20 November 2007

Everyone, except me, was Kung Fu fighting

I wish I could write for you all, dear readers, a long and entertaining post about the Shaolin Temple, but, sadly, I have neither the time nor the genuine memories of a memorable experience with which to do so. So I will, instead, be brief.

The Shaolin Temple is a Buddhist monastery in the heartland of China famous for being the origin of the Dungeons & Dragons "monk" character class. Inside, there are various frescoes of monks doing cool combat moves in period costume (probably because they were painted, uhh, in period). In one of the buildings, the floor is pitted where the monks used to train, so intense was their practice. This is the sort of thing people like to believe when they go on tours. Outside the temple, there are various wushu training academies, and I witnessed many (hundreds) young people--some small children, too--practicing kung fu or something outside. These kids were doing flips on a hard brick pavement. Crazy.

My visit to the Shaolin Temple was a misadventure. I woke up early so I could catch a bus directly to the temple and spend the day there without having to rush back for my night train to Taiyuan. But I was thwarted! As soon as I arrived at the bus station, a cluster of overexcited Chinese surrounded me with shouts of "Shaolin? Shaolin?" They knew where I wanted to go. I hate that. Anyway, I let them direct me to a "bus" which, to my horror, turned out to be a tour bus. I ended up having to visit a bunch of other temples I had no interest in (and no interest in paying for). Periodically, the tour guide would start singing. Combat songs? I was sitting in the front seat of the bus. When we finally arrived at Shaolin, it was already pretty late, and when we left--after a cute little kiddie kung fu show--I made it back to Luoyang with minutes to spare to catch my (late!) train. Funnily enough, on the bus ride back, they showed a Jackie Chan HK kung fu movie. Later, when we stopped at yet another temple and I really started to sweat, they directed me to board a different, more direct bus, so I missed the end of the movie. But that bus was showing a Jet Li flick, so no worries. In Luoyang, I jumped off the bus and immediately onto the back of a waiting moto and pointed authoritatively ahead. Go! We went quickly back to my hotel, got my bag, and then to the train station. In my gratefulness, I gave the dude the princely sum (seriously) of 10 yuan (about $1.30).

Yesterday and today, I have been enjoying the historic city of Pingyao, which is the best preserved ancient walled city in China. I should probably go see more of it rather than sit here longer at the computer. Tonight, I am taking a train to Xi'an. I think I may have to pass on the spicy delights of Sichuan province, foremost among them a $200 photo of me with a baby panda. Tempting after the koala experience, but not in the budget. So it's straight into Xinjiang for me on the old Silk Road. I might have to skip Iran, too, because, horror of horrible horrors, Americans are not allowed to visit except on a guided tour--$80/day or so. Also, definitely, not in the budget. My heart is breaking friends with what I have to give up to accomplish my journey. And with that sad sentiment, for now, I bid you adieu.

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