33 & 34: Light In the Darkness

I’ve been told by several people now to stop apologizing in my blogs. Sorry, I like to apologize.

First off, I would like to thank my dear friend Mendel for his shoutout! I love being the program’s unofficial blogger, and I’m so grateful that my posts are able to inspire thoughts in other people. Mendel does a fantastic job of explaining the cultural diversity in China, and he has an interesting way of censoring, so if you’ve enjoyed my past culture posts, you will definitely like his posts.


And thanks for all the new followers! Welcome, people of the west coast! I think the record is about 500 visitors in one day! Woohoo! Keep spreading the word!

Alright, and now, time for the fun stuff.

So, Yuan Yuan brought me hiking in the Qing Ling Mountains yesterday (Saturday) with her friend from college (he doesn’t really speak English).

“Lodger,” he said while puffing out his chest proudly. “My America name is Lodger.”

Okay, I thought, he probably means “Rodger”.

Nope. No, he meant “Lodger“.

He spelled it out for me, actually. Very clearly, L-o-d-g-e-r. Lodger.

So, Lodger kept trying to speak English to me, but it was honestly easier when he spoke Mandarin. Either I would understand, or Yuan Yuan would end up translating.

Well, wait, let me back up a little bit.

It’s Friday night, and Yuan Yuan tells me “we’ll go hiking tomorrow! We’ll be there all day, so we must go buy water. I’m bringing my friend from college to carry everything for us, ’cause he’s the guy.” Cool, cool. Sounds good, Yuan Yuan.

Having hiked mountains in the Adirondacks, I thought I knew what to expect… wear something comfortable that you don’t mind getting dirty. But, I had also heard from my friends that their hiking trips lasted 2 or 3 days. So, I wanted to be prepared.

Well, the morning came around, and I put on some gym clothes before pulling open my bedroom door… and then I see Yuan Yuan, in the kitchen, wearing a sundress… a nice sundress…


Is hiking in China a formal occasion? Am I underdressed? Could I ever be overdressed? What kind of a mountain are we going to???

After much confusion and hesitation, I finally closed myself back in my room and threw on some shorts and a random shirt. It’s fine, whatever, I’ll be comfortable.

Okay, skip ahead again.

Lodger and Yuan Yuan are both gym teachers. I figured I might have some difficulty keeping up with them… right?

So, our “hike” was basically climbing stairs up the side of a mountain. Beautiful, and a lot less vexing than I originally thought it would be. But I was ahead of both of them the entire time. I often had to stop because they were out of view, catching their breath on a platform stationed at least one flight below me.

Super fun, though. We yelled broken Chinese/English/Chinglish across the mountain’s face while we were hyperventilating from the heat and the thick haze of fog.

By the time we reach the top of the mountain, rain starts pouring from the heavy clouds.

So, naturally, we sprinted into the Buddhist Temple located conveniently on the top of the mountain. And when I say “pouring,” I mean p o u r i n g.

Thunder, lightning, all that fun stuff. It was delightful.

If you like rain, imagine being in a little, traditional, Chinese temple with a huge statue of the Buddha protecting the entrance while thunder bellows across the mountain range and lightning splits the clear air above the city. Plus, there was a really cute cat there.

So that was fun, and the rain eventually passed.

But here’s the best part.

You see, there was this monk there (shocker: a monk in a temple). He basically looked like Aang, if Aang stayed in the Western Air Temple his entire life instead of defeating the fire nation and restoring balance to the entire world and spirit realms… oh, and he had glasses, too.

He started talking to Yuan Yuan in Chinese, and I noticed him gesture in my direction, so I stumbled over to them to listen. Then, he turns to me, and says without a hint of an accent, “You came to China to learn Chinese? Where are you from? Where in America do you live?”

We started up a conversation, but I soon discovered that he doesn’t actually speak much English. Strange, though, because his accent is perfect. Anyway…

He suddenly gestured for us to follow him as he climbed some hidden steps behind the temple.

Yuan Yuan and I exchanged nervous glances, but eventually we both shrugged and followed this Aang guy up the mountain.

Once we reached the top (panting from exhaustion), he pointed at a small cove in the side of the mountain. “The head monk lived in here for many many years. This is a shrine to him, and to the dragon that brought him messages. Come light a candle.”

He placed a small candle in my palm and set it ablaze before lightly pushing me in the direction of the dark cove.

With shaky hands and ragged breath, I stepped into the cold chambers and glanced around, using the quivering flame as my light in the darkness. I knelt down and placed my flame in front of the monk’s statue, bowing my head in respect before lighting a stick of incense for his dragon.

The monk asked many times if I was a Christian. If you know me, you know this is a difficult question to answer. I don’t know what I believe in. Some people were raised with beliefs and continue to kindle that fire, but I… I just really don’t know.

If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that Buddhism is one of the most beautiful religions alive.

“It doesn’t matter what you believe,” the monk told me, folding a corner of his robe over his wrist. “A candle is light. It brings light to darkness. All darkness. The light is not selective, it does not choose where it brings light. Think of the light as wisdom. You may pray to the light, you may pray for wisdom. It is just a candle. Let it represent what you want it to represent.”

Religions are light. They help us through the darkness of life. It does not matter what form the light takes, because all light will help guide us through the dark.

Side-note: If you know me, and/or if you’ve read my poem Guide Me Into My Woods, this is all connected.

I don’t think I need to say anything else about religion.

“Do you like tea?” The monk inquired, stepping in front of my path on the way down the mountain.

“Yes, I like it very much.”

“Do you like coffee?”

“Oh, I’m more of a tea drinker.”

Another gesture to follow him.

Once again, Yuan Yuan, Lodger, and I followed the monk as his little, bald head bounced between the trees. He led us inside a small temple with another shrine to pick up a small, yellow tea pot with four matching cups. Then he instructed us to wait by the doors of the main temple.

So, we did.

A few minutes later, he opened the door from the inside, inviting us in. Flipping over a table and scampering around the temple to gather his materials, he created a plate filled with snacks and presented each of us with harm cups of incredible, red tea.

Aghhhh it was sooooo gooooood. I’ve honestly never had a bad cup of tea here. Everything is absolutely heavenly. Speaking of, the tea I tried on my school trip had a little phrase scribbled on the bottom of each sack. Do you want to guess what it said?

“Heaven in Water”.

Can’t get much better than that!

He told us all about the temple and his life there, as well as the history of Buddhism. Wow, is it beautiful. He pulled off his necklace of beads and explained that there were 108. The Buddha said that humans have 108 “sufferings” that we try to rid ourselves of. There are three little add-ons to the necklace with small, silver beads that he bought in Tibet. One represents hundreds, another thousands, and the last one counts tens of thousands. Every day, monks count the beads over and over again, mumbling and repeating syllables that make no sense in my ear.

Remember how Yuan Yuan bought me a bracelet? The green one?

Well, he asked if he could see it. So, of course, I unwound the bracelet from my wrist and passed it to him.

“More than 108,” he reported, laughing slightly.

Yuan Yuan covered her face with her hand in embarrassment. “I bought it for her on the street. Because it was beautiful, I mean. It’s nothing sacred.”

Then he mumbled something in Mandarin to her, and she responded with “keyi,” you may.

With one hand supporting the inside of the bracelet and his other thumb tracing over the beads, he shut his eyes and started mumbling in those foreign, musical syllables. Every now and then a hiccup would bubble out of his mouth from drinking too much tea, but other than that his voice was steady and the rhythm rocked him back and forth slightly.

Then he finished, and handed it to me.

I still have no idea what he did… If you have an idea, please let me know, because I’m still so confused.

And before I could ask, he whipped out his ipad.

His ipad.

Sure, why not.

BUT THEN, he flips the tablet in my direction so that I can see, and he taps a corner. Suddenly, Britney Spears’ “Criminal” music video pops up and starts playing.

“You know Bretanee Sperrs?”

“B-b-britney Spears? Yes… I know her. Well, no, no, not personally, but I know of her.”

“She is famous in America. No?”

“Yes, she’s famous.”

“You have seen this video clip before?”

“No, I haven’t seen the Criminal music video before.”

“Would you like to watch it?”

“I’m all set, thanks.”

So, then he clicked another button and started scrolling down a list of what I am assuming were American songs. While he did so, he mumbled various names: “Katee Purray” Katy Perry, “Meekel Jason” Michael Jackson, “Marron Fieve” Maroon 5, “A-a-adelee” Adele… “Ta-taa lord swieft” Taylor Swift. You get the point.

Then he mumbled something about the poor internet connection and put his ipad away, angrily taking a sip of his tea.

Yeah, I hate it too when my temple’s wifi crashes and I can’t finish a Betanee Sperrs video.

So, yeah. That happened. A monk showed us around his temple, gave us tea, lectured us about Putin (yes, that happened too) and then played a fairly sexual Britney Spears music video before the wifi crashed… Never a dull moment here in China.

I like that monk. Still don’t know his name.

Anyway, so when we finally got home around 8, Yuan Yuan and I both showered and crashed on the couch. Well, first, she came into my room after we both finished washing up, and said “do you want to try this?” She handed me a small, paper pouch with Chinese characters printed across the front.

“Um… what is it?”

“Oh,” she giggled and ripped the tab off for me. “You never do this before? It’s a face… mask? Yes, a mask. Here, I do it for you.”

Before I could say anything, she swatted my hands away from my face and smeared this white, papery thing on my skin, lining the holes up to my eyes, nose and mouth.

“There. This will make your skin very beautiful.”

“Yuan Yuan,” I said, tossing my wet hair off of my shoulder and running my fingertips along the corners of the paper glued to my face, “I already feel beautiful.”

So, of course, we took some selfies and then she posted them on the NSLI-Y host family group chat while we drank hot, lemon water and watched Downton Abbey in Mandarin through the eye-holes in our masks.

We’re pretty cute.


Alright, I’m gonna sum it up.

So, I’m lactose intolerant, right? Well, Yuan Yuan likes ice cream… and I like ice cream… and I normally have enough lactate with me, so we go out for ice cream a lot.

I ran out of lactate today.

But, of course, I didn’t realize this until after I finished my entire sundae.


I was fine, actually. We walked around another Buddhist Temple and I felt perfectly fine. Yay!

I don’t really know why I wanted to include that, but I wanted to prove that despite any mental growth I might be going through on this trip, I still make really stupid decisions.

I also trip. A lot. Like, I think, at this point, the ground of China is out to get me.

We’ll be walking side-by-side, and then I’ll just trip. Yuan Yuan will laugh and we’ll both look back to see that I didn’t trip on anything. But I DEFINITELY felt something trip me… It keeps happening. At one point today, Yuan Yuan tripped, and we both laughed, declaring that I was rubbing off on her… Sorry, Yuan Yuan, my curse has passed on to you now.

We also had hotpot today.

Well, kind of.

You see, all the hotpot restaurants were full, so she dragged me into this place where you make your own hotpot. It’s kind of like Subway… You fill a bowl with raw veggies and meats and then give it to the chef, who fills the bowl with boiling water to cook it, and adds some spices.

So, actually, no. Nothing like Subway, never mind.

But… It’s a lot of food.

We didn’t realize that normally, people get one hotpot for about 3 people and all eat the same one. That’s how you do regular hotpot outings. But, Yuan Yuan figured that since this was a build-your-own hotpot, that one person was supposed to have their own bowl.

So we both sat down with our giant bowls of food and started eating.

But… It’s really slippery. I was probably chasing one, single noodle around my bowl for a solid fifteen minutes. I didn’t think Yuan Yuan noticed, but after I finally caught it and stuffed it into my mouth, she glanced up from her bowl and proudly smiled at me.

So yeah, she had been watching me the entire time.

I also took a bite out of a meatball and a juice squirted across the table and onto the floor of the isle between tables… I didn’t think she saw that, either, but she probably did and chose not to say anything…

I’m learning, okay?!

Anyway, lots of fun this weekend. It’s my last Sunday of being 15! Woohoo!

Hope you all had great weekends!



5 thoughts on “33 & 34: Light In the Darkness

  1. Guide me past the tree line
    Through twigs of bone and a maze of pine
    My cold skin scars under the bright
    So lead me into my woods at night

    Tie my hands and blind my eyes
    Paint my face to mask my guise
    Distort my mirror and say it’s true
    But look back at this forest I grew

    My ghost drifts over knotted roots
    But the path hides behind pillars of spruce
    My broken trail is too dark to track
    So I left you in my woods at black

    The horizon glows from ahead
    A sea of green with a streak of red
    My woods call out with a dying plea
    I set fire to the past and walk away free


  2. Hey, Ana! (Love the poem, btw!) I’d love to hear more of your impressions of Chinese Buddhism sometime, seeing as how you got to experience some of it first-hand. Reading about it and studying it are one thing, but experience is better. I’ve been reading up on Chinese Chan Buddhism lately, so I’m curious as to your impressions.


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