Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November 2, 2010

Yifang, 4:45pm.

Today we broke out of the cities and came out to the country. Went to see where Moshan Lioran practiced a thousand years ago -- we chant her name as a notable woman teacher. There is a nunnery there where they are building a complex. The abbess was away, but the nun greeting us served tea, along with fruit they had grown on the grounds. And she handed out malas for everyone, so now we have two of them (we also had tea and malas at Rujin/Dogen's temple).

We are settling into our hotel in Yifang. We will be here two nights, so it is an opportunity to catch up on hand-washing laundry. I got much of mind done last night in Nanching, but am definitely taking advantage of the opportunity here, so I'll be set for a while.

The rooms in this hotel aren't all that great, but will be fine. No carpeting, no shower stall, just a drain in the floor and shower shoes. The bed is very hard, but that was also the case in Ningbo, and my body adjusted there, so I suspect it will do so here as well.

One thing I like is that the windows are open. We are on a highway, so there's a lot of noise. Chinese drivers honk a lot, mostly just to let each other know where they are (tweeting?). Not so much about trying to get someone to do something (Move! Stop!), but just an almost-friendly, or in any case impersonal, imparting of information -- I'm here, coming up behind you. It often implies that it might be beneficial for one to move over a bit (i.e., pedestrians in a road that a car is coming down), but not necessarily.

It was so great to see nuns today, all involved in building this place. One of our groups said she would like to move in for a while.

Andy mentioned that in their eyes (Chinese monastics), we're all lay people, because we haven't left home. I'm pondering that a bit. What exactly does it mean to leave home in an American context? In my context?

One sentence on a scroll in the hall where we drank tea reads: "The Dharma Rain in the Nine Mountains transforms the Ten Directions." I liked that place very much.

November 1, 2010

Well, I finally made it on to the Internet. I've had no luck connecting at all in China until now. There's an ethernet connection in the hotel room [in Nanching] that finally seems to work just fine. We've discovered that facebook and blogspot are evidently blocked in China, so there go those plans to keep in touch. Kyogen has been connecting to the Internet just fine, but is now sending e-mails to the office and having Jyoshin post to the blog he set up. Ah, well.

Both yesterday and today we visited temples. This morning in Ningbo we also went to a library garden that was really beautiful, and I would love to have spent more time there. But we were hurried along to eat lunch early so we could catch our plane to here in Nanching. Had another wonderful dinner, and now back to the hotel. I'm not the only one who tends to crash during dinner and go to bed early, only to wake up around 4am. I'm gradually adapting to local time.

Back to temples. Today's wasn't exactly on our itinerary, being optional if we had time. And we did, as our flight was earlier than they expected. So we went to this temple in downtown Nanching. I don't know the name of the temple -- I just can't keep all these Chinese names in my head. But we were greeted by a monk guestmaster standing in for the abbot, who was on his way to Beijing. He took us upstairs and served us tea. An assistant brought in peanuts, and also gave us all mala bracelets. Very sweet.

This monk who made the tea today did this odd thing of pouring the first batch of tea he brewed out, and then brewing with the same tea again, over and over. Evidently the first batch (in this lovely little tea pot that looked a little like a french press -- I want one!) is for "washing" the tea, to get out any dust, etc. They discard that and then brew from the washed tea. Maybe I'll figure out a way to do something like that the next time I cook Sunday breakfast. We'll see.

Yesterday we visited two temples. The first was King Ashoka's temple, and the second was the one where Dogen trained under Rujing (which won't mean a lot to many of you -- he is considered to be the founder of Soto Zen in Japan -- he went to China to find answers, having studied under many Japanese teachers, and found Rujing at this temple we visited yesterday. Then he brought that back to Japan.). It was really cool to join in practice there -- we participated in Evening Service in the afternoon. It was strange in many ways, and lasted well over an hour. By the time it was done the sun was going down, a little after 5pm. Some elements were familiar, and I saw some things I had seen at Tassajara last fall. Of course, I couldn't chant along, as it was all in Chinese, and most of it was sung, so after a while I was able to get some of the melody and hum or even "ah" along.

It's about 7:30pm, and I'm tired and very interested in bed. On the other hand, I should try to stay up a little later than I really want to so maybe I'll sleep later in the morning. Eric (the Chinese tour guide) told us that the tea we were drinking this afternoon should keep us up until midnight. I doubt that, but maybe it will keep me going a little longer. and of course I'm excited to finally get on to the Internet.

This is the third big city we've been in (the first was Shanghai). Andy (our tour arranger) says tomorrow we leave the cities and go to the countryside. Another temple, a big one, with a lot of construction going on, so we will again stay at a hotel. But we will spend much of the day there at the temple -- Baizhong's, as I recall. I'm not doing a lot of keeping track, just mostly going along and participating as well as I can. There have been some intervals where we could kind of wander on our own, within limits, and told to meet at a particular place at a particular time. So I've been able to do some walking.

The weather has been sunny and pleasant. Cool in the mornings, but generally nice in the afternoons. This afternoon it was positively warm. We are in the south, but even so, I gather this unusual for this time of year.

Sunday, October 31

Nanching, 2:51pm.

In transit between the airport and the city. I realize I've been a day off in my reckoning, which I suspected. Not that it really matters. I only really need to stay with the group, not know what day it is.

One thing -- I've been enjoying the tea a great deal here. It's so different from what we drink in the states. Reminds me a little of barley tea, mild as I prefer it.

We had a leisurely lunch in a hotel restaurant by the airport and then went to the terminal and found the flight being called, evidently earlier than it had been scheduled. So a scramble to get on the plane -- check bags, get boarding passes, go through security, and of course I ended up in the very last row. The woman occupying my seat got a phone call and wasn't moving, and finally I made and emphatic gesture for her to move over, and she did. They fed us on the flight -- a small container of hot rice, vegetables, and shrimp. Even though we had already eaten, I ate the rice and vegetables, and accepted the bottle of water, keeping the half that was left to drink later.

October 30 - Ningbo

[In my journal, I put Friday, October 29, but I think it was likely October 30, as it took me a few days to realize we were a day ahead of Portland time.]

8:10am. Beginning to feel more human, that is, beginning to adapt to the rhythms of this time and place. Slept until 4am (an improvement over yesterday's 3am), stayed in bed until almost 6am. Last night I did well until we went out to dinner, about 6pm, when I began to crash. Fell asleep on the short ride to the restaurant, and was able to eat for a bit until my body just basically began to shut down and emphatically communicated "no more." I endured the noise and wait until we got to the hotel and went directly to bed.

We are at the Jiahe Hotel in Ningbo. Our local guide here doesn't know all that much English, and Eric (our national Chinese guide) says he doesn't know all that much about Ningbo, though he did say there's a strong connection between Shanghai and Ningbo in terms of people and families going back and forth.

I went to breakfast, and am getting used to having what I would consider lunch/supper food for any meal. There was fruit, fried rice, noodles, steamed rice, boiled egg, and various other things. It was all good. Had a conversation with Kyogen about connecting with the Internet, and still can't get on. At least my adapters seem to work, and I can keep my electronics charged. I'm tracking my expenses on the laptop, and continuing to blog on paper.

I think today we're going to where Dogen trained with Rujing.

12:10pm. King Ashoka's temple. I didn't take my rakusu in with me, and so of course ended up in a ceremony offering incense and bowing before the Relic. We were each invited to come bow before it individually and look at it. People see different colors, evidently. Kyogen and Richard both saw blue, while Gyokuko and I both saw white. Hard to say.

Right now I'm on the bus waiting for everyone to get out of the gift shop. I looked an at inkin (portable gong), but it wasn't quite what I want. I'd like to get gifts for people at some point.

8pm. This afternoon we went to the temple where Dogen trained with Rujing. Quite an experience. We ended up doing evening service there. Kyogen says this temple is laid out like Eiheiji. There's a Dogen shrine that we bowed to, and then Gyokuko started circumambulating it and chanting the Heart Sutra. Kyogen followed her, and when I saw what they were doing, I joined in. There ended up being several of us processing and chanting.

Evening service lasted well over an hour, and involved standing on a stone floor, wearing shoes. There was some processing and bowing, but I got pretty tired of standing. Still, it was cool to stand with the monks all chanting the service. I wasn't able to join the chants, really, though I hummed along. There were moments when it was amazing to think I was practicing in the same temple where Dogen trained.

It's not all that late, but I'm still getting tired early (and waking up early in the morning). Tomorrow is supposed to be a full day, with our first in-country flight.

Wednesday, October 28

We are flying west over the Pacific on Korean Air. The weather has been sunny and clear all the way. Korean Air is every so much more gracious than US airlines. At each seat there is a pillow, a blanket, and a small bottle of water. I'm in a place next to an empty seat, so I have two of each. Then they handed out headsets, slippers, toothbrush and toothpaste to each passenger. They even served meals as well as snacks.

I am almost at a loss for what to do, there are so many options. In addition to a stack of paperback books, there are borrowed newspapers, crossword puzzle and sudoku books (those I bought in the San Francisco airport). Finally I settle on journal and pen.

I have not been looking forward to this flight -- 12 hours on a plane seems like torture. Still, so far, so good. My suitcase came in at just under 45 pounds this morning, after I got worried and took some stuff out. There are weight limits to both overseas and in-country flights in China.

We are headed to Seoul. There's a short layover there, and then we get on a plane to Shanghai, where we'll be taken to our hotel. There are 8 of us on this flight from DRZC. We seem to be scattered around the plane -- a massive thing -- 10 seats to a row, 2 aisles, 52 rows, I think I heard. I'm in row 46. Each seat has a video screen built into the seat in front. From there we can watch movies, news, listen to audio programs, etc. I'm doing my best to ignore it for the time being, so far with reasonable success.

Later at the hotel -- not sure of date or time.

I'm writing in the dark -- it's a lovely hotel room, but none of the light switches seem to work. There's a little light from the windows but not much -- it's still dark outside. And I can't find my flashlight -- I know I packed it, but can't seem to find it.

That long flight wasn't nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be. We kept getting pretty good meals at regular intervals, when they would turn on lights, and then turn off the lights for sleep again. I probably did sleep lightly a few times and had few problems with that.

At Seoul the connection was very tight, and we all did some running through the airport, which felt pretty good. Gyokuko said she would almost have paid someone to be able to do that. The last shorter flight to Shanghai, another meal, and finally in to the airport. Went through customs, got our pictures taken, and Polly's bag didn't make it. So I went with her to get that straightened out. She says she has everything she really needs in her carry-on. But it all took a while. Korean Air paid her some money and gave her some packets of toiletries. She gave one of those to me.

We came in to Shanghai after dark, and the lights of downtown were quite spectacular -- light shows on several of the buildings, quite beautiful.

Next morning 7:10am

Solved the mystery of the lights -- they only work when you stick your room card key into a slot and leave it here while you're in the room. So now I have lights. I had set my watch to an hour later than it actually was, so I'm up and breakfasted, and have done some packing. Now I'm thinking of a proper shower and head shave. Maybe a blog entry. We meet in the lobby at 8:30, so I have a little time.


Still no success in getting online. I plugged in the LAN cable, and it seemed to connect (at $1/minute!), but wouldn't let me past the gateway. Ah, well, blogging on paper, as Gyokuko says.

Back from China

Well, it was a crazy wonderful, incredible experience. Turns out I was unable to blog while in China. Somehow they have blocked facebook and blogspot there. I was able to do e-mail, at least when I was able to connect to the Internet, which wasn't always the case. I started out doing a lot of what Gyokuko called "blogging on paper" in my journal. As the trip went on, I found it more possible to get online, depending on where we were staying. In any case, it wasn't as though we had a huge amount of time for such things, though Kyogen did make efforts to keep a blog, found a way to get around the China block first by sending e-mails to Jyoshin in the office here and then by way of a proxy server. He also is putting photos up on flikr, though he hasn't been able to do much, I wouldn't think, since getting home, because he got sick on the flight back.

Anyway, I don't know whether I'll be able to post much here about China, but I'll do what I can. I did send a bunch of e-mails to a bunch of people, and those should be reasonably easy to put up, but the early journal entries will need to be hand-entered.

One thing I did yesterday, which came directly out of the trip, and which I alluded to some years back when contemplating going to China, was to go to Tao of Tea and get some tea, which I came back and brewed China-style, and drank most satisfyingly while reading a mystery novel. Yes, I discovered tea in China, and have been enjoying it. Turns out they brew it very differently than we typically do in the States. I'm guessing a lot of people here drink coffee and like things bitter and strong. Too bitter and strong for me. But that's not how it's brewed there. You can get multiple steepings from a bunch of tea, and the first one is discarded (sometimes called washing the tea). And it's not steeped for very long, so it appears weak to some. When it's brewed this way, I can actually taste the tea and enjoy it.

We'll see whether I can actually incorporate tea time into my day -- I'd like to if at all possible.