It was during Moonfestival, the streets were filled with people, when I decided to take off for a hike behind Nanputuo temple in Xiaman in Southern China and suddenly found myself lost. It was a hot and humid day.
Nervous for a moment, I looked to the left and right and through the dense forest, when I suddenly heard someone's gentle footsteps walking over small fallen off branches and foliage on the ground. Suddenly a Chinese monk appeared in front of me. And although I wasn't able to explain myself to him in words he quickly could pick up from my gestures that I needed his guidance to find my way back. So, he invited me to follow him. But as we kept hiking and climbing over rocks, I realized he was lost like me.
We kept on moving, stopped in between, and smiled at each other, and kept on moving, stopped in between, and smiled at each other.
We then hiked around the mountain, when a young Chinese woman came across us. She spoke English and knew the way back to Nanputuo temple. Enthusiastic to meet a Westerner, she decided to join us. Later, I found out she was a student at the university, where I taught at. I was glad to have an interpreter on my side, although I would have preferred to communicate directly. The monk walked ahead of us and we followed him. We started laughing joyously, as I was trying to take pictures of the monk and his feet. His gown sometimes floated in the wind within trees and bushes, which seemed mysterious and poetic to me.
When we took a rest on top of the mountain, the monk sat down cross-legged and told us the story how he once was in love with a young woman, before he turned into a monk. However, the woman's mother didn't want her daughter to be with him, because he was a vegetarian. Heartbroken over this he turned into a monk. Years after though the mother and daughter turned into vegetarians themselves, so that the daughter was looking for him. And when she found him, she learned it was too late for them to rekindle their relationship, because as a monk he no longer could be with a woman.
There was a moment of silence.
Before our paths split down at Nanputuo temple the monk offered me to go on a journey with him to another monastry a bit further up north. I kindly refused the offer, although the idea of it seemed adventurous. Before I left, he asked, if I could send him copies of the photographs, but then we realized it would be difficult, he had no home and an e-mail address and was moving from monastry to monastry.
Story and photos by Simone Kussatz
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