From the scars of Tiananmen to beholding Buddhas

Published: Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 12:43 PM.

From Beijing, we flew to Luoyang, a city made famous by the hundreds of grottos filled with statues of Buddha, dating to 1,500 years ago — different Buddhas … even female Buddhas. I have been doing a bit of study of Buddhism but my knowledge is so shallow, I had no idea there was more than one Buddha, much less female ones.

The grottos were carved into high rock cliffs. Throughout the centuries, peasants have lived in them, and many caves are missing their statues. Often, if the statues still remain, the heads are gone as they have brought prices that would sustain families who had nothing else. Now it is well preserved but climbing to see them proved most challenging — even to a former athlete.

Climbing up was a bit easier than climbing down. At one point, where one could ascend to the highest grotto, I thought I would just rest my knees which had begun to scream. But when I saw my 82-year-old sister halfway up the steep stairs, I felt compelled to meet the challenge. As one might imagine, the climb was rewarded with up close views of Buddha after Buddha, a sight not to be missed when in China.

While in Luoyang, we had one of our more delightful experiences.

We visited a middle school in a rural area; we were treated to several classrooms of 13- and 14-year-old students who are studying English. Each of us could pick any student at random and speak English with her/him. I chose a shy, somewhat skinny 13-year-old girl, LiLi. United States public school students would be amazed — no shocked — to learn that LiLi had arrived at school at 7 a.m. and would be there until 6 p.m. Her English, though halting, was understandable and, with effort, she could follow what I was saying.

She also noted that after school, her favorite time was spent playing table tennis, or ping pong. Seeing the tenacity of these students in their school, it was easy to understand that they most likely would behave accordingly at their sports. Thus they usually are the ping pong champions in the world arena.

The next day, we entered the city of Xi’an, home of the unbelievable terra cotta warriors. This site is exceedingly difficult to describe for how can one explain seeing 7,000 life-sized terra cotta figures, with an unknown number yet to be uncovered. Excavating continues as tourists observe from a high platform surrounding what has been exposed thus far.

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