All Roads Lead To...
[Erik had been training for a three-week bike trip, around trying to recover from a nasty cold, when this happened...]
I have been getting up every morning and biking for an hour or so. I awoke early this morning eager to get on my bike and continuing to getting in shape. Normally, I spend the morning biking up and over a few small mountains that encircle Hangzhou, the town I am living in. However, aware of how weak I was due to the recent cold and the week off, I decided to deviate from my usual ride and bike strong and steady across flat land out into the countryside. I biked for a half hour until I could go no further. Literally, I could go no further. I was feeling really strong and was excited to continue on my way, but the road came to a sudden end. As I curved along I realized that I had just biked under the front gate of a Buddhist temple and right into the middle of a quiet courtyard. A little surprise of what I had stumbled upon, and somewhat parched from my half hour of biking, I climbed off my bike and sat down to take everything in.
The temple consisted of three huge buildings painted in bright yellow/orange paint with red trimming. The edge of each roof washighlighted by fantastic dragons lunging out with open mouths. Within each building stood massive metal structures on upon which burned hundreds of candles. The smoke from these candles slowly twisted up, creating an awe-inspiring mist through which the morning sun was refracted into hundreds of single rays of light. And sitting below the candles, in rigid rows of six, were some thirty monks, prostrating themselves to the gods above. Adding to the scenery was a peaceful stillness, as the temple is located at the base of a mountain ridge. The only sounds were the chirping of the birds and a constant gong of a deep bell.
An old man who worked the gate engaged me in conversation. He was kind enough to take me around the temple, explaining that the temple was built early in the Tang dynasty, some 1400-1100 years ago. My guide was an interesting man who has lived through liberation, the cultural revolution, and the opening up of China. He had a lot to say, though I was only able to understand 50% of it as he had a heavy local accent. He has welcomed me back, for free, and seems very willing to talk to me about any and everything. I definitely plan to return with a Chinese friend who can help me work through his heavy accent.
After my half hour tour through the temple, I walked back to my bike and prepared to ride home. When got out there I noticed two older gentlemen, both on really nice road bikes, admiring my ride. The youngest one could not have been any younger than 45 and the other was definitely in his sixties. The were decked out in all the gear--biking hat, gloves, and tight black shorts with the cute padding across the butt--I can't be too cruel because I have a pair myself. It turns out they are in a biking club. They ride their bikes every morning too and often take long weekend trips to mountains and cool towns with in a few hundred kilometers of Hangzhou. We talked for a few minutes and then rode back to town together.
When I got up this morning I was planning to do no more than get a little exercise and start my day on a good note. An hour later I had discovered a beautifully peaceful temple, talked to a fascinating Chinese man, and met two other men who share the same interesting, biking, as I do and will hopefully prove to be good biking companions. Needless to say, as I returned home today I found myself feeling extremely lucky. Hangzhou is such a wonderful place and I am having a wonderful experience here. Teaching is going well, the city is extremely wonderful and livable, and time and again I meet interesting people and stumble upon fascinating places.