LESHAN

The one-day trip from Chengdu to Leshan, 90 miles southwards, is a must, because in Leshan there is the Giant Buddha, the largest stone-carved buddha in the world. The statue stands at the confluence of 3 rivers:

The streams here used to be strong enough to sink boats, so the locals built the statue as a protection against them. The waste stone from the carving, discarded in the waters, did reduce the streams' power, thus reinforcing in the locals the belief that Buddha did the job. I have never seen such a lucky coincidence in my life.

The Buddha statue lies in a larger complex on the hills Wuyou and Lingyun, linked by a beautiful bridge:

and dotted with temples and other holy buildings. The Wuyou Temple has a room with 1000 clay arhats (Buddhist Celestial Beings). The beings are celestial, but some of their attitudes seem fairly earthly to me:

The complex gives off a unique atmosphere of harmony and beauty which fascinates me. I am with a mixed group of Europeans who live and work in Shanghai. We are still in the Golden Week and the crowd is such that we cannot even walk down the stairs flanking the statue. There is an enormous queue and at some point a riot erupts, the police has to step in to restore a relative quiet. I can only see the head of the Buddha:

This is not the first time I speak about crowding, queues, lots of people, etc., so you may wonder what over-crowding is really like in China. This video of the "queue" at Leshan does not fully account for the phenomenon, but it should at least give an idea:

Chinglish contributes to keep us cheerful. In a flower-bed in the wood I see this sign:

The only way that came to my mind to "refresh the surroundings" is to pee, in the flower-bed. Obviously I restrained myself, anyway do you think this is what they meant?

It is late, so we have to resort to an unofficial bus to go back to Chengdu (in China unofficial businesses are more the rule than the exception). A woman approaches us and, to convince us, exhibits a picture of the bus. It seems ok, so we agree. When the bus arrives, 40 minutes behind schedule, we realize that it is, indeed, the bus in the picture, but the picture had been taken 20 years ago!! But at this point we are left with no alternative.
We can't get on the bus because there are other people on. They should get off, but they don't want to. After 20 minutes, some screams, threats and shoves, at last they get off and we can get on. The bus moves by 100 metres and a riot breaks out on board because they sold more tickets than the available seats, and who is now standing did not like it. After another 20 minutes spent in threats and screams someone gets off and we can start the journey, at last. In Chengdu the bus is supposed to arrive at the bus station but, instead, it stops somewhere in the middle of a large road and the driver says we have arrived. Myself and the others in my group get off, but the Chinese passengers, pissed off black, do not get off. Then they get off, just to stand in front of the bus, so as not to allow it to start. I have had enough for today and I go away, so I can't say how the matter evolved.

This incident, though not representative of the average journey in China (official means of transport work pretty well), is a symptom of this society: Chinese can be kind and thoughtful with their family, with friends, even with a foreigner, if they come to know you and you ask for help. But among the crowd, they do not care about who we would generally call "fellowmen". Nothing is done to make themselves pleasant and they often behave aggressively and overbearingly. I don't know whether this is a consequence of overpopulation, but you can see it in many ways: when they spit (it's not so much the spit, by itself, which is unpleasant, it's the noisy "gargle" they do to "gather" the rheum which is disgusting), when they drive, when they ring the horn with no reason in the middle of the night, when they smoke on your face, they move you with their hand because they need to take a picture, etc.

One of the persons with me in the journey to Leshan is a German girl living in Shanghai. She says to me that she's tired of standing these behaviors, so for instance one morning, when a Chinese woman in her forties was jumping ahead of the queue to take the lift in the working place, as she used to do every day, she pushed her with the shoulder to the other side of the room and shouted at her (she speaks Chinese well): "Never ever do it again". Now, a German shoulder against a Chinese shoulder is certainly an unfair competition [1], but I also decided not to stand those behaviors any more, so in Jiuzhaigou, when a Chinese man jumped ahead of me in the queue to make the ticket, I pulled him on the shoulder with my hand and shouted in English "Is this the way you queue up here?". His face turned angry and red, he shouted back something but then he returned back to the end of the queue.

These overbearing and rude behaviors pertain to the average people, but there are exceptions: the young people with an education, first of all; they have a different frame of mind and better behaviors. Will they be able to change the prevailing mentality? We'll see. Then there are the minorities, who are not aggressive, to the contrary they are very kind. But they are being overcome by the Han's intrusiveness. I eye-witness it here in the South-West, which has many minorities. Who has been in Tibet says to me that it is being heavily changed by the Han.

  1. ^I can easily trust that the Chinese was thrown 3 metres away.