To properly lead up to my exciting trip to Shanxi with China Daily, I’m going to count off some of my favorite China trips so far. Today, it’s the Nun of Guilin, a woman I met while staying in a nunnery outside of the famous karst-filled city. This trip stands out for me, not because of the location per se, but because it marked the first time I went truly off-roads and off-plan, while being swept away into something new.
My initial plan for going to Guilin was to see the karst mountains, the Li River, and then the longji rice terraces. I would have seen them all, no problem, but instead I got sidetracked at a Buddhist nunnery.
I’d just been out hiking and getting thoroughly lost in the back trails of a karst mountain, when I heard the tell-tale amitofo in the distance. A nunnery! I saw other visitors nearby, one a child crying because he burned his finger on spiritual candle wax. A woman working there talked to me for a bit, and then asked if I wanted to stay. I’d never been swept away by locals before, so I declined, and went back to my hostel.
But thoughts of the nunnery lingered.
The next day, I packed my things and went back to see if they’d let me stay. The woman agreed. I’d brought some clothes to donate (including some hotel slippers I’d brought with) and I was led to Shifu, a short, terse-looking woman with a bald head.
She told me many things about the inner workings of the afterlife, most of which I didn’t understand because my Chinese at the time was really limited. I saw how she was totally committed to not killing animals — even mosquitoes! I vowed to do the same.
Until…Later that night, I saw a cockroach, and without thinking, stomped it to death.
So, there’s that.
But the real adventure had not yet begun. See, the reason this trip stands out to me is not so much because of the nunnery, but what happened afterward. The nun was leaving at the same time as me, so we left together. She was meeting a friend who would show her some temples she could stay in. I tagged along for all of this, ultimately ending up in the backroads of Guilin, walking along thin muddy trails behind a nun.
**side note: locals couldn’t decide who to stare at more: the foreigner, or the nun? Too much stimulation!
Her friend, a very smarmy, non-Buddhist Buddhist led Shifu to a horrible dump of a temple. Hole in the ground for a toilet. A hose for a sink. Seriously? Yes. He said they could charge parishioners to foot the bill of repairs. Shifu was having exactly none of it. I stood in the back, thinking “Oh snap!” the whole time while she swirled her robes over the tall grass and told me we should go.
We ended up spending the night in a crappy motel in Guilin, the nun sometimes forgetting that I, unlike her, needed to eat more than twice a day. I initially had been thinking I could dash off to the rice terraces, but in the end, spent the day with Shifu, not-so-much understanding the cosmic dimensions of her belief system, though giving her the benefit of the doubt that they were deep nonetheless.
Stay tuned for my LAST China Travel Throwback: Yunnan. Or, the first time I truly traveled alone.