Asia | China | Sichuan Province | Songpan – More of Songpan town
I shopped until I dropped this morning, getting a couple Tibetan scarves for myself and yak meat to send off as gifts. I tried returning a scarf to the store, and got into the biggest argument with the owner. Someone later told me that the Tibetans think it’s bad luck to have the first business of the day returned, and I spent the rest of the day repenting for having behaved exactly like the type of tourist that I found annoying.
Songpan has a mix of mosques and temples, but the highlight of all was the Earthly God Temple, perched high in the middle of the hill on the west side of town. As we huffed and puffed our way up, a local boy posed heroically by his vegetable garden and asked us to take a picture of him. Then the rest of the kids in the village followed, either pushing their way to the front of the camera, or looking at the camera longingly and then running away giggling when I pointed it to them. Having had to hide my camera while taking pictures of locals during the trip, I almost didn’t know how to handle all the requests.
The first boy took us to the temple, mostly rebuilt within the last ten years in the traditional style with red walls and yellow tiled concave roofs. Although scarcely visited because of its inaccessibility, the walls of the temple were covered with poems and wise proverbs written in beautiful calligraphy. A few old ladies and men sat in the courtyard, composing a picture that could grace the cover of a photo album on China. One of the ladies is the temple’s care-taker, and the rest are her friends who visit everyday until dinner time.
There was a deity for just about every occasion. In the main hall there were three statues of the great Buddha, the gods of the Earth, water, and sky, and pictures of the eighteen disciples of the Buddha. If the weather had not been clement for harvest, this would be the place to be. In the next hall there were a few Buddhisattvas, one for fertility, and a few others for children’s welfare.
But the coolest part was a hall for the god of Hell and his wife, both looking too elegant and classy for their roles. The statues of their eight assistants, some with their tongues drooping to waist level, others holding a weapon, and another writing down all the bad deeds one has done in his life time in his notebook, were so creatively sculpted at life-size that they should have been in a museum. They would carry out the final act of sending the person through 18 levels of hell, with the torture in each level depicted on the walls. Those who repent their unkind acts can pray here for a reduced punishment, but the care-taker told me that most people do not even dare coming in here alone. I left the temple as if I had found a hidden treasure.
After a pot of nice sweet tea in a garden tea house at the foot of the cliff, I went back to the hostel. For the first time in Songpan the shower temperature didn’t boil my scalp or send my muscles into spasm, and the pressure was just right. Having spent a couple months in China, I’ve lowered my definition of luxury. That was all I needed to wrap up a perfect day, and Songpan could not have left me with a better impression.