The Middle Way

I spent part of my afternoon searching for a Buddhist temple in downtown Anshun. I heard from my tutor that it was just across from the lake, on the route of bus 11. It was raining and cool. Recently the weather has taken a turn; this morning I could feel winter in my toes.

Finally I resorted to asking a couple of girls who looked to be high school students.

"I'm looking for a temple," I said.

"Down there," she pointed, "take those stairs."

When I entered the temple, the "hellos" from a couple younger children indicated that other foreigners had visited in the past. Indeed, when I signed the guestbook before leaving I noticed that a couple from England had passed through only two days before.

I asked if I could get something to eat and look at the temple, and they invited me to eat with them. Sitting down to a vegetarian meal was nice for a change. In these large group situations, I typically pick through meat dishes, avoid the fish, and struggle to fill my stomach.

"You are a vegetarian?" an older woman asks me.

I nod my head and she responds, "That's great, it's good for your health. You will live a long time."

It's nice to hear these things, especially for someone accustomed to hearing, "What a pity that you are a vegetarian, food tastes better with meat - it's healthier too!"

It was also nice to be reminded of my host family experience. "Eat more, eat more!" they said as they lifted dishes toward my bowl. "Thank you so much!" I would respond, taking more of each dish. I felt at home in China again, far from the endless take-out containers stacked in my kitchen garbage can.

Eating at the temple wasn't very different than a typical group meal, proving that even though they were Buddhist, these people were still a subculture of China. Despite living together and practicing their religion, they were thoroughly Chinese. Their manners and mannerisms were the same, even if their clothes were not.

After eating, which was provided free of charge, a host took me on a tour of the temple. She showed me where to light the incense sticks and how to pray. I put 5 yuan (the likely cost of my meal) into the box and she showed me other parts of the temple.

When everyone discovered that I was not a traveler, but a local person, they clamored for my phone number and asked me to return when I had time. "Wait here," one woman told me as I was leaving. She brought me an apple and a pomegranate.

"Come back," they all said. "Come back and teach us English!"

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