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Daniel's China Adventure

China day 8

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hola once again from the land of the chop sticks. Today was another surreal day that I will never forget. As we woke up from the overnight train, we brushed our teeth and got ready for the journey ahead. When we got off the train, we were in Luoyang. This city is home to the Shaolin temple where we will be staying the next four days. Our next stop after the train was a hotel in the city which gave us a chance to freshen up and eat some breakfeast. We had to take turns using the showers and eating. I went to go eat first and I had the chance to meet a special person at breakfeast. He was the coordinator of tourism for the city of Luoyang. He took off work just to meet us. He gave us all gifts that gave us information about the city. One was a picture of a beautiful flower called piani. This flower is decorated all over the city and represents longevity and happiness. It was a very nice gesture and we all appreciated it very much. One thing I noticed as we were leaving the hotel was that a lot of people rode bikes and mopeds. The funny thing was that absolutely none of them wore helmets. There was no law to enforce it. I can imagine how many accidents there are every day where people don't have their helmets on. That's a big difference in culture. In California, you can get a ticket for not wearing a helmet on a scooter to the store! Talk about harsh. I guess its because our nation wants there to be less accidents. In China, it looks like your on your own on that one.

The next event planned for the day was the longmen grottoes. This is a mountain where thousands of buddhas were carved over hundreds of years. It was amazing to see so many buddhas in one sitting. An interesting thing about some buddhas was that some of their heads were cut off. The guide explained that when different emperors would take control, they would either believe in Taoism or Buddhism. These were two conflicting religions, so when one emperor would take over and let's say he was buddhist, he would order to cut off all the heads of the taoists. This was the same for the opposite. I think its funny how the people perceive religion as bein either one or nothing. Its like you are either part of this faith or you don't exist. That is one thing I like about being open minded. No matter what religion you are, you can peacefully coexist in the same world. I guess back then, it was a little harder to accept this theory of polytheism. As we explored the different walls of the mountain, the guide took us to the biggest buddha of the grodo. It was ginormous! The buddha was seventeen meters high. Just the ears were as tall as me, and I am six feet tall. That is some pretty good hearing. Anyways, the story behind the big buddha is that he is the one that started zen buddhism. Another interesting point the guide made was that when he died. His wife came to power as the empress of China. This was the first and only empress in the entire history of China. The face was feminine to honor her short lived glory.

After the buddha festival in the wall, we went to get some grubb at a restaurant. I really enjoy the food here. Its not "Americanized" chinese food, but its the real deal. Although it seems like we have similar dishes everywhere we go, I find it as an opportunity to try new food. I make it an obligation to try everything on the table (regardless of its rancid look). One of the dishes today looked like a refried brain-drew. Another tasted like spiced paper. Besides all the weird tastes and looks, we had a good time and exchanged laughs about the food.

The next activity was yet another bus ride away. It was about forty five minutes away from the restaurant. It was the Shaolin temple. When we arrived, we had another banner that said welcome discovery student adventures. We have a warm welcoming like this everywhere we go by the way. The place we are staying at is not for regular tourists. It is an inn in the Shaolin village. When we were walking to our rooms, we saw a moped coming up the street with a monk on the back. I thought that was quite comical. It was a great kodak moment.

Once we got situated in our inn that we will be staying in, we had a chance to meet some monks. We went to the top of the temple and met with supervisor of the monk martial arts school. We sat in a classroom and listened to him speak for an hour. It reminded me of one of those engaging conversations in school where its so interesting that you just want to listen. I found the speech very interesting. At first he talked about the history of his city and a little debrief about Buddhism. It started in India and was brought to China an eternity ago. Once he finished with his history lesson, he switched to theology 101 and spoke about his religion. His talk was very moving and I got some great points out of it. He explained how the Buddhists live in the present and don't think about anything else. He said that if they do good deeds on the present and build up their heart here on earth, they will go to nirvana where there are no troublesam. He explained how christians believe in heaven and so do Buddhists. One thing that he said that really stuck was no matter what religion you are, there is a heaven in everyone's heart. He was extremely passionate about what he does and I really liked that. I reflected on the living in the present and enjoyed when he said thjat because that really relates to me. I try to live by that standard all the time and not worry about the future. Just see where the wind takes me. We also learned about the martial arts that the buddhists practice. They are very focused on the mental aspect of martial arts. if one only builds up the physical strength and not his or her mental strength, then he or she cannot prosper on this earth. This idea of duality really caught my attention. I love sports and also try to focus on the mental game as well as the physical game.

Speaking of physical and not mental, our next destination was a totally conflicting ideology with the buddhisnm. We went down the road to a kung fu school that only focused on the physical part. I think martial arts around the world should bridge the gap between these two ideals. It would creat morals and edicate within the fighting world. As we explored the martial arts camp, there were different floors with different exercises. First off there were tons of kids roaming around doing routines that involved punching, kicking and yelling. When we went inside there were kids doing flips and throwing sticks around. Ot was interesting to see the organization of these kids. It went by skill level and not age. There would be some seven year olds practicing with seventeen year olds in order for the kids to get better. Also because the little kids had immense skill. When we went upstairs, there was kick boxing and people sprawling all over the floor. Punching bags were being hit all the time. There was a mat on the floor, so I asked john (tour guide son/friend) if I could go up there and do a backflip. He said of course and held my stuff for me. I did two backflips whic felt pretty good because I have never done it on to a matt before. The first one was kind of wobbly but the second I landed perfectly. I just wanted to try it on a mat.

After the physical experience at the kung fu school, we went to dinner. The boys sat with the Chinese staff and we had a great time. They are all so nice and we all love them. Everyone in China is so welcoming and I really love their culture. Anyways great day today and I can't wait to write about actual kung fu classes tomorrow! Goodnight from Shaolin.

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Karen Wells said...

There are at least two photos you have to upload when you get the time - the huge buddha with the ears as tall as you are and the monk on the moped. You certainly gave me enough information today to digest for a long time. Where are you finding the time and the energy to write such informative posts? I especially liked your comments on duality. Imagine how mentally and physically strong we would be if we spent equal amounts of time focusing on both the spiritual and physical aspects of life. Thanks for posting. Karen Wells DSA South Africa

Changing Connections said...


To think that my initial impression of your early blogging tended to categorize you quite differently than writer you are. My bad. So much for first impressions (there's a Facebook quiz on that, although why waste important China time on that).

Your openers grab me always--"from the land of chopsticks" followed by surreal. (Wow, was I wrong about you).

Do you think the difference in helmet laws between CA and China is one of caring or one of enforcement. My math teacher friends (I am an English teacher alien in a math wing) tell me numbers are everything, and I am only now, via China, beginning to understand the fundamentals of what they mean by that expression.

Your comment about religion, about being a part of a faith or not existing, is provocative and historical. Like a theocracy within Communism, fusing God and government. You believe what the ruling persuasion belives, or truly you might not exist. Very perceptive comment, Daniel

Spiced paper. Refried brain-drew (?)--you need to write a book. Really!

I hope to see the Kodak moment! Please. Of all the experiences you have had on this trip, the one I would exchange places with you would be this moment, this day when you met and spoke with monks. I have always believed that this part of the world understood transcendence in a way foreign to us. To have had your experience today would have been the highlight of this trip, were I on it with your group. "A heaven in everyone's heart"--you have certainly left me with so many phrases that linger, enter my journal and my reflections. Living in the present builds coinage for the future in Buddhism. Most of all, I enjoyed your understanding of the duality, the mental and physical.

Your ability to shift from duality to conflicting ideologies in a physical only sport impresses.

Some students--a few--I read to see China; you I read to understand China. Thank you for your insights.

RJ Stangherlin
PA DEN Leadership Council Blog Coordinator

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Essential Programs Details

Duration 15 days
When August 4th - 18th, 2009
Focus History/Culture
Martial Arts
Modern/Ancient Architecture