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Waiting for the Living Buddha

‘We’re all waiting for the 活佛 huofo‘ the young woman told me. I nodded, pretending I had any idea at all about what she was talking about.
We were at the De’er Monastery in Gansu, drawn in by the enormous gathering crowds we’d seen as we drove past. 
‘It’s a fair!’ the girls said from the back of the campervan, seeing a line of tents and some smoke in the distance. 
一个年轻的女子告诉我"我们正在等活佛的出现。"我装作听懂了一些她所说的话,点了点头。我们正在甘肃的德尔隆寺,途中看到拥挤的人潮,我们的车就在人流中缓缓开动。房车后面传来女儿们的声音"是集市!"我看到远处有一排帐篷,炊烟袅袅升起。人们骑着摩托(车上至少骑着四个人),开着拖拉机(至少载着六个人),或是敞篷三轮卡车(没有至少,每辆都达到了最大载人量)从四面八方赶来,看起来就像是赶集。

It certainly looked like a fair – people were arriving from every direction by motorbike (minimum four to a bike) by tractor (minimum six to a tractor) or by open-backed tricycle trucks (no minimum, or for that matter, maximum number).
Those arriving were dressed in their finest and most splendid Tibetan dress – long woolen coats lined in silk brocade or fur with sleeves that hung almost to the ground, velvet jackets, silk tunics in bright colours, red silk sashes, belts studded with rows of raised silver discs, heavy coral and turquoise earrings, heavier strings of amber and coral beads, felt hats and leather boots. And that was just the men. 
The women were dressed even more ornately with heavy silver tassels hanging from their belts, their black hair parted and plaited into two long plaits falling down their backs. Those with insufficient hair of their own supplemented their plaits with coloured silk, plain black wool or black yak hair.
那些赶来的人们都身着最好最隆重的藏族服饰人们穿着以丝绸或是织锦滚边的羊毛长大衣,袖长几乎触地;天鹅绒夹克,丝绸束腰上绣着绚丽的云朵;红色的丝制肩带,腰带上镶有成排的银质圆点;戴着厚重的珊瑚石和绿松石耳环,以及更重的琥珀和珊瑚石串,头戴毡帽足蹬皮靴。而这仅是男子的装扮。女子的装扮更为华丽,她们的腰带上悬挂着银质流速,黑色的秀发被分编成两股垂在背后,头发不够浓密的女子们则用彩色丝线,黑色的羊毛或牦牛毛装点秀发。

Spectacle doesn’t begin to describe the procession of rich colours, textures and decorations. Most arrived in extended family groups with grandparents, parents and children together carrying bags of apples or jujubes, with picnic rugs and umbrellas.
Whatever was happening, it looked like a lot of fun. Could it be the inauguration of a new temple building? An annual harvest festival? It’s tricky though, when you don’t speak the local Tibetan language and you really have no idea whether this is someone important’s birthday party, or a very upbeat funeral.
We could figure this much: the focus of the event was definitely the temple, and the crowds were beginning to seat themselves on the ground radiating out from the central low temple building decked with orange, white and red flags. Something might be about to happen!
色彩之灿烂,质地之丰富,装饰之繁复难以绘制于笔端。大部分人都是祖父母,父母和孩子一大家子出动,带着成袋的苹果,枣子,还有野餐的毛毯和伞。不管在发生什么,场面看起来都乐趣无穷。这是不是一所新寺庙的落成典礼?一场年度丰收庆功宴?尽管很微妙,但当你不说当地的藏语,你就不知道这到底是某位重要人物的生日聚会还是一场乐观的葬礼。
或者,都不是。我们找到一小块空地坐下,就像摇滚音乐会上一样,观众们满怀期待地等着,而不知道乐队已醉倒在别处酒店的房间里了。
我边等边寻找线索(十名僧人突然出现走向高台!这意味着什么?),同时给坐在我们身旁的华美生动的藏族家庭拍照。天知道他们眼中的我们在做什么。我们能推测出:活动的焦点毫无疑问是寺庙,寺庙的低矮建筑装点着橙色,白色,红色的旗帜,拥挤的人群正陆续围绕寺庙席地而坐。即将发生一些什么事情了!


Please somebody, tell me what this happy occasion is?
Or….not. We found a patch of ground to sit on, and waited expectantly, like being at a rock concert where the audience are as yet unaware that the band are passed out drunk in a hotel room elsewhere.
I passed the time looking for clues (a sudden movement of ten monks towards the upper platform! what could it mean?) and taking portraits of the wonderful and beautiful Tibetan families seated near us. Lord knows what they thought we were doing there. 
然后我们的运气来了。在两万名极少有人会说汉语的藏传佛教徒中,有一位来自邻近城镇的十五岁女孩发现了我们,她找到我们然后和我们练习她有限的英语,她的老师让她这么做的。她很高兴我们会说汉语,然后给我们提供了即时的事件信息,那可帮了我们大忙了,因为我们对眼前的情况仍一无所知。
"活佛来了!"在我绞尽脑汁想这是什么意思的时候,她又说了了一遍,最后我只能放弃,掏出了我可靠的苹果辞典,上面说:
活佛:活的佛陀。
现在你可能会认为,我们已经在青海和甘肃的藏区呆了数周了,活佛听起来那么重要,我们应该知道活佛是什么。但是我们仍然没有头绪。他是一个婴儿吗?我问道。他年龄很大吗?我的丈夫问道。他带着王冠吗?我的女儿问道。藏族女孩笑道:他就出来诵读一段很特殊的经文!我环顾四周,人们都满怀期望地注视着寺庙,四周洋溢着兴奋的味道。
那么……你知道他具体什么时候会做这些呢?我问。哦,非常非常快!她回答。因此,为了目睹一些极不寻常的事情,目睹一位活生生的佛陀,我们等了下去,等待,再等待。……还要等多久?几个小时以后我问道,我并不想在如此虔诚的场合表现出不耐烦的迹象。但是在海拔那么高的地方,烈日炎炎,我们渐渐感到饥肠辘辘。



Then we got lucky – one of the very few Chinese-speaking people in the assembled crowd of twenty thousand Tibetan Buddhists, a fifteen year old girl from a nearby town, spotted us and sought us out so she could practice her few words of English like her teacher had told her to do. She was delighted to discover we could speak Chinese and began to offer a running commentary on what was going on, which was terribly helpful because we still had no idea.
‘The huofo is coming!’ she said again, as I racked my brain to think what it might mean and finally gave up and pulled out my trusty iPhone dictionary. It said:
Huofo 活佛 :  Living Buddha
Now you would think after several weeks spent in this Tibetan part of Qinghai and Gansu we might know what a Living Buddha was, and he certainly sounded really important. But we were still embarrassingly clueless.
‘Is he a baby?’ I asked.
‘Is he very old?’ my husband asked.
‘Does he wear a crown?’ my daughter asked.
‘He comes out and reads a very special sutra to the people!’ she laughed at us.
I looked around me. People were expectantly watching the temple. There was a building sense of excitement.
‘So…do you know what actual time he will do this?’ I asked
‘Oh, very, very soon!’ she said.
So in anticipation of seeing something quite extraordinary, a real live Living Buddha, we waited. And waited. And…..waited.
‘Um…how much longer will he be?’ I asked after a couple of hours, not wanting to seem impatient in the presence of such devout attention. But we were getting dreadfully hungry and very sunburnt at that high altitude.
‘I think we should just go’ said my husband. Now, he has a habit of leaving right before something really exciting happens. We once left a town in Thailand just two hours before the arrival of the KING, something people in that town had waited for ALL THEIR LIVES but we couldn’t wait TWO HOURS for. 
‘You mean we’ve just waited for three hours to see the Living Buddha and now you want to leave FIVE MINUTES before he appears?’ I hissed under my breath.
My husband turned to our young friend. ‘When exactly will the Living Buddha appear?’ he asked, rather bluntly I thought.
‘Today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day!’ she replied.
‘This goes for THREE DAYS?’ said my husband.
‘Three days!’ she said, smiling happily.
Well that certainly put a different spin on things. Three hours, OK, but three days might be a little long in anyone’s books, even for a Living Buddha.
We made our polite excuses about miles to go and roads to be covered etc etc and left. We stepped over the feet of hundreds of families settled in on picnic rugs and under umbrellas, with babies and small children, their faces full of extreme patience. We bustled past thousands of people standing on dirt paths, on the edges of walls, and in ditches, faces turned towards the temple.
I felt really, really bad. And very un-something. Un-zen, I think. Certainly im-patient.
我丈夫说:我觉得我们该走了。现在,他有一个习惯,就是每每在一些真正让人兴奋的事件发生前就离开。我们曾经在泰国的一个城镇,就在我们离开后两个小时,国王光临了那个镇子,镇子上的一些居民等了一辈子就为了见国王一面,而我们却连两个小时都等不了。
你的意思是为了见活佛我们已经等了三个小时,而现在你想在活佛出场前的五分钟离开?我咬牙切齿地说道。
我丈夫转向我们的年轻的朋友问道,活佛究竟什么时候会出现?我觉得他的口气太直率了。
今天,或者明天,或是后天!她回答。
这要持续三天?我的丈夫说。
三天!她开心地说道。
那就有点问题了。三个小时,好的,但是三天可能在任何人的书中都有点长,包括等待一名活佛。我们小心翼翼走过人群,离开。我们跨过数百个家庭铺好的野餐毛毯,穿过他们的阳伞,还有婴儿和小孩子,他们的脸上充满了耐心。我们匆忙穿过数千站在泥土小道上以及站在墙边和壕沟上的人群,面朝寺庙。我感觉非常糟糕,一无所获,我觉得自己没有慧根,当然也很没耐心。



We reached the far edge of the field and had just opened the doors of the campervan when I heard it, a sudden profound hush in the crowd followed by the deep, throaty sound of a single chanting voice. I spun around. On the far, far, far-off platform of the upper temple building I could just make out a tiny crimson speck. 
It was the Living Buddha, and we had MISSED him. My shoulders sagged.
‘Onwards and upwards?’ said my husband, trying to soften the blow.
‘Onwards and upwards’ I sighed. And off we went.
当我们走到场地的边缘处,刚打开房车门,我听到了一个深沉的咏诵声,以及随后人群中突然爆发的欢呼声。我转身,在遥远的寺庙上部建筑的平台上,我仅能分辨出一个深红色的斑点。
那就是活生生的佛陀,我们错过了活佛。我一下子就垂头丧气了。
勇往直前?我的丈夫试图挽回点什么。
勇往直前。我叹息道,然后我们离开了。

I wait three days for the Living Buddha and just when I go to get a sandwich he decides to appear! Damn!