A Story by Arian Dragos

First time in China – Qingdao & Sichuan

posted on August 31st, 2015   1199 views

Monks

In the summer of 2015, I travelled to Qingdao with my girlfriend to visit her family.  She grew up there, and wanted to show me what China was like.  I, being an Arizona native, was not expecting China to be such a fantastic and wonderful experience.  It was amazing to have the chance to travel so far away from home and see first hand how different life is in China, and I am thankful to have been able to do so.

My trip was just over two months, and for the first half, I stayed in the heart of Qingdao.  Here, I almost felt like the environment was similar to that of, say, New York City; however, I was constantly reminded of how far away I was as I could not understand anything that was around me.  The language was strange, stores had strange symbols on the outside of them, and the people were fascinated to see a caucasian teenager in their town.  Slowly, I was able to pick up on the basics of the language so I could communicate with the locals, and I started to become more accustomed with this foreign location.  After a month, I became so familiar with Qingdao that I almost felt like it was my home.  Taking the a packed bus was no longer strange, but the norm.  Eating foods I had never even heard of was now something I looked forward to each day.  In just this month, I felt like I was a Chinese teenager in an American body, yet there was still more to come.

The next part of my trip involved travelling to Sichuan to visit my girlfriend’s father.  He, being devoutly Buddhist, wanted to take us to the Tibetian border (since it is difficult for foreigners to get into Tibet itself) to show us the lifestyle of the monks.  For a week, we rented an eleven passenger van and set out to visit Buddhist temples and the surrounding areas.  I was fortunate enough to actually step inside of a temple to see the many monks discussing their beliefs.  Just thinking about this gives me the chills as these individuals live so much differently than Americans and even the mainland Chinese.  Their entire life is devoted to their religion and they are content with living a simple life.  Seeing this made me realize how much I have and how I respect people like the monks so dearly for living such a life.  One of the most shocking experiences, however, was witnessing what the Buddhists call a “sky burial”.  This is a traditional ceremony where an individual who has passed away is able to have their body eaten by vultures (who Buddhists believe are angels) to be taken to heaven.  Here, I was actually in the presence of multiple deceased bodies and watched as vultures flocked in by the hundreds to take their souls to heaven.  This experience will be one of the most memorable of my life as a ritual like this was something out of a movie, but I was acutally there, so close that I was within arms reach of the vultures and the lifeless bodies.  From this, I feel I have become more culturally aware and appreciative, as an event like this is something only a handful of individuals would have ever even heard of.  Out of my trip to Sichuan, I take with me a respect for people who live a simple yet devout life, and wish to learn more about the monks in the future.  (The spicy food in Sichuan is also some of the best food I have ever eaten).

In all, my trip to Qingdao and Sicuan has forever changed my life.  Even though I will travel to China again, my first experience will be the one that I will always remember for opening my eyes to the greatness of this country.  China has so much to learn from, and I am glad to have been there to gain a sliver of knowledge.  I feel that everyone should travel to China at least once.  No matter where they go, they will always learn something new.  That’s the story of my first trip to China, thank you for reading!


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