Exploring Harbin: Buddhist Temple and Jile Pagoda (极乐塔)

This weekend we had class on Saturday because our Academic Advisor didn’t want us to have two long weekends in a row. This weekend was a “double holiday weekend:” 1) Mid-Autumn Festival and 2) National Holiday (Chinese Communist Party’s Birthday). On Sunday, Mid-Autumn Festival, I decided to celebrate by exploring Harbin. I organized a trip to visit a Buddhist Temple nearby. A few classmates (Mallory, Jenny, and Ryan) joined me.

We first got onto a bus from Harbin Institute of Technology and then rode for about thirty minutes East through the city to Nangang District. Even though this is my third time visiting China, I am still not comfortable riding buses. It’s easy to miss your stop and get lost. So, my normal routine is to find friendly faces and ask them which stop we’re at. We successfully hit our final destination, got off, but saw no temple. Once again, I found a friendly face and politely asked where the Confucian Temple is. However, whenever I ask one Chinese person a question, everyone listens since I’m a foreigner. A middle-aged fellow said that he was going in that general direction. He led us into an underground underpass that was a technology shopping district (under the 6-lane highway above!) and showed us how to get to the other side of the road. We got through the maze of small shops and onto the road again. The middle-aged man gave us his business card: Center for Eye Science Studies (Ph.D) .

We walked down the street for five minutes and then were surprised to see a magnificent, colorful gate next to the highway. We walked through.

Jixiang Gate (吉样 auspicious) and Ancient Tales of the Past

The narrow park was lined with stone tablets that showed century-old tales. All the stories were in Ancient Chinese (which I am currently studying), so I understood about %20 of their meaning. At the end of the semester, I should come back and see how much I have improved. We exited the cobblestone pavilion and found the Buddhist Temple on the other side.

Outside the temple were Chinese peddlers illegally selling parakeets and disabled/crippled Chinese begging for money. It’s been a while since I have seen a beggar in China. They are often in tourist spots (especially religious tourism spots). They are persistent, but politely smile, saying “Xiexie Xiexie (thank you)” or “Hallo Hallo (hello).” Most are missing an arm, a leg, or an eye. A little (person) woman approached me asking for money. I don’t normally give money because I feel uncomfortable. This uncomfortableness comes from much experience with seeing this population during my stays in China. Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner that disabled and crippled Chinese flock to me when I walk by: Laowai must be wealthy! One aspect of China that makes me squirm: the disabled that have injuries that are NOT natural and beg for money (for others’ benefit, most likely). I’d rather not continue with what I have seen, but if you’re interested, you can send me a message.

Back to the fun part of my day, we entered the Buddhist Temple.

Chinese Praying to Buddha on the Mid-Autumn Festival

We entered the temple and immediately smelled incense smoke. Due to the holiday, many people were praying. The architecture of the buildings in the temple were mesmerizing: tall red columns, intricate designs of blue, yellow, and green along the golden tiled roofs. The rooms in the temples were large and open, each with their own statue of Buddha or different gods, and locals kowtowing to them (three bows facing, three bows not-facing).

  Ferris Wheel Peaks over the Temple

In the temple, I felt at ease. It was quiet, the smell of incense was soothing, and the company of friends made it fun. While walking by a large bell, I noticed above the dragon-lined roof of a worship hall that there was a Ferris Wheel. The juxtaposition of traditional Chinese architecture and the western amusement park device intrigued me. I took a picture.

Jile Pagoda (极乐塔)

We made it to what brought us here in the first place, the Jile Pagoda. I was not expecting the temple to be so vast with beautiful worship halls, trees, gardens, and the bustling local population praying to different gods. I was presently surprised. The Jile Pagoda was the icing on the cake. It was very impressive. Inside the hall below the pagoda were descriptions of hell. I am not familiar with Buddhism, but I was not aware that they had a hell. I need to look into how Indian and Chinese Buddhism are different.

We waited while our classmate prayed and then walked back to entrance. We spent about two and a half hours at the temple. It was a good visit. I often get sucked into big city culture that I forget how beautiful China can be. Going to this temple helped soothe my soul and prepare me for another couple weeks in Harbin–a big, urbanized Chinese city–and its big city culture.

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