I am reminiscing brought on by watching this movie “Amongst White Clouds” about Chinese Mountain Monks. 2002 was a wierd work year. For the academic year 2001-2002 I was working in a Middle East school. This was the second Middle East school I had been in, and was promised by the management that they were supportive of staff – anyone who was working in the Middle East at that time knows that non-Arab peoples are considered indentured workers but teachers are well paid indentures. But the biggest problem is that kids of the wealthy generally run the schools, this was why commitment by the management to the staff support was so important. But additionally for me at that time it was needed because I was asked to bring in a new maths curriculum. Because the management lied I ended up in confrontation with the kids, I saw the conflict growing but was determined to persevere knowing that the administration had promised support. I should have known better than trust management and I was sacked.
What has this to do with Chinese mountain monks? My next job was in Chengdu, and their academic year started in November, basically I had 6 months between contracts. I spent some time in Turkey on the way back to the UK to see my parents, and some time in Thailand on the way to the contract. But mostly I was in the UK, and China fascinated me – the Orient always had. I began reading all China, not least of which was Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans”. I began to love the strength of these tiny women. I spent some time that Summer in Harnham, and the Abbott (LP Munindo) told me he didn’t read much – compared to me he thought – but that John Blofeld had written a fascinating book about times with Chinese Mountain Monks “My Journey in Mystic China: Old Pu’s Travel Diary”. I don’t have this but here is one similar – referred to in the movie. By the end of that Summer I was greatly looking forward to China, envisaging a long stay there. Silly me I forgot about the crazy teacher careerists.
My trip out to Chengdu was strange. I was going via Copenhagen, and there was an announcement “would anyone like to stay at the local Hilton and we will pay them $400?” After a bit of hesitation I volunteered, stayed two nights, greedily failed for a third, and had my holiday in Thailand paid for. The airline had overbooked, apparently it is common place to book 110% (whatever figure) as there are always cancellations. This time there weren’t, and I got a free holiday – flight paid for by the job and the holiday paid for by a statistical anomaly.
Needless to say all the fantasies about China’s monks did not materialise. I took a trip up to the mountains one time, I think it was Xiling skiing resort, not to the mountains of these monks. I was the only louai on a Chinese minibus tour, so by the time I arrived I WANTED TO BE ALONE – because of who I am not because of my temporary Chinese friends. I walked away from the ski resort up the mountain, but I was careful – mountains are mountains. Whilst I didn’t follow any paths I could clearly see the skiing village. Famous last words. The clouds came down and I lost sight of my haven. Still only a few kms. I walked down the mountain expecting to reach the road – no road. I walked further and began to panic, walking faster. In the UK I had bought a high quality RAB anorak for the Chinese mountains, but I was hot and tied it round my waste. I continued walking through the scrub, and suddenly the jacket wasn’t there. Rushing thorough my mind a night in this and the jacket would keep me warm, now no jacket.
And here is the wierdest. After a long time I met the road, nothing to see either way. Coming down the mountain and meeting the road I should have turned left to walk up to the skiing village. But turning left led me down the valley. Many years before in the Ardennes whilst reading Castaneda I had learnt never to be fooled by “civilisation” and its tricks when you are out wild. Common sense told me I needed to walk up to the village so I turned right. Within 1 km there were people sounds and soon the village. Somehow in that walking I had got completely turned around, to this day I don’t know how. Fascinating, cost me a £150 coat.
I liked China but it was such a different culture. The students were great but the teachers were some of the worst careerists I’ve ever encountered. I hardly scratched the surface my year in Chengdu, but because of the teachers my time was cut short.
If you’re interested in Chinese Mountain Monks the movie “Amongst White Clouds” will interest you, it is not riveting. If that is your way to learn give them a go, I am sure they will accommodate serious students.