Well, I’ve been back in Chengdu for nearly two months now and haven’t really updated anyone on anything. I’ve been alive and well though, aside from currently fighting the tail-end of a cold.
So, what’s been going on in life? Well, in August I came back to Chengdu to a school that was…in the works. Over the summer and–up until the school’s Open House–the library and hallways were being remodeled and repainted. Everyone was a little stressed, not being able to set up (or, in some cases, even enter) their classrooms due to the hallway furniture that was blocking everything.
Eventually, the craziness of hallway repairs died down and school started up. June, my para-professional again this year, and I celebrated the end of the first week of school by going out for a delicious sushi and shaved-ice dinner.
Aside from changes in the physical school, our staff changed a lot also this year. Almost everyone I hung out with last year is gone, most people relocating to QSI schools in Shenzhen or Zhuhai. This means the staff this year? Totally new. A few people transferred in from other QSI schools in Kazakhstan, but many are also from the states, teaching abroad for the first time. Whether they are new to QSI or just to Chengdu, a lot of new teachers means a lot of new teacher outings. In August, Franscois and Andrea, who have been in Chengdu forever, took teachers (new and old) to their favorite hot pot so the new teachers could have a taste of the Sichuan spice.
The evening ended with a bunch of us walking down to Jinli Street. This street, although it looks old, is really just a recreation of Qing Dynasty architecture.
A highlight of August, however, was finally getting a chance to see the Leshan Buddha. Alicia (who was also here last year) arranged a bus to pick us (a hodgepodge group of teachers, rugby players, and out-of-towners) up around 6am and take us about two hours south to Leshan. Once there, we walked along a river until we reached Leshan National Park.
We bought tickets, entered the park, and immediately started to climb stairs.
On the way, we passed a bunch of small buddhas carved into the rock wall beside us.
When we reached the top of Leshan (“shan” means mountain in Chinese), we were greeted with a glimpse of the Giant Buddha’s head.
We could have just milled around the top of the Buddha’s head, but that is not what we paid for! To really get a sense of the Buddha’s height, you have to walk down to his feet. The park was still fairly empty (for China) at this time, so we started descending. The stairs leading to Buddha’s feet were steep and narrow, but luckily they had a rail on one side, so you’d have to try hard to actually fall off the mountain.
We had arrived at a great time. Halfway to the bottom, we turned and looked behind us and saw the massive crowd of people! We made it to the Buddha’s feet and began snapping photos. Around us, men and women were posing for pictures, kneeling before the Buddha, and lighting incense. From below, the Buddha was massive and looming and it was so hard to believe that the statue was carved sometime in the 700s.
It was about midmorning at this time and the temperature and humidity were both starting to rise to levels that had beads of sweat dripping down our faces. We stayed at the Buddha’s feet for a short while before we began the ascent on the other side of the giant statue. About a quarter of the way up, a group of monks stopped me and one of the monks asked if he could have his picture taken with me, despite how disgusting I looked (or…maybe because of it!).
After climbing back up to the Buddha’s head, we explored a temple.
It was closing in on noon by this point, so we found a place nearby that served noodles and ate lunch before heading back to Chengdu. Although I wish I had gone on one of the many river cruises offered (just to see the Buddha from a different angle), I’m glad I went. It was definitely something to check off the Sichuan bucket list!