|Standing in the Clouds
One fine Sunday in April (no wind, no dust), Orlando Jones climbed a sacred mountain. The mountain was a Buddhist temple, a wilderness area of spectacular beauty. Unlike the other national treasure temples that she had visited, the mountain temple was an everyday working temple. Thousands of people came there to burn incense, pray, make offerings, picnic (Chinese people never seemed to do anything that did not involve food) and, above all, climb the mountain. The lower slopes of the mountains were
covered in thousands of shades of green. The dark greens of the alpine conifers mingled with the bright lime greens of the new Spring growth on the deciduous trees. The tops of the ountains were mostly huge rock formations and sheer cliffs. The tops of the highest mountains were shrouded in thick white clouds. As it turned out the temple was rather a series of temples built at various locations on a series of mountains that formed a rough circle. Each temple, small but exquisitely carved and painted, had a different significance and function (eg health, study, work, longevity etc.). At each temple, Orlando Jones paused with her Chinese academic colleagues and students, to light incense, pray and offer dried wild fruits and nuts to the deities.
The climbed steadily through all of the five or so temples on the biggest mountain until they reach to highest temple, the temple for studying. This temple was in the clouds. Outside was a huge fireplace with a pagoda roof where Orlando Jones lit whole packets of incense - being careful not to set any of her students on fire - and said prayers with her students. This temple was built at the top of a sheer rock cliff, some hundreds of metres high. Standing at the edge (there was a guardrail)
Orlando Jones realised that the cliff itself, bar a few metres, and the valley below had disappeared into the dense whiteness. The effect was one of literally standing in the clouds. On cue a chanting voice (perhaps from a lower temple), clear as a bell, came straight out of the clouds. Orlando Jones thought that this was as close to 'heaven' as she was ever likely to be. Though not spiritually inclined, she was nevertheless moved. She understood why it was that the monks had chosen such places to build their temples. The mountain temple was one of the most pristine wilderness areas that Orlando Jones had ever seen - beautiful beyond words.
On their descent, Orlando Jones and her friends picnicked and chatted to other visitors and the local villagers.
Children from the nearby villages sold "wild vegetables"(wild garlic etc.) that they had gathered from the mountain. On the ascent, Orlando Jones had made eye contact with four little boys who could barely restrain themselves from making comment about the white stranger. When Orlando Jones had passed but was still within earshot, they did. Everyone, including Orlando Jones burst into laughter. On the way down Orlando Jones made a photograph of three of the boys who were sheltering under a bright yellow umbrella with little pointed ears protruding from the top. They looked very cheeky.
Outside of the main gates of the temple mountain(s), Orlando Jones strolled in a pear blossom valley. Instead of flattening and cultivating the land in the valley as an orchard, the farmers had simply planted the pear trees randomly amongst the wild vegetation. Being Spring the trees were in full blossom, brightening up the valley with yellow blooms. Orlando Jones strolled up the valley with a Chinese colleague. Her friend, who had been born and raised in the country, pointed out all of the traditional Chinese medicinal plants growing, it seemed to Orlando Jones, everywhere.
"It is a glorious summer, and I often sit up in the trees of Lotte's orchard and take down with a long pole the pears from the highest branches. She stands below and catches them when I lower the pole." Geothe's Werther.
On Monday, Orlando Jones's legs were tired from all the mountaineering, but the effect of standing in the clouds lingered.
On the last Sunday in April, just before the weeklong May Day vacation, Orlando Jones had visited the countryside. She had travelled to Shanhaiguan, where the Great Wall ran across the city at one end of the central shopping street, and Lan Long Tou where the Wall reached out into the Bohai Sea. At the seaside, Orlando Jones had lit incense in the Temple of the Sea God in the hope of being made safe upon the seas. She watched
fishermen working in the cold water with their net. She bought Orlando Jones a strand of Bohai Sea pearls whose lustre could not be resisted. Later, at a lake high in the mountains, where masses of powton trees were in bloom, Orlando Jones had tried to photograph a white peacock, tail spread. At the moment Orlando Jones was about to click the shutter, the peacock finished his display and folded his tail away. The lustrous white circles on the peacock's fan like tail echoed the shape and lustre of the pearls. In the middle of the lake was a small island with a little pagoda on top.