Last weekend we did little. After an exciting few weeks we decided to kick back and relax with a little bout of shopping – taking our new teachers to the cash-and-carry Western food market for good beef, tortillas, and a baguette. After this, we went home, ate some lunch, and headed out to the SiChan Temple – a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of inner Fuzhou City.
We started at the beginning, where entrance through the incredible, painted archway was the equivalent of £2, and made our way past a pool full of camouflaged turtles and shiny orange carp. It already felt like an oasis – you wouldn’t believe it was built 20 meters from a main road (called Industry Road). It was almost silent – the sound of Fuzhou was deafened here, with only a couple of car horns heard every now and then. There were even birds flitting in and out of our hearing, which is something rare in our inner-city lives.
I wondered if it had anything to do with the Buddha standing over the fish, keeping watch on the paths below.
Not only were the trees abundant, they were also old, with one banyan spanning 25 meters over a walkway, hanging its roots down into the pools of water below. It had already grown two new trunks of substantial size into the water, and the sheer amount of it all suggested that it was a good many years old. The sheet at the front of the temple (which was in both English and Chinese) told us that although this had been a sacred site for over 2000 years, with numerous buildings being destroyed over time, and new ones built in their place. The site was ever evolving, but the trees stayed, watchful guardians over the temples own circle of life.
After watching a pool of catfish, each of which was longer and wider than my entire arm, thoughtfully for longer than you would imagine, we walked around a shrine littered with stone carvings of personifications of the noble truths, before entering a building (because it looked pretty).
Outside there were stone pools, the water made up of carvings of dragons. There were places to put candles and incense sticks, and as you walked through an enormous door, you were met with an enormous room, filled entirely of stone (or plastic, we weren’t sure) people. The statues were of people who had reached Arahat – full enlightenment. They were arranged over six floors and at the top was a gold Buddha, sitting elegantly under a ceiling painted with the symbol for longevity.
The views from each level were incredible, with the urban sight of a university on the borders of the ancient temple. It was in this building we met a Monk who had travelled from Malaysia, who told us about the building, and about Buddhism. He had travelled to Fuzhou specifically for this temple, and had already been there for about 7 hours. He told us that there were over 500 statues of Arahat here, one of the largest collections in China.
Leaving here and wandering across the grounds we stumbled across an open door. Entering we found the monks living quarters, surrounding a restaurant where we sat and ate vegetable noodles, and drank coconut milk. It was very peaceful, all besides the TV that the restaurateur was watching with some terrible Chinese drama playing.
From here we explored some more and found a building housing two Jade Buddhas. The one on the lower level was surrounded by offerings, oranges and apples mostly, and had a lot going on. He was surrounded by golden trinkets, candles, and flowers. We found the second jade statue upstairs, apparently the largest in all of China (weighing in at 10 tonnes, I’m not surprised), a lot more peaceful. Her shrine was minimalist, with a few shining electronic flowers, but with less gold, and no offerings. What she was offered, however, was an incredible view of a tide of high rises on the banks of the temple. She is sat atop an island in a sea of urbanity.
Here we realised that it was almost closing time – we had been there all afternoon! A few more snaps of the golden Buddhas littered in various windows around a courtyard, and a sight of two people playing chequers by a lake. As we headed towards the exit we were serenaded by the large sub-tropical toads, which don’t say “ribbit” here, they rather croak and gurgle, and are actually about as large as my entire hand, and a beautiful white cat that loved being petted but hated us taking photos.
If you go to Fuzhou, SiChan temple is a must. Not only is it beautiful, but its peaceful, educational, interesting, delicious, and above all, wonderful.