I now have reliable internet so I can post some more.
29.06.2011 24 °C
I had a few free days in mid June so I thought I'd go someplace I'd never heard of. And so I found myself in Wuxi.
Wuxi is certainly a lovely city but the only problem is it has enough tourist sites to have the facilities shatter any illusions of intrepid travel, but the tourist sites in Wuxi might be better suited for domestic travellers in China. These sites include sets for TV dramas and the standard-issue gardens, but there is one place that made Wuxi worth visiting: a Buddhist theme park.
That's right, a Buddhist theme park. Alright, so there are no roller coasters, but there are mascots, lineups, overpriced snacks, live shows, musical fountains, and even a working monastery. The best part of the whole thing is the fact that entry is stupid-expensive (188 RMB or $25) so the there are no crowds. Okay, I guess it is a little snooty to revel in the exclusive nature of this park, but the noisy, pushy, sweaty crowds of China can wear down the nerves of people much more tolerant than I. I was happy to have the break.
The park sprawls downhill from an 88 metre tall bronze Buddha overlooking Taihu lake. The number 8 symbolizes prosperity in China, so you take bus #88 to the place where you pay 188 RMB to see the 88 metre Buddha. The Buddha who freed himself from worldly possession and desire, that Buddha. As a Catholic who enjoys the occasional visit to the Vatican I'm not judging, I'm just giving you enough info to do so yourself. In fact, It is nice to see that even the oh-so-ethereal Buddhists allow for contradictions and excess, it is a world religion after all.
Anyway, the standing, Indian-influenced Buddha is the highlight of the park, and thus busloads of tourists follow their guides up the hill to stand at the base of the Buddha, only to come back down to be bussed back into downtown Wuxi for lunch. But while the Buddha is the highlight of the park, standing at one of his minivan-sized feet is hardly a way to appreciate his grandeur. Wandering the empty, but perfectly maintained gardens beneath the structure to observe the shine of his enlightened head proves to be a much more rewarding experience. The exorbitant price of the ticket goes toward maintaining turtle-filled ponds, bird-filled trees, and butterfly-filled shrubs, precious silent moments after a month in China.
I wander on and come to a lonely pavillion with a sign that reads: Visitors are welcome to enter without meat or alcohol. A relaxed, young, smiling monk appears "You're looking for a toilet?" "No just looking around." His smile deepens slightly. "Please, feel free to continue looking." Then he was gone. Alright, so he walked back to his little office and sat down at his desk, but the rest actually happened.
I start to get hungry so I visit the on-site vegan restaurant. It's 2pm and no one else is there. The waitress appears and gives me the foreigner treatment: "STEAM BUN OR SOUP NOODLE?" "Actually, I would like to take a look at the menu." "There is no menu." I point past the stack of menus to the chalkboard with today's specials. "Oh, well maybe I'll have the..." "The chef is gone, how 'bout a steam bun?" "I'll have the soup thanks." The soup turns out to be magnificent, full of greens, half a dozen types of mushroom, a few types of tofu, carrots, daikon, and edamame. As I finish, plates of stir-fried dishes arrive at a table of recently-arrived men, I'm glad I ordered the noodles.
After my lunch I go to the theater complex at the base of the hill. The Sino-Indian design is a meant to honour the homeland of Buddhism, and the land of its flourish. Aside from the theater, there is a cathedral-like central hall, all shimmering marble, wood carvings, and paintings of important moments in Buddhist history. One painting is meant to portray the Buddhist link between China and Japan, the caption reminds visitors of the positive interactions between the two countries. A refreshing sentiment. But this being China, a dash of nationalism is thrown in when describing a painting of a Chinese princess marrying a Tibetan king, "an example of the common development of Chinese cultures." Across from the theater, a Sino-Tibetan structure is being constructed. It is almost finished and undeniably beautiful, located on an island in the middle of a lake of pink lotuses. One can only wonder what they'll have to say about that.
I while away most of the afternoon wandering around the misty park, postponing the dreaded bus ride back into Wuxi. I exit into the parking lot and a swarm of Ayis (aunties) come and try to aggressively sell me plums. I glide past, happy to be back in China.