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Buddhist Beach

A vacation with friendly monks.

sunny 23 °C

Nearly a month on the road and we have been growing pooped.

Tony has been sick how many times? I've had my own health issues (not to be discussed here). We've been road-weary, longing for a couch and a movie, or perhaps a panini sandwich at an outdoor cafe. At the very least, a place to stay put where we could empty our backpacks into dresser drawers and live like civilized people.

As Jacob said one fine day, "Sometimes you wake up and you don't feel like China."

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Fish dried on an outdoor sidewalk. Maybe this explains why we keep getting ill.

So we decided to take a vacation from our vacation. This, of course, involved transporting ourselves somewhere else, which brought another dislocation and working out of details.

After much trampsing around Shanghai looking for ferry tickets, and a two hour boat ride, we arrived at the Buddhist enclave of Putuoshan Island in the East China Sea.

The first thing we did was hop a bus and were greeted by a friendly monk in ochre-colored robes, a fellow passenger.

Later that evening, Jacob and I met up with Tony on the front steps of our hotel where he was holding court to two other monks and a gathering crowd of Chinese onlookers.

"Saved" by Jacob and his rudimentary Chinese, Tony was let off the hook in communicating with the curious audience. The two monks, it turned out, came to Putuoshan from Llasa to study Buddhism at one of the many temples on the island.

We were to see them repeatedly over the course of our three day stay. One taught us a Buddhist prayer, and lacking much else to be able to say, we chanted together to the amusement of still more onlookers as the monk fingered his wooden prayer beads.

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A monk stands in quiet contemplation on the Putuoshan beach. The monks shunned photographs, so this was captured from a distance.

Putuoshan was as close to Chinese paradise as we've found. Its dense foreses, quiet beaches, and clean air was a much needed break from the bruskness of the mainland.

Temples, shroaded by mist and camphor forests, perch on the edge of steep hills and have a decidedly "lived in" feel. The monks are there and everywhere, talking on cell phones, strolling the beaches, licking popsicles, and the younger ones horsing around with each other as they keep watch over the numerous Goddess of Mercy statutes.

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The temples have a decidedly lived-in feel.

Putuoshan is a holy site for Guanyin Buddhism, which worships the Goddess of Mercy. There is a 33-meter high gold statue of her visible from around the island.

We don't know how seriously the throngs of Chinese tourists take the religion, but when faced with the Goddess they certainly seem to use the opportunity to ask for help, offering her incense sticks and kow-tows and flower and fruit baskets.

We thought it amusing to see some of the young monks picking off the candy offerings from the alter. "Hey, those are for the Goddess," we objected (to ourselves).

The nice thing about Putuoshan is that it has walking trails everywhere, and we spent several leisurely days roaming around and wearing off the calories for our next meal.

We were glad to see the island when we did because Putuoshan is undergoing a major building boom, probably for tourism development. We, however, liked it just the way it is.

As we were about to leave a temple one day, I smiled and made eye contact with a group of nuns, heads shaved like the men, who were eating apples next to me on a bench.

Next thing we knew, one approached us and handed us each a golden-colored apple. She smiled back, and bowed her head towards her hands perched in prayer then returned to her group, asking for nothing more.

Then we ate the Goddess's apples.

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Alison spends a quiet evening at rest reading.

Posted by ahawkes 20:19 Archived in China Tagged backpacking

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