The World’s Biggest…
I talked in my second post about how my room in our dorm had a lot of problems. Well. Two weeks ago I came back from class to discover the floor of our bathroom covered in dirt (picture below). I asked a maid and she said we would have to move rooms. Since it was a Monday, I had a tutoring session at 2:10, so I had approximately an hour and a half to move all my stuff from my room on the 4th floor to one on the 5th. It all worked out. Our new room has a new air conditioner, so it actually changes the temperature in our room to what we set it to, instead of anything below 23 degrees Celsius being freezing and anything higher like stepping into hell. We no longer have a vanity, but we get two desks and more cabinet space, which is nice, and our bathroom doesn’t flood which is the most important thing. All in all, I’m glad we had to move.
So one thing I feel is pretty important but I have yet to talk about is my Chinese class, the whole reason I’m in China in the first place. Every day we have class from 8:30 to 12:30 (though we’re often let out a bit early) and Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays we have tutoring from 2:10 to 3:40-ish. Class time is divided between two teachers: Li Laoshi (李老师 “teacher Li”) who teaches us in the first two hours and Zhan Laoshi who teaches us in the second half after a 20 minute break. We actually share these teachers with the second year students (I’m third year), who get Zhan Laoshi first and Li Laoshi after the break. At the beginning of the program, we all got assigned individual tutors (辅导老师, fǔdǎolǎoshī) whose main job is to help us practice speaking Chinese. My tutor is native to Sichuan Province and is a graduate student, her major is Japanese. While she usually has set topics for conversation or instructions from Li Laoshi to assist with certain aspects of our homework, during our tutoring sessions she often lets me go off on long tangents just talking about random subjects. One time I talked about the issue of racism in America－which was incredibly difficult since I had no idea what “racism” was in Chinese (it’s 种族歧视-zhǒngzúqíshì, by the way)－ and another time we discussed pick-up lines, how to translate the word “cheesy” into Chinese (there is no exact translation), and American slang. Because our tutors also become our friends, sometimes we do things outside of class. So far, I’ve only had dinner with my tutor and the others once, mostly because my tutor lives an hour away. This is true for a lot of the tutors, not all of them are students at Sichuan University, and even when they are, quite a few live off campus.
The last two weekends our excursions had a common theme, in that we saw the world’s biggest free-standing building (also claimed to be the world’s biggest mall) and the world’s biggest stone Buddha statue. The weekend of July 12th, we had a free weekend, where no excursion had been planned for us, so some of us decided to go to “New Century Global Centre,” the world’s biggest free-standing building. The mall actually contains an indoor water park, which is where I was planning to spend the majority of my time, since shopping in China－unless it’s fake or a Chinese brand－is actually more expensive than in America due to higher import taxes (it doesn’t matter that the majority of it is made in China, these products still count as imported). The water park was not enormous, but it had a satisfactory number and variety of slides, a wave pool, a beach, and other water play areas. Keep in mind all of this is indoors. The day was already sunny, so they didn’t have to use a fake sun (which is apparently a thing), and we all got to enjoy the real sun’s heat through a giant glass ceiling. In front of the wave pool and beach area there was a fake boardwalk with restaurants and “outdoor” seating, and on one side there is a Mediterranean village where the very rich can rent villas. The whole mall was honestly just ostentatious to the extreme. Walking through the main entrance doors, I couldn’t help my jaw dropping at the vast amounts of marble that make up the inside (picture below). The extravagance is mind-boggling.
The Le Shan (乐山, literally “happy mountain”) giant buddha (大佛, dàfó) on the other hand was impressive for very different reasons. If you can see from the cover photo of this post, there is a line of people working their way down some stairs to the left of the buddha’s head. The wait to climb down those stairs was 3 hours. Think about how many people waiting in line that is. In addition, not only is the buddha the biggest in the world (I would estimate that a person could fit inside the buddha’s ear), but it is also the largest pre-modern stone statue, construction was completed in 803 CE. The temple at the top of Le Shan was also interesting. I loved the statues of the disciples, each one had some unique attitude or expression, I took pictures of my favorite ones (below).
While beautiful and fascinating, several local Chinese have told me that a person really only needs to see the giant buddha once. On the other hand, the mountain which the giant buddha faces, Emei Shan (峨嵋山), is worth multiple visits. This mountain is famous for it’s natural beauty, rather than for modifications made by people. Emei Shan is tall enough that its peak is frequently above the clouds. There’s a belief that if you climb Emei Shan to its peak (which is actually not an easy hike), and once you’ve reached the top, if you can see a halo around the head of your shadow cast upon the clouds, then you have achieved enlightenment. The halo is actually a rainbow caused by the sun’s rays hitting water droplets in the air at just the right angle. SCIENCE!
Unfortunately, since the hike takes a while, we would probably have had to stay the night, so our program did not arrange for us to go to Mount Emei. Someday…
P.S. Notice－also from the cover photo－that quite close to the buddha is a large city. Due to the huge numbers of tourists, for both Le Shan and Emei Shan, this city has grown a huge amount in the last few years. It had the most construction I’ve ever seen in one city. While driving through, it had an odd feeling of being completely empty, as if no one had moved into the brand new highrises.