Once I had emerged from the trail, I was standing on a wide pavement leading up the hillside in a series of steps and platforms which each hosted a tent adjacent to the pavement with locals selling their souvenir wares. This resulted in a long gauntlet of knick knack filled tables with a seller or two who desperately attempted to show or offer this or that if you were unlucky enough to look in their direction for more than an instant. Their empty stares and despondent demeanor were only changed to slight interest of despair activated by the near passerby, as if one of those musical machines activated only by motion sensor. I wondered what life was like for the locals before the advent of large scale tourism; were they adapting to their environment by catering to supply a demand or or were they solely here because of the demand itself, seeking to take advantage of an opportunity?
At the top of the hill was unsurprisingly another cluster of temples. One of them was paid entry and I had not yet come upon one with a fee so I assumed there must be something special about this one. I vaguely remember this being on some of the packages offered at the port of entry. I paid entry and was sorely disappointed by the views. In my opinion, all the previous ones offered more beautiful sights so I concluded that there must be an historical significance which was lost to me. At yet another site, I had ventured a little further than the rest of the tourist crowd into a hallway and found myself in a small beautiful garden with a zigzagging stone bridge just above the plane of a green reflective mirror pond. A lone monk sat on a stone bench and I didn’t want to seem an intruder so I filled myself with appreciative happiness and gazed at the garden walking very slowly and quietly perused the environment. On the surrounding walls was a long series of intricately carved stone reliefs recounting the life of Buddha.
On yet another temple grounds were the similar rituals being carried out by many a people, praying with incense which filled the air of the island. I came to a small corner of the grounds which offered yet another prayer sanctuary of similar deities and ornamental decor. I then spied a small quarters which no one entered, having some miscellaneous construction equipment and materials. I passed a man who seemed to be guarding said quarters without looking at him, and if he were indeed guarding the area, he did not seem to mind my harmless peering. I saw a small bit of light coming from a narrow archway with steps leading upward and I continued onward and upward behind the temple and found myself on grounds which were not filled with people. A few monks strayed about and looked at me oddly but said naught. Being higher up, I found that I could view the area in front of the temple and the tops of many peoples heads. I then wandered some more and found many clothes of orange and white swaying in the wind under a simple covering over the patio and the clothes were evenly spaced in a grid fashion. I sat down and couldn’t help but think of how beautiful this simple sight was. I watched as empty figures danced together to the same rhythm of rushing winds. A monk came up to the patio and began to wash his own clothes.
From the top of the mountain, I bought passage on an enclosed sky gondola which took passengers down from the mountain, on a very long cable hanging high above the tree tops, toward the north end of the island. There one could see what was truly the islands most glorious of temple grounds high up on a hill surrounded by other buildings and walls which terraced upward towards a final building. It seemed fit for a king to live. And that was how they revered the buddha. I took lunch in a local restaurant next to the gondolas landing and rested my running feet. I had a couple bottles of warm beer while sitting at a table with people who clearly either lived there or were there every day. I took some time to make a sketching of an interesting fellow and continued my journey to the grand temple nearby. The entire architectural makeup was comprised of the most colorful and ornate designs. There were several different prominent structures, each paying homage to some deity or another, with living quarters on the peripheries for those who lived the practice. There were beautiful reliefs in white granite suspended over beautiful reflection ponds with pagoda like buildings towering above with multi colored facets and intricacies. At the paramount height I found the centralized temple to be housing an extremely large sitting buddha. For some reason, even though it was only the afternoon, there weren’t many people around. I figured that this temple wasn’t thronged by ware selling peoples and probably wasn’t as historical as those found atop the mountain, so it wasn’t promoted as much even though its beauty far surpassed the rest. I took about a half hour sit to meditate at the feet of the buddha, with both of us facing south.
After exiting the temple grounds I noticed most people either going directly south to a very tall pagoda or back towards the east side of the island road to catch a bus. However, where the road continued around the apex to the south west there seemed not a soul interested so I continued on my usual unusual path away from the flow of the masses. I meandered through a small community and asked to charge my phone, solely for picture purposes, and bought some drinks and a nice suede cowboy hat. Continuing along, I soon found myself alone on a long and winding road that only offered the sight of the coast through glimpses of empty spaces provided by leaning trees. The reason no one came to this side because there really was nothing here. Once in a while I’d come to another road but barely a soul passing by. I was tired out by now and could no longer keep my jogging. I had a few hours of sunlight left so I took in the beauty of the trees around me on a nice stroll. I was passed occasionally by a slow bicyclist who would get off their bikes and walk them uphill, only to ride the downhill. I caught the attention of one and asked him in pantomime if i could sit on the rack above the rear tire. He agreed, but his tire pressure on the rusting bicycle was so low that it turned flat with our combined weight.
After a very long and lonesome walk, I soon found myself looking down at what appeared to be a type of agricultural field/dumping site. There were some very old buildings in poor conditions with many people living there. Some were working in their fields, and others were carrying rubbish to and fro. I saw the road go parallel to the sea on a high straight wall but I decided instead to walk the path of the locals and meandered through some crops until i found a wide path surrounded on all sides by piles of brick, stone, demolished buildings, trash and even porcelain toilets and tubs. The sky was swirling with clouds and the setting sun soon set them ablaze with a life of color. When I rejoined the road, I saw some monks walking and talking who soon sat on the wall together to discuss and watch the sunset. I took a picture of them and their idea, and walked to the top of the wall to see the sights. I then sat down with the sea far below my feet to draw an island far off.
Once back in a full circle, I explored some popular boulders in the early evening just as twilight was coming. I soon went to find a dinner and retired to my hotel for a long awaited rest after finding out from the hotel that the earliest boat out was at 6:00 am. I again awoke with the sun and headed towards the port. I was becoming nervous because my bus left in only an hour. The more I waited past 6 am for the ticket counter to open, the more I thought of how many people told me that travel in China was unreliable, and how nothing was on schedule. Soon, I became weary of my anxiousness and decided to let go. I can only do so much to change my outcome, and if things didn’t go smoothly I’d find a way back anyway. Stress doesn’t do anybody any good. So I let go. The ticket booth opened at 6:20. Our boat arrived to the larger island just before 7:00. The bus to the connecting small connecting hub arrived at 7:20 and I was on my bus just before 7:30.
The next morning, my friends picked me up in Helen’s car, and we were on our way to Guandong and entered a water park. Near the entrance they went into a swimwear shop and the girls looked at some items and they looked at my bulky camo surf shorts. They asked if I had swimwear and I said I was wearing them. The sells woman said something and they translated that I might not be allowed in the park, because I wasn’t wearing what appeared to be swimwear. I looked at the options and there were only spandex speedos. “There’s no way in Hell im wearing those. If they want a foreigner on the show they’ll let him wear his foreigner shorts. These are for water, if they don’t understand at first we’ll have to explain that in other countries they use other swimwear.” Helen was nervous, but I remained adamant. After some confusion of where to get in, we checked in to where the TV show patrons waited and Yong and I got free entrance because only she wanted to go on the show, while Helen and Xin had to pay. We were guided to an arena in the middle of the water park, sidelined by stadium seating for spectators.
After checking in we were shown the course and told we could have a practice run. Other teams were hesitantly at the start line trying to take the first step. There were several men in front of us but they weren’t doing anything, just timidly touching the first moving pad. I was about to go when a boy just ran across the wobbling pods to the first landing pad, and continued through the course until he fell into the water. I then went next and did not waste any time. I walked a thin curving line around a circle and jumped over a rotating rod that was turning around through the diameter, forcing someone either to jump or crawl. I quickly passed the monkey bars to the next landing pad and was faced with 2 very large rubber balls whose height was about 8ft whose sides were separated by about 3ft. Enough for someone to fall between. I wasn’t sure of the balls tension but took a few steps for momentum and in two bounds I passed well over my mark on the next pad and slid on my side. I then walked a conveyor belt in the opposite direction it was moving while avoiding punching poles which shot out intermittently from a wall next to me. Then I had to jump on a large circular pad rotating very quickly, and then to another before the next landing pad; they were like two large spinning tables. I jumped and turned 180 degrees to land on my knees facing outward, holding onto the edge. I made a full two turns and leapfrogged to the next pad in the same manner, turning around to be facing the outer edge. In another turn I made it to the next stable pad, which was quite small so I was a little nervous on the landing. I took a few breaths and then walked a very very thin rail for about 15 feet while avoiding swinging punching bags. Then I was confronted with two consecutive rotating wheels. Similar to what you would see on an old steamboat that paddled the water with a large rotating wheel. This wheel had 3 spokes or walls and they were turning in opposite directions. I watched this for a while before becoming confident and as soon as I was able, I leaped to the center and waited for the next wheel’s walls to lower level enough for me to leap the the center of the next and then I quickly jumped again to the next landing pad. From there it was a simple quick hops to the “wall”; a steeply inclined slope which had a rope netting for women and a simple line rope with knotted intervals for the men. While climbing up, a very large amount of water came pouring down and I soon made it to the top. Piece of cake. It only took me about 4 minutes. We were going to win this thing.
The time came for the competition, and the first team was excruciatingly slow and timid. Almost embarrassingly so, crawling on all fours to get to the next pad of the first semi- obstacle. My friend Yong Yong was first for our team and I was proud of her boisterous bravery. She made it halfway to the large spinning tables and fell off. When she got her second try, there wasn’t much improvement. It was up to me. I flew through the obstacles in a flash, exemplary even by American sports standards. I didn’t bother to hesitate on the spinning tables, I simply made my jumps back to back as soon as I came close to another, not waiting for a full rotation. I could hear the exclamations of the announcers and some noise from the crowd, and I’m sure I was the first to accomplish such a feat here. On my way across the walking line, I got nicked by one of the swinging punching bags and fell, but I made sure to straddle the line and hug it as I went down. It was a little painful. But I stood up in place and continued and to the next stage and took a breath for a bit. I jumped onto the first rotating steamboat cog and waited my moment for the next, and when I made my jump I came up short, feeling my left crunch with a sidelike step and didn’t land in the middle, which caused the wheel to spin backwards not in my favor, thereby knocking me down. I couldn’t believe I was in the water! Some standby crew in the water helped to hoist me up onto the previous stage. I took my time before trying again and waited for the timing of the second wheel, with only a similar result. Once my foot landed, I quickly tried to jump up over the next wall, and got both arms over but it was still spinning backwards.
Once I was out of the water, my friends tried to console me but I was too upset. And my foot was throbbing. I couldn’t believe I had flashed it first try when it didn’t count. AAAAARFRRGGGHH! We watched some more people continue for a bit before going to enjoy the rest of the water park for the day. We stayed until nightfall and saw some pretty amazing water shows and theatrics. By then I was walking on my heel, and it was throbbing pretty good, but there was no bruising nor swelling at all. I figured it would be okay in a day or two. Either way, it was a pretty fun day.
For my birthday, August 4th, we all went out to hot pot again for my birthday and then Alicia had arranged for us to go to KTV. Private karaoke rooms for all the Lamso school staff and my friends. They brought a cake, and Helen had brought one as well. For a guy who doesn’t like cake, that’s quite a lot. I got good and liquored up, but not too much as per my usual credo, especially around friends of profession. All in all, it was a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday and one month having been in China.