Dear Rev. Mugo,
It was a very good trip, but not what I expected. I was disappointed to learn upon arrival that we would not go to the Ling-Yin Monastery as indicated in the itinerary, apparently the company has had complaints from tourists about seeing "too many Buddhist temples" although I think our group would all have found it interesting. We did go to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian and I offered incense and lit 3 candles in the front, and climbed to the top of the pagoda. The scriptures (brought from India by and translated by Xuan Zhuang, 7th c. AD) were all hung on the walls, but written in Chinese, and so I wasn't able to know what they said. In one of the side buildings, there was an amazing mural made of lacquer and jade in 3 full wall panels depicting the life of the Buddha, a wonderful teaching tool. I don't know how old it was but it was very impressive. I didn't have a chance to talk to or see any monks at that temple, but purchased some items in one of the shops on the grounds. We also went to a Taoist park in Hangzhou, which was interesting to see, with statues and other sculptures offering opportunities for good luck wishes.
My general impression of China is that it is experiencing major changes in their social and economic structure, and hopefully becoming more accessible to Westerners. I did see many Buddhist objects in all of the shops we encountered (way too many shops, in my opinion!) but because I was on a commercial tour, very little attention was paid to any of the religious practices of the Chinese people. I did notice how the three major religions of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism seem to be blended a lot in the culture.
Our tour focused on historical sites and cultural experiences, primarily. We ate well, had very good hotels, excellent guides, and comfortable travel accommodations. I would have preferred less shopping opportunities and more sites, but I guess that is part of that kind of tour. (I've never been on a tour before...) I'm very glad I went, and if I were to go again, I would do it differently, focusing on Buddhist temples.
Thanks for this. It just shows how very different your tour in China was to my journey last year.