Friday, September 16, 2011

Then and Now 15 - Temple Chant

Then and Now 15 - Temple Chant
Time: Late 2007, dating my wife.

For the sake of this Then and Now, I'm going to refer to my wife as my girlfriend.

In the first month or two while my girlfriend and I were dating, Sunday came around and it was time for some fun. She had come over to my place for the past two weekends, and we basically locked ourselves in the apartment to have sex, eat and watch some DVDs I brought from America for the entire two breaks. But this weekend, she had to do some extra work, so I went out to the big city to see what I could see alone. I still had a lot to visit, according to my subway map, so I decided to go and see something historic that day: a famous temple.

I took the subway car to a stop near the end of the east-west line where the temple was, and on the way there, I saw a foreigner in the car with his local girlfriend. I looked their way, but they didn't see me, so I went back to watching the world fly by outside the car. But then, just a few seconds later, I heard a voice.

"So where you headed?"

I looked over and saw the guy and his girl staring at me with warm smiles. I smiled a bright smile of my own and told them about the temple on the map, and how I was really interested in going to see it. I also told them that I was surprised they were talking to me; most foreigners I met since I had come to this country either locked eyes with me for a fraction of a second, then jerked their head ninety degrees to the side and scurried away before I could say hello, or simply ignored me and my greetings.

The foreigner answered, "You seem to be a good guy."

"Yeah?" I answered, with a stupid grin on my face.

"Believe me," he said, "I know how to read people." I guess this was just another instance of people seeing how much I shined as a man.

In any case, we spent the next few minutes talking about his musical career as an entertainer to kids, his musical influences, and how he and his girlfriend had met in his home country before he came over. He had come to visit her, and to see her family for the first time. I congratulated him on the big step, and guaranteed he would have a great time here, but he assured me that he had been here long enough to know how great the country was. My stop came up, and after some goodbyes, off I went. I later found out that he was semi-famous here, and even published a CD or two.

When I got off the car, the sky was overcast, but it wasn't a problem: I had brought a large umbrella, its handle hooked into my jeans pocket like a modern day sword. I walked across a very wide parking lot, and settled down to decide where the heck I was going to go. I didn't have a map, aside from the one for the subway, so I just had to guess my way to the temple.

In one direction were tons of tall buildings, so I figured it wouldn't be over there. In two others, it seemed that there were just a couple of winding roads going around small shops and stuff, so I guessed it wasn't in those places, either. The last direction, however, was a road that led up into the mountains. I figured that even if I was wrong and it was an urban temple, a mountain hike sounded like fun anyway.

I walked for a bit down some non-descript streets when I came to a shadowy intersection under a freeway overpass. Standing next to me were a local teacher and a bunch of her students on some kind of field trip. A few of the kids looked and pointed at me, so I just grinned at them and moved on when the light turned green.

The road continued down for a while between some mechanics' garages and tiny, independently owned stores until I came to the first stop of my little trip. Surrounded by massive fences that would seem in place around a batting cage, there sat an expansive field of grasses, trees and little ponds. I couldn't read the sign outside very well, but I gathered that it was some kind of garden.

I entered and walked up to a booth with a woman inside, and used some simple words of the local language to ask what I was looking at. She answered back, just as simply, that it was a nature (something). I guessed it was a sanctuary, park or preserve, because at that moment, I noticed that there were ticket prices listed. So of course I dropped some cash down and got a ticket to go in. The lady chuckled a bit as she gave me a pamphlet, obviously amused by the fact that I probably couldn't read it. SPOILER: I couldn't.

I walked around for about thirty minutes, taking in the sights of the animals and plants around me. I walked down a path through a little forest with a couple of birds in the trees, past a miniature lake with some colorful, lazy fish inside, and past a barred-off field with some weird squirrel things running around in it.

Feeling at peace and relaxed, I went down a path that had thick brush on one side, and a wide, man-made lake on the other. It was an incredible sight, with the light of the sun reflecting off of the waters and little fish flitting about beneath. The path continued up and around a small hill, and strangely enough, I saw a little shack at the top. It was roped off, so I couldn't see if someone was living or working there, or if it was some kind of historic monument, but it did get me guessing. There were some high school students there, too: a girl and two guys. They were just walking around and minding their own business, so I didn't bug them. After a good hour of walking around this place, I went back to the entrance, said goodbye to the lady there, and continued on.

The narrow road outside soon opened up to a very wide grassy field on either side of it. I couldn't see anything of civilization in either direction, and I was the only one standing there. Feeling the wind blow through the green, I felt like I was the last man on earth, and that I was the only one left to explore its natural beauty on that warm day. Then a car rocketed by and kind of ruined the feeling.

The road continued on, and the grassy plains gave way to steep cliffs covered in trees on the right side of the road, and a gentle incline to the left. As I started climbing the road up the hill, my phone rang. It was my girlfriend, calling me from work. "Hey honey! Where are you? You're climbing the mountain? Wow! That sounds tiring. I know you can do it, go go go! Save some energy for next weekend, ok? Have fun!"

No asking me to cut my trip short. No reminders of chores I had to take care of. No complaining about her day at work or what her family had done. No asking me for money. No asking me to bring something back for her. No reminders of whether or not I had brought this or that article of clothing. Just good old fashioned support.

The road climbed up and wound around several times, at points going towards the mountain ahead of me, and at others back in the direction I came from. But it kept rising, and I kept walking it. Just as the forest on my right got too thick to see through anymore, the road turned back towards the subway station, and I was starting to feel very tired. Luckily, at that point, I had come to a very wide, very high, very beautiful scenic point that looked out over the entire city. The mountain was still behind me and wasn't very high at my sides, so I was offered an almost unobstructed view.

Buildings shot up and out of the ground as far as the eye could see, and purple mountains rose quietly and serenely behind them. The sun was blaring next to the clouds and still high in the sky, so it cast very few shadows over the incredible scene. The wide, grassy field that I had traveled through was wider than I thought, and spread for miles in either direction at the foot of the mountain. I stayed up there to catch my breath and snap pictures for a couple of minutes, until I was finally ready to resume my climb.

The road continued even farther up, and after a short while, I was passing cozy-looking houses on my left, built atop the sloped mountain. It reminded me of a few trips I took to the mountains with my family back in America, and it was just as peaceful here as it was back home. After another hour or so of walking, I started to feel winded, so I found the nearest bus stop, and plopped down to wait for the next one to arrive. It came rather quickly, maybe after ten minutes or so. I got on and thanked the driver as he drove, and had barely sat down in my seat when the bus stopped, the doors opened and everyone had gotten off. I was only a two minutes' walk from the top. Sheepishly, I got off the bus, and the driver waived the fare because we were so close.

I was now in the heart of the mountain range, surrounded by trees on either side of the road, and many cars were slowly moving up in the same direction to some common destination. But at the same time, I noticed that the travelers on foot were taking a small detour from the main road and into the forest, away from the path that the cars were taking up the mountain. So of course, I followed them to see what was there.

It was a little pool of water, fenced off to allow a safe, perfect view. The centerpiece was a miniature waterfall that dribbled water into the small pond below, which was covered in floating flowers and lilypads with a couple of frogs and fish lazing about. There were even a few dragonflies and butterflies fluttering around the water, and trees and shrubs surrounded the little scene. It was stunningly beautiful.

I walked alongside this place and down the little dirt path, up some man-made stairs carved into the stone of the mountain, and finally arrived back on the main road. After a few minutes of walking, the road got wider. Along either side of it, there were a ton of outdoor restaurants catering to many, many locals enjoying a hot meal under the warm sun. I wish I were hungry then so I could have joined them, but I guess all the exercise drained me, so I just walked by them all with a slight smile. And finally, after several hours of bus rides, subway trips and a huge walk and hike, I arrived at the place everyone was heading to. It was the temple I was looking for all along. I had guessed right.

Out of respect for the locals, I kept my camera holstered at all times when I was up there. But to be honest, I wish someone had told me it was ok to take pictures, because everything I experienced up there was fantastic. The statues were massive and serene. The aroma of smoldering incense relaxed my tired mind and body. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of people all over the place, praying, talking, walking and just enjoying the quiet atmosphere of the temple.

But most noticeably, everyone was singing. It was a religious chant that I have heard several dozen times since I've lived here, but that was my first time hearing it live. It was absolutely hypnotic; not only was it being sung by hundreds of people, live and right in front of me, but the way everyone harmonized and carried the haunting tune made me dizzy with excitement and happiness. I have never forgotten that tune, or that scene.

I people watched for a while, then I went around the temple to see what else there was to see. I didn't want to be loitering around the main praying area, after all, what with the locals having spiritual business there and all.

The temple felt more like a castle, to be honest. There were two separate levels: the top level which held the little libraries, praying areas and offices of the temple, and the lower level where people were relaxing with their families. I saw some local kids running around and playing ball, even as high as we were. They were in no danger of falling, though, because the sides of the temple were fenced off.

There were several other places around the temple that offered even better views of the mountains, forests, plains and city below. After all, we were even higher than that first scenic point I had come to. Still, I took no pictures. Aimed at the temple or not, I didn't think it was respectful to be pulling my camera out in that place. I walked around the temple twice, peeking into the monks' study areas and sleeping quarters and stuff (surreptitiously, of course). And after about an hour of checking the place out, I decided it was time to go.

The sun was still rather high in the sky, and I guessed it was about 2:00 or 3:00, which I confirmed on my phone. I headed back down to the bus stop where I had first come up to this place then took it directly down, and got off right at the subway station. I put a quick call through to my girlfriend and let her know what I saw, and even sang the chant to her so she could tell me about it. She was more than happy to oblige, and asked me to take her along on my next adventure.

And with that, I took the subway back to the stop near the city I was living in, then hopped a relaxing bus ride over a bridge and back to my house. I spent the rest of the night, maybe six or seven hours, playing video games, before I went to sleep and prepared for another day of work the next day, and another day of travel on the Tuesday right after.

As for today...

I woke up at 11:00.
I watched TV.
I went out for job training.
I came home.
I watched internet movies with my son.
I went to work.
I taught students.
I came home.
I ate dinner.
I watched internet movies with my son.
He fell asleep.
I cleaned up the floor and table.
I played video games.
I slept.

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