It’s again one of those days in Fuzhou where I don’t know if the weather with hold. There is promise of rain undoubtedly, but a little rain has never deterred me. It’s the near monsoon that springs from nowhere that I don’t appreciate. The sticky climate is a given even in January so I venture out dressed for summer with fall accessories. With camera and umbrella in tow I’ve decided to discover one of Fuzhou’s ancient temples; Xichan. Located in the west of the city, as the name translates, Xichan is one of five ancient temples you can find in Fuzhou. The old sits with the new to impress with China’s stunning architecture. Pagodas, temples, litchi trees…you can explore this place for hours.
Entering the complex I am almost hypnotized by the swaying of the branches that drape low and dance in the wind. I pay the 20 yuan entrance fee and begin to explore. Immediately I look to the water. Its murky appearance is brought to life by glimmers of orange and yellow. Fish and turtles decorate this otherwise gloomy lake. Temples are known as a place where you can abandon turtles to a new home. Something which unfortunately gives a lack of responsibility to some of the foreigners who temporarily call Fuzhou home but feel the need to own “pets”. I gaze up to take in the scope of the complex. Xichan covers an area of more than 40 kilometers. There are statues, gardens and great halls, all of which should not be missed.
Winding across small bridges and under swaying trees I take in all the bright colors that adorn the remarkable design of these structures. It’s not long before I reach a breathtaking pagoda that seems to reach for the sky. No matter how many temples I visit pagodas never fail to impress me. There symmetry and shape of these towers are perfectly balanced in beauty and strength. Walking around this magnificent structure gives was to an equally impressive hall. The dragons that adorn the rooftops give a type of life to these buildings when they cast shadows in the failing light. Every hall houses a different style of Buddha. The Hall of 500 Arhats is considered the most impressive with the Jade Buddha Hall following it.
There is always an inner turmoil I experience at temples. I have only visited a few that are completely open for tourists to take photos along side the statues. This is not one of those. Monks are here in prayer and locals wear an expression of offence when the ignorant visitor flashes away, and rightly so. But I am still one of those that longs to capture the moment and so occasionally I take a photo from the outside peering in at a distance. I’m not excusing myself as this is still considerably rude to one who’s religion I am invading but I’m trying to find a balance. I suppose educating myself in the Buddhist belief system may make me more humble.
Besides the obvious modern structures that sit in contrast with Xichan temple, it is a small courtyard that captivates me. The walls a deep terracotta with two levels of narrow rectangular windows, if it wasn’t for the rooftops I would think I was wandering around a small Spanish town. The appearance of a monk dressed all in grey pulls me back quite sharply to the reality of where I am. I continue around the grounds. The rain heightens the scent of the garden but also means putting my camera away. As the sky becomes dull the trees remind me of Autumn back home. Except there is no chill to the air, just a humidity that I haven’t quite gotten used to yet.
As the rain becomes too heavy I wander out to the bus stop. It’s a strange thing to leave the calm of a temple and transition back into the city. Xichan’s walls guard the ancient serenity of a life that almost no longer has a place against a bustling city that barely sleeps. But I have no doubt the grounds of Xichan temple will stand longer than any recent structures that seem to appear far to quickly for quality architecture to endure. If this city was to shake and crumble I could guarantee the temples would remain standing.