Thirty-two women from the US travelling in China visiting Kwan Yin turned out to be very special. Everyone on this trip offered something unquie. I know it is just a coincidence, but there are thirty-two manifestations of Kwan Yin – thirty-two forms in which she appears and there just happened to be thirty-two of us.
Meals were fun and often an adventure. Breakfast was always offered at the hotel and usually was a pretty bountiful buffet. Many of the hotels accommodated Westerners with bread, butter, jam, eggs. Traditional Chinese breakfast consisting of congee (many times there was more than one kind), salted duck eggs, thousand year old eggs, and other salty condiments we found almost everywhere. Some places served a soft tofu that had it’s own condiments and my favorite was to add chili sauce, soy sauce, a drop of sesame oil, and green onions to it. Breakfast dim sum made of glutinous rice or a sweet yeasted bread were presented in bamboo steamers.
For lunch and dinner, we had a two tables for vegetarians and a table for meat-eaters. The meat-eaters at one point called themselves WEAT (Women Eating Animals Together) after Susan’s son’s group, MEAT (Men Eating Animals Together). I hopped around and enjoyed trying the offerings. Very often, we had no clue what we were eating. I remember our table guessing the main ingredient in one dish and the guesses were turnip, wheat gluten, or fish. If we were in doubt, we figured we were eating mushrooms. Greens were always a beautiful, fresh treat usually sauteed in a garlic sauce. I didn’t take one photograph during meals…I was way too busy. The dishes were spinning around and I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Almost no one at the restaurants spoke English – we had difficulty with water and extra utensils for serving. Most of the restaurants don’t supply serving utensils as you were expected to use your own chopstick and spoon for this task. Table jumping became a popular sport especially for Piper and Madlyn. They wanted to try everything!
Our bus rides were special events. We did some silent travel. It was nice to be rolling along with no sound but the hum of the bus’ engine watching the green fields of tea and rice pass and then be contrasted by building after building in the massive cities. Shanghai has a population of 17 plus million people so housing projects stretched out for miles.
When we weren’t silent, there was singing and chanting and, of course, chatting…lots of chatting. Sometimes LInda or Rusa just told us stories about the place we were going to visit or had visited. These were usually fables about Kwan Yin or stories about the old chan (zen) masters. We sang songs: You’ve Got a Friend, Fire and Rain, Amazing Grace, Leaving on a Jet Plane, and an Amish folk song…and even the Monkees. Yikes!
Bathrooms stops were another adventure. First one in reported: squatter or Western-style, with or without TP – all important to a bunch of sisters. Evelyn was always ready with her personal roll of toilet paper that she generously shared. Ice cream stops were popular with our group and the favorite was flavored with mung bean. We had snack galore. Thanks to our snack Queen, Stephanie from New York. Sesame flavored sweets, salted preserved plums, nuts, biscuits, and cookies were always passed around.
One very special person on our journey was our Chinese guide, Eric Lu. He had the mammoth job of keeping us together, happy, and on schedule. Eric did his job with the upmost patience and much compassion. Kwan Yin must have sent him…there’s no other way we could have been so lucky.
This was a journey of sharing and rare companions.