I’m not the brightest tool in the box but I am definitely VERY lucky. When I was checking into my hostel room in Chengdu, a girl came up to the front desk to ask about how to get to Leshan. It is a sight that is on my absolute To Do list in Chengdu and I was just fretting about getting there on my own. The girl wore a pair of tortoise-shelled glasses in a shape that was very popular in Paris this spring (my landlady had the same) and she had on a pair of large, ethnic-inspired earrings. In my head, I was like “Style? Check!”, this girl must be a cool bird.
Later, when I was showering in my dorm-styled room, I thought about how I could find that girl again to proposition going to Leshan with her. As luck would have it, when I stepped out of the bathroom, I ran into her. It turns out she’s one of my roommates! In the time it took me to put away my shampoo, I successfully invited myself to join her on her trip the next day… I’m pretty shameless when it comes to going after what I want.
Leshan basically translates into “The Happy Mountain”. It’s beside a river two-hours drive outside of Chengdu and famous for a mountain-sized Buddha carved into its side. After having a breakfast at a local dining hall where all the items on the menu are spicy (I swear the AIR in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan cuisine, is spicy), I followed after my instant-friend Effe on a city bus, a greyhound then another local bus to get to Leshan.
I don’t know why, but I’m particularly wary about traveling in China. I guess when I travelled in countries where I didn’t speak the language, know the culture or look like the locals, I had low expectations and didn’t know enough to be afraid. In China, I’m very lucky to have had Max in Shenzhen, Effe to introduce me to Chengdu (she’s heading out earlier) and when I get to Beijing, I’ll be laughing. I’ll be living at Chloé’s place (a fellow exchange student at Sciences Po) and hanging out with my childhood friends. Even Effe will be there, as she’s a Beijing local! So me the “big-sized one”, have been bumbling after these sharp-witted girls two-thirds my size all over China. It must’ve be quite the scene to see these skinny, capable girls confidently jaywalk across China’s wide boulevards (while shoving their glasses up their noses) and me hopping after them, leaving a trail of blaring horns and emergency braking in my wake. Occasionally, they leave me to do something on my own and I just want to cry out “No please, come with me. I can’t negotiate the price of this. I don’t know what the going rate is!”
All that to say is, without Effe, I might have been sold as a third wife into China’s countryside on my way to Leshan. But to Leshan I made it and it was glorious to cross off another Bucket List item. In fact, this is so personal that it’s beyond the Bucket List. You see, my mother did her residency here in Chengdu when she was about my age. It was the first time she lived on her own and my father and her honeymooned here. So Chengdu and all the places they visited here represent youth, freedom and love to me. It’s a mystical place.
As I staggered down the narrow mountain passage on the side of the Buddha (with what seemed like a million people as if we were ants on a string, baking in the summer sun), I thought about the beauty of continuity (though admittedly, mostly about how to get the best shot of me and the Buddha). It’s like completing a circle for me to be retracing my parents steps, at a place they visited before there was even a smidgen of me. It was like time travel of sorts.
On our bus ride back to Chengdu, Effe slept soundly while I went over photos of my parents, comparing the ones I have in my phone, taken before I left for Paris, and the black-and-white ones from my memory, of when they toured Leshan. Time may have washed away youthfulness, added layers of complexity and perhaps even left scars of hurt. However, they are still together after all these years, from China to Canada. If anything, they look like a pair of giddy kids, with even more devilish little sparkles in their eyes than in those black-and-white photos.
Their marriage isn’t perfect, there were epic fights where I’ve been used as a token. Since I was little, I’ve also played Switzerland to both parties and lend an ear to their complaints of each other. Sometimes, even I would snap and say to them “Oh geez would you stop it. With attitude like yours it’s not like anyone else would marry you if you got divorced.”
Most of the time however, my parents are supportive of each other when I was ready to throw in the towel on them. They throw themselves into each other’s “N”th pet project when I just want to roll my eyes and tell them to refer to how the “N-minus-one”th project turned out. They’ve done things for each other that they never told (and the other never knew, or didn’t appreciate as much as I think he or she ought to have) but I saw. While they may be bigger drama queens than me on the small things, they’ve always kept their word on the big things. To each other and especially, to me. I really was never judged by them, I always felt safe telling them everything and I do know with certainty that home is a safe harbour that’s always ready to receive me. I’ve made mistakes that even I couldn’t forgive myself for but they masked their hurt, put on a brave face and told me it’s “no big deal” and “snap out of it”.
Even though had they married different people, they may have been richer, had better in-laws and perhaps led more colourful lives. However, that’s only a possibility but the reality is that they have in each other someone who has been and will always be there for them, some who loves them without any conditions. Some people have said they are ready to trade a lifetime of loneliness for a short period of pure joy, that it’s better to have had then lost than to never have had at all. Then I think it’s truly a blessing to be like my parents and spend a lifetime with the one you love.
When we finally scrambled down the Buddha, Effe couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there so I didn’t get to spend as much time appreciating this special place as I would’ve liked. However, I don’t think it’s a place I could ever spend enough time in. I wonder with whom I’ll grow old, I wonder what my compromises would be and I wonder where MY Buddha is. Until then, I have the rest of Chengdu to explore and more spicy food to burn my oral mucal lining with.