Day 32

Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Monday, October 16, 2006

I think I'm going to start this entry by saying today was one of the most rewarding days I have had so far. All four of us got up at 8am to visit the Shaolin Monastery/Temple, but I could sense the group wanted to skip the tour and go straight to Kaifeng, I dug in and said I thought we could get both done in the same day and with that we headed down to the Shaolin Si (Si=Temple).

I'm not big into martial arts, but the thought of seeing some Shaolin Monks doing Shaolin Kung Fu in their own back yard was too much to resist. We headed down to the bus station. I had wanted to get the direct bus to Dengfeng that stops off at the Monastery, but the girls were already talking to a tour bus who said they'd get us there for 30 yuan. I went along with this, even though I was wary and got on board. After an hour, the bus stopped and we got out to pay for our tickets to enter the temple. Soon I realised this wasn't the temple, but some mountain scenic spot! We asked the tour operator woman what was going on. Despite neither party speaking each other's language we established that the Shaolin Monastery was the 5th stop on a five stop tour today! I was fuming, I knew we wanted to be in Kaifeng tonight and this round-the-houses tour would mean we wouldn't get back to Luoyang till late. I got out my guide book and figured out we weren't that far from the monastery. There were some smaller minibuses and taxis around and I wondered if we could hire one to the temple right now. I managed to get an acceptable price out of one driver, and was quickly joined by Steve, the girls and the tour operator! The tour operator didn't seem bothered that we were abandoning her tour, and even wrote us a note to say if we met them at the Shaolin Si at 5pm we'd get a lift back to Luoyang. Minutes later we were at Shaolin Si - Success!

I don't know what hits you at that place, but all you want to do is walk around pumped up and ready to do some Kung Fu kicks. I imagined it must be something in the air and that the first placid monks who originally made this their home caught the same vibe and developed Kung Fu from it!

The Monastery is in a valley in the Song Shan mountains, and there are now 50,000 students studying Kung Fu in the area. The first thing we did was stop at the Wushu training centre where we picked up a guide for free who said he was just happy to practice his English on us. He led us into a weapons store where I was invited to take huge swords out of their sheaths and start waving them around. I was enjoying this place. There were daggers, throwing stars, knuckle-dusters and huge swords you couldn't even lift.

Next we went into a gymnasium area where sparring under tuition would take place. Then came the demonstration, a 20 minute show of Shaolin Kung Fu. The lights went down and we were treated to a display of weapons, form, combat and strength. One highlight was when a Shaolin student held a needle between thumb and forefinger and drove it through a sheet of glass to pop a baloon behind. The glass didn't shatter from the impact, the needle went straight through leaving it in tact.

Our guide's English was pretty poor, and all through the demonstration I was wishing I hadn't sat next to him. Later, at the temple, I'd start to get a headache and begin dropping hints that we could take it ourselves from here!

Ironically the guide was an English teacher in one of the many privately run Kung Fu schools in the area. I pictured him in his class room pointing at the black-board an speaking, then being echoed by a chorus of miss-pronounced words. As we walked between the training centre and the temple, the path was lined by a few hundred 11 year old students sitting in grey tunics. They turned out to be from the school our guide taught at and were pointing at him in recognition. I asked if we could have a picture with the guide and a student - so our man yanked one up by the scruff of his neck and struck a pose!

The temple itself was not the show piece that the training centre was. However, it was a great insight into how this place combines Zen Buddism with martial arts. People who come here to learn come here to learn both.

Unable to shake our guide off he led us to the Pagoda Forest. This place is a beautiful graveyard for the Great Monks who were in charge here through the ages. Each Abbot is honoured by his students who build giant Pagodas for their headstones. The various shapes and sizes of the Pagodas dictate how popular they were. The oldest Pagoda is over 1500 years old, and is propped up by tree trunks to stop it crumbling down to nothing. The newest one is only a few years old and strangely has pictures of a train and a laptop computer carved into it.

One the 1000m walk back to the car park the place was buzzing with adolescent Kung Fu students all training or waiting to train. They were organised by school and were all wearing their own school's kit. Some were punching sand-bags, others were waiting patiently next to weights. Some were running around on tree stumps and doing simultaneous back-flips off them.

Steve and the Girls were having a great time and I was pleased that I'd steered us towards a successful day out. It was 4pm and we had all silently realised we wouldn't be going to Kaifeng tonight but it didn't matter in the slightest - this was well worth spending another night in Luoyang for.

Oh, and I've gone multi-media, look out for the videos at the end of the normal pictures - hope they work!
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