IV (BUDDHAS IN CAVES)
Trip Start Feb 24, 2010
28Trip End Oct 14, 2010
Before leaving the Taoist mountain, I bought a bright red Taoist bandana. A lot of people were tying them around their foreheads or arms on the mountain. I made a necklace out of mine and started wearing it everywhere.
A girl came up to me on a bus and said, "Why are you wearing that? Chinese children wear such things when they're starting school. You look like a little kid!" I kind of look like a Boy Scout.
Days before, I'd been camping in a gorgeous orangish-clay canyon, and two young boys visited my tent. The fourteen-year-old smoked cigarettes. His small, quiet nephew tried to catch every flying bug he saw, and he picked up an injured bat. From this boy, I bought myself two bracelets, which were just nickel-sized chestnuts strung together. Although there were a bunch of Buddhas carved in caves nearby, my bracelets had nothing to do with religion. They were just a fashion accessory.
My appearance, apparently, was in need of improvement. A middle-aged, Taoist nun thought I was over fifty years old. I guess she just figured I was so wise. And a farmer said to me, "Nide shenti bu hao." (Your body isn't good.) Carrying heavy bags around has left my body weak, and sometimes the sun pinkens me like pork meat, and my hair is unwashed and thin.
But, most of the time, my skin is well-browned and my front strands of hair sun-yellowed, and my uneven shave makes me look good - in a dirty, wolf-like way. I think that living surrounded by concrete makes one feel hard and heavy; living surrounded by wood makes one float; and living in a tent makes one peaceful.
I was outside, as usual, when I was nearing Xumi Mountain and the orangish-clay canyon and the carved Buddhas. I was walking/hitchhiking the last ten kilometers.
Two Chinese vehicles came. Little motorcycles, they had square platforms for rear ends. Such platforms often carried nectarines or melons, to be sold on city streets. These two platforms carried passengers: a short, middle-aged man and woman, squatting; two short, light-skinned, long-haired girls dangling their legs off the sides - one holding a baby; someone else; and me, once they picked me up.
I dangled my feet off the back end. We took off, and I nearly fell off. I stretched to hold both sides of the platform. As the road went up and down above the river, our two drivers overtook and were overtaken by each other, creating a slow-speed chase scene.
The driver of the other cycle was a light-skinned boy of nineteen, and whenever he passed us his long body and long smile and twinkling eyes and greasy hair seemed pushed back by the wind. The young girl holding the baby wore looks of alarm and disapproval, as the cycles bumped along the road. My twenty-five-year-old driver and the other young girl and I smiled and laughed. I tried to take my camera out of my backpack, and my backpack fell off the motorcycle.
We put the vehicle in reverse, so I could collect the backpack. We reached the sandy, walled-in village where they lived. I wondered if they lived communally, since they acted like a family, though they were in fact only "tongshi" (work-mates). Saying good-bye, my driver told me his name was Wen Kaixin. The baby-less girl had the softest voice, like a teddy bear being squeezed. A tall, dark man with a moustache came from a third vehicle to talk with us, and he seemed like their leader. I figured they were Muslims - though the girl with the baby didn't have her hair covered.
In addition to Xumi Mountain in Ningxia Autonomous Region, I saw Buddhas in two other places: Meiji Mountain and "Shuilian Dong" (Water-curtain Cave), both in Gansu Province. Here's a poem about them:
BUDDHAS IN CAVES
Buddhas in dark caves
Buddhas that jump out at you in the dark
Meditating, seated, large,
Oblivious to your puny existence.
Wearing haunted ghost robes
Reaching for the hallway
Ready to pounce on you if you walk past
Giant, cuddly, silent Buddhas
Perfect for climbing on or playing with
In the damp light of the incense sticks
Buddhas with gluttonous faces
Eager to shove all the cookies in their mouths at once
With long ears stretching the length of their faces
Paintings of Buddhas
Men with their heads in glowing circles
Like Christian saints
On the cave ceilings
Sitting in rows
Numbering in the hundreds
Dancing in your head
Plain-faced females with bored eyes
Standing to the right and the left of the Buddhas.
With warty noses
And bald heads
Buddhas with flat noses pointed downwards
With serious expressions
Concerned only with nirvana
Most of the Buddhas had been carved 1500 years ago.
I actually didn't see any Buddhas at the last place I went to, "Water-curtain Cave," as they were all covered with scaffolding, being restored. I could only see another Taoist monastery.
In this part of Gansu Province, the muddy-brown mountains stood like upright potatoes, with little caves like potato eyes. In this sandstone region, the rock was brittle, and when I camped in a riverbed below the potatoes, I was careful to pick a spot where "feishi" (flying rocks) wouldn't fall down and hurt me.
But, my favorite of the three places was Xumi Mountain, because there were few people on the mountain, and the river in the canyon I camped in was "swish"ing, and it was fun to hitchhike to.
Thanks to Wen Kaixin & his co-workers; and 1 guy + Jong Tao for rides!
Much thanks to Lu Jiming, Lu Lingli, Lu Yanfei, Lu Yangui, & Li Manying for the place to stay!