Day 3: 乐山 / Leshan
Fun fact: 乐山 / Leshan literally translates to “happiness mountain.” The first character is found in a commonly used word for happiness, 快乐 / kuai le, which is like happiness which occurs in the moment. There is a whole different word for long-lasting happiness. And lastly, 山 / shan is the word for mountain, which I think is pretty apparent from the character!
The next day, I decided it was time to be ambitious and go on a real adventure. I planned to blindly hop on a bus and get out of the city, and I knew just the place. I’d seen pictures online of this sweet-looking massive Buddha carved into a mountain called Leshan, which was apparently about two and a half hours from Chengdu, which admittedly sounded like a long time to sit on a bus. But I was determined! I was making it to Leshan, no matter how hard the journey!
Well I got rolling a bit later than I’d wanted to that morning, convincing myself that this was my vacation and I could sleep in if I wanted to. I finally got to the bus stations at about 9:45 AM, but figured no problem, I’ll get to the mountain by 12:30 or maybe 1:00 at the latest and would still have a few hours to wander around and explore. So I unassumingly took a seat in the very back row of the bus, and soon two young Chinese girls hurried up to sit with me.
“Hi!” the littler one cried from beside me, staring up at me wide-eyed.
“Hi,” I replied. “How are you?”
“Five!” she shouted, holding up five fingers.
“Ah. And what’s your name?”
Strawberry and her (presumably) cousin, who went by the name Michelle, both studied English in school and were eager to practice with me by asking a series of non-sequiturs such as, “What colors do you like?” and, “What’s your favorite animal?” They couldn’t understand why I kept laughing at their persistent interrogation.
Talking with the girls was fun at first, but three hours later and with no end to the bus ride in sight things got weird. First Michelle had to pee. Now, this bus didn’t have a bathroom but that doesn’t stop a determined Chinese person. Why hold it when you can allow your child to pee into a plastic bag with no social stigma attached whatsoever?
So the fact that Michelle’s mother asked the man next to us to move seats and then had Michelle pee right beside me wasn’t even shocking at this point, just moderately unpleasant. Then things got even more unpleasant when out of the blue Strawberry decided to throw a huge temper tantrum. Half the bus turned to stare as the girl started letting out wails of pain the likes of which I have never heard leave a child’s mouth before. Thankfully, the bus soon stopped, allowing me a fast escape.
By the time I got up to Leshan, which required switching to a second bus first, it was already 3:00 PM. I was all set and ready to go see this massive Buddha already, but apparently I had to start all the way around the other side of the mountain.
Well, that ended up being a good thing, because as it turned out there were actually a lot of cool, much smaller Buddhas carved into winding caves throughout the mountains. I meandered through snapping pictures on my dying phone and wondering just how far away this giant Buddha was exactly. About an hour later, I got over to the other side of the mountain.
Remember me mentioning that I was traveling during National Holiday, which meant that approximately 1 billion of the 1.3 billion Chinese were also trying to simultaneously have a holiday? Well, there’s this expression in Chinese that goes 人山人海 / Ren Shan Ren Hai / “people mountain people ocean,” or more colloquially, “a sea of people.” That is approximately how many people were also waiting to see the giant Buddha at Leshan.
It was 4:00 PM and the attraction closed at 6:00. If I waited in line, there was probably no way to catch a bus back to Chengdu. It was time for me to head home.