dan's water bottle fell out of my backpack, rolled across the ledge, and proceeded to fall 200 feet to the base of the Buddha where hundreds of people are taking pictures...uh oh. The drop was so intense that when the bottle hit a few seconds later we heard it explode, fortunately no one was hit because if it had hit someone they definitely would have died, not even exaggerating.

I finally won the battle and KO'd a good number of people along the way. At the bottom I had to strain my neck to look all the way up at the Buddha. It stands at a comfortable 230 feet tall, actually he is sitting, not even standing. When it was constructed in 713 it was the largest statue in the world and is still the largest Buddha statue. A monk by the name of Haithong started building the Buddha in order to calm the waters of the river for the boats to safely travel. Before the Buddha was finished, funding ran out and Haithong in dedication to his cause gouged out his eyes. His disciples 90 years later finished the project in 803. When it was completely finished the actual current of the river changed dramatically and became incredibly calm for boats to pass. Weird! Buddhism works! Actually... there are scientific reasons that the current changed, and its not global warming. So much stone was removed from the cliff side during the construction of the project and was deposited in the river that the amount of rock disrupted the current causing the waters to calm.

The climb back up to the top of the cliff was much more peaceful but so much more strenuous. I am not sure why but the Chinese cannot make stairs, even in modern times. Each stair has a different height, a different width, a different depth, its very difficult to walk on the stairs sometimes. On the other side of the park we came across another pagoda built by the Buddhists to store their treasures. This pagoda is not as tall but is still quite massive. Other places amongst the park were filled with gardens, temples, and even a cave where monks were once buried. Yes that is right, all the monks that maintained the grounds and worshiped and taught at this Buddhist park were all buried in the "Cave of Peace." It should be renamed the "Cave of Eeriness." From what I understand they stopped burying the monks there, but for some reason I can imagine the monks I saw chanting ending up in that cave, or at least a new hidden cave. Monks are fascinating people, every once in a while one stumbles into our path and its almost like a Unicorn siting, except real. I am convinced they have magical powers and should not be bothered in fear of said powers. A person can only be so calm you know...

All the stair climbing and crowd wars left us exhausted. Truly exhausted in which we passed out on the bus ride home. The next day a trip to Sanxingdui, the ancient mask ruins of Sichuan, awaited us, fortunately not until 1 PM. 

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