Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China: here we have tea with a monk
Today we caught a bus to Chang’an and then another one to Xiang Ji to see a Tang monastery.
The bus ride was fun. The old man standing next to me was amazed by our height and yellow hair. This was all translated by a diffident lad who had studied English for three years at night school. Elspeth was informed that she had yellow eyes.
‘I do not!’ she said indignantly, in Chinese. Much to the amusement of the rest of the bus.
We got off the bus in a hamlet. You could just see the monastery pagoda far away in the distance. We started walking towards it.
“Hey! Hey!” A whole horde of Chinese peasants were coming after us. We waited for them to catch up.
They gathered closely round us, feeling our clothes and talking about our hair. They wanted to know where we came from, and how old we were. Nothing sinister, just typical noisy Chinese curiosity.
“Where are you going?’
“To the monastery.”
“It’s over there.”
“Yes, we know that.”
“We’ll draw you a map.”
So we waited patiently while the man who seemed to be the leader, looked carefully through our Berlitz phrase book, and breathing heavily, drew two parallel lines on the fly-leaf. ‘Just go up here,’ he said, tapping the lines helpfully. ‘Turn right, and there it is.’
We walked off and they stood and watched us for a while, waving cheerfully if we turned round.
The monastery was built in 706AD and was beautifully peaceful. The garden all around it was lovingly tended. The entrance was a circular hole in the wall, just like you see in the movies. And the monk who let us in looked as if he’d walked straight out of the American Kung Fu TV series. There was an enormous Buddha in the main hall with great swathes of material hanging from the ceiling and a couple of the monks’ bikes parked in the corner.
As we were leaving an old monk with a seamed face asked us in to tea. He smiled and nodded at us as he pottered about getting the tea things, warming our cups and then pouring out the hot, clear, tea. Conversation itself was severely limited, on account of the fact that neither party could understand what the other was on about. Still, it was very soothing.
Went back to the hamlet and waited for an age for the bus back. But it was worth it. Two kids were playing marbles. The local mechanic had his shop behind us and was busy mending a bike and when the villagers spotted Elspeth’s camera they all came out and demanded to have their pictures taken. But it was getting colder and colder and we were glad when the bus came.