My first trip outside of Shenzhen took me to the Guangdong provincial capital of Guangzhou. It was a New Year’s trip as we had a three-day weekend from the school — and I had only re-acquired my passport with my residence permit a couple weeks prior. As I didn’t have much money from the single month’s pay I had received at the beginning of December, an hour and a half bus ride to Guangzhou with a stay at a budget hotel sounded like a great idea.
On this trip through Guangzhou, I stopped at most of the culturally significant destinations in the city: the tomb of the Nanyue King, Chen Clan Academy and folk art museum, and Yuexiu Park. But the first stop on the journey through the city was Guangxiao Temple, the first of many temples that I’d visit during my time in China.
Despite my two years in grad school at Naropa University, I knew very little of Buddhist traditions or imagery, and I didn’t have anyone with me who could explain it all to me. Instead, I stood back and took in the beauty of the temple.
Guangxiao is the largest and oldest Buddhist temple in Guangdong Province, dating back to the days of the Nanyue King. However, much of the temple has been renovated over the centuries — most recently during my final trip to Guangzhou in 2009 when I barely recognized most of the temple.
As it was New Year’s Day when I visited, there were a lot of people visiting Guangxiao Temple. The temple itself is divided into quite a few shrines. My favorite part of the temple was the turtle pool in which people “release” turtles into the care of the temple. It was a rather overcrowded pool, with turtles climbing over one another for space on the rocks and statues throughout.
Later in my journey through China and other parts of Southeast Asia, I visited more impressive temples, many of which made attempts in English to educate tourists, but Guangxiao still holds a special place for me. There’s even a gold Buddha card I bought at a shop outside the temple that still has a place in my wallet — I was told it’d protect me (at least nothing ever happened to my wallet).