This past weekend, I had four days off in honor of Qing Ming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, so I decided to take a trip out to the countryside to relax at a Buddhist monastery. I was looking forward to escaping the city & doing a whole bunch of nothing for a few days.
The monastery is about four hours by bus to the west of Shanghai, near the small town of Zaoxi. A representative from the monastery picked me up at the bus station & took me through the town & up the hill, where the complex sits among clusters of bamboo.
An Australian man who was volunteering there gave me a tour of the complex, which included three temples, the monks' quarters and a dining hall, as well as guest housing. The room I stayed in was not heated, but the blankets on the bed were nice & cozy warm, making it all too easy to spend the day in bed reading.
Upon arrival, I was informed of the daily schedule - each activity was to be announced with the sounding of a huge gong in the temple.
04:30 Morning chanting
08:00 Morning meditation
19:00 Evening meditaion
Initially I thought that maybe I'd make it in time for lunch. But I soon realized that nothing happens at the monastery after 8:00pm so you just wind up going to bed, which makes it quite easy to get up for breakfast the next morning. I even made it to the 4:30am chanting session one day.
There were other guests there at the monastery as well - a Canadian author who was at the end of a three-month tour of Asia; a British kindergarten teacher living in Shanghai; an Italian film producer between projects; the Australian volunteer, a psychologist interested in following the Buddhist life. We all shared our life stories around the dinner table - each one of us having taken a different path to wind up in the same place.
In the afternoons, I took walks among the bamboo or down the road past the local farms. I saw a man bent over nearly in half beneath heavy bags of grain as he trudged to town to sell his goods. I saw a woman beating laundry against a rock as children in split pants chased after chickens in the yard. I saw a group of men tirelessly carrying stone after heavy stone to build a retaining wall at the edge of a stream.
On one of my walks, I came across a make-shift shrine - just incense stuck in the dirt, really - evidence that our ancestors are watching over us.
It was a nice, relaxing weekend - I did absolutely nothing for three days & had a great time doing it. I got a small glimpse of monastic life in the Chinese countryside, & met some pretty amazing people while I was there. It was just what I needed to recharge my inner battery.