The Little Pagoda That CouldThis morning we visited the Little Wild Goose Pagoda (Xiǎoyàn Tǎ) and surrounding park in the city of Xi’an. The Pagoda was built in the early 8th century by the emperor Tang Zhongzong to house imported Buddhist scriptures. The brick structure stands at about one-hundred forty feet tall, though it was once a bit taller. It was damaged by the 1556 Shaanxi Earthquake. One of our guides, Anthony, told us a legend that the Pagoda was at first destroyed by the quake, but during an aftershock the next day, it was miraculously repaired. Though it shows some wear and tear, the Pagoda is an impressive structure, though unfortunately we could not go inside. Later in the day, we would pass by its older brother, the Large Wild Goose Pagoda, from our bus. We never found out why either of them where named after geese.
The Pagoda today is surrounded by a lovely, peaceful park, barely touched by the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city. There were some elegant bridges over a series of garden ponds, but the most interesting thing was a small monastery complex near the Pagoda. The monastery was no longer home to any monks, but was instead maintained as a way to educate people about Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty and the lives of monks. The main attraction was a large bell, which is supposed to grand wishes when struck three times. We watched Doc strike then bell, and then some of us took turns ringing it. Throughout the rest of the tour, we could occasionally hear it ringing in the distance.
Another highlight of the park was a section of the monastery from which some painters and calligraphers created and sold their art. We were told that this was how the monks once earned a living. We were given a short lesson on the evolution of Chinese script from simple pictographs to the complex characters we see today. Then the calligrapher, with the help of our local guide, Tory, painted each of our names in Chinese, and gave them to us as a gift. Part of the way through this process, Anthony revealed that he was also trained in calligraphy, and started doing people’s names to help speed things up. I had mine done by him, because I think it is a little more special to have something made by one of the guides who we are coming to know better over the course of the trip.
I also had my first experience with haggling. When one of the painters saw me looking at a large painting of a dragon on a silk scroll, which was originally priced at, I believe, 580 yuan (almost 100 dollars), he offered to lower the price. First 400, then 350, and so on. Instead of countering his offers, I simply acted disinterested, which is a tactic that many in our group seem to have found successful. By the time I was ready to leave, he stopped me on my way out the door and offered it for 200 yuan (about 30 dollars). I got the painting, but I feel like the experience was worth just as much.