If you know me, you know I am not religious. The closest thing to religion I would relate to is Humanism, which isn’t quite the same thing. That being said I still respect other people’s religions, I also enjoy learning things I didn’t know about them and admiring the beauty created in the name of the religion.
On our second day in Xi’an we visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (yes, that is its name) and the Muslim Quarter. Admittedly the latter was less about the religion itself and more about street food, but I will get to that.
As we approached the Big Wild Goose Pagoda we saw a very prominent statue of the monk who brought buddhism to China from India. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was the temple that this monk built, some of which had to be rebuilt due to earthquakes.
Our local guide gave us a slightly confusing explanation about the past, present and future buddhas. I understood that the present buddha is the one that I have always thought of as “Buddha” the Indian prince Gautama Siddhartha, who reached enlightenment and created buddhism.
To the side of this Buddha there were also some large drums and other percussion instruments that my husband liked.
The explanation of one of the future buddhas also made things clearer for me as he explained that one of the future buddhas is called the happy buddha, he is the fat buddha who always looks jovial. Apparently he was a chinese monk who traveled all around China spreading happiness, he always carried with him a cloth sack and the people would gift him with things (mostly food). It is considered lucky to rub his belly. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the happy buddha, but here is the other future buddha.
There was one shrine dedicated to good fortune, mostly around wealth, so there were a lot of gold coins and statues paid for by business men to bring them good fortune. Our guide explained to us the reason that chinese coins are shaped the way they are is because the circle represents the universe (the same as the one the lion holds) and the square represents the earth because there are four directions on earth. It struck me as slightly hypocritical that rich people could pay for a statue to bring them more wealth when the buddhist religion is about giving up earthly desires, but I guess it just goes to show there is a bit of that in every religion.
After we had looked around the temple our guid took us into an art room and demonstrated some calligraphy, and art techniques. He wrote down Scotland for us and told us how to pronounce it, it sound something like “Su ga lan”. He even stamped it for us to show it was a original. We were tempted to buy an art piece but with nearly six months still ahead of us we weren’t sure how it would make it home safely.
We left the temple and made our way to the front side of the pagoda where a fountain show was due to start. We walked through some gardens with some interesting statues in them.
As the show started I was slightly underwhelmed at first, but our guide had told us that we could make our way down to the front throughout the show. I decided that in order to appreciate the show properly we should go to the front and view it from there, and we were justly rewarded. The view from the front meant that you could see all the little sections coming together to the music.
We did get slightly wet towards the end, however that was actually quite appreciated at the time since the heat was starting to become slightly unbearable.
After the fountain we made our way to the drum and bell towers, which had the function in ancient times of telling the time as well as warning of intruders, in the centre of the Xi’an. The drum tower also now marks the beginning of the Muslim Quarter.
Our guid explained that the Muslim Quarter was formed when one of the ends of the silk road was in Xi’an, it is one of the few places in China where Islam is practiced. I will admit however that I didn’t see a mosque, the main attraction to the Muslim Quarter these days is the street food.
The whole street was a busy mess of colour, sounds and smells. There were stalls and queues everywhere. People were hammering sesame seeds and smells of cooked meat enticed the nose. We walked down the street with our guide taking in as much as we could, once we got to the other end she recommended the pancakes and then disappeared into the crowd to give us our free time.
We bought ourselves some of the pancakes our guide had told us about, it was really more like a pulled pork bun, but it was very tastie, whatever you would call it. We washed it down with some pomegranate juice and bought some sweets which we had seen someone pulling the sugar out for on the street.
After a long wander through the Muslim Quarter, just enjoying the atmosphere, we headed back to the hotel where we met some of our group to go for dinner. We ended up in a very interesting place that sold “Rost Thing” among other delicacies and ended our day there.
Maybe not strictly a day of religion, but a day of learning and experiencing none the less.