Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Last Day in Shanghai

Inglewood California, November 12

Gyokuko and I are in a van heading east, away from LAX. We notice how clean everything is. The air, the streets, everything. When I comment on this, the driver is surprised. I tell him that compared to anywhere we were in China, this city is pristine. Of course LAX is near the coast, and the air is much better than further inland, but still, we can see the hills north of Westwood, many miles away, as clear as a bell. Shanghai is also on the coast, and nowhere near as clear.

I am being driving to an urgent care clinic by an airport first aid technician. It was quite an adventure to be met at the plane by a man with a wheelchair, then taken directly through immigration – no waiting – and to the first aid clinic. I got through the entire trip with no difficulties, only to get violently sick on the flight from Seoul to LAX, vomiting every 20 to 40 minutes throughout the ten hour flight. Now that’s an experience I don’t recommend. I couldn’t take in any water, and it left me pretty badly dehydrated. I was shaky enough that I deeply appreciated the assistance through the airport. Trudging through the long lines would have been very difficult. At the clinic I get IV fluids and some anti-nausea medication, and sleep a little bit. Then I feel a bit better for our next flight to Portland. Once back, it takes several more days and a course of Cipro to recover. Gyokuko comes down with a second case of the “tourist trots,” so we see a good deal of our bedroom for a while.

Our last couple of days in China involved a lot of travel, with more delays and late arrivals. At the end we had a day in Shanghai with a trip to the magnificent museum, a visit to a demonstration silk production facility, then the Jade Buddha Temple.

The museum had a display of Tang Dynasty Chinese Buddhist art on loan from Japan that was amazing. It included rarely seen famous works such as “Dongshan crossing the Stream” by Ma Yuan, “The Sixth Ancestor Cutting Bamboo,” by Mu Xi,  “Portrait of the Monk Dahui Zonggao,” possibly by Mu Xi,  “Seven Scenes of Famous Monks” by Liang Kai and a collection of other famous Zen paintings.

While most of the group toured the silk production demonstration, Andy, Shisei and I walked around the city. Along the way we came across a construction site with a fence all around it. There we discovered fascinating graffiti by, of all things, the “German & Chinese Hip Hop Project.” That’s something to contemplate! The art included skulls and odd faces that you might expect to see in graffiti in the US. But it also included some Chinese landscape references inside a teapot-like shape, and something that looked a bit like third-eyes in shaven-headed characters.

Near the end of the day we went to the Jade Buddha Temple. We had seen many jade Buddhas in many temples during the trip. Andy’s suggestion was to skip the other parts of the temple and go straight to this one Buddha figure. I was very impressed. It is a truly magnificent work of art, and worth the effort to go see it. There is another beautiful jade piece of a reclining Buddha, a “parinirvana” piece that is also very nice, but the Earth-witness Buddha is truly remarkable.

Our plan for the evening was to meet in the restaurant connected with the temple for our farewell dinner. Just before dinner I made my way into the last of several little gift shops that are part of the complex. Hogen Bays of Great Vow Zen Monastery had asked me to look for a large “mokugyo,” a kind of wooden drum used in chanting services. I had only seen one that was anywhere near large enough. In this shop I found one that was also too small, but had a good sound. I asked the young woman who came to help if they had any larger ones. She said “of course,” and asked me to follow her. Gyokuko and I went with her out of the store and across the street, then up some stairs above what looked like an arcade. On the second floor was a large display room with amazing Buddhist art, statues, and other implements. Near the back were gongs and mokugyos of various sizes, including one great big mokugyo. It had a wonderful sound, but would be very difficult to carry back to the states. Also in this shop was a matched pair of Bodhisattvas; a Samantabhadra on an elephant and a Manjusri on a lion. To make a long story short, we negotiated with the head guy for a while, and came up with a price for the mokugyo and both statues that included shipping to Portland; the drum for Great Vow, the statues for Dharma Rain. We could not, however, get the credit cards to go through. We found out later that our ever diligent credit card companies put a hold on our cards because of the unexpected and quite large purchase suddenly showing up in Shanghai. So, we agreed to wire the money for the purchase, which I am still trying to accomplish. He didn’t give us one piece of essential information, so now we’re trying to get through to him to get the job done. We’ll see.

Gyokuko and I were quite late to dinner, and expected the others to be done by the time we turned up. But instead everyone was waiting quite patiently. We had a great time, and I talked Polly into trying a bite of “stinky tofu,” a dish likened to limburger cheese. The reaction was priceless. Actually, it’s quite tasty, if a bit strong-flavored.

The next day the group took off at different times, saying goodbye at breakfast or in the lobby. A sizeable group of us were on similar flights, and although we had different flights out of Shanghai, we met up again in Seoul. We were in transit for almost thirty hours, arriving in Portland late in the evening. I’m sure most of the folks had a nice flight. I was a little busy, however, and didn’t notice.

I looking over the posts I made from China I am surprised by how rough they are. It wasn’t easy writing on a tiny netbook on a bouncing bus. I had to use the touchpad for cursor control, and when my palm grazed it the cursor would suddenly relocate itself to some random point in the document. Sometimes I couldn’t find the cursor to remove the mis-located text, and had to simply place it where I wanted it and hope the spell check in the webmail program would catch the problem when I sent it to Jyoshin.  The computer doesn’t have a full featured word processor either. That makes quite a difference. No spellcheck.

I will go back and catch up with the rest of the tale in the next few days, and get the photos uploaded to Flickr and well. Stay tuned.

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