Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Pass at Caradras, Part Two

The first temple is unremarkable, though it is very beautiful. I am not, nor have I ever been a student or admirer of architecture; my tastes are likely quite quotidian, even if I find unnecessary ornamentation interesting. Architecture or no, there are several good moments.

To start, within the compound dedicated to a long-deceased governor is the Temple of the Sacred Mother. The sacred mother, that is, of the governor. It is in the middle of a courtyard, and was built a few hundred years after the entire complex to memorialize the woman who raised the man that everybody thought was pretty swell. This reminds me of my own mother, which makes me happy, except that she wouldn’t like the giant wooden dragons that crawl up each of the columns of the temple. I guess even a sacred mother’s temple has her kid’s toys lying all around.

Next to this temple lies a tree. And “lies” is the proper word: if not for another similar tree (Cyprus, I think) and a good deal of manmade support, it would have fallen long ago. Niu Yun tells me the story of this tree, which I herein share with you.

It is called the Male tree; it once had a “wife”, the Female tree. Somebody planted both trees more than two thousand years ago. Several hundred years ago, the Female tree died from a disease, and the next year the Male tree slowly began to fall. But suddenly and without warning, a new Cyprus grew up next to the Male tree to support it.

Niu Yun seems to want me to see the beauty of this story, but all I can think is, “So the Male tree’s a widower for a whole year before he finds a new Babe tree to fall back on? Wow.” Sometimes it is better not to exchange one’s thoughts on culture.

The Chairman sees stairs leading downward towards water and bolts for them. He is caught and regretfully restrained, but on to a good idea. There is a little creek down there, with small stone walkways, a pagoda, and a little stone Buddha sitting beneath water pouring from the wall. I learn that this water bubbles up from a spring that has flowed for over a thousand years. Its water is now, and has been for some time, considered a source of longevity.

I have to touch it. I wait for the Chairman to lose interest (he leaves for the bathroom), then I creep down the staircase to the spring water. There is a crowd in the pagoda; some take pictures while others dip their hands, arms, and head it the water and touch the white head of the grayed stone Buddha. From my position, I can touch the water, but I cannot reach the Buddha; the crowd gestures that I must touch the Buddha. Three times. Three is always better in China. It means that things are finished.

I gingerly make my way across a wet stone walkway in the middle of the creek to arrive at the pagoda. I move through the throng of a dozen or so people, who enthusiastically push me forward. I get to touch the Buddha; I “baptize” him three times. The crowd smiles. I smile. One woman holds a bag filled with water and mandarin oranges. She offers me one. No thanks, I say.

Even I have a limit to enthusiastic participation in cross-cultural experience.

When I get out of the creek, Niu Yun informs me that touching the Buddha three times makes one clever. The water gives longevity. I wonder aloud: does the experience give people longevity and cleverness, or just weed out those who can’t walk carefully on wet stone?

“It’s a melding of philosophies,” says Dave. “Buddhism and Darwinism.”

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