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January 15, 1998

Shi Lin, the Stone Forest

Shi Lin, the Stone Forest

Said to be "the Peerless Scenic Wonder under the sun" (by the travel books), Shi Lin is certainly no pushme-pullyou (the two headed llama from Dr. Doolittle), but not a bad excursion for a day or two.

The remains of an ancient sea floor have long since given way to the uplifting of the continent, or perhaps the receding seas. In either case, what was left was a whole bunch of limestone that ultimately began to erode into some interesting columns to walk through. A likely theory considering the numerous sea shell fossils that are sold in the area's gift shops.

It is also said that way back when, the Gods decided to break up the stones to give lovers a place to be together without being watched by anybody. This is a good theory too, considering all the little Gods available in the area's gift shops.




The crowds at Shi Lin

The very first natural wonder you'll see at Shi Lin is an enormous amount of people everywhere. I have to be honest. I was very deeply saddened and even depressed for most of the afternoon that we spent at Shi Lin. There is a sanctity and rugged beauty at Shi Lin. But its all lost amidst the tour groups and constant reminders of man's commercial interests there.




Shi Lin pavillion

This structure overlooks most of the forest. Its a great place to climb and take pictures. If you can fight your way up against the constant stream of tourists coming down at the same time. The Shi Lin is the best run tourist experience in China that I've seen. However, they have yet to install separate "up" and "down" staircases.




Zhang, Shi Gong amidst the rocks

"No, wait, I know that the map said turn left at the big rock..."

That's our host, Zhang, Shi-gong on the left and his daughter on the right.




Shi Lin tour guides

Taiwaneese businessmen and Romulans are among the biggest fans of Shi Lin, the Stone Forest.

Okay, they're not really Romulans, but members of the local "Sani" ethnic minority that pretty much runs the show at Shi Lin. These young people are tour guides. They refer to the girls as "Ashima." Which, my travel guide translates to "a beautiful maiden with a basket on her back, sedate and graceful." Apparently, Ashima is a legendary woman who sings of her unswerving love for "Ahei", her significant other. Ashima is also a local brand of cigarette. Ironically, the sound of "Ashima" sounds just like the English word of "Asthma." Good name for cigarettes. I can't wait till they try and export them to the English speaking world.




The Shi Lin

According to legend, Ashima also had the power to bestow a certain intellegence upon each of the rocks here.

This kind of Shamanistic approach to nature is something that I enjoy very much, but sitting amidst the rocks, I wasn't able to really get any sort of intelligence beyond realizing that climbing to the top of these columns isn't very intelligent.

That of course, didn't stop me. I was invigorated by the challenge of the climb up and the death defying on the climb down.




Buddha's Lotus

Ultimately, I did find a little peace at the top of one of the columns. Stopping for a few moments atop that rock, which I later learned is known locally as the lotus blossum, I felt the sanctity and peace that I'd hoped to find in China. It was just a few brief moments of repose, but it made the entire day worth the trip.

Shi Lin is definitely something to see while you're in China. Its safe and comfortable for tourists, if they avoid the lesser traveled paths. And for those who want to taste a little bit of the divine, bring shoes that can grip slick rock because in China they don't often prepare for negligence lawsuits and there are many opportunities for a bad step to lead to calamity.

But then again, those were the best moments I had here.

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