Home of the soul – a trip to Greece

We arrived in Athens in the evening of 23 June. As soon as we left the airport, a heat wave hit us and it was hard to breathe. The sun was so strong that you couldn’t open your eyes, and even with sunglasses you could still feel the light penetrating. I think it is because I have lived in the Netherlands for a long time that I am not used to the heat and sun. I took the Express at the airport, thinking it was a fast train like in other countries, but when I bought my ticket and found the place, I realised it was a normal bus with no air conditioning and only a few less stops. On the way from the airport to the city centre, traffic was heavy and chaotic, and construction was underway everywhere in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. Greece has traditionally been very friendly to outsiders, but now, perhaps because of the sheer number of tourists or the lure of money, Athens has become a place where travellers should be wary of being duped. When I had dinner near the hotel that night, I received three bills, which didn’t add up. When I called the waiter to ask, he took the bill away and recalculated it on paper, and the difference was a third!

But Athens is really worth a visit. The Acropolis and the broken pillars of the Parthenon have a special beauty, a power of the human being in harmony with heaven and earth. Later visits to the Temple of Apollo at Corinth (about 50 km from Athens) and the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion (about 25 km from Athens) had the same feeling. In particular, the ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Corinth gave me a strong psychological shock. Perhaps because of its special location, perhaps because it is far from the city and not very crowded. Standing quietly by the temple, I felt a sense of sacred awe for nature.

I can’t help comparing the Greek temples with Christian churches and Buddhist temples. The Christian churches and Buddhist temples feel austere and oppressive. They were secular religions, where the Almighty looked down on all beings from above, and where people could only worship and obey in fear. The Greek gods, on the other hand, were the product of the union of heaven and earth, human supermen with all the strengths and weaknesses of man. They were the fruit of nature. They played with the world, playing little jokes on humans from time to time; they fought with each other from time to time, out of jealousy, hatred, love. The open structure of the temple makes one unconsciously feel the power of nature when worshipping, the integration of heaven and earth with man, the liberation of the spirit, the freedom of the soul. That day at Corinth, I was struck by such a feeling. Standing on the ruins of the temple, looking up at the blue sky and the sea from afar, all worldly distractions suddenly disappeared and I felt that the sky, the earth, the sun and the sea wrapped around me and I became one with nature. Yes, nature, this should be my ultimate home.

I keep asking myself: where do I really belong? Knowing that I have never belonged to the city, even though almost my entire life has been linked to it, I have never really been emotionally close to it. The ten years in Beijing were the only exception; it was a city I loved and still feel a little close to. Nor did I belong to the countryside, where the narrowness and isolation suffocated me. My trip to Greece gave me the answer, and made me realise that I belonged to nature, to freedom without borders, to an unknown and empty world. But I also knew that I would live in reality, probably because I was too weak, too timid, and because there were so many things in real life that I was attached to.

On 26 June I flew from Athens to Zakynthos, a small island on the Ionic Sea. The name of the island has been around since the time of Homer. The whole island has only 30,000 inhabitants. In summer it is crowded with holidaymakers from all over Europe, 70% of whom are British. The beaches are lined with hotels, restaurants, bars and shops selling tourist souvenirs. In the evening, the restaurants and bars are full of loud people and the deafening sound of disco. The mystery and seclusion of the sea at night is lost in the hustle and bustle. What I like is to listen to the rhythmic and gentle beating of the tide against the shore in the quiet of the night, with the moon and stars. Unfortunately, this is only a dream in this resort beach. However, it is a relaxing experience to swim in the sea every day and to lie on a lounger under a sunshade and watch the sea.

On an island where there is only blue sky and sea water, you will feel the timelessness of nature. Although there are changes in the wind and clouds, the sky and the water are always there. People are just passing through in a hurry, and only become eternal when they die and turn into dust and merge with heaven and earth. So why do we seek it when we are born? What are we really looking for? Money, wealth, power, these are all things outside the body. Freedom, love, happiness, these are all relative. There can be no freedom or happiness in the absolute sense, and pure love is an unattainable dream. It is for this reason that love is an eternal theme alongside life and death.

The sun and the sea in Greece are truly the best of heaven and earth: blue sky and blue sea. Lying on the beach at Zakynthos, I look into the distance: the sky is grey-blue, the water is a transparent light blue, and the mist evaporating from the sunlight gives everything a hazy hue – the island in the near distance, the sky in the far distance. Where the water meets the sky a sailboat looms slightly, heading for the endless sky, slowly disappearing beyond the horizon. Where is it heading? Such images never fail to move me in an inexplicable way. What am I seeking? Where do I belong? The other day when I was returning from Corinth to Athens, I saw a small boat floating alone in the wind on the empty sea in the car and suddenly my eyes got wet. Sometimes I feel the same way when I see a tree standing alone in the wilderness when I’m travelling by car. Probably because deep down, I have always been a lonely traveller, a wanderer in search of a spiritual home.


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