Bai Yun Guan, or White Cloud Temple (白云观) is one of the most important Taoist temples in China. This temple is the seat of the Long Men sect of Daoism. Our teacher, Chen Yang guided the group through the temple providing details on history and Taoism. The group was very interested in the philosophy and approach of Taoist cultivation, particularly the concept of Taoist Immortality (仙). Dr. Chen joined us on the way to the airport for an interesting Q&A session which compared Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity.
Our flight to Xian was uneventful, except that four of our party received a complimentary upgrade to first class. This is the first time I’ve travelled on a first class flight in China. It was a fascinating look at the seams of two cultures influencing each other. Unfortunately, Chinese aviation is modeled on the US. However, the service is definitively Asian in standard – by that I mean good. The stewardesses were quite nice – in stark contrast to many American flight attendants. The food was surprisingly good. We had a choice of three menus – all served in porcelain dishes with real silver ware. I choose the beef, which turned out to be a reasonably good filet mingon! They offered a Chilean red wine – a nod to the fact that even Chilean wine is better than most of the Chinese red wine production. Although it was interesting that they poured it into a tiny little snifter – obviously intended for their Bei Jiao (White liquor, aka Rocket Fuel). It took about four pours to equal one class of wine. The stewardess did not mind at all. In fact, they seemed to actually enjoy their job. After dinner they offered tea. While one was offering me a choice of Dragon Well (Long Jing, Long Ching) or Iron Buddha (Tie Guan Yin, Ti Kuan Yin) another decided I should have both!
The plane was brand new and had three rows of two seats. On my far left sat a westerner (Lao Wai, 老外) who spoke fluent Chinese. He spent the entire flight reading his Chinese book and skipped the meal. On my far right was a Chinese businessman. He was quite puzzled at what to do with the butter. Instead of putting it on the fresh baked garlic bread they served with the meal, he thought maybe it should go on the cheesecake desert. (Note: the Chinese do not traditionally have a concept of desert like we do in the West so this guy really didn’t know what to do with the cheesecake or the butter.)
Our bus driver in Xian was a very nice and skillful driver. The further you are from the central government, the more chaotic things seem to be in China. Traffic in Xian followed this pattern, so our driver earned his skill the hard way. He dropped us at the largest mosque in China, located in the Muslim market section of the city (or rather, the market grew up around the Mosque.) We had to wind our way through its narrow rows of merchants to get to the mosque. In what was perhaps a nod to religious respect, the merchants were not aggressive on the way into the temple. Even as we left they were persistent without being rude, a rare experience in most marketplaces in China.
This mosque is interesting because it is the only one built in the style of a traditional Chinese temple. Unlike most Islamic temples, which avoid depictions of people or animals for religious reasons, this one contains a few images of Dragons. Traditionally a temple in China will feature dragon motifs prominently in the art and architecture. Although the Dragons were hidden in comparison to the way they are featured in a Taoist or Buddhist temple, they were still there.