(July 16, 2015) Lots of Gods. The town is thick with their spread. Taoists, Confucianists, Capitalists, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims. Neighbors within blocks. The graceful roofs sheltering their Deities pimple the cubist horrorscape that is the modern Chinese city. Their houses of worship left alone to look backwards. As if the developers hedged every bet at their walls, just in case one of the outfits called it right.
This particular temple was Buddhist. We stared at the impressively gutted Buddha. Under his heels the caption. “Big belly can endure all that is hard to endure in the world.”
I looked around for faith. Something I’ve never captured when it comes to these Gods. How much smoother would life be if God faith was a companion? All explainable with a simple God reference.
Thought interrupted. “Daddy what is Buddhism?” I go deep for an answer and come up shallow. “It’s the belief that nothing matters because all is impermanent. That we should be detached and not crave things. That we should live in the moment because the past and future do not matter. And some other stuff.” Maybe not too shallow.
“That makes no sense. Stuff matters and I like things. And by the time I say something the moment is past.”
12-year-old checkmate. I weakly abdicate parental responsibility and rush away from any defense. “I’m with you Fly.”
Bait and switch. “Hey look at that Buddha over there. It took 58 years to carve.” “It’s big.” says she.
I take another stab. “Maybe that’s Buddhism Fumiko. The person who carved that lived in the present for 58 years.” “Sounds kind of boring but I guess Buddhism’s OK. I especially like it’s bellies.”
(July 10, 2015) The growled opera of a hundred chanting monks stilled our walk. In the exhausted rain of an overstretched typhoon. Us perched high on the fortified city wall that kept so many heathens in their proper neighborhood. The shadowed monastery snuggled it’s lower bulwark. Surrounded by trees in whose branches locals hid from the swordsman of the Imperial Japanese army. 300,000 of their brethren lost that particular game of hide and seek. We strained for sight of shaved heads. Echoes of prayers climbed from the monastery. Our wall breathed the chants in return. For how many centuries had these lovers whispered back and forth? We voyuered on, content in the wet.
(July 10, 2015) The canal town charmed. It’s narrow stone alleys delivered commerce to buildings long architecturally forgotten. Period men in conical hats propelled their boat oars with a nifty hand twist. Atmosphere drizzled. The locals had long ago tuned into all this. All was on our offer. All at half price. In the fish nibble foot massage tanks two fish died after consuming toxic detritus under my toenail.
Enough, for me anyway. “Come on Fly.”
“Where we going?”
I picked a pathway heading away from the canals. With strides tourism snapped back at the end of its leash. Life returned unprettily. Building techniques declined. Chickens. Laundry. “Daddy what are we looking for?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then how we are we going to find it?”
“I’ve been trying to figure that out for a long time.”
A pause. Quiet. Then she reached for my hand. I took hers. And we kept going.
“Where are we going, Daddy?”
(July 10, 2015) The floorboards of our room in the Astor House Hotel once resembled ship decking. Tight and slick with the oil of a 1000 feet. Since 1860 I heard said. The first telephone in China answered here. The first bulb shone.
Einstein took tea in the lobby, his mind at rest. A truism, time is an onslaught. Outside the humidity still feels brushed on like paint. But inside there is machined air. The Astors floorboards loosen and shrink in this new Ice Age. Revealing in their newly exposed seams the funeral dust of those thousand guests.
(July 10, 2015) A six week trip to China. Without itinerary or destination. Companioned by my 12-year-old daughter variously known as Fumiko or Fly. A few stories and photos from the journey to family and friends. The idea being not to get rusty in the written word department. As I am in the midst of writing a book to be called “The Death Q” which chronicles a 750 mile hike/trail I hope to open up near Death Valley. So I’d jot down a few short stories about China and call it a day.
Till my friend Cirina Catania caught wind of my plans. Cirina has faith in the beauty of the Internet. She proselytizes powerfully. This website “Stories from Steve” is essentially her creation. Without it my PCT through hike in 2013 would be undocumented and well into the process of memory deep fade. Her idea was to post my China dispatches here on “Stories from Steve.” I couldn’t find any harm in that. So here they are. I hope there is entertainment in at least a few of them.