The Beauty of Getting Lost

Over this past weekend, I have to and wanted to visit Chengdu. I have to visit Chengdu because I need to drop my laptop of to be repaired. I wanted to visit Chengdu because it’s the metropolis near the town where I work. It’s got temples and such, and I want to do some sightseeing.

(Forgive me in advance if I change tenses. I’m writing this on the work laptop in retrospect, but I switch to present tense sometimes).

When I travel, I do best when given a chance to get lost and then find out where I am. If there’s too much regulation, I start to rely on others too much. My brain shuts off because someone else is in charge, and I’m less likely to handle problems as well. Better to go out, get lost, get a map and struggle a little bit. Cities are good for this, because there are big cross streets. In Chengdu’s case, there is a river, and the streets are in pīnyīn (Westernized writing– what I use to type my Chinese sentences). I would be happy to rely on a wilderness guide, however – important caveat. After Bill and I spend the morning at the repair apartment/store, he drops me off at the Wuhou Temple, suggests I pick up lunch at the nearby alley, and says he’ll pick me up on Monday. So it’s me on my own for the weekend.

Wuhou temple is exactly what I needed – a quiet place to reflect. Outside, it’s all honking and congestion. The trees in Wuhou absorb it all, and there is peace and quiet. It’s a tourist spot and a functioning historical shrine – in this case to commemorate the Three Kingdoms peace. My guide book calls it the “Three Kingdom’s Period.” The temple is what I’m looking for as far as some traditional culture. There are bonsai gardens, a museum, and plenty of picturesque architectural spots. There isn’t a lot of English explanation, but I get the gist of what is being celebrated. It is, in essence, a temple dedicated to communication and alliance. There symbol for this are three weapons in a tripod – two axes and a glaive. I think it would be a good weapon – the glaive. The reach of a staff, with a sword at the end.

It is here that the first strangers ask to have my picture. Judging from their outfits, they are not from the city – the woman is bedecked in turquoise and thick clothes, the man is wearing a huge ring with a semi-precious sphere of red in the middle, and a fur hat. He says “Hello!” I reply “Hello.” And suddenly they want a picture with me. I comply, mindful of my pockets (just in case). This doesn’t happen often to me – I’ve been to a lot of places, and people don’t ask for my picture. I wish I knew how to act.

I get lunch (which gets its own, separate entry), and then I got “lost.”

I did not get lost to the point of needing a taxi – that is my determining factor. If I get truly lost and can’t unscrew myself, I flag a taxi and hand them the card from the hotel which reads “Please drive me to… [Chinese instructions]” I get lost in that I sort of know where I need to go, and sort of know how to get there. Lost in that I recognize when I’ve walked too far in the wrong direction, and know to turn around. It takes longer, but I like it. I like looking at a map I can’t read, compare it to signs I don’t really understand, and occasionally translate in my dictionary as a cross-reference. It makes finding your way that much more of an accomplishment, and it really gives you an idea of where you are.

Note: I bet if I had wifi, I would have used it to open a map app. I am being retrospectively romantic.

Second Note: If you’re going to lose yourself somewhere, buy water. And a snack – I picked up a pack of salted dried plums, much to the interest of the children in the store.

The downside of losing yourself is that if your last resort is a taxi and you don’t want to use public transport, then you will be walking. You will perhaps walk a few hours, trying to figure things out. If you didn’t stretch that morning, your hip sockets might start complaining. Your backpack, filled with oh so many useful things, will start to weigh heavier on your back. And as the light fades in the evening and all the neon turns on, your map and the street signs will be harder to read.

But when you find Qingyang Gong, the oldest Taoist temple in Chegndu, and realize you made it to where you wanted, it feels great.

I made it to Qingyang Gong just before it closed, but they let me in anyway. I don’t know that much about Taoism, except that it is more about a way of being than about worshiping a figure. Except they revere the founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu. He’s represented at Qingyang Gong in the form of two goat statues – which “represent one of [his] earthly incarnations” (Fodors 535). I liked this place a lot – I liked seeing the yin yang represented, and the discussions of balance. The English translations on most of the signs were more about the architecture than the statues or artwork, which was disappointing. I am glad, however, that so many temple buildings are single-gabled.

From Qingyang Gong, it was another hike to the hotel, where I collapsed on my bed (I checked first, so I knew I could). My legs were exhausted, but it was a satisfying feeling.

But I decided that the next morning, I’m using the metro. I challenged myself, and I succeeded, but I’m not a masochist.

Personal growth: I’m expanding my horizons by physically crossing them.

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