The next day I met another Steve, from Berlin. I should mention most of the Westerners I’ve met in China have been named Steve, which can be confusing at times, but makes it very easy to remember names.
Despite having a Chinese girlfriend, Berliner Steve was not as enamored with Chinese culture as you’d think, an attitude I’m finding is not that uncommon among expats in the cities.
Steve 3, his girlfriend, and I walked to Nanputuo (literally ‘South Putuo’) Temple between our hostel and the university.
According to Wikipedia:
“The Nanputuo Temple is located on the southwest of Xiamen Island. It is surrounded by the graceful sea and the Wulao Peaks behind the temple… During the remaining years of the Tang dynasty, the monks who inhabited the place had established it into a Buddhist sacred land.”
As we joined the tourists throwing coins into the pagoda sculpture in the courtyard, he pointed out all the ways the temples profit from their patrons. I had never thought about that in relation to Buddhism. I mean, I picture Buddhist monks as about as non-possessive as you can get.
Also I pointed out that (1) I didn’t think collecting coins from the padoga was a huge capital-earning venture for the temple, and (2) Buddhism had no monopoly on religious profiteering.
I asked, for example, if he had ever seen shows like the ones in America with preachers soliciting for donations, and of the scandals that have ensued.
He said not only do they have shows like that in Germany, they have OUR shows of preachers soliciting donations. Which I personally apologized for.
But he wasn’t talking about coin collecting or televangelists. “You wouldn’t spend ten dollars to pass a test,” he said.
He was referring to a tendency of young people in China to make an offering before a difficult exam to whichever god rewards studious behavior. Or more accurately, whichever god rewards religious devotion in lieu of studious behavior.
No I wouldn’t. But I would have been willing to make an offering to the goddess of sunny weather, as the she had yet to make an appearance in Xiamen in the time I’d been there.
I told Steve I was thinking about visiting Kunming, the “City of Eternal Spring” to get the sun I so longed for. Steve had just come from Kunming and, like the Brit in Shanghai, hated it passionately and advised staying as far away as humanly possible. He was still coughing up dust from the experience.
Instead, he recommended the warmth and sun of Hong Kong.
I didn’t get a chance to talk with Berliner Steve as much as I would have liked, for I was off the next day to see the region’s second biggest tourist attraction, the Hakka houses.