Leshan is the home of the largest Buddha in the world. “Shan” means mountains and the giant Buddha is carved into the side of a mountain overlooking the river, facing Mount Emei. Our cultural guide for this trip was Huang Ming, a friend and previous classmate of our usual guide, Alex. Huang Ming was very sweet and we had a great conversation on the bus ride to her hometown of Leshan. We both had many questions about our perspective Chinese and
American cultures and found many similarities and differences. When we arrived to Leshan, we were fortunate to have her dad there to pick us up. It was so nice to have locals to show us around Leshan! Huang Ming’s father took us to a famous dumpling restaurant in town where I ate the best dumplings I’ve had since being in China. After we ate, we were off to see the giant Leshan Buddha.
Although the stairs leading up to the giant Buddha were a bit challenging (unless you’re in really good shape), I was actually surprised to realize that we were at the top of the Buddha after not too long of a climb. The Leshan Buddha started being built in 713 during the Tang Dynasty. Behind the Buddha were caves that had been built by the monks and workers who helped to carve the Buddha. The Buddha took around 90 years to finish! I have seen many Buddhas
during my travels in Southeast Asia, but this was by far the most impressive. Walking down the windy, narrow, and slippery staircase is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully I am not afraid of heights or water! Along the walls of the mountain were carved tiny Buddhas and Chinese symbols leading all the way down the steps. It must have taken great dedication for those who labored such long and dangerous hours to carve symbols of their religious beliefs for the future centuries to come.
After visiting the Leshan Buddha and all of the temples and beautiful pagodas surrounding it, Huang Ming’s father picked us up and we went to a restaurant owned by Huang Ming’s friend. The people working at the restaurant told Huang Ming and her father that we, the Americans, were like giant pandas. At first, we were slightly confused and didn’t know if we should be offended by this. And then we realized that it was a compliment, meaning that we are special and interesting to look at for the Chinese people. I have definitely felt like a giant panda at times because so many people ask to take pictures or be in pictures with us. Sometimes, parents will even tell their children they are acting like giant pandas if their children are acting spoiled because in China, giant pandas get everything they want for being such a famous symbol. After enjoying the traditional Sichuan dinner, Huang Ming took us to see her old high school.
Huang Ming’s high school was impressive and looked more like a university. I was thinking about the 23 people in my graduating class compared to the 1000+ students in each of the classes at this high school. Huang Ming also told me that she started school at 7am and didn’t finish until 10pm at night! Another thing that I learned is that the Chinese students feel much more pressure in high school
than American students. Because there are so many people in China, there is a lot more competition and only the highest scoring students get the opportunities that other students do not. In high school, the students must choose what they will study in college. Once in college, they are not able to change their minds, unlike American college students who get two years in college to declare a major. However, the cost of university tuition in China is next to nothing compared to U.S. college tuition. It’s fascinating to learn about the differences in the education here in China, but it also made me thankful for some of the benefits of the American education system.