Sonya and Rose had offered to take us to one of the main tourists attractions in Jinan called Thousand Buddha Mountain. They told us that if we went before the first tour at 6:00am we could get in for free. Nate set the alarm for 3:30am! Even though we’d discussed setting it for 4:00. “Huh, what time is it? That’s not the alarm is it?” I muttered completely disoriented and confused.
“Yeah it is,” Nate replied, “lets snooze for half an hour.”
Alarm goes off again, “What? It hasn’t been 30 minutes yet.” I felt as if the alarm had just gone off the first time.
“Yeah it is,” came Nate’s sad voice.
I drag myself out of bed. It’s pitch dark. My eyes are mostly still closed. I zombie out just sitting on the bed for a while. Finally I get dressed.
Nate made breakfast though my stomach was too confused to digest properly. We picked up some nuts and “moistened plums”, as they were called on the package, from the Uni-mart, which also served as our meeting spot. We’d beaten the girls there, but didn’t have long to wait before they showed up.
We were up before the buses so we hailed down a cab. Rose paid the 20RMB fee before we had the chance to pull our our wallets. There was a stand full of papers, incense sticks (which at first we thought were fireworks) and red ribbons, Sonya and Kate stopped here to buy some incense, and then we proceeded to the gate. The girls argued with the man at the gate for a long time before they finally determined that the free entrance was only for locals! Rose had once again already paid before we’d realized what was going on.
There were Buddhas everywhere! There were statues lining the path we hiked up, each with a different expression. Nothing was really open yet but we peaked in the window of one store we went past. We stopped to check out a park with large stones in it that had pictures carved into them. There was also an area where you could dress up in traditional Chinese costumes and get your photo taken. Also not open but we looked at the different brightly coloured outfits with interest.
Thousand Buddha Mountain had lots of buddhas and a lot of stairs. As we were following them up we could see where new stairs had been built over the original ones that appeared to be carved straight into the stone. In some places we could see where the original path went up in a different route then the new one.
Cresting a set of stairs we came upon a large sleeping Buddha, the trees all around it were covered in red ribbons that had been tied around their branches and trunks. “They are for good fortune and protection” Selina told us.
The girls thought it was very funny when Nate took his shirt off during the hike. They were amazed by how pale his skin was and how “gold” his hair was! When we came up to a temple however Sonya grew very serious “You should put your shirt on and no laugh” she said. “We can burn these now” Sonya told us, indicating the incense sticks as we entered the temple. We followed her lead, lighting three incense sticks from a candle, and then blowing out the flame. We stuck them each deep in a bed of ashes so the smoke from the smouldering fire wafted up into the air around us filling our nostrils with it’s strong scent. Sonya knelt in front of the Buddha, hands folded in front of her she bowed three times. Rose did the same after she was done, and Nate and I followed their example.
We stopped at the top of the mountain to admire the view. A haze lay over the city and mountains beyond. Thousands of locks were attached to a chain that served as a very small fence on the mountains edge. We climbed across and down large bowlders to get to the gazebo on the other side. On our way we came across a giant metal lock and chain!
We rested in the gazebo, and Sonya and Rose suddenly became really excited over a tree full of little black nuts that grew nearby. They rushed off into the bushes and returned with the nuts, handing them to us.
“What is this? Do we eat it?” I asked
Yuan laughed, “No!” she said, “Is Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is my major.”
“So what is it for?”
“To make your hair blacker.”
Hair dye! They cracked it open and there was a worm inside. Later during the hike Rose kept picking random berries, tasting them, making a face and telling us to try them. We were a little concerned.
We took a slide down the mountain! It was a little more like a roller coster then a slide as we drove down on little carts. We were shown how to stop, go, and turn, and then we were sent on our way! Sonya was very worried about how safe it was going to be. I have to admit there was a worrying clunk of some sort made by my cart on one of the turns, but it was really fun, and perhaps made even more exciting by the danger. Nate went first, me second (I kept catching him on the straights) and then Sonya and Rose. Nate and I finished, and got off the carts exhilarated, peering up the track to look for Sonya and Rose. We waited, and waited, and waited, and then Sonya slowly inched her way around the bend, breaks on. Rose was close behind her grinning away. “I think this is too dangerous.” Sonya said when she was back with us.
We stopped at a cave on our way to see the big Buddha statue. Nate and I kept chanting “Big buddha big buddha big buddha, awe yeah!” (taken from a drinking game we used to play) and soon Sonya and Kate attempted to take up the call! The cave cost 15RMB and claimed to contain “hundreds of thousands” of Buddha statues.
The air was cool and damp as we entered the cave, and every Buddha statue had a different expression. I had chills running down my spine both from the cold and from the overwhelming presence that existed in the cave. The individuality and incredibly human faces of the statues was chilling.
Some of the chambers were covered from top to bottom in mini Buddha carvings like an elaborate 3D wallpaper.
My top three favourite Buddhas included a giant face that went from floor to ceiling. It was impossible the get the entire thing in one shot with the camera. It’s large droopy ears were probably near the size of a human. Another favourite was a giant sleeping buddha that was held up by four heads. The first appeared to be smiling, but the further down the line you went the sadder and more disturbing the faces became.
The other statue that really struck me as a terrifying, but incredibly amazing piece of art was the statue of a man draped in a red cloak. He was different in style and quality then the rest. He had a life to him, he was missing teeth and seemed to slump in his stance. Somehow he seemed like the most human carving there, and his face had more edge and point to it. The thought of him still gives me a chill as I write about it again.
As we neared the end of the cave we stopped by a pond with a wading Buddha in it and coy fish at her feet. One was white and made me think of the ever so present ying and yang of Chinese lifestyle. We stepped from the lowly lit dark corridors of the cave into the temple in the final chamber and were greeted with bright light and flashing swirls like a disco ball, and there were Buddha holograms for sail. The tacky gold Buddha they had for people to kneel before looked like a comical balloon animal compared to the stone work we’d passed on our way in. Nate said he almost expected a yam guy to walk by with his cart saying “get your yams here” in Chinese (or rather “get your Buddhas here!”)
Finally we headed to see the big Buddha. We could see him while we were still a long way off as he towered over us. On a clear day we could even see him all the way from the 16th floor of our work place. We passed a couple of elderly people doing very slow Tai Chi moves, and when we approached the steps leading to the Buddha we saw a dance lesson happening at the top. As we walked by one man shouted out “Hello!”
“Hello!” Nate said back.
“I love you!” The man called.
Nate laughed, “I love you too!”
The man came up and got pictures with us, and then gave the girls his QQ chat number, saying that he is a history major and they can ask him if they have any questions about history.
On our way to the bus home we stopped at a hospital, “I have to go see the love doctor.” Sonya informed us.
“The love doctor?” I asked surprised.
“No no the love doctor.”
“Love, like L-O-V-E?”
“Like looove, oh baby,” Nate added.
“No, no!” Sonya laughed, “The, how do you say it?” she consulted Rose, “Law doctor.”
“Oh,” Nate laughed, “The lawyer!”
Once we finally made it home we collapsed in bad for a nap. We slept for four hours and by the time we woke up it was raining and the temperature had dropped to 10 degrees. We changed our plans to sit out in the park in favour of movies, snacks, and alcoholic beverages. Turned out to be a very enjoyable night.