Saturday 3 January 2015

Day 192: Chengdu - Chrysanthemum tea

Wenshu monastery
Wenshu monastery is an island of antiquity in a very new city.  We wandered around the complex, admiring the synthesis of Buddhism as we know it (mostly from Nepal and Sri Lanka) and Chinese architecture.  The monks' quarters, we noticed, contained a table tennis table, presumably for a little competitive relief from states of karma.  But nobody was playing and the rest of the temples were as peaceful as if a high rise city did not grow at the gates.

Next we wandered down a street from a story book China, which seemed equally hard to reconcile with the spanking new world of Chengdu.   We sat down in a tea garden and ordered mugs of honeysuckle tea, jasmine tea and chrysanthemum tea.  Jasmine was a known quantity.  Chrysanthemum tasted of rank weeds.  Honeysuckle was inoffensive, tasting simply of water with flowers floating in it for decoration.  We had scored around fifty percent in the palatability stakes.

With little time left, we returned to the hostel for a final session on a version of the World Wide Web that excludes Google (which upset me little),  Facebook (likewise very bearable), and the BBC (WHAT? You have to be joking!).  However much of a cement-and-electric-motorbikes high I have been experiencing for the last three days, I have to admit that there's something a bit odd about a country that blocks the BBC but allows Fox News.  To get some context in how such a situation originated, I downloaded Jung Chang's 'The Dowager Empress' and 'Mao: The Unknown Story' from Amazon to learn a little more about China.  It only occurred to me a week and a half later, as I approached China's border guards, that both are banned material, at which point I rapidly promoted a set of inoffensive Dickens novels above my Jung Chang purchases in my kindle reading list.  (Dickens was a man of the people and must be acceptable in a socialist state?!)
Story book China
At last, we took our final seamless tube journey to the station to hand over our permits for Tibet and board our train.  No doubt we would spend the next forty-eight hours nodding and smiling at an exclusively Mandarin-speaking fourth member of our sleeper compartment?  But no, we were greeted by a lawyer from New York.  As the train pulled away, our home for the next two days was complete.

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