Saturday, 30 April 2011

He's a tall fella!

Thursday 28th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Lose yourself - Eminem

Weather: Smog loomed over Chengdu, and Leshan, however this didn't mean that the day was any cooler.

When my alarm awoke me I did not want to move; I lay there, half asleep, wondering whether I should see this 'worlds largest Buddha' another day. Against my entire bodies effort to stay in bed I got up. I got ready quickly and, after collecting my laundry, I left the hostel around 6:30am, hunting for breakfast on the way to the bus station. As I walked along the quiet streets of Chengdu I felt neither hot or cold; a perfect temperature that I knew wouldn't last. The bus station was a little further than my map suggested; I hadn't been able to find anywhere for breakfast and it was a good job too as I would have missed my bus if I had. I purchased my ticket before I got shown to a mini-van; inside were two Chinese men eating a 'pot noodle'. I was glad to find that this mini-van wasn't like the ones in South East Asia; here I had copious amounts of leg room plus I didn't feel squashed in. Once another three customers had turned up, to fill the last three vacant seats, we were off to Leshan.

Just like Chengdu the view, on the way to Leshan, wasn't anything special; the smog, which I hoped would clear soon, made everything seem that little bit more ugly. As soon as the mini-van had started moving the two men, in front of me, lit a cigarette each; with the windows sealed I had to grin and bare the fact that their smoke kept blowing into my face. I went back to staring out of the window, thankful for the British laws on smoking in public places. Next to me where two Chinese students returning home; we spoke a little before one of them confirmed my desired location to the driver. As we chatted the driver had this god awful music playing; it basically consisted of six different notes repeated over the whole two hour journey. It felt like some sort of torture and, after 120 minutes of this repetitive tune, I would have told the driver anything … ANYTHING to turn it off. All-in-all, with the cigarette fumes, the terrible view and the torturous music the only pleasant aspect of the journey was the leg room.

We eventually arrived in Leshan. The other five customers departed within the town centre leaving me, alone, to be driven to the northern gate of Dafo. £16 was the entry price; I tried to ask for the £9 ticket, that only went to the Buddha, but it was no good. In the end I paid the £16 to see the whole site, as it was easier that trying to get what I wanted. As I walked through the northern gate I was greeted by a 'tourist map', erected on a wooden frame. Now I knew that the park held 'the giant Buddha' but what I didn't realise was that it also held many caves and buildings devoted to Buddhism. I began exploring the caves, walls and temples all of which held individual stone statues; it was a pleasant way to spend a morning, mainly due to the lack of people and the caves cooling me down. I came around a stone path, attached to the side of a limestone mountain, where I viewed several golden-roofed buildings. Two buildings were at my level (and were used to sell tacky souvenirs) whereas another two were halfway up a giant stone staircase, in front of me, and the final three were right at the top. As I looked up this huge staircase I could just about see another stone Buddha waiting for me at the top; I started climbing, very glad that I had decided to bring 4ltrs of drinking water with me. Midway I stopped to view the six Buddha's that were housed, three to a building, on each side of the stair case. “Who ate all the pies?” was a question that could be answered easily by looking at one of the stone statues; no wonder he looked so happy whereas all the others were serious faced.

Being 11am the temperature had risen and I certainly knew about it as I climbed the final steps. I went into a small cave, with even more stone statues, before collapsing onto a park bench throwing water down my throat. I sat there for a short while staring out into the distance; yet again it would have been a more pleasant view if the smog had cleared; the viability was poor and I came to the realisation that the sky would remain white for the rest of the day.

Since being dropped off I'd been worrying about getting back to Chengdu; my hostel had given me instructions on getting to Leshan but not returning (maybe they were trying to tell me something). The time was only 11am but I pressed on to the giant Buddha conscious that, if there were loads of Chinese tourists there, it could take a while. I guessed that buses must run, from Leshan to Chengdu, late into the evening but I didn't want to push my luck; I decided that I would leave the site by 4pm at the latest.

After heading through another ticket barrier, and sticking my nose into another temple, I found the Chinese crowds. I followed the rabble, instinctively knowing that they would lead me to the 'big man' himself. “… 71 meters in height this is the worlds largest Buddhist sculpture. Statistics, however, can't convey the initial impression of this squat icon, comfortably seated with his hands on his knees …” my guidebook stated. I walked along a stone path keeping one eye on the rabble, and the other on the pages of my book. Once I'd elbowed my way through the crowds I found myself at the same level as the 'big man's' face; I leaned over a barrier to look down, quickly pulling myself back after noticing just how far the drop was. The Buddha sat facing the sea and I thought it would have been a great view if the smog had lifted. “… You'll appreciate his scale here; Dafo's ears are 7m long, his eyes 10m wide, and around six people at once can stand on his big toenail …” My guidebook continued. At this point I couldn't see his toenails - I was too far up - but I did stare at Dafo's face for a while, resisting pushes from impatient Chinese people behind me. Another annoying trait from the Chinese, which happened every time I tried to take a photo, was that one member of a group would raise their hand so that, when the another group member took a photo, it looked as though their hand was resting on Dafo's head. Why you may well ask; personally I thought it was a stupid souvenir and, after collecting the photographs that I wanted, I left the area – throwing a few elbows of my own - before heading to the 'cliff road'.

This path, dating back to the eighth century, had metal railings erected from top to bottom with a few information boards scattered along the walkway. Even though the facilities would have passed 'health and safety' requirements unfortunately the Chinese wouldn't; I was amazed to find that, even though people of all ages were descending a steep stair case, the Chinese were still pushing. At first we moved three to a row meaning that the middle person had nothing to hold onto, with only the crowds below to fall onto. I lost my temper when one woman tried to squeeze past me; even though I shouted “... where do you think you are going to go? It's packed with people...” in English she seemed to understand and, with her head held low, she waited until I'd covered my lost ground. She never tried to push past me again.

Just like the China Pavilion the Chinese were spoiling the day; Dafo was indeed impressive however all I could think about was getting down this staircase, as fast as possible without pushing, and leaving the area. The queuing did become better once the path became wide enough for only one person; once in single file the pushing seemed to stop and I could take a few photos whilst making sure that I prevented anyone from over taking. Once at Dafo's feet I didn't stay long; I took a couple of photos, and gazed up at the 'big man', before trying to vacate the area. It took me a little while, moving left and then right, out of the way of other tourists photos. Once at the exit the crowds cleared and I made good time as I found myself at the 'lunch area'. I found a bench, empty of Chinese, before opening my bag to have something to eat and drink; it was now midday and I was still worried about getting back to Chengdu. I re-read the Leshan passage, within my guidebook, and looked at my 'free Dafo map' before deciding that there were a few things that I hadn't seen. Unfortunately some were quite a walk away, in a direction that I didn't want to go, so I decided to leave them and head to the south gate, stop at a couple of temples, before taking the ferry back to Leshan's docks (as you get a good view of Dafo from the ferry) and walking towards Leshan's bus station (two Chinese guys, from the mini-van this morning, highlighted the station on my map).

All was going swimmingly; I'd found signs to the southern gate and, after heading through said gate, I'd had a quick look around a temple before taking a few photos of an ancient Chinese bridge. As luck would have it I had to cross said bridge to get to the ferry terminal; I'd taken my first steps onto the bridge when I herd “, no, no...” coming from a rather rounded, and old, Chinese lady behind me. She walked in front of me, blocking my way, trying to have a conversation with me in Chinese. I tried to tell her that I wanted to go to the ferry dock but, each time I went to move around her, she countered with the speed of someone younger. The only thing I understood her say was “... bus to Chengdu...” which, after eventually being worn down by her, I said yes. She guided me to a rickshaw (which looked older than the ones within South East Asia) and, until her son explained, I thought that she was going to cycle me the 220km back to Chengdu. Infact, for twenty Yuan (£2), this lady would cycle me to the northern entrance where I could pick-up a bus back to Chengdu. I agreed knowing that the price was too high however, the fact that I had someone who could speak Chinese knowing what I wanted, was more valuable than the ride. As she started to pedal I sat back looking to my right, the ferry will just have to wait for another visit.

The road was no more than a dirt track and I felt sorry for this old lady as she struggled to cycle us both up a small hill; I, on the other hand, was drinking water and looking at the view to my right, as the view in front of me consisted of her bottom. It didn't take long to reach the northern gate and, in all honesty, I could have walked; I said thank you and resultantly handed over the twenty Yuan. Very kindly she took me with her and found out where the bus to Chengdu would depart from; once again I thanked her before she cycled off into the distance … very slowly.

It was 12:30pm and there was quite a crowd of customers waiting to get back to Chengdu, none of which were foreign tourists. The next bus wasn't due until 2pm however, due to the amount of people already waiting, a mini-van was brought up and we were asked to get in. I thought that this mini-van would, just like this morning, take me all the way to Chengdu ... but no. After ten minutes the mini-van stopped and out I had to get. I had no idea where I was but luckily the driver wasn't looking as if he was going to make a quick get a way; instead he had his mobile pressed to his ear and, only when a coach pulled in, did I realise what was happening. I presume he'd phoned the coach earlier, asked how many seats were vacant, and then arranged to meet it on route. Finally I was aboard; the was less leg room than in the mini-van and, the scruffy Chinese guy next to me, was asleep taking up more than his fair share of the seats. Neither mattered, I was on my way to Chengdu and I wouldn't be stranded in Leshan.

The only problem now was 'where exactly was I going to be dropped off in Chengdu?'. When the ticket lady came, to ask me for forty-five Yuan, I gave her the money before flicking to the back of my guidebook. At the back there are a few translation pages, including sentences about travel. I pointed to the Chinese for 'Does this bus stop at...' before quickly flicking to Chengdu and pointing to the bus station that I had departed from this morning. She shook her head. I then asked 'where does this bus stop?' and she pointed, on my map, to a 'out-of-town' bus station. All was going well up to this point but, when I tried to ask how do I get from the 'out-of-town' bus station to town, her face went blank. Time passed; I either pointed to my guidebook, or acted out (obviously the Chinese have never herd of charades) what I required, but the ticket lady would only reply with a sentence, written down in Chinese, for me to look at blankly. Finally a lady on the bus, who could speak English, came up to help and within a flash I found out that I needed bus twenty-eight. I thanked both of them and faced forward noticing that half the coach had turned around to listen to my conversation … the guy next to me was awake. As I sat, waiting to arrive in Chengdu, I thought about my day; had I really made the most of it? I left the site pretty quickly however I was quite tired; once at the out-of-town bus station I departed the coach, checked once more that bus twenty-eight would indeed take me into town, before seeking it out. This service cost another two Yuan and, whilst at 20p the trip was cheap, it had been an expensive day.

I calculated within my head; £5.40 to travel to Leshan, £16 to see the Buddha, £2 on a rickshaw ride, £2 on food and water, £4.50 on the coach ride back and now 20p on a city bus meant that I had spent over £30! Was the Buddha worth that amount? Compared to the terracotta warriors no, however I couldn't leave Chengdu without seeing him. If I ever return to Chengdu, which is doubtful, I would go back to Leshan but instead of paying the entrance fee I would take the ferry – see the 'big man' from the water – before returning home. A better view, few crowds and cheaper. Being 4pm the traffic was manic; I'd planned to head to the bus station that I'd departed from this morning (out of ease) however, as I looked at the road names out of the window, I noticed that I was near my hostel. I left the bus however, instead of heading back to the hostel, I turned the other way and headed east.

'The bookworm' was recommended to me by the American girl, at the book store, yesterday as a place to purchase English novels; it took forever to seek the place but, once found, the café / book store was full of English books. I searched the racks but none of the 'Emperor' series could be found; I did find another of Conn Iggulden's books but, alas, it wasn't for sale. I left empty handed; this was the last book store that had been recommended to me and I'd failed to seek out what I wanted. My guidebook stated that Kumming had a large foreign book store and so I would wait until then; I didn't mind re-reading the book I had until I arrived in Kumming; if still unsuccessful then I would have to purchase whatever I could find.

I'd walked back to my hostel a different, and longer, way than usual; however it was to be one of the best mistakes that I'd done today. Just before turning onto the road, that my hostel was located on, I had to walk past a small shopping complex with a KFC on the bottom floor. As I walked past I looked up, to the second floor, noticing hundreds of books in the window. I went in and immediately went to the book stores floor plan. “Imported books level three” it stated and so, after passing through security, I went up the three escalators to the 3rd floor. It took a little while to find the foreign book section but, once found, it consisted of eight rows of book cases dedicated to novels. Like an impatient Chinese man I almost ran to the shelves scanning them for any 'Emperor' novels; on the third row I found another of Conn Iggulden's books, but it wasn't until the last row that one, and only one, 'Emperor' book stood amongst the other novels. Palms a little sweaty I walked slowly to it, noting that 'Emperor: The Gods of War' was the last book within the series and, more importantly, one that I hadn't read. I snatched it from the shelves and quickly took it to the cashier. Being too excited I didn't even notice the price of sixty-five Yuan (£6.50 … not bad for an imported book); I handed over a hundred Yuan note, still with my eyes fixed on the back of the book. As I travelled down the escalators, and out of the stores doors, I read the back of the book; it appears that Julius is returning from Gaul to take up his place in Rome … sounds good. Unfortunately, unlike the other novels within the series, this one seemed quite thin; I knew it wouldn't take long to finish reading it and finding the final book, within the series, might prove difficult. Still this was a problem for another day and I walked the final ten minutes to my hostel (how ironic; I'd been searching for this book all over Chengdu, sometimes walking for two hours, and yet just down the road from my hostel I managed to find it).

Once back at the hostel I didn't do much; after a shower, and some food, I went to sleep knowing that I had another early start tomorrow. Eager as I was to start my new adventure in ancient Rome it would have to wait; my eyes were heavy and I eventually fell asleep around 9:30pm. Tomorrow Pandas!

Toodle Pip!


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