The Chengdu Chronicles: Part 6

This next leg of the trip might be my favorite part, mostly because I met French hippie Jesus.

I am a staunch believer in the notion that God is always with me when I travel, but sometimes it’s difficult to see it. Sometimes, however, God just likes to smack you in the face with obviousness, just to make sure you’re paying attention.

After seeing 人山人海 waiting for the Buddha, I simply quit. I was totally over Leshan. The Giant Buddha will likely forever remain unseen on my list of places to go, and I’ve made my peace with that.

I managed to squeeze my way onto a jam-packed public bus at the top of the mountain, but from there I had to find the bus stop in Leshan to get back to Chengdu. Very quickly I realized I’d run out of that attraction so quickly that I hadn’t even bothered to look at, like, a map of where I was headed, or what stop I needed to get off at. So I had a moment of moderate panic where I pondered what to do next.

Not ten minutes later, the bus stopped, the doors opened, and Jesus got on. This guy had the hair, the beard, and the sandals game going strong. He came and stood next to me for the next few stops. “So,” he finally said to me in a thick French accent, breath heavy with the stench of cigarettes, “do you know what bus stop you’re getting off at?”

“I have no idea,” I admitted.

“It’s four from the end to get back to Chengdu,” he said.

“Cool, thanks!”

I got off the bus with him and used the bus stop’s super ratched bathroom, the most ratched I’ve seen in China yet except for the literal holes I used outside the Great Wall. These bathrooms were indoor, but were also just a pit in the ground with nothing but waist-high walls separating each pit and a short door that didn’t fully close. Basically you could still see the person next to you and across from you as you peed. Yeah, it was time to go back to the overpriced hotel, that was for sure.

After I bought my ticket, French hippie Jesus continued to help me out by showing me where to board the bus and getting in line with me. Some little children stopped to play with him and he gladly took a photograph. And when we finally arrived in Chengdu and the bus dumped us off at some random gas station that was absolutely not where I’d gotten on, he suggested I get a taxi back home. We each grabbed one and went our separate ways.

In short, I’ll remember this day as the one where at totally random stranger who was seriously rocking the Jesus look helped me to find my way home without me ever asking for it. Somehow, without me ever voicing my thoughts, he knew exactly what I needed, and guided me all the way home. Coincidence? I think not. But that’s up for you to decide.

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The Chengdu Chronicles: Part 5

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!

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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!”

Not even the biggest Buddha there

Not even the biggest Buddha there

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.

Nice view from the top at least

Nice view from the top at least

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.

It means peace

It means peace

Little girl with a Chinese flag was running by the Buddha

Little girl with a Chinese flag was running by the Buddha

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.

人山人海

人山人海

Prayer candles

Prayer candles