Our vacation, Part 3

23 10 2009

OK, today my goal is to wrap up the vacation posts so I can move on to something a little more current.
So the next day we got up, went to the long-distance bus station across from the train station, and caught a bus for Dengfeng, the city closest to the Shaolin Temple. Dengfeng is up in the mountains, and I’d heard some not so flattering descriptions of it from some other teachers who have been in China longer. ("Everyone there wants to screw you for your money" seems to be the general consensus.) The bus ride, at least the first half, was fairly run of the mill, though we passed some interesting examples of old China architecture that seemed woefully ignored by everyone else. One of the interesting things about China, as noted previously on this blog, is that if something isn’t designated as a tourist spot, then people don’t go to see it. So it’s possible to see ancient temples that seem to be brimming with history, and also are completely ignored by Chinese people. Meanwhile, you’ll see some rock that a guy inscribed with some Chinese saying three months ago, and 500 Chinese people will be clamoring to take pictures of themselves near it.
Anyway after an hour, we started to climb up into the foothills of Shao Shan, the mountain range by Dengfeng, when suddenly everything came to a grinding halt. This is something else we’ve noticed about China: If someone wrecks their car or their car breaks down, Chinese people will all get out of their cars and stand around the wrecked or broken-down car smoking cigarettes and bring all traffic to a standstill. This is what happened in the Shao Shan mountains. (Shan means mountain, by the way) Apparently, someone had broken down or, I don’t know, driven off the cliff, and no one was moving on either side of the road, even though we never saw evidence of the road actually being blocked once the traffic started up again. After about an hour, traffic started moving, and neither of us was shocked to find out that the Shaolin Temple was actually like, I don’t know, 500 yards away from the traffic jam. So logic would dictate generally that if you’re close to the place you’re going and there is a traffic jam, someone would say something or start walking, or something. But no one did. So we sat an hour to ride in the bus essentially 10 more minutes, tops.
So we now refer to Shaolin Temple as "The Chinese Disneyland." Which isn’t to say it’s an unpleasant place. The mountains surrounding it are beautiful, and remind me somewhat of the mountains surrounding Ruidoso, for any New Mexicans who might be reading this blog. The grounds of the temple, which are quite large, are full of some interesting statues and old buildings. The Forest of Stele, a graveyard filled with giant, ancient statues commemorating Shaolin monks who have passed on long ago, was beautiful, interesting and pretty empty of people, except for the occasional kid climbing the grave stones. But the temple was pretty horrendous. For one thing, everything was pretty freshly rebuilt, so there’s not much of a sense of history. Plus, it was packed. Plus, seeing monks standing around texting people on their cell phones limits the mystique a bit. Plus, it was 100 RMB ($15) each to get in. It was very clean, especially for China, and the architecture was nice, but it wasn’t impressive in a historical or cultural sense. There were also many people selling Youcky Snacks. Not a typo, but it’s oh so close…There were also lots of vendors hocking the most ridiculous crap all over the grounds of the temple. One highlight, though, was that we managed to score a room at the Zen International Hotel, a pretty fancy-schmancy hotel on temple grounds. Apparently, they often light up the temple at night, but unfortunately they didn’t this night. Also, in the afternoon, we took the cable car up Shao Shan, always a fun time, and we were the highlight of the ride for pretty much all the Chinese people there. And we got some postcards and some nunchuks for super cheap.
And … well, I gotta go, so more later.
-Jeremiah

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