Zachary Wakefield Peter O’Keefe Maeve Slife
To celebrate the Fourth of July, Dr. Chen and the program staff organized a series of activities for us. Our first activity today was a visit to Xiamen’s 南普陀 (Nán Pǔtuó) Temple, which lies just a short ride east of the University dorms. We had to wake quite early this morning—breakfast started at 7:30 and we were on the road by 8:15, although it felt much later because of the already-steamy temperatures and our remaining jet-lag—but arriving at this initial stopping point on our Fourth of July outing and experiencing the temple’s beauty before the midday crowds made the early wake-up call worthwhile. Built into one of Xiamen Island’s lush subtropical wooded seaside mountains, the temple was a spectacular sight to behold, complete with Buddha- and Buddha-protecting statues stretching like a maze cut into the greenery. As an important part of Chinese tradition, Buddhism has a long history of more than two thousand years in China. After serving for centuries as a simple monastery, the temple was rebuilt during the early Qing Dynasty (1680s) and further renovated in the 1980s. The temple’s name is referring to its position south of Buddhist holy site Mt. Putuo in China’s Zhejiang Province, which lies to the north of Fujian, where Xiamen is located.
After arriving at the temple, we each had the chance to light an incense stick and place it in a caravan outside, making a necessarily altruistic wish, before entering through an ornate entryway to the superhuman-sized golden Laughing Buddha statue (we learned the laughing Buddha represents an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha). Together with our five-person groups—each had been assigned an adult chaperon for the Nán Pǔtuó visit—we climbed further up the hill until we ran out of time and had to quickly return to our tour bus, which was transporting us to our next attraction.
We were hot and sweaty (although it was not yet 9:00), but many of us took note when Dr. Chen stated our host families could take us back to this temple to explore further during our free days with them later in July. The striking scenery and holiness of Nán Pǔtuó served an excellent start to a wonderful day.
After visiting Nanputuo, we took a short bus ride to Hulishan Fortress. My favorite aspect of Hulishan Fortress was that it looked out onto the ocean. A cool (and much needed) breeze met us as we observed the excellent view and took many cute pictures together. At 10 o’clock we watched a reenactment of a battle at the fortress. It was very entertaining to watch the actor “soldiers” run around carrying torches of fire. When the men fired the canon, many people in the crowd were quite startled!
Lunch was very delicious. I loved eating a family-style meal with my classmates and teachers. Each time we share a meal together, it’s a great bonding experience; trying new food is always better with friends! I am very glad to learn about and absorb a different culture with a great group of teachers and fellow students.
At 13:20 local time we had the amazing opportunity to see a performance about the legendary history of Xiamen. The show spanned the centuries of Chinese history, displaying the time of dinosaurs roaming pre-historic Xiamen to people embracing the great riches of a more modern China. It’s truly incredible visuals included twenty women dressed as birds dancing in unison, men riding horses on stage, and a dragon bursting through the surface of an on-stage pond. Though it was at times confusing to us English speakers, the play left its mark on all of us as a true spectacle of Chinese performance and culture.
The setup of the performance was nearly as new and interesting as the show itself. It took place in a massive dome, and the audience sat in a huge grandstand that rotated to show different sets throughout the performance. It was carried out on six different sets, all of which were huge and included impressive props and special effects. It was certainly a new type of entertainment for me, but the resulting production was exhilarating.
However, the show was a bit hard to follow due to the lack of English narration. Many of us left the theater with only a basic idea of what the story had been about. Still, the show was entertaining and everyone I talked to thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m grateful that we had this opportunity to get a first-hand look at many Chinese people today celebrate their history and culture.