China 5: Shaolin

Our journey to Shaolin was long and in the pouring rain so there wasn’t much of a view, plus some of the Chinese passengers on this public coach spat into the aisles (they literally spit anywhere). We arrived at our in-the-middle-of-nowhere hostel, Bandeng Guesthouse, wet and tired but in time for lunch – we paid 100RMB (just over a tenner) for our four meals while we were there as there aren’t any shops or restaurants nearby and I ate some of the best Chinese food I have ever had here. We finally had dishes filled with vegetables, deliciously cooked, and wonderfully flavoured potato dishes including a particularly tasty mashed potato one (and I don’t normally like mashed potato!) They provided a feast of dishes for us to share amongst ourselves each mealtime and the ease of not having to order and just being handed exceptional food was a welcome joy!

After lunch, despite the pouring rain, we took a short bus ride to a Children’s Home run by monks from the Shaolin Temple that specialises in teaching the children (aged between 6 and 16) Kung Fu. First they performed a Kung Fu show for us, demonstrating their Kung Fu moves and specialist skills such as hand-chopping a brick, throwing a needle through glass to burst a balloon and swinging a 50kg steel pointy bar. It was all at once endearing, entertaining and extraordinary. Afterwards, we were fortunate enough to receive a Kung Fu lesson from the monks and the kids, where they took us through a routine of the standard moves. They spent at least an hour with us, explaining what the moves were for (defence more than attack!) and taking the time to help each of us perfect the quality of each move. It was, hands down, one of the most culturally-enriching and rewarding days; easily ones of my favourite thus far.

The following morning we left the hostel at 8:30am to head to the Shaolin Temple, famous for being the home of Kung Fu. Fortunately the weather was spectacularly different from the day before with beautifully blue skies so we were able to climb the holy mountain behind the Monastery for incredible views of the landscape and to see the site where a monk once meditated for 9 years. Most of the climb was up steps (tiny, steep steps that are almost impossible to negotiate) and it was tough I the heat but so worth it for the views.

We then spent some time wandering round the Temple, which I did on my own so I could really slow down and take it all in – the smell of incense, the sight of Chinese people praying, the sound of babbling chatter. It can be quite intense and busy, so this was the best way to experience it for me.

Finally we went inside one of the buildings to see a Kung Fu show put on by the Monks, where the Chinese audience literally flocked in, barging each other out of the way and running for the best seats. Fortunately Lei Lei had managed to get us in early to avoid the mayhem. This show was much more of a “performance” and, although incredibly impressive, the one the day before had felt more personal.

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We returned to the hostel for a late lunch and shower before packing up our things and getting on a public coach (where we received our second Mandarin lesson from Lei Lei) to Zhengzhou station for another overnight train to Beijing…

LS.

[See next post: Beijing]

[See previous post: Xi’an]

 

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