Wu Xi also nicknamed "Little Shanghai" for its booming economy and proximity to Shanghai, is one of the most beautiful places in China. Divided into two halves by the Tai Hu Lake (which is the third largest fresh water lake in China), the beautiful scenery has served as inspiration for many Chinese poets.
My grandparents are originally from there so Collin and I wanted to explore their hometown. Jiu Ma was our tour guide and took care of our travel arrangements because she’s the best – we taught her to say “I am number 1” which she often repeated throughout the rest of our visit while giving a thumbs up sign every time. She’s so cute!
At the crack of dawn we packed our bags and took the subway to the train station. Shanghai’s subway system is not only easy to comprehend but everything about it is modern and the grounds are kept immaculate, it was a vast difference from NYC’s often dirty, stuffy (only in the summers), stinky subways (no offense my fellow NYers). You can find more information on subway systems here. We took Xu Jia Hui up to Shanghai Railway Station and from there we took an hour train ride to Wu Xi.
I often wonder why bullet trains are not more common in the States. For an example, why don’t we have a bullet train in Texas that would take you to places like Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston? Because taking those drives is not only exhausting but are often EXTREMELY boring (Yes, I have drifted in and out of consciousness while driving, I can’t help it, it’s really that bad).
Once we arrived in WuXi we were originally going to take a bus to Ling Shan but were approached by a tour group, where they took us on their shuttle and we also got a discount on tickets since they bought it at a group rate. They charged us 100 rmb per person which calculates out to be roughly around $18.
Pretty much the minute you step out of the train station you will be bombarded by locals trying to sell you passes to Ling Shan – I recommend you get a solid price (It shouldn't be more than 100rmb/person) and make sure that there are other people traveling to the destination with you before agreeing to anything. Luckily Jiu Ma made sure everything was set in stone and alas we were on our way to the magical Ling Shan.
Every year, over 2 million visitors come to this site to gaze at the magnificent scenes such as the Lingshan Grand Buddha, the Ancient Xiangfu Temple, The Five-Wisdom Door, the Lingshan Buddhist Palace as well as many other sites representative of the Buddhist culture.
The Lingshan Grand Buddha – standing at an impressive 88 meters, is the tallest statue of Skyamuni recorded and largest Buddha statue in China. It is said that his raised right hand represents the elimination of pains while the gesture of his left hand renders happiness. On each of his hands is imprinted with the symbol “wish” and the symbol on the Buddha’s chest represents solemnity and virtue.
I was amazed at all the intricate details and beautiful colors that enriched each structure throughout the park. From the beautiful hand-carved designs in the granite to the rich reds and golds that were used on the temples, one can see the countless time and detail that must’ve gone into each task.
It was truly impressive to say the least. All the while they had meditation music flowing in the background, which made the experience even more ethereal. Though the park was crowded, it still felt serene – with the beautiful flowers and trees placed throughout, paired with the familiar smell of incense floating through the air, my heart naturally felt at peace.
Above is the Lingshan Brahma Palace which has the art palace and spiritual sanctuary. The architectural influences include Kazo tower styles combined with Chinese Buddhist grotto art, keeping Buddhist influences strong in every structure. I especially liked the gold tipped domes and gold-plated doors, which gave off a very majestic appearance.
They also made all visitors wear shoe covers before entering the palace. I thought this was quite clever, because not only does it keep the dirt off the exquisitely designed marble floors, but the millions and millions of feet constantly “sweep” the floors as they walk. Collin had to wear TWO shoe covers since he has unusually large feet (haha!).
All around the palace you will find these hand carved wooden structures also known as Dongyang wooden carvings – some of these intricate structures took as many as 1800 working days to finish (almost FIVE years), talk about dedication people! But the result is well worth the time – my eyes were stricken by awe, observing all the details and beautiful craftsmanship that went into each piece of art.
As you walk towards the Aisle and Tower hall of the Brahma palace, this visually stunning tower of magic awaits you. The 60 meter arch roof is filled with orchestrated lights that transition in colors – surrounded by more painted wooden sculptures of Buddhist elements; you couldn’t help but become enraptured by the all the astounding details throughout the domed ceilings. At the very center of the ceiling looked like a certain circle of constellations – anyone who’s an astronomer (or who loves astronomy) can tell me what the constellations are? I was curious of their significance.
This was probably my favorite piece of art. This entire wall is made of Liuli glass – which is an ancient tradition of glass making in China. Liuli glass uses a very special type of casting method referred to as a “lost-wax” technique that uses finely powdered glass mixed with a binding substance and colorants. The process of creating Liuli Glass is not an easy task – the entire formation is painstakingly difficult including the instability of the molds used and the high temperatures needed to mold the glass paste into a solid form. The beauty of Liuli glass is the immersion of bright beautiful colors and only this type of glass can contain multiple colors within one piece, it is not possible with any type of glass or crystal work for they would crack under the high temperatures.
My mother is Buddhist, and as a child she never really explained much about the religion. She would always take me to temples during the New Year where we would light candles and she would buy prayer cards that served different purposes – prayers for love, health, longevity, good fortune. But that was about all I knew. Aside from the smelly incense that would stink up the house and finding Buddha’s ears to be unusually large, it wasn’t until later that I fully came to appreciate the religion.
Buddhism of the contemporary world is known as “Humanistic Buddhism” which preaches belief on the importance of appreciating life and contributing to society – with a heavy emphasis on equality for all and maintaining a harmonious coexistence. The ultimate goal is to promote the world’s harmony, civilization and development so that the people of the world can share harmony, happiness and unlimited brightness regardless of nations, races and beliefs.
All throughout the grounds, you will find thousands and thousands of people carrying around red candles and incense, each person carrying a different hope. I was amazed to see how many candles there were – and yes, I bought one too and lit it (5 times because it kept blowing out) and placed all of my wishes for my friends and family into it. On the candle it says in Chinese “Nian Nian You Guang” meaning every year you will have light.
I often wonder what people pray about – the health of their parents, success for their business, good marks on report cards for their kids. But all of their hopes are poured (prayed) into these candles – I found it interesting that the wax collectively pools into one large vat, containing all of our good and positive thoughts for loved ones.
I come to understand that hope and faith is what keeps our lives going – it gives us a reason to wake up each morning, to tackle the world with the best of our abilities and ultimately achieving the results we’ve thought and prayed so long for. I remember the simplicity of my hopes when I was younger – “I hope Jonathan goes out with me. I hope dad lets me go to the movies with my friends. I hope I get straight As.” The naivety of my adolescent nature made life seem so dramatic back then.
Now as I’m entering the early stages of “adulthood” my hopes have gradually evolved – “I hope I live a fulfilling life. I hope I make my parents proud. I hope I will inspire and spread good virtue to others.” Life quickly becomes complicated as you are presented with bigger responsibilities and yes, it is scary but at the same time, extremely exciting. The evolution of oneself is dependent entirely on you – the way you interpret shortcomings in life, the effect you chose to have on others and most importantly, the lessons you learn through the people you meet and the experiences you’ve had.
This is the largest Buddha hand in the world, standing 12 meters tall it is an exact replica of the hand on the Grand Buddha. Supposedly, if you walk around the hand and repeatedly slap (or high-five) the bronze hand it will bring you good luck. The wear and tear over the years is clear from the million upon million sets of hands that have touched the Grand Buddha’s palm. Note the extreme happiness on everyone’s faces as they walked around the structure. I gave it at least 20 high-fives, because a bit of good luck never hurt anyone ^_^!
I found this hand beautiful because people of all different ages go to touch this hand, from small children to adolescents to young adults down to the elderly. It’s as if everyone’s happiness is infused into this gigantic palm – perhaps that is why it brings good luck and fortune.
As we were walking through the grounds, we had several little children come up to us – eager to practice their English skills “Hello! How are you? What is your name?” It was absolutely ADORABLE. I was so impressed to see how well they all spoke English and with such a sense of fearlessness and confidence in their personalities. It was a nice break from the blatant staring we usually get wherever we went.
Ah yes. The BLATANT staring. I first noticed it when I went back in college -- wherever I went, people would stare. I asked my mother " What are they looking at? Why are they staring at me?" which she replied "It's cuz you've got a big head."
WOW. THANKS MOM.
But this time, with my 6'2" white partner in crime, the stares got turned on to a whole new level. People are shameless here, they will stop in their tracks and just STARE at you. But here, people stared of course, but Collin developed a fan group. Yes ladies and gentlemen, little girls around the age of 10-12 chased Collin around asking to take pictures with them and please guess who had to take the pictures. Yes, that would be ME.
Please note the level of smugness all over Collin's face as well -- because nobody wanted to take a picture with me :( *saaad panda*. It was cute though, those little girls sure did get giddy, maybe they thought he was a movie star or a sports player but either way Collin welcomed the glorious attention :).
Our last stop was the sculpture of devil suppressing. This grand sculpture is representative of how Buddha achieved enlightenment through suppressing the devils of women, terror, money, power, and slander. For six years, Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree, where for 7 days and 7 nights of deep meditation he was finally able to prevail the different devils of evil. It was then that he finally attained true Enlightenment. (INTENSE!)
After a wonderful adventure in Lingshan we worked up quite the appetite. But of course Jiu Ma had it all planned out (because she is number 1!!). Unfortunately I forgot the name of the restaurant we ventured to but they served traditional Wu Xi cuisine. We ordered Wu Xi xiao long bao and the infamous Wu Xi Spare Ribs.
Wu Xi cuisine is known for their play on sweet and savory cooking styles. These spareribs adopts the common Eastern technique of "Red Cooking" where the meat is slowly simmered in a stock of rice wine and soy sauce, enhanced by the rich flavors of ginger, star anise and cloves. It is then smothered in a sweet red sauce, I am not sure what it's exactly made of but I DO KNOW that it is finger-lickin good. The Wu Xi xiao long bao were quite tasty too, though I prefer the Shanghainese ones more, the filling was a bit sweet for me.
I will save my second half of the trip for the next post -- from Wu Xi we went to Su Zhou where I had my wedding dress made! Also stay tuned for all the different types of Szechuan food we ate in Shanghai -- Collin loves spicy food so my family made sure he had his fair share before we went home. Thanks for sticking it out for so long, until next time...