Friday, May 02, 2008

Day 6 – Shaolin Temple

Peony Park
Woke up in
Luoyang with a train load of field guns in the station where we disembarked. After breakfast in the New Friendship Hotel I went for a walk in the Peony Park. It was a riot of activity but all organised and at a pace to suit everyone. There was slow paced tai chi, ultra-slow tai chi, faster with swords, slower with pikes, mid-pace with scarves, the two large groups dressed in beautiful red and white silk suits exercising with fans which would all chop open at the same time producing a wonderful wooden snap sound. There were also modern dancers doing waltzes and the tango. One group were dancing in unison to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ but in a slow and graceful fashion, in complete opposition to the lyrics, which I’m sure they don’t understand. The there were the badminton players and people playing foot badminton. Big brush calligraphy was also on show. There was even a guy with a bullwhip and a spinning top.

Several people came up to me and spoke in English. One an older man, had great English, another woman wanted me to meet her English teacher and they turned up I the hotel the next day. On the way back to the hotel, I was asked to sit down at one of several tables with Doctors and nurses, where I had my blood pressure taken, along with several photographs.

Thousands of students
We struck lucky as on this day, a big-wig was visiting and this brought out the entire student population. Shaolin was a mass of students, colour, movement and flags. There were students in mock fights, poses, playing mah jong and meditating in the woods. They were remarkable disciplined and happy, despite the cold wind and their flimsy, silk outfits. This is the home of Zen Buddhism, founded in 496 AND, and all modern martial arts, a sacred mountain with a sacred temple. There are 160,000 students here in schools with up to 30,000 students who receive a disciplined martial arts and normal curriculum education. Students are sent here by their parents from all over China. The aim is to give them some discipline, independence and jobs in the police, military, security, even movies.

There was a show in the theatre and selected kung fu monks wielded sticks and performed moves with the audience. One thrust a needle through a tiny hole in a pane of glass to pop a balloon.

Before leaving the traffic was held back by some dignitary. This made the locals angry and there were some horns from waiting cars. A police car showed up and it quickly stopped. I loved the dissent. That night we ate in a revolving restaurant on top of some luxury hotel.

Finger painting
One man was doing extraordinary ‘finger-painting’, complex landscapes with mountains shaped by fingers and thumb, then trees incised with ink on fingernails. This is an old art form in China, and some works can be seen in the British Museum.camoflage

Pagoda Forest
We walked to the Pagoda forest, where many of the monks and masters have been buried. There are about 250 from the original 450 standing with a strange, modern example showing an aeroplane, video-recorder, laptop showing how rich the previous abbot had become.

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