View Full Version : Adventure of a US Girl in Ancient China (20)

September 12th, 2015, 01:32 PM
Chapter 20

On the right side of the road, Linda perceived a temple on the slope of the mountain. She felt thirsty and wanted to ask for a cup of tea there. She went up to the temple and found that it was a nunnery. She knocked at the door. Presently a young Buddhist nun came to open it. In China such a nun was the opposite of the Buddhist monk. That is to say, they shaved off all their hair on the head and burned nine tiny holes on the pate like the monks did. A young girl who became a nun always had certain reasons. Some wanted to escape from something very bad. Others probably came from destitute families. Their parents could no longer support them and had to send them to the nunnery. It was better than to be sold to the whorehouse.
There are two main sorts of religions in China that Han Tribe believes. The number of Han Tribe is more than ninety percent of the whole population. Besides Buddhism, which came from India, there is a native religion called Taoism. The Taoists, together with their opposite the Taoist nuns, wear their hair in a knot on top of their heads. They both worship Lao Tzu, and other legendary gods. They are polytheists. But the Buddhists in China are also polytheists.
“Can I have some water? I’m too thirsty.” Linda asked bashfully.
“Of course. Please come in.” The young nun said politely.
Linda was led to the guest sitting room and served tea. It was a nice place, so quiet. Linda thought that if she could live here, no one would find her, because no one would think that she hid herself in a nunnery. The only question was whether the nuns would agree to her request.
“Can I stay here for a couple of days?” Linda asked the young nun. Then she fished some money from her pocket and donated it to the nunnery. The young nun took the money and thanked her.
“But I must ask permission of the head nun for that.” She left Linda sitting there alone. She returned after a while, saying, “The head nun agrees. Will you please follow me?”
She led Linda to a guest bedroom and left. Though small, the room was neat and tidy, with a bed put against the innermost wall, a cabinet for clothes beside the bed, and a table and two chairs against the wall under the window.
Every morning the young nun brought in a basin of hot water for her to wash her face and a cup of salty water to rinse her mouth. There was no toothpaste at that time and no toothbrush either.
Before every meal, a nun would strike a piece of hollow wood carved into the shape of a fish. When stricken with a wooden stick, the sound would spread throughout the nunnery. It was the signal for meals. All the nuns would go into the canteen while the guests went to a special dining room. Before every meal, the nuns would have a ritual to chant their sutras. Then every nun would get into a file with two bowls. One would contain rice covered with some cooked vegetables and the other would hold vegetable soup. When nuns got the bowls full they would go back to their fixed seats at long tables. When they finished eating, they would leave the canteen in a file to their respective positions.
Linda was led to the special dining room and had breakfast with some more guests. Generally they would have porridge and steamed dumplings for breakfast. For lunch, they would be served rice and vegetable dishes and for supper noodles covered with mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
In old China, nuns, monks, Taoists and Taoist nuns could not eat meat, egg, fish or even milk. They should keep celibacy. But nowadays, since no one will be monks or nuns, for encouragement they are allowed to eat everything and to get married because the temples are the scenic spots for sightseeing and the sources of income in the tourist business. If a temple has no monks or nuns, it will look ridiculous to the tourists.
Linda enjoyed the tranquility of her life for a month. During that time she watched the nuns having public prayers for some families, who wanted to memorialize their ancestors through the ceremony. The ceremony went like that: on the wall hung the portraits of the ancestors and before them there was a table, on which were laid lighted candles and incenses in a burner. Six nuns stood at one side of the table and six at the other side. They chanted sutras, accompanied by playing some Buddhist musical instruments. Every nun held a different instrument, some like a cymbal and some like a bell with the top on a short stick. The nun held it downside up like a goblet. All the nuns struck their instruments at regular intervals while chanting. During this performance, the family members would kowtow before the portraits one by one. When the chanting was over, a lot of paper money and other paper things were burned. Linda had never seen it before. So she never missed one.
One day when she went to bed, she forgot to latch the door. Next morning the young nun came and pushed open the door. Linda was still asleep in bed. Her hair spread over the pillow. The young nun was surprised to see the golden hair. She laid the basin of hot water on the table and went up to the bed. She felt the golden hair. The touch was the same as she had felt her own hair before it had been shaved off. She knew that it was real hair, not golden threads.
Linda suddenly woke up and saw the nun looking at her hair. She was horrified, afraid that the nun might go to report to the yamen in the nearest town. She didn’t know yet that those unworldly people never cared about the worldly things. But Linda decided then and there that she must leave soon.
“How can it be that your hair is golden?” The nun asked curiously.
“I was born like that. It brought me a lot of troubles.” She added privately, “Only since I landed in China.”
“I like your hair color.” The young nun said enviously.
“Will you please not mention it to anyone else?” Linda implored.
“Why not? Any particular reason?”
“I’m always afraid that someone may want my hair, thinking it is made of gold, and may come to murder me for it.”
“Be at rest. None will think your hair’s made of genuine gold, or he’s insane. But my advice is that you can shave off your hair and become a nun here.”
“Shave off the hair and become a nun?” Linda had never thought of that. She loved her hair and was proud of having it. It has certainly some advantage to have golden hair. Many people like the hair being golden and some men love girls with golden hair. Linda did not want to shave it and she did not want to become a nun, in China.
Linda got up, wrapped up her hair and came to the table to wash her face. After breakfast, she bade farewell to the nuns and left the nunnery. She walked west aimlessly along the public road. At noon she ate some dried food and drank some water the nuns had given her. Some other travelers on foot rested on the road side, sitting on rocks, while they had their lunch. Linda sat at some distance from them. She did not want to be asked questions. It would certainly happen if she sat close to anyone. By now she had learned that Chinese people loved to ask other people personal questions.
In the evening, Linda came to another village. When she passed a house, she saw a throng before the open door. She squeezed in to the front and saw two old men standing on opposite side of a table, on which there was a tray with fine sands in it. A thin piece of bamboo was made into a circle with two short straight bamboo pieces attached to the circle and crossing each other in the middle, looking like ⊕. A Chinese brush was tied onto the crossing point. The two old men stretched out their forefingers, one from his right hand and the other from his left hand, each holding the bamboo circle at opposite sides, or correctly to speak, the bamboo circle resting with opposite sides on their forefingers. That way, it meant that they could not move the brush to write any Chinese words.
There was a third old man who knelt before the table and murmured something like in prayer. Then Linda saw the brush moving as if by itself, looking like writing something in the sand tray. When the brush stopped the two old men took the brush away. The third old man stood up and copied what had been written in the sand on a slip of paper. And the three men gathered together in the consultation of one another.
The spectators scattered. Linda asked a middle-aged woman, “What’s all this about?”

“They have some problems they can’t solve and want to ask help from a god.” The woman answered. “If a god, any god, happens to pass the place in the sky, he may come down to write something in the sand, if it interests him to give the mortals some divine advice.”
“But I didn’t see any god come down.” Linda doubted.
“You can’t see a god. No one can see a god.”
“Then who knows if a god came down or not?”
“Did you see the brush being moved?”
Linda nodded.
“That meant that a god was here, because the two men supporting the brush were incapable of writing anything. Even if they were able to move the brush simultaneously, they couldn’t write out coherent sentences. So it proves that some god came to write something in the sand tray.”
Linda was still skeptical, but she said nothing more and went her own way. She had already been accustomed to anything weird in the ancient China.