Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Nanjing Memorial

Well here I was in Nanjing. I had survived my first solo train trip, found my hostel and the sun was shining. It was time to hit the subway and explore.

My first stop was the presidential palace and it was a nightmare of epic proportions. I have been to blundering tourist sites before but this was different in its chaos. You would thing the world was coming to an end with all the screaming, pushing, shoving and general mayhem, and that was just to buy a ticket. I had to deal with abrasive vendors, touts trying to sell bogus tickets, aggressive beggars, honking horns and screaming kids. This old white Western dude took it all in for 5 minutes and said "no freaking way" loud enough to scare the person beside me and off I went. There was a Buddhist temple that was a five minute walk away and I hoped that they would restore my good karma.

There are six Buddhist Temples in Nanjing and I was heading to Pilu which was built in 1522-1566. I know nothing about Buddhism traditions except for Monks in orange robes, Karma and the Fat Guy at the centre of it all. This temple is famous for a variety of reasons but the one that caught my attention was that it was visited by the 14th Dali Llama during his time. The courtyard was smallish compared to others I have visited and as with the others there is very little, if any, outside noise. Tranquil gardens surrounded by ponds of Koi and elderly worshipers added to the aura. There was a prayer ceremony in the main building that I was forbidden to enter at the time. So as payback I went around back and snapped a quick photo.

I then sat and listened and took it all in. Monks chanting and banging the large gong, the smell in incense, the large Buddha in the courtyard, the ponds, the worshipers and the feeling of tranquility. My mood was shattered when the praying stopped and I heard very aggressive speaking over over a crackling speaker. Not knowing what I was hearing I poked my head inside and watched as all the worshipers that had followed the monks into the temple were digging into their purses, wallets and pockets. Different religion, same game. The spell was broken and I was out of there.

I headed back to the subway and walked past the depravity that was probably a daily ritual at the Presidential Palace. It was time to go to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial which was the primary reason for my visit. I have been a "dark tourist" in the past. I did not know what to expect so I opened my mind wide ready to take it all in.

First, the memorial is Free. Get off the subway, go through security and enter. There was no huge entrance fee because you were going to enter anyways with the standard "all money goes to the maintenance of the site" bullshit. I found a guide who was eager to lead me through the initial courtyard. Maybe 19 years old she smiled knowingly at me and said "The Chinese Government and the City of Nanjing will not profit from the deaths of 300,000. We are here to honor them". 

I took this quote from a CNN Travel Article that captured the moment I entered the memorial.
"The memorials solemnity ensnares visitors as they walk through open courtyards to the main building.

Yes it was crowed with people as is everywhere in China. Yes many of them were taking smiling and peace sign flashing selfies unaware of where they were. Yes, I looked past all of it and wanted to take in the experience in my own personal way. What I did notice was after the initial "excitement" of being here the reality of the place started to slowly seep into the photo snap happy Chinese. As we reached the end of the long entrance pathway each statue brought a little more quiet into the masses. When we reached the entrance I stopped briefly to look back in the direction that I came from, a habit I picked up as a Volcano guide in Nicaragua. The mass of now quiet people were walking slowly with a bit of trepidation and with what looked like growing concern.

Dec 13, 1937
Began the inhuman massacre!
Unarmed and defenseless civilians
Flee,The only hope to survive

How wretched she was my poor wife !
The devil raped you, stabbed you..
We were together even though we died.
The devils aircraft bombed again..
The poor orphans,
Frightened by the vicious laugh of the brutal devils,
Terriefied by the corpses piling up in the alley,
Have lapsed into numbness

A Thirteen-year-old carrying his
grandmother who has died in the bombing

Flee - flee - flee

My dear mother in the eighties,

Hurry up! Run away from the devils blood-bath!
Never will a sacrificed soul bear the
humiliation of the devils!
Only to die! Only to die!
Only death can wipe off the stain!!
Simple in it's design, the long path into the memorial is a sobering display of monuments depicting various form of human suffering and distress. Each statue displaying a situational message giving a life like quality and a reality to their individual horrors.

"Frigidity and horror have frozen this crying baby!
Poor thing, Not knowing mum has been killed
Blood, milk and tears
Have frozen, never melting"

The memorial passes through a historical timeline of events that include pictures, videos, testimonials of survivors, war artifacts, art and poetry. Each display was in multiple languages allowed everyone who passes time to read and reflect.

Nearing the end you enter the Grave of 10,000.  The Memorial was built on an actual massacre site and with museum like precision you are given a viewing of skeletal remains of some of the victims. Included are their sage and how their died. Bayoneting in the ribs, large nails hammered into skulls, shot through the head. A brutal reminder that these were people who suffered not just stories from history.

I took my time to take it all in. When you leave there is a huge peace memorial surrounded by a park with walking trails. You can view other memorials or sit and take it all in. Most people I saw just filed past the Peace Memorial and sadly headed for the exit. When it was time to go there were two options. The first that most people were taking was to the left, over a bridge and out of the park. The second was to right and back in the direction of the entrance but you had to pass through the building. Ah ha! I said to no one but loud enough to be heard. Here is where they hit you with the "gift shop". Oh, my cynical Western mind. I enter what turned out to be a massive 3 story museum on the rise and fall of Fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan and China's experiences in the war.  Well designed and incredibly interesting I wandered the "gift shop" for a little over 3 hours.

I had predisposed that I would be mentally and emotionally exhausted once I visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. I was anything but that. I felt calm, informed and had gained a new level of respect for the Chinese by the entire experience. Everything was designed and planned perfectly, if I can use the adverb perfectly in a situation like this.

"Share with the world what you see here today Mr. Ken. Canada needs to learn more about our tragic history ".  The soft and quiet lilt of the voice from my young guide was the one thing that finally put a lump in my throat.

No comments: