"You and me were never meant to be part of the future." — Wayne Coyne, from "All We Have Is Now" by the Flaming Lips, off Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
Atop the the tallest pagoda at Linggu Temple in Nanjing, looking out across the forest on Purple Mountain, there are endless waves of trees that stretch and yawn, jostling each other with treebark armbranches, shooting out from that verdant mountaintop all the way to the base of the concrete city in the distance, a smog-masked metropolis: Nanjing. The Temple is outside the main swath of city most people would refer to as Nanjing, but it's still technically within the limits. The actual Linggu Temple sits deep in these woods, and if you depart a subway station near one of the beltways and decide to trek your way to the mountain and make your way into those woods, you'll find that the distance is greater than you may have imagined. The Linggu area is actually a series of attractions: the Temple itself, a series of tombs, Beamless Hall, Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, the aforementioned pagoda, a nice park with stone sculptures, etc. The Temple is functioning and more than just a tourist attraction; monks still live, study, and pray there. Visiting Buddhists come to pay respects, not to see the sights.
Beamless Hall sits in the middle of the wooded area. The building was constructed entirely of stone; not a single nail or piece of wood was included in its original incarnation. Along the halls of the Hall are glass cases with eerily realistic wax figures of historically-important people (think Sun Yat-sen et al.). These cases have Chinese and English placards that tell the tale of Chinese resistance to foreign invaders, dynastic rulers, and internal corruption.
Outside the Temple proper is a small fountain, the Dragon Pool of Eight-Virtue Water. The fountain is set in the earth, and a small stream flows through it. Two gargoyles in the shape of dragonheads spit and drain water (one spitting, one underwater, draining), and when no tour cars go by and no shutters snap open-closed, there is perfect tranquility. You stand, leaning on the stone banister surrounding the fountain, and look down at life's perfect representation: one dragon is beautifully spouting water into the liquid-glistening pool (parts clear, parts murky), and the other is submerged, peaceful, but darkly waiting to take it all in, to let things pass. The latter dragon lies in wait, reminding you all things must end, or at least transform in the cycle.
Establishing shot: a skewed black elongated pyramid with a gigantic, stretched, unnaturally proportioned, defeated female statue cradling a limp child in its faded bronze arms. This is: Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, or, The Memorial for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression. The memorial/museum is here in remembrance of the victims of the Rape of Nanjing (Dec. 1937), where the deceased alone numbered 300,000 (not to mention the beaten, the raped, the robbed, the humiliated, and the countless emotionally scarred). There is an insistence upon fact here, a felt need to tell visitors, "Hey, this really did happen, and it really did happen on this large of a scale," an unfortunate need that rises out of Japan's negligible addressing of the historical event. There are human remains on display, and despite signs asking for silence, patrons wander through chatting or on cell phones. Hot empty stone-and-rock courtyards. A lone flagpole. A statue with "Peace" written on it at the foot of a long pool.
In some areas loudspeakers play a choral loop of ominous minor-chord singers wailing mournfully, and you wish you could find a big black room at the center of the complex where you could sit in darkness and let these ominous voices reach a staggering climax of high-low crescendo that pounds at your eardrums while you squeeze your eyelids shut and clench your teeth.
There is a field of lights in a darkened room with a bell toll and the sound of a ticking clock; one victim's face at a time is projected onto a far wall, and an eternal orange flame burns in front of it, an everlong sacrifice. The names of the dead encircle the room engraved on all of its walls, and a massive "300,000" shoots up onto the ceiling in stark white light.
Meanwhile... At Linggu Temple...
On the peripheries of the roaded woods sit the tombs of important Chinese figures, and at one of these, I stood and looked out at the surrounding trees, all taller than me at least three-times over. I stooped down and looked at the brickground I stood on and saw a small cicada, chirping incessantly, loudly, vibrating hard, and when I tried to touch it, it flew away. The noise at that tomb was deafening, but it wasn't the sound of travel-drunk tourists at Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum or the screeching, neutered grind of the Nanjing subway coming to a stop. It was the sound of millions of uncountable cicadas all calling out to each other, a frighteningly natural insect chorus. They buzz unseen and let you know with that primeval whine that these woods are theirs, and they were here first, and they see that stone tomb and say We'll still be here when you're not. They own this forest. And outside, back on the paved roadway, tourists wait for the next bus home.