the golden triad

Inner Mongolia, China. August, 2010. I arrived in Xohhot, the capital of China’s semi-autonomous Inner Mongolia region a few days ago to visit a good friend of mine studying law here. We have been laying low for a few days but yesterday we decided to head the Da Zhao Monastery.

We drove through the kitschy arch that marked our entrance into a Chinese cultural center, adorned with swirling designs in plaster spattered in bright paint on top of  crumbling concrete. As Janar (the law student friend of mine) and I approached the entrance I saw a few carts covered in animal skins and enthusiastically inquired in Mongolian ‘Xoi, ta yamar yamar amtangni arstai we?’ (Hey, what animal skins do you have?)

If being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia taught me anything, it taught me about animal skins. During the coldest winters in Dakhan I would wear no less than five-types of animal (cashmere sweater, camel wool sweater, fox fur hat, (cow) leather jacket and camel leather boots) to stave off the frostbite that is commonplace with forty below temperatures.

He leafed through the pile of skins, “here we have fox, um… bear… this one’s wolf.” Odd how all of those magical animals happen to have dog paws and hair that feels exactly like dog hair. I stiffled a scoff and we entered the temple.

I haven’t been in a Buddhist temple since leaving Mongolia, and it was so refreshing to hear the monks reciting from the prayer books, to spin the prayer scrolls and to smell the one-time-familiar incense wafting through the air.

Janar and I sneaked away from the mass of visitors and entered an area that was under quite a bit of construction. We passed an enormous sleeping Saint Bernard and a large pile of coal which I assume is used to heat the temple throughout the year. We passed through a courtyard garden where peas and cucumbers were being grown and entered a temple that seemed to be fairly off the beaten path. We were reluctant to climb the stairs to the second story, but since nothing was posting forbidding it we timidly ascended the narrow red stairway into a room containing the topic of this post: The Golden Triad: A stuffed golden eagle with golden Buddha statues on either side.

I had to slide on my back , half under the stuffed eagle to get this shot. It was hard to find a composition that didn’t have the blinding sun in the reflection, but I finally found one that had good symmetry, interesting subject matter and a pleasing juxtaposition of intense colors. The blue is so deep it looks like it can just suck you in.

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