Chengdu and Emei Shan


Click on the images some can be enlarged.

 By Train to Chengdu

Emboldened by my succes in buying my own train ticket at the station I bought one to Chengdu for the "hard sleeper."

For two nights and a full day I lived among these kind people who shared their food with me and patiently taught me Chinese. Six beds to a doorless compartment, caves on wheels! I had an upper-most berth yet everyone shared the lowest ones during the day without any fights or angry words. — A first-hand experience of communal life in overcrowded China, and a lesson in practical Confucianism, because Socialism had, I knew only too well, not succeeded in bringing this harmony about. I was the only Westerner among maybe 2000 Chinese. The word spread quickly. Out of the blue an English-speaking teacher appeared who quickly adopted me and graciously translated the answers to the hundreds of questions my travel companions asked. How old are you? wu shi er — fifty-two. Great astonishment, I looked younger. One woman suffered from travel nausea. She allowed me to massage her ear lobes(!), a shiatsu accupressure trick, which produced two Chinese doctors. Where had I learned this method? From a book on Chinese medicine! Even greater astonishment, they had never heard of this technique....

 Meanwhile the train slowly crawled (at 30 miles an hour) over dizzying bridges, across raging torrents and the high mountains that rim and protect Sichuan from the windswept northern Löss-plains. Once over the cold pass we followed one of the four (si) rivers (chuan) that give Sichuan its name, they all empty into the Jiangtse. "Our" river became wider by the hour and developed a lively boat traffic, but had no name on my China map! Over 100 million people live in the flatlands of Sichuan which, before this railway was built in the fifties, had only one major-access, the Jiangtse River. "Hard is the way to Shu" begins a poem by Li Bo (or Li Bai, ) in which he describes his long trek to Chengdu.

We arrived in Chengdu in complete darkness at four in the morning. In the hopeless chaos of the station I suddenly found my teacher lady at my side. Clutching a violin case she had a reluctant Americn-Chinese man in tow, the amazing woman. She had obliged him to take me along to a hotel in his CITS taxi. The good San Franciscan grumbled until I offered to pay half the price of the taxi.... The hotel staff was asleep, and I snoozed for another two hours on a sofa in the lobby. But then I was given a large room with bath — after Dunhuang a true luxury.... Revived by a bath in an oversized tub and strengthened by a Western breakfast I set out to explore yet another new world.


I hear that since 1983 Chengdu has changed radically. Most of what I saw has given way to unsightly new buildings. A pity, Chengdu was a true Chinese microcosm of its own in its living compounds of the old families, artisans, and markets it had preserved much of the atmosphere of the Old China. It was then still easy to imaging the life of the people and the stories of the classical Qing Ping Mei.

The crowd on a Sunday afternoon at the teahouse in People's Park.... The waiter in the center carried a pot of hot water around to refill the tea cups of his customers.   

 This is the way the Dharma Wheels for the funerals and graves are wrought. The bamboo frame is later covered with bunched colored paper "flowers" by the women

 I passed this sieve maker twice every day, his main tool besides his hands was an adze. The sieves are loaded with baoji — dumplings and stacked over a wok of steaming water. The staple food of a Sichuan Chinese breakfast.

 In the long ago days this area used to be the Tartar quarter. It's narrow lanes, now razed, allowed a look at of the life of the poorer people

 Another man along my way into town sitting on the obiquous low Sichuan bamboo chair reading a book. On some mornings he would babysit his grandson.

 I love this pictures despite the protests of my Chinese-American friends. China may not be a spontaneously emotional experience, but is it has its sensual surprises and certainly is not for the queasy. Compared to a cart-load of pork heads (a picture I did eliminate from this collection on Barbara's request) these bunnies are charming. To show that they are not cats their paws have been left on.

The days in Chengdu were so gray and monochrome that this girl's blazing flowers appeared to me like fireworks. I simply couldn't spare her.... The young girls did not like at all to be photographed, they would run at the mere sight of a camera. She couldn't, the bike would have fallen over...

 And this little girl couldn't run either standing on one leg as she was, picking a pebble from her shoe and keeping her balance with a bamboo pole topped with pin wheels.

 In Chengdu I learned that the hole-in-the-wall-kitchens served excellent food, far superior to the tourist fare in the hotel's dining room. This pittoresque place served eels. A young man was sitting at the kerb slicing the live eels using a sharp knife on a chopping board. A photo of that bloody scene I withhold from your eyes.... The dish they prepared for me was fabulous. This experience persuaded me to get more daring with the foods of Sichuan. Like innards served in a really hot sauce, which when I ate it sitting outside another such establishment a few days later, invoked the admiration of even the locals. Note the basket with chopsticks. Most people bring their own.


Emei Shan

Following the recommendation of the Bavarian lifeguards in Dunhuang I asked around for details on Emei Shan — a very poetic and very old name: shan means mountain, but the character E'mei means Eyelash-of-a-butterfly !

Eventually I was offered this fantasy map. At first I laughed but then noticed the altitude scale in the left margin. This map is highly ingenious! In fact, how ingenious I would only find out when I got there. The red houses are the monasteries that populate this holiest of Chinese Buddhist mountains, and their altitudes are given with sufficient accuracy that one can determine the difference between any two places, if one divides that by 300 m/hour one obtains a fairly close estimate of the hiking time...! What looks like a lake are actually Chinese clouds. A poetic license? Not at all, a practical reminder that a cloud layer usually shrouds the lower half of the mountain. So, don't despair, hike on! Jing Si the Golden Temple at the summit might lie in sunshine.... The man who sold me this piece of Chinese practicality marked the places where one could stay overnight and off I went by train.

Boarding the train in the darkness of the early morning a blond German girl asked me for my seat number. Later the locals decided that the two foreigners should sit next to each other. This is how I met Christine — who was also headed for Emei Shan! In the end we climbed the mountain together. I have marked our route. A bus took us from the train (the straight line at the bottom) to one of the lower trail heads. We left our luggage and walked on to Wan Nian Si — the Monastery (Si) of a Hundred (Wan) Years (Nian), (far right) where we stayed overnight. Next day we climbed to the highest point on our route, and had lunch with the Yellow Monk in the Clouds. Meanwhile our clothes were completely soaked through, and we decided to retreat to the monastery at Hong Chung Ping — Big Pines Flat — and return along the left half of the circle. Scenically the more beautiful route, but in places dangerously slippery downhill in wet weather, especially for Western feet... the steps are often very shallow.

The drawing on the bottom I made trying to ask for the bus stop in the afternoon of the third day of our hike. In response the girl wrote down the two characters for bus — a typically Chinese answer, if one cannot understand one another. There exist two main and numerous additional dialects in China that are verbally not mutually comprehensible, but the characters are universal. So, one writes one's question or answer on the palm of one's left hand.... bewildered confusion ensues, if the illiterate foreigner is unable to read or write!


 The Place Where The Heart Is Quiet


 Stairs, stairs, and more stairs always climbing along the shortest, steepest line between two places. This is why the fantasy map gives such accurate information! And around the corner in the fog waits a family of rhesus monkeys first begging, then trying to rob one, and if one still doesn't give them anything, the leading male will snarl in no uncertain ways. Quite uncanny to find oneself opposite these almost humans... Don't throw stones at them in presence of a local! They are sacred to Buddhists....

 Tea bushes and an emergency shelter near Wan Nian Si.


Hong Chun Ping written from right to left above the gate, Big Pines Flat where we spent the second night.  


At the Monastery of the Strict Order a Little Yellow Monk offered us some rice with vegetables. All windows were open and clouds drifted right across the room. Sometimes we saw him and then again not. This was where we decided to retreat and go to Yunnan — South (nan) of the Clouds (yun) to search for the sun I hadn't seen for 10 days..  

Fog among the trees. The wizened old man in the shack sold herbal medicines, woven rice-straw sandals, and gnarled walking sticks 


Emei Village

From Emei village Christine returned to Chengdu to collect her luggage, she joined me a day later on the train to Kunming.

The general hardware store in Emei, baskets, sieves, pails, and umbrellas... 


 "Emei Shan Binguan" (hotel): Himmelbetten — "Beds-of-Heaven" (German) - actually the heavens double as mosquito netting......


The amazing ability of dirty water make laundry cleaner... The backwater of Emei Village 

 The burdens of a young mother. Maybe the baby is a girl and her husband has deserted her — she looks terribly glum.


 The twins of the glazer doing their homework: learning to write characters. Mother was rightfully pround of them.