Before I had even finished with my short video-post on new views gained by going farther, I found myself a bit further south those mountains again, and again making myself a bit more at home by going a little farther.
It all started off like quite the tourist venture, though: I just wanted to go and visit Badachu (八大处), a major but less-visited Buddhist site (or really, collection of sites) on the western outskirts of Beijing.
One subway ride from where I’m staying to Gongzhufen, onto Line 1, to its terminus at Pingguoyuan, the bus was easy enough to find (though I had forgotten to bring the paper where I had noted down its number), in the usual way of these here parts: Just follow the mass of people walking through the assault of drivers offering cars to where you want to go.
Another long, traffic-jammed, ride on the bus, to the last station before the actual stop, where the driver suggested getting out and walking. Ornamental cabbages instead of grass at the curb; vendors selling incense sticks – and some that are more like poles.
Getting onto the bus took a rush, but it hadn’t been all that difficult – even with the near-collision with a woman who’s also decided to make a run for the bus’s entrance door, giving us both something to laugh about – but the line towards the temple and to the ticket booths clearly showed that, even if not that many foreign tourists seem to go there, it was a popular-enough destination among Chinese.
The feeling was only reinforced inside, given the throngs of people.
There was a tree for well-wishing, incense to supplicate in all directions (with a little girl starting to be introduced into these spiritual ways, but being rather confused where was where and how many bows should be taken; giving rise to the usual thought: it’s cute, it’s heart-warming – and to what extent is it something like religious indoctrination?), more incense and candles – and there was something I’d never seen before, a public dispensing of food (vegetable stew and a mantou, given for a donation).
Incense and candle and Buddhist prayer chain and good luck charm sellers all made brisk business. Help from above in China (and not just in China) has always needed a little pecuniary encouragement. In some of the ways one can appeal for good luck, it doesn’t just take an investment, but also a bit of physical skill…
… and maybe it was an auspicious day. According to the traditional Chinese calendar, it was HanYiJie, Day of Winter Clothes. Why that required TV presenter-style well-wishes, I do not know, but it made for interesting viewing (and probably was meant as auspicious viewing for friends who couldn’t come).
I keep hearing people talk of how China lacks and needs religion, and I keep seeing throngs of people at the temples, supplicating with bows and incense to ask for a little help. Frankly, it makes me wonder if the “complaints” aren’t just coming from a different perspective on religion, and one that misunderstands that there can be other ways of being religious than Sunday sermons and prayers before bed (let alone politicians spouting off about their God-inspired ideas).
(Sure, China could use more social cohesion and altruistic concern for the weaker, but I’m not so sure that our at least somewhat religiously motivated donation drives are really all that much more helpful. That’s another issue, though.)
The first main temple area(s) of Badachu make it look not so big, even though one already has to climb a few stairs, but then it turns out that the climbing continues (or there’d even be a cable car). The highest point is reached only some 2.5 km in… and then I wondered.
Past one of the temples up there, there was a path leading yet farther; a few people sometimes came down, but it was just the yellow earth compacted a little more than usual. The second time past, it proved irresistible – and an at-home-making going farther, again.
Prayer flags on and around the path, in the brush and on the tree(s).
Up top, a rocky platform offering views all around that were already being enjoyed by more of the walkers and hikers I had also met on the way up. Chinese definitely have come around to having time for enjoying the outdoors, and in many cases, the money to afford gear for it, too.
It’s not just hiking/walking, either; the path down from that mountain towards the north had me encounter some pretty serious mountain bikers, too.
Turned out there were quite a few hiking paths all across those mountains, and they were being utilized by quite a lot of people, too. Some of the paths were mainly just well-trodden, some were walkways paved and done complete with steps. It would have been possible to go on, for quite a while, all the way to the Xiangshan area where I had been the last time, but I followed a path down. Half circling around, it led down into and through what turned out to be the National Forest Park of Beijing (and without need for a ticket at that).
Sure enough, there was a bus stop there again, again found easily enough by simply following others. Yes, there is still a lot to discover here – and it feels quite like a place to call home, too; the more so the more I discover. At the same time, quite frankly, I’m ready to return to Austria and I am counting the days until I can do so, for my home is definitely where the heart is…