The Magic Island

“I believe the world is all magic, and we are just lucky to live in it.”

        -Jim Hubbell


We’ve arrived in Yantai, after a and today we set off to find the English-speaking translator at the Penglai Pavilion. She isn’t available, and won’t be until after 2pm, so we take a detour.

We soon find ourselves at a small beach outlook above a pagoda and walls. We ask the students from Yantai what the walls are guarding,  and they tell us they protect a magic island, but they can’t explain much more. A few minutes go by and I relay this mysterious story to a student from Russia. Vlad says, “Well, maybe the reason China has survived as a country so long is because they guard their magic islands.”

They believe in magic islands? They perceive magic islands? Better yet, they guard these magic islands from a distance -- keeping them safe and sacred without residing upon them? What can this be about?  

I am enamored with this mutual understanding of island and man, of nature and nation. When we meet our English speaking tour guide, she guides us through the palace. She seems unaffected by the July heat. We manage to keep up, stopping to sketch occasionally, learning of a few of the many deities worshipped at this  singular Buddhist temple near Yantai. At the end of the tour we reach the inside of the guard walls and see the small beach from a new height.

Our guide tells us that every now and then a “mirage” happens here --  a tiny island appears! She directs our attention to two photos on a nearby wall, showing the island both hidden and visible, and says, “The last time the island appeared was in 2009. All of a sudden there was a lighthouse visible, and just nine minutes later it was gone.” I am astonished. I think that if a magic island, which last appeared in 2009 for only nine minutes, once inspired an emperor to build a fortress replete with myriad structures for peace and worship, then we, too -- our Yantai-Pacific Rim Park team -- might harness a sliver of that magic for our park. For what about this park is not magic? We seek a magic layered with cooperation, laid with our handwork, all to revere nature’s beauty.

Unlike the shimmering, elusive magic island, our park, this Yantai Pearl, will exist above sea level for some years. Even if it sinks, or the sea rises to cover it, I walk away believing its presence alone will soon inspire all who  build, and many who visit, to consider constructing new walls and pagodas of mutual understanding in their minds and hearts.