It was like the first gust of air that strikes you when you watch a thunderstorm creeping up across the prairies. The moment when the air is sucked away and the world goes mute as the distant clouds display spats of brilliance. Then, as you watch, the wheat at the horizon kneels as everything bows to the shrieking force in the distance. Settled on a small green embankment your fingers grasp at the grass by your legs. Gulping down a breath as you clutch the protective blanket of stillness around you, the gust finally hits and yanks it from your presence.
The wind pushes at your chest and as your body sways back you lean forward to compensate, hugging your knees. You glance up, your eyes squinting in the wind as it begins to forces tears from your eyes free. The towering majesty of the encroaching storm has you defiantly staring it down until the first barrage of rain hits.
Then you run.
Since you don’t have a rain cover for your camera you make a dash for the house in the first onslaught of sky water. You’re laughing and smiling the whole damn way.
When my friend and I arrived at the Chin Swee Buddhist Cave Temple in the Genting Highlands of Malaysia it was pouring rain. We had just left the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, after climbing the 272 concrete steps in full sunshine that morning.
Sweating through a month of sunshine in Thailand, I found this change refreshing. In fact.
I. Was. Ecstatic.
We popped out of the car in an underground parking lot then performed out first act of merit one floor up by offering our umbrella to a stranded family hoping to reach their car parked out in the pouring rain. Umbrella in hand, the husband had no trouble racing off, grabbing the car and herding in the kids. They were away after a quick thanks.
Our hearts aglow already, my friend and I were feeling pretty good as we took the elevator up to the temple level. The wooden Budai certainly gave us a jovial greeting when we stepped through the lobby and made our way to the top of the main building.
Impatient for the elevator we headed up the stairs which turned out to be a real treat since we got to catch a glimpse of the living quarters and kitchens of the devoted staying there.
The Taoist temple was carved into the side of the mountain around 1994 by a Chinese businessman named Tan Sri Lim. Just short of the peak, the temple can be reached by a cable car from the valley floor or a drive up a corkscrew road winding up the mountain.
Tromping up the stairwell with a line of kids playing some theme song on their ipad ahead, the merriment continued as we took our first step outside and the wind began to tug playfully at our hair and clothes.
With the clouds trundling over the wall of mountains, the valley floor shifted in and out of sight. The view, normally I’m sure a wonderful panoramic, picturesque scene, was fleeting so I found myself drawn to the maze of rooftops directly below instead.
From our vantage point the courtyard behind the main building beckoned with its still statues and scattered objects. It wasn’t long before my friend and I turned away from the view and skipped down to the courtyard to greet the Buddha images lining the mountain’s side.
As you may have realized from my earlier description of a faceoff with a prairie thunderstorm—I’m a fan of storms. I’m filled with exhilaration every single time I see a cloud start to flash. Without fail I’m instantly cracking a grin when the first cackle breaks the sky. If a storm roars by in the middle of the night (and I don’t sleep through it) you can bet I’ll be pressed against the window like a child waiting for Santa Claus.
I’m so notoriously happy around thunderstorms and blizzards that when storms continuously appear or stubbornly remain my mom and sister literally come to me and say, “Allison, stop calling the snow and rain already, we want sunshine!”
Which often causes me to smile, step up to the nearest large window and shout, “come forth ye winds, rain and thunder!” with all the dramatic gusto at my disposal.
Just kidding, they’d go on a cooking embargo.
Chin Swee Cave Temple introduced me to a kindred spirit.
Qingshui, a monk known to summon rain and disperse evil is the central deity of the temple. I didn’t get to go into the cave where his image sits because it was raining so hard but I’m pretty sure he heard me after I offered incense and merit in the hall.
I like to humbly think we were instant friends because soon after my first boisterous laugh in the face of the energetic wind, it picked up its skirts and really flew. As the clouds kissed the ground my friend and I raced up the towering pagoda to greet them (ok so I was racing and he was chasing and calling for restraint).
I waltzed up to the railing of the balcony. On top of that nine-story pagoda I was on top of the world.
I know many people don’t like storms, but—for me anyway—they affirm that I am alive. When I lean into a storm’s wind and I’m amazed at my strength. With each gasp I’m amazed at my lack of fear. Even when the clouds swallow everything. I just patiently wait for it to reappear.
I stood before those behemoth ships called clouds. I felt the pagoda quiver under its force. The dozens of doors rattle in its grip. I felt the wind break upon my face.
It was as though Qingshui wanted to remind me that the world is coming at me at full force—even if it sometimes seems as flimsy as a cloud—and it’s up to me to make the most of the lifelong experiences flowing by.
I wouldn’t have visited that temple on any other day.
Thanks Qingshui, for the cleansing rain.