Time for Two Temples: Buddhism and Daoism​

上海 Blog #14

二零一五年六月三号星期四三

Wednesday June 3rd, 2015

Local Time: 21:23 Shanghai Time

Had noodles once again for lunch today.

The Jade Buddha Temple was the first stop on the agenda today. You want to talk about a weird location for such an ornate building, or group of buildings rather. This traditional style religious site was right smack dab in the middle of a bustling shopping district, across from a middle school, surrounded by residential skyscrapers and the like. Our guide, Spencer, was an amiable Texan who seemed rather out of place next to the head-shaved monks sauntering around in ash orange robes. Local citizens where burning incense in the courtyard as others threw coins up into a statue. Spencer explained that if the coins stay on the statue instead of falling off, one would obtain good luck.

Riding to the City God Temple on the other side of downtown Shanghai was an experience I’d consider rather scenic. Shanghai itself is a web of patchwork, old buildings intertwined with new, traditional housing amongst towering, glass skyscrapers. The City God Temple was no exception with its ornate trestles and swallow tale ended roofs, it was found nestled into an immense shopping plaza.

The inside was too impressive. Intricately detailed, painted door gods stood guard facing the temple’s courtyard which was enveloped in incense. Upon exploring the maze of halls and rooms the temple had to offer, we discovered fifteen foot towering gods and spirits with great alters and sacrifices of food and riches laid out before them. Each room was crawling with tourists, most of them Chinese, which meant of course that our little group of Americans became another marvel for them to wonder at and take pictures of alongside the statues. They were particularly interested in photographing us when a few of us had the chance to burn some incense in the courtyard.

It seems one can’t end an evening in Shanghai without shopping because we were given some free time to wander the shopping district once the temple closed. In typical college fashion and American’s missing American food, we all had DQ blizzards for dinner. Pathetic, I know.

Jade is popular in Chinese religious tradition, so naturally many of the shops were chock full of it. My unclear understanding of jade’s spiritual importance is that it represents earth meetings heaven and its variations in color are a connection to its owner’s personal essence. Anyway, one of my friends found a tiny jade turtle she liked. After the usual “多少钱” (How much is it?) , she was told the turtle costs 680元, so roughly $110. Long story short, 我的朋友 (my friend) got the lady down to 180元, then 100元, then 80, 60, 50, 35 and her final asking price of 25元, that is, about $4. Haha, you want to talk about avoiding getting ripped off. Barter, always barter!

Only two of us attended the Chinese chess seminar tonight, which was nice. We were taught by, Xú Yuè (I don’t know the characters), who goes by the English name, Arno (allegedly due to Arnold Schwarzenegger). His English was a fair bit better than most of the other Chinese students we’ve met so far. He already knew of UW-Madison because of the March madness Final Four and Championship games. It turns out 他真的喜欢篮球 (He really likes basketball). Furthermore, he’s a senior majoring in business, graduating next month and is hoping to obtain his MBA on the northwest coast of the U.S. Naturally, he was thrilled to here I’d actually live in Seattle and considered attending the University of Washington. My friend and I have his WeChat now. It’s so fun making friends in a foreign country, especially since they know a lot of fun things to pass time and can teach you so much.

Random side note, somebody nearby in our hotel/dorm is playing what I think is a clarinet. They’re not extraordinary good and it’s late and it seems random. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Anyway, back to Chinese chess, it really is just like “international chess.” The only difference is subtle differences in the pieces and how they move. For example, pawns are called soldiers and can only move forward until they cross to the other player’s side, then they can move one space in any direction but diagonal. Rooks are rooks and knights are horses and bishops are elephants that can only move diagonally two spaces. The king is standard except he can’t leave his palace (that is a two square radius of his original starting position). There is no queen, but rather two guards, one on either side of the king which may only move diagonally one space and like the king cannot move outside the palace. The last two pieces are cannons, which can move every direction but horizontal and can only “eat” pieces that are behind only one other piece. To top off the complexity of the game, the game pieces are nothing more than a checker like piece with a traditional character painted on it in either red or black to indicate which piece it is. About three moves into the practice round, Xú Yuè decided it’d be best to label each piece in English because we kept forgetting which piece was which. By the end of the two hour session though, I felt I had each character memorized. We received the chess set as a gift for attending the class, so we can practice back home.

I’ve been practicing my Mandarin more and more and it’s getting easier and I feel like I am learning a little bit each day, even though I still don’t understand a lot people say to me without context clues. I’ve been told my pronunciation is pretty good and that I don’t have an accent. Then again I’ve also been told in the same breath that while my pronunciation is good, my vocabulary doesn’t match it in advancement. I think I’m just going to take that as a back handed compliment.

Me, Bao Bao and little door guard
Me, Bao Bao and little door guard
Jade Buddha Temple guards
Jade Buddha Temple guards
Incense with friends
Incense with friends
The God of Literature
The God of Literature
Reclining Jade Buddha
Reclining Jade Buddha
Old and new Shanghai
Old and new Shanghai