“Off the beaten track.”
“The road less traveled.”
“Blazing a new trail.”
There are many ways to describe it, but only one way to experience it: just go. This last weekend while people back home were celebrating the dual arrival of Halloween and the time change, my friend Alex and I were indulging the the sweet surprises of Leshan. Hands down it was one of the best experiences thus far in China. It’s one thing to hear about the experiences of others traveling in a foreign country and experiencing the unexpected along the way; it’s entirely another to be the person experiencing it.
For example, when spontaneously rock climbing up to a cave that is probably original to the attraction is more exciting than finding the actual attraction. I promise it’s higher than it looks 🙂
By the way, Mom. I have spoken to more strangers…a lot more.
As a result, I believe I have now been adopted by a Tibetan family. The Chinese culture is an interesting one in that it seems very difficult to weave yourself in deeply. I still don’t know if it is a result of the fact that most people don’t even let their guard down around their family, or strictly due to my status as a foreigner. As I mentioned previously, I have a tendency of being collected rather than integrated.
It was completely different when I stepped into this shop…and I think the fact that they are Tibetan has a lot to do with it.What caught my attention was the uniqueness of the wares they were selling. Usually vendors all sell the same thing: glass bead bracelets, buddha figurines, wooden combs – actually the predictability of the souvenirs becomes disappointing after a while. However, if you look closely in the picture there is a teal-stone bracelet on the younger Tibetan woman’s wrist. That is what drew me in. Sometimes you find items that are just tempting to buy, and then there are others that speak to you. This one was speaking to me…or maybe I’m just hearing things.
At any rate, I quickly decided I was going to buy the bracelet (as there was one identical to hers sitting in the glass case). The only question was, how much? Alex was mumbling a lower price behind my shoulder as I asked the lady if she could make it cheaper. She knocked about 20 yuan off, but thinking Alex’s suggestion was a fair deal I made a new offer. She agreed, and the older woman broke into a big smile, impressed with the fact that we were even attempting to bargain.
Little did I know that the result would be making new friends. My Chinese tutor recently decided that we were going to get more serious about my lessons, and I’m glad he did. As a result I was able to communicate with these sweet women. The instant we mentioned that we are from the States, the younger woman told us that her younger sister lives there and has a family (or at least that is what I understood). They beckoned us further into the shop to sit down, offering peanuts and bananas. Moved by their hospitality I wracked my brain thinking of what I could give them in return. Finally, I pulled out my wallet and began digging for American coins. I had nothing else to offer, but didn’t want to leave the exchange one-sided. The conversation continued until finally we felt the need to leave, all the while smiling. The older woman hugged us, and I kept repeating the Chinese word for friend over and over as we stepped out: pengyou.
High off of the sheer joy of being able to communicate in another language, and such a beautiful moment of serendipity, Alex and I concluded that we had just acquired a Tibetan grandmother. A good conclusion, to say the least.
Again, that was only the beginning.
A little further down the road we followed an overgrown staircase that lead to a little pocket of “real,” rural China. For one blissful moment the sound of honking vehicles was overpowered by the chirping of birds and crickets among fields of vegetables. This is what I think of when I think of China:
Begrudgingly we descended the stairs back to the main road; we were rapidly losing daylight for seeing what we had actually come for. After a few dozen more stairs (or hundred, I lost count) we found it.
There really aren’t words to explain how impressive it was. Not only is there a gigantic buddah figure, there is a place where three major rivers conjoin. Despite standing in a line for over an hour and a half, it was worth it to get a proper view of the whole thing.
(Left, Alex let me borrow this picture to show you the size and scale of the statue, my phone was dying at this point and I could no longer take pictures)
In short we could not have planned the trip any better. Once we made it back to the city of Leshan we had dinner where we toasted by the men at the table next to us and took a number of photos with the restaurant workers. Usually I am the person that has things planned out enough to know what’s going to happen, but as I discovered from this last weekend there is a thrill and a joy in going off the beaten path. What we found there is what we have spent the last two months looking for: opportunities to genuinely engage the culture and the serene bliss of nature.
Until next time!
The photo below was also taken by Alex: