We headed up the mountain after taking a sharp left on a small dirt road in Xinlu, China. This is a small village town about 30 miles from Longyan. The roads were narrow and steep, the driver laid on the horn around every turn to alert anyone who might be coming down the mountain that he was on his way up. I was told that the views when we got to the top were some of the best in China. They didn’t disappoint.
When we got to the top of mountain we visited an old Buddhist temple. The patrons were putting on a show because I was part of a tour group, there wasn’t cheap trinkets being sold to us unassuming American tourists, this was the real deal. People have been coming here for decades worshiping their ancestors for giving them the opportunities they have today. The lay plates of freshly picked oranges, grapes and bananas. They burn paper money and large sticks of incense. The belief is all the smoke floats to the heavens and all those who passed away before them bask in its glory.
The temple is home to nearly 25 enormous gold-plated gods. The two fat buddhas sit in front and along the side walls are smaller, but still impressive ancient gods of old. No matter who you worship you are covered here. Patrons stand in front of their supreme being and slow bow as they say a prayer and waive the incense up and down. Cautious as to if I should be taking pictures I move to the back of the temple and take in the moment that some of these families have driven several hours to pray and give thanks. It keeps occurring to me that this is real and I am very lucky to be part of it.
After sounding off, what seems to be miles, of thunderous fireworks (they believe the ancestors can hear them) we headed for a small village where my brother-in-law was raised. It was down the mountain about 2 miles and a very sharp left turn. And there is was. As if taken from a Disneyland replica to show how a China family lived 100 years ago. The house was tattered. Made of rocks, sand and stone. Each roof tile unique, windows made out of rolled steel and the woks used nearly a century ago were still placed on top of the hand-made cook top. On the wall of the common area (family room) still had the picture of the controversial father of communism President Mao Zedong. Each room had its own door with red strips of paper hung in the doorway. Still old wooden tables and handmade wood baskets were leaned against the side of the house. Most likely used to wash the clothes in the stream that was a rock throw away. In the front yard sat a family size wok that was being stocked by dried bamboo trunks. I was motioned to walk around the side of the house and there is was, in all it’s glory, something old. Something very old. Looked like a catapult from ancient times. An enormous hammer supported by handmade hinges. To the side of a rock well that was full of water, which my wife says will never run dry. They brought a bucket of cooked sticky rice and dumped it into the large hole in front of the gauntlet. Two people with their feet pushed the hammer up and down and two older ladies very carefully folded the sticky rice after each pound. These ladies have done this before, looked very dangerous, put your hand in there too quick and I imagine there would be serious issues. But the ladies smiled and spoke back and forth as if they were sipping hot tea. Truly timeless. What remained after about 5 minutes of pounding was a beautiful bowl of marshmallow textured goodness. They would roll the smashed rice into small balls, about the size of a ping-pong ball, roll them in peanuts and sugar and enjoy. They were good, really good.
Then my wife motioned me to follow her. Hand in hand we walked into a chefs dream. An outdoor kitchen from nearly 100 years ago. To the right were 3 enormous size woks, seasoned black and oiled as if someone’s old jet black mustang. To the left was a steamer, made out of stainless so must have been newer, but it sat atop a fire stoked with bamboo. Directly ahead was the sink. Fresh water that ran down from the mountain, through a miles and miles of bamboo and draining off a piece of bamboo that was cut length wise. There caring to all the fresh veggies were two local ladies, one with a large bamboo saucer hat and the other with a handmade apron. They were busy, real busy, shouting instructions to each other in their native village language, all of which my wonderful wife speaks fluently to this day. We were going to have a feast. 4 large tables filled up the dining area, each table home to at least a dozen hungry family members. The meal was good, we left with a smile on this 300 pound Americans face.
As we drove down the mountain I slowly swiped through the pictures on my phone and thought about the days adventure. What would have it been like to live there 100 years ago. What was life like? Then it occurred to me I experienced it all. A Sunday trip to the temple to remember the ancestors, shooting off fireworks to give thanks. Meeting extended family and enjoying great food that was cooked with fresh ingredients and wood fired woks. And the cherry on top was the sticky rice candy that was made right before my eyes. They were right, the views at the top of the mountain were fantastic, but going back in time was even better.
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