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September 24, 2001
Luoyang: a long day (Russell)

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Waiting for a train... again (with three new suitcases)

September 24th was a very long day.  There was no music blaring at 6:30 AM, but Gail had not slept well and wore sunglasses all day.  Fortunately, we had all morning to wake up, relax, pack, and check out.  It was actually a free day for us in Luoyang -- the train would not leave until 9:25 PM that night -- but we had made arrangements with our guide May and our driver Mr. Liang to take an excursion to the famous Shao Lin Temple.

After sandwiches in our room, our guides picked us up at 12:30 PM.  The Shao Lin (literally, "Shao Mountain Cypress Grove") Temple is actually outside of Luoyang at Shaoshi Mountain.  The one hour, 60-kilometre drive there was an adventure all in itself.  Up until now we have only seen large, modern cities.  Now, we passed through countless small towns and villages, much less touched by Western (or modern) influences.  We could easily imagine people living their entire lives here without ever setting foot outside of their own village.

Built in 495 AD, the Shao Lin Temple was quite different from any of our expectations.  David Carradine's old "Kung Fu" television series strongly implied that the temple was Confucian; in reality, it is where Zen Buddhism originated. We saw the Pagoda Forest, a cemetery where the ashes of 246 Kung Fu masters are interred, each in a separate pagoda.  And we saw the Shao Lin Temple itself, where even today 10,000 young students are currently enrolled in a three-year program to learn Kung Fu.

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In the Pagoda Forest (the number of eaves indicates the master's rank)

Even so, we were not able to see a Kung Fu demonstration here.  May was very embarrassed to discover that the monks (teachers) were all abroad at the moment.  In an effort of desperate face-saving, she asked around and found out about a possibility at one of the nearby schools.  So after a short drive, we arrived at the Shao Lin Kung Fu School, where May ran out and carried on a private conversation.  The result was that the school would give a special performance just for the four of us.  In a fantastic 45-minute display, we saw children as young as five years old demonstrate various methods of Kung Fu, from amazing contortions to breaking bamboo poles over peoples' heads to weapons sparring.  It was what we had come to Shao Lin to see, and it was well worth the extra effort and expense that we had to go through.

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Audience participation in the Kung Fu demonstration

May earned her pay that day in more ways than one.  Our requests must have seemed utterly bizarre and beyond the realm of normal tourism.   The previous day, we had asked her to take us to Luoyang's largest department store to buy two new suitcases.  Today, we asked her to take us to the Post Office to mail a package to our grandson.  As well, we asked her to take us to Luoyang's largest grocery store (for some unknown reason called "Dennis") in order to buy some food for the train.  Here we picked up dinner (some pizza slices served in plastic bags) and an extremely rare jar of jelly.  While May and Mr. Liang waited outside in the van (that's the etiquette!), we sat inside and ate our dinner at some tables and chairs.  A waiter informed us that we couldn't sit there unless we ordered some food from the cafe, so we bought a soft drink.

Despite all of the day's activities, we still had an almost one-hour wait at the train station before our 9:25 PM train to Nanjing.  While the boys played their Game Boys and Russell took a quick nap, Gail and May chatted about all kinds of things.  May talked about her boyfriend (a schoolmate who was also a tour guide) and their dream of someday moving to America.

At last the train came, and we heaved our luggage aboard (including our three new, larger suitcases) and into our soft sleeper compartment.  From here on for the next week, we will be changing accommodations every single day.  Our China adventure is a series of ongoing goodbyes to friends whom we will never see again, and we can already feel how much we are going to miss this amazing country when we finally leave it.

 

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