Tuesday, August 8th
The whole family (YJ's parents, Old Oak, YJ and I) heads out to the Big Buddha on Sprite Hill (sprites=fairies, not the soft drink), or Ling Shan Da Fo. This is one of the biggest attractions near Wuxi, where I have been living for almost a year, and yet I still hadn't seen it. Truthfully, I had been holding off on it ever since I knew my old man was making the trek over to the Orient, and I was excited to be able to finally see the biggest statue of Buddha in China.
It was a gorgeously sunny day, and we all fit comfortably in the sleek, air-conditioned luxury vehicle taking us to our destination. After about an hour's journey, we climbed out, anxious to see the Buddha whom we had spotted as we got closer and closer, his copper hued head poking over the nearby hills. What greeted us was a wall of heat, a thick pool of hot air compared to the comfy confines in which we had arrived. With sun umbrellas to protect the womenfolk, we headed out to the big guy to see what he was up to, and we saw a series of little monuments, statues and fountains. With no clouds in sight and the heat oppressive, only YJ and I opted for the long stair climb for a closer viewing, while the parents sat back to enjoy the shade, where they could also comfortably view the Buddha from afar.
The impressive copper statue depicts Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism (circa 565 BC - 486 BC), and is 88 meters tall, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. I later found out that it is currently the largest copper statue in the world, but the real shocker for me was finding out that it had been built in 1992. In a country that officially outlaws religion, it would seem a bit strange that the government of Wuxi was allowed to build a huge statue and park dedicated to Buddhism - but this country is rife with contradictions . . .
The highlight of the day was actually leaving the park, and coming upon a small flock of purring white doves. They seemed friendly, and first my dad, and then I began to entice them to land on us. They were pretty tame we found out, and at one point I had about five fat birds on my outstretched arms and shoulders, while Old Oak had birds on his hat, shoulders and hands as well. YJ's family was sort of surprised about our animal act, but the biggest surprise happened when YJ's mom (Sweet) came too close to give us some nuts to feed them with. Already very wary of our feathered friends, she almost went into shock as one landed on her head to all of our amusement.
Miraculously (and mercifully for my mother in law), no birds pooped on us.
Wednesday, August 9th
After sleeping in for a period of time not long enough for my liking, we were once again shepherded out to the car for a trip "out to the country" as my father in law Crazy Eye put it. Eventually, I found out we were going to Tong Li, a sort of tourist destination that had an old style Chinese town nicely restored, complete with little canals, hutongs (side alleys) and merchant-lined streets.
After about 2 hours, we arrived at our destination, and much like the day before, we poured ourselves out into the deadly heat of the day. According to most Chinese, I had been told this was the rainy season - but Old Oak had worked some voodoo magic on the gods of rain and storm. The uncharacteristic weather was great . . . hell, I love the sun! But it definitely affected every activity, slowed us down, and even closed some options because of the unbearable heat.
The day turned out to be decently entertaining, getting driven around in a bicycle rickshaw, getting an eyeful of Chinese atmosphere, and getting in some shopping as well. Watching the cormorants give up the fish they caught for the so-called human fishermen was educational, and relaxing in the shade of the rickshaw while the driver struggled to pull my weight was embarrassingly comfortable. At one point Old Oak and I had to retreat from a second story museum though - we were about to pass out from the oppressive humidity that had collected on the poorly ventilated floor. After the group split up, lost each other, found each other, then split again to see other stuff, we finally left satisfied. Well, at least I was, as in general it had been pretty fun stuff.
A strange evening followed, as a mildly unexpected visit to a business partner (of Crazy Eye's) happened in the country, where we all had a big dinner. It was delicious, and somehow during the proceedings, Old Oak and I outdrank the hosts, effectively erasing their red wine stock for the week. It was all good fun, and we stuffed ourselves on the young lamb our host had searched out to slaughter for our benefit, bless his soul. After leaving though, the journey got real long and confusing, and we ended up off of our route so that Crazy Eye could do a little business deal . . . on the side of a road. Now normally, this would be the filler in a mafia tale, meeting on a strange highway at 11pm - but alas, nothing so romantic happened, as it was just another normal Chinese business transaction. We got home late, tired and a little miffed about the whole business . . . but we got over it soon enough. Old Oak's perfect image of his hosts had a big dent in it now though, and we spoke in Latvian most of the way back to prevent Crazy Eye catching a few words.
Saturday, August 12th
Our threesome (my wife and I, Old Oak) lands in Beijing after a comfy ride on the "fast train", the most modern and quick form of transport besides an airplane. We have trouble booking a hotel, as Old Oak hasn't brought his passport from Wuxi with him, a mistake that YJ and I are partly responsible for. Eventually, after my wife left us for some time to suss out things with one of the ladies who organises such things, we were in great stead - cheap hotel, good location, and we had a good cheap vehicle for going to the Great Wall . . .
To be continued . . . (don'tchya just hate that?!?)
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