Days 8-12 (Nanjing)

After the bustle of Beijing, returning to the relatively small (just the size of NYC…no big deal right?) city of Nanjing felt relaxing. Initially, we had plans to go to the Huangshan mountain range during this time, but the weather forecast wasn’t very promising so we ended up spending a few days soaking up Nanjing instead. We were still doing sightseeing and other touristy stuff, but the pace was much slower. This gave us time to revisit some of our favorite places to eat and experience some less flashy activities like spending a morning in the park and helping others practice English.

For our first day back after our travel day, we didn’t really have a plan to start the day. Somewhat on a whim, we decided to visit the Niushou Mountain just outside Nanjing. The mountain is home to a Buddhist temple that was open to the public for a brief period time because it had a rare relic on display. It sounded neat, so we figured we’d check it out.

It turned out to be absolutely breathtaking.

According to the architect’s website, the design concept “came from the Buddhist principle of the spiritual journey, and the principle of man’s pursuit of happiness or Nirvana. The design aims to embody the notion of being ‘in search of and ultimately finding something.’” Reading this now, I find that idea quite amusing. To me, it seemed like every 20 yards we were “finding something” that was completely new and fascinating.

The relics were in a pagoda on the top of the mountain, and we spent a good deal of time wandering around the outside before entering. I wish I had more insight into why it was designed the way it was…but even without understanding the background I thoroughly appreciated it.

We finally wandered inside the massive dome that we assumed was holding the relics…and we were met with a stunning view. The inside of the dome was basically one massive room with everything from indoor trees to a light/smoke show to a spinning stage with a lounging Buddha on it. I didn’t really know what to make of that room (still don’t), but it was very entertaining!

After some detective work, we found out where we were supposed to go to see the relics. Down. We didn’t even know there was a downstairs, but down we went. I wasn’t keeping track, but we must have gone down 3 or 4 really long escalators… By the time we got to the bottom, there was a very noticeable change in the air temperature and density.

When we got to the bottom, we walked through a brief maze of hallways and ended up in the most amazing room I’d ever seen. A few hundred feet underground in some random mountain in China. Who’d have thought? I’d try to describe that room and what it felt like to be there, but I know I wouldn’t do it justice. My photographs also don’t do it justice, but they should come a bit closer…

Oddly enough, that amazing room wasn’t housing the relics. There was obviously something there that was important, but we had no idea what it was. We finally found the relics after wandering through a few hallways with thousands of tiny Buddha statues adorning the walls. The relics that were the cause of all the ceremony were a few pieces of Siddhartha Gautma’s skull. Siddhartha was the first Buddha and the founder of Buddhism, and some of his bones were found 2008 in the Nanjing area. The relics had previously been on display in a few other areas and had recently returned to Nanjing. We waited in a line for a bit and then looked through a telescope into an airtight room where the bones were sitting on a little shrine. Honestly I couldn’t even really make out what I was looking at. This would have been a letdown if the journey getting to the relics hadn’t been so incredible.

We got lost a few more times before finally finding our way to the surface. After leaving the dome building we climbed a 9-ish story pagoda that was right next door and got a beautiful view of the mountain and the nearby cities. We even got to ring a massive bell!

After returning to Nanjing, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through Laomendong, a very cool market area. We picked up souvenirs, had some delicious green tea, met robot statues, ate a New Zealand burger, and took lots of pictures.

After dinner, we visited the nearby Confucius Temple (Fuzi Miao). I’m still a little confused as to what this place is… As best I can tell, it used to be a place to worship Confucius and was where students took the imperial exams. Now it’s an incredibly commercialized shopping mall. :-/

The next day was a much needed rest day. Christina and I spent most of the morning relaxing in Xuanwuhu Park while Andrew went for a run. The park is essentially an island in the middle of Xuanwu Lake, and it was beautiful. We wandered for a bit and then found a shady spot to sit and rest. Christina did some writing and I did some people watching. More accurately, I watched people who were people watching us. I didn’t see more than 5 other white people the entire time we were in Nanjing, so we really stuck out. Little kids in particular had no qualms about staring, pointing, and laughing at us. I wonder if we were the first white people that any of them had seen in real life?

That night we went to the Nanjing English Corner and chatted with some Chinese citizens. They were there to practice their English, so being a white native English-speaker was like being a celebrity. By the time we left, Andrew had a line of ~15 people waiting their turn to talk to him. Andrew and Christina talked to a few different people, and I spent nearly the whole hour we were there talking to a middle school girl from the Yunnan province. I expect to remember that conversation for a very long time.

On our last day in Nanjing before Christina and I headed off to Thailand, we visited the Porcelain Tower. The pagoda was initially built in the 15th century and was sometimes listed as one of the seven wonders of the world. After being destroyed in the 18th century, it was rebuilt in 2010 when a Chinese businessman donated an absurd $156 million to the city to reconstruct it and build a corresponding museum. I’ve rambled enough about Buddhist temples and whatnot for this post, so I’ll just cut it off here and leave you with a few final images of Nanjing…

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