Written by Helen Truong
It was a beautiful day, and the sun was shining brightly in the clear blue sky. As I entered the gate, I first noticed the numerous boats with red columns and bright yellow roofs on the still waters of the lake. There were rows of magnificent willow trees with long delicate tendrils swaying gently in the wind. A mass of pretty bowl-shaped green leaves growing from tall thin stems framed the edge of the lake. I drew closer and saw a few flowers peeking through the leaves. These were no ordinary flowers. They had creamy white petals, soft pink tips, and bright yellow centres. I couldn’t believe it. I was gazing upon the lotus flower for the first time.
I’ve been reflecting on the lotus for a while now. Initially, it struggles in its growth through the rough conditions underwater and makes its way to the surface to eventually become a beautiful flower. It reminds me of the human experience, of every individual’s unique journey in life, one that is more often than not fraught with difficulties. Everyone experiences hardships. Like the lotus flower, we each exhibit an admirable resilience in overcoming the obstacles that we face. In triumphing over adversity, we evolve, and we gain inner strength and beauty that cannot be replaced.
I continued along the path, taking in the scenery from a few bridges, and I did some people-watching. So many different sounds drifted towards my ears. Some elderly people were performing music on flutes with intricate designs. It sounded traditional, beautiful, and elegant. Others were practicing martial arts with long whips that made loud snapping noises every time they hit the ground. Their movements were graceful and athletic. An old man was animatedly playing a light, airy tune on the tiniest wooden black flute on a bench by himself, churning out notes in quick succession. I was amazed. All of these people were expressing themselves creatively without reservation and completely immersed in the moment. And they were all at least 60 years old. Will I even be half as cool when I’m 60?
It was time to leave for lunch, but we all wanted to linger just a little bit longer, so Andy, our tour guide, relented and gave us another 20 minutes. I spent that time relaxing on a bench by the lake. I love being around large bodies of water. They put me in a meditative state and help me feel centred.
Daming Lake was a relaxing and rejuvenating oasis of calm that contrasted sharply with our stressful arrival at the hotel in Shandong (dodging honking cars in rainy weather), and with the busy, hectic energy of Beijing and Xi’an in general. It was a welcome reprieve.
As we headed into the restaurant, we passed by a bizarre setup of toy soldiers and horses in battle formation enclosed by a fence. Lunch was accompanied by musical performances on stage. I paid more attention to the dancers, because I love to watch people dance. The women emanated a refined femininity, dancing with such flowing, graceful movements. It’s amazing how much one can communicate with the sweep of an arm, the flick of a wrist or the spread of the fingers. It reminded me of the dance workshop we had the day before at the elementary school. We were all beautiful flowers, bursting gloriously through the dirt!
We arrived at our next hotel. It was small, comfy and cozy. I gave my presentation about Confucius Temple in the lobby, because it was really hot outside, and then we went to the temple. I felt grateful to be assigned to Confucius for my landmark presentation. He thought people should practice Ren (compassion, loving others) and he had lots of ideas about how to properly do it. He is awesome!
Confucius Temple/Kong Mansion/Cemetery of Confucius
The temple complex is the largest historical building complex in China; it covers an area of 16,000 square metres and has a total of 460 rooms. We saw a lot of steles (upright stone slabs with inscriptions that serve as monuments) and passed through a lot of gates. We saw Dacheng Hall, a.k.a. the Hall of Great Perfection/Achievement, which is where people offer sacrifices to the memory of Confucius. The 10 columns at the front were carved deeply with coiled dragons. I read that the columns were covered by the emperor during visits so that they would not arouse envy.
Next, we went to Kong Mansion, where the descendants of Confucius lived. I learned that some passageways were built narrowly so that large objects couldn’t be stolen by servants. There’s something about narrow passageways that excites me. They’re mysterious. They’re really small spaces. They’re often filled with character. I enjoyed traversing the numerous small passageways that were the norm in Italy and Paris, and it was a welcome surprise to learn about and walk through the ones at the mansion.
Our last stop was the Cemetery of Confucius. We took two huge “golf carts” to get there. It was a treat to observe and be a part of the crazy traffic on the streets. It felt like a roller coaster ride! At the cemetery, we visited the tombs of Confucius, his son, and his grandson. I did not expect to feel so tranquil in a cemetery. In contrast to the cemeteries I’ve seen in Toronto, the Cemetery of Confucius was a peaceful forest, with a few tombs sprinkled throughout. I am in love with trees, so I was enjoying the scenery as we made our trek towards Confucius’ tomb. I was surprised by the huge mounds of grass and the crickets chirping in unison. We reached a path paved with tiles that were placed by members of Confucius’ family. According to our tour guide, this path was lined by 72 trees – the same as the number of disciples Confucius had (although I’ve consulted some sources that say he had 77 disciples).
When we reached Confucius’ tomb, I saw people of different ages, waiting to pay respects to Confucius. I saw a young child fall to his knees in prayer. I saw an old man do the same. It suddenly hit me that I was standing beside the remains of a great sage, whose teachings have immeasurably influenced Chinese culture and my own life as a Canadian born Chinese. There is a lot that I can learn from him in improving myself. I felt humbled to be there.
There’s a lot more that I would like to write about concerning Confucius’ philosophy and how it affects Canadian born Chinese youth and adults in the workplace, but this entry is getting kind of long, and it’s time to end it! I am looking forward to the adventures we will experience in the next few days! Thank you to Mon Sheong Foundation for providing us with this amazing experience!