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108 braids... the devotional representation of a sacred Tibetan number. Photo by Rebecca Thom, China Semester.


On the outskirts of Kunming stands Xuning Temple, a Buddhist place of worship splashed with tangerine gold, navy blue, and a strong, bold red. Adorning the temple stands a massive golden Buddha, whose four faces watch in every direction the residents of the homogenous, concrete dominoes below. Before embarking on what would be a month’s trekking into the rural Yunnan countryside, our cohort reached the temple for a vegetarian lunch.

With some time left before entering the dining hall, I stopped by a small vendor’s stand, which I assumed sold Xuning souvenirs. I found instead that it sold jewelry, but as to not offend and show complete disinterest, I did not leave immediately. Running the stand was a woman in her golden sixties, modestly dressed yet luxuriously welcoming. When I approached her, she unveiled a contagious toothy smile and excitedly said Hao jiu bu jian, “long time no see!” She immediately reached for the box behind her, pulled out two bright, red apples, and handed them to me. Very much confused, I took the apples, uncertain on what to do with them. I had never been to either Xuning Temple or China, so I was certain I could not have met the woman before. She began to speak enthusiastically to me about our supposed previous contact, but I had difficulty comprehending because her accent differed greatly to what I was used to. When I finally admitted to her that we had never met before, she didn’t show disappointment, but rather smiled with the same enthusiasm from before and said “Enjoy them! They’re a gift.”

After lunch, we were allowed to explore. I approached the central temple, and was greeted by a friendly monk as humble in speech as he was in his appearance, which consisted of plain yellow robes, worn sandals, and a shaved head. He gave me a warm welcome with his limited English, and in turn, and we spent some time conversing on complex theological topics with my solely conversational Mandarin. Before we concluded giving our formal farewells, the monk unexpectedly pulled out the latest Chinese smartphone from his robes and said “Add me on WeChat!”

I left the temple now with four bright red apples, and my seventh friend on my Chinese social media account.

Whether shop or temple, kindness was in no shortage in Kunming. After my return to the city in October, I hope to be able to someday give away apples of my own; not with any particular underlying motive, but for the mere joy that comes with giving apples to a “long lost acquaintance,” or a monk with a new foreign friend on WeChat.