China and Tibet


Millenary China


I had a dream to see China as the country was alive in my mind only through my readings and the information I had got in the going of time from the Media. At the same time I realized that time urgent me to go because rumours spread about the rapid changing of life in that country. So I decided to spend my holidays in the “Country of the Celestial Empire” as soon as the opportunity arose of a trip there.

I immediately started planning what to see, what towns to visit, what lands bearing mysterious names I could touch and a good chance to meet some Chinese pen-pals. But my plans needed time so I considered taking a four weeks’ time to concretise my dream. On my coming back it was a lit puzzling what memories were worth being chosen for my personal diary among either experiences or places.

Actually, during my trip I visited several places and regions. The first city I visited was Beijing, which, to tell the truth, I have not liked much for its busy life, dirty streets and roads, the general lack of hygiene, works in progress everywhere and people looking not so friendly as those I met during the remaining part of my trip. Even though the reality was below what I thought I would see, meeting Luogang, my pen friend from Beijing has made me appreciate how friendly people can be. Thanks to him and his wife for making me change my opinion about the whole of the population. The intense conversation that the three of us had, has balanced the impression of the chaotic capital. However, it would be unfair of me if I did not mention the quarter of “Hutong”, a part of Beijing, which is the old town still preserving the flavour of bygone times. I think I cannot fully transfer the emotions I felt going through the narrow streets, alleys, lanes by risciò. Passing those little houses on that means of transport is like sharing a moment of Pekinese life. Hutongs are what remains of real Chinese history from the Ming dynasty to recent history. I am sorry that the Olympic Games of 2008 will cause the destruction of such a piece of antiques.

I cannot omit the imposing sight of the Great Wall, so long and hard to walk along. It is a pity that a light fog prevented me from having a panoramic view of the mountains while I was going up the hard walk of the famous Wall. I could, however, see a pale moon shining in full daylight making the vision surreal. It is a such a piece of wonder that it would be worth a journey itself.

At two hours’ flight here is Xi’an, a modern city where you can find the army of the Terracotta Soldiers. A breathtaking site which goes beyond any imagination. A unique view below my eyes which tried that looked intensely in search of more and more details of the statues, by thousands all washed by the heavy rain oozing through the chinks of enormous roofs above the figures. The rattling rain gave an atmosphere of decay and rebirth. You can find the place after touring through immense plantations of pomegranates, which are at the top of their growing up in this season.

Guilin, my next stop, astonishes the traveller for the original form of its hills called “crazy stones”. They are a number, shaped conically and give the impression of a fringe adorning the town of Guilin, the numberless streams, the rice fields spotted with black buffaloes standing in the fresh water. Something extraordinary, moreover, takes place at dawn: the slow, primitive and hazardous fishing with cormorants. The sky striped with all the shades of pink -a real oriental dawn-, the shining plumage of the cormorants whose eyes look fixedly at the water of the slow-flowing, lightly murmuring rivulets, the still fishermen balancing on their five-bamboo cane rafts punting his long cane in the bottom of the streams form an ensemble of paradisiacal area. This is, to my eyes, the quintessence of China.

Another unforgettable experience which I personally lived refers to the visit to country villages where people smiled at me in spite of the torrid heat.

I must not leave off mentioning Suzhou with its famous refined, fresh, impalpable Chinese silk and Hanzhou with its tea growing terraced fields. Of course, tea is a national drink, a sort of rite in China. I have been lucky enough to enjoy the preparation of a typical cup of tea made after the ritual Chinese fashion. Unforgettable moments! Sitting in a velvet armchair near a lacquered little table, with two pretty Chinese girls smiling at me while offering me a small, blue porcelain cup of steaming water poured over a few leaves of green tea. The aroma involved my taste and my mind, too.

The magic name Yangtze danced in my memory and I wanted to try the emotion of floating along that river onboard of a majestic cruising ship. During the several days of my navigation I could appreciate the variety of sights on both the banks of the river, the three gorges, the imposing dam and the numberless bridges below which the ship silently passed. I had the impression of taking a tour starting from the hand of a body getting down along a gigantic arm to rich the heart of the country itself. The heart seemed pulsing through the breeze, the silence of the mountains, and through what my eyes could see in the distant horizon: night and day incessantly. In a few words my cruise was memorable and unique in its kind.

But, what better chance could I have to go to Tibet that region so psychologically distant from our culture and yet so near me at that moment when I was in the heart of China? I had only to take two aircraft … and Lhasa was ready to welcome me. The difficulty of breathing at 3,800 metres above sea level is little think compared with the difficulties I met with to get permits to enter the country. Many a thing I could mention but I want to restrict all of them to a small strip of emotions linked with what struck my cultural background. Every second, minute, hour and day seemed to change me from the tourist that I was into a Tibetan pilgrim. Like those pilgrims I silently walked along the path called “Kora” all around the temple worshipping Lord Buddha. They seemed not to be interested in the landscape but only in their prayers and purification. I meditated that they all came from very poor villages from all over the Tibet and did not care for the plentiness and the alluring beauty of the capitol city. In my amazement I did not realize that I was getting near the main entrance of the Temple of Jokhang and at the same time I had not realized that I was going to enter the great metropolitan sanctuary and church in Tibet - I felt as if I was in front of St. Peter’s in Rome with the difference that it was the religious centre of Lamaism. The inside was a big surprise for me: in the feeble light my eyes could not make out the pilgrims from the monks. What a difference from the outside where the many coloured clothes of the pilgrims mixed with the magmatic colours of the monks’ tunics. A unique shade wrapped all the pious people. The only light came from the flaring candles burning in an oil made of yak’s butter and from the beams of a pale sun, which filtered through the fissures in the walls. Both of them made the gilt idioms in the prayers roll conspicuous. When the rolls were turned I could see the features of the turners: children, adults and elderly people. It was thanks to those people that I could see, live those never-to-be-forgotten moments.

I was pleased, amazed, enchanted, but like any man I wanted more: I felt as though I had not reached the core of Tibet yet and I wanted more. The soul of that mystic country should be higher up. Actually, the Ganden Monastery led my steps to 5,098 metres, where my eyes were enraptured by the thousands of religious little flags lightly moving in the wind. I perceived that I was so near the blue sky that I stretched my arm and tried to touch the azure vault above me. I realized that between me and the sky there were only the prayer-flying-flags. All of a sudden silence was broken by the imposing chanting of the monks and the beating of their gong. A mystic, imposing, singular, mysterious hymn made me feel all one with the monk striking the percussion instrument. The continuous sound with its deep tones made me understand that I had reached the climax of my tour, both in Tibet and in the whole of China.

I ended my journey in Shanghai, a modern, chaotic, clean and tidy metropolis; a city in full expansion. I was excited at looking at the very tall glass skyscrapers, the bold many coloured flyovers linking one part to the other of that enormous town and the Bund, like a unique pulsing heart for millions of inhabitants, and I am grateful to the words and explanations of two pen-pals of mine: Nicol and Michael. Thanks to the former’s help I presume I could understand its spirit, even though the time we spent together was short but very intense whereas meeting the latter, Michael, has given me the opportunity to taste the flavour of that metropolis. A succulent, delicious dinner reinforced our lively conversation and meeting. Moreover, a friendly talk among the stalls in Pudong led us to my Hotel and up to my room on the 85th floor. I wanted to reciprocate Michael kindness by offering him the view of Shanghai from the top of an ultra-modern hotel. I owe him the pleasure of the translation of a Chinese poem, which was hanging above the bed; that night I slept soundly, enjoying the meaning of the Chinese characters expressing the joy of a good wake up. When I woke up my room was amid big white clouds: I was living in the sky and I remembered the delicate meaning of the poem. On my own, in the morning, I visited the old part of Shanghai looked as if it were even poorer, smaller than it really was.

In conclusion, this is an intense trip which I would repeat very soon if I could. I would never have thought that I could summarize Eastern and Western, South and North, country-life and hectic metropolises, richness and poverty. The uniting element of such diversity is people’s kindness and homeliness of everyone you meet.