Monday, March 31, 2008

Busy, Busier, Busiest

In the first week of this tour, we have visited an innumerable variety of amazing sights, including the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Terracotta Warriors. But even if we had just visited today’s highlights in that timeframe, it would have been a week well spent.
For today, we visited the Longmen Grottoes, half an hour out of Luoyang, as well as the White Horse Temple, another hour or so down the road. But the best was still to come: the afternoon was spent above Dengfeng, at the Shaolin Temple. See what I mean? A busy kind of day if ever there was one.
Still, it was interesting to see that the huge swath of nothingness that lay between Luoyang and Longmen develop into a fledgling college town in just 2.5 years.
The Grottoes themselves were as impressive as ever. If you’re unsure as to their colossal nature refer to yesterday’s post. To carve 15000 Buddha figurines into a cliff is impressive enough, but for that to have occurred 1300 years ago is verging on ridiculous. Then to see that some are as tall as 15 meters, the line is crossed and you’re looking at a damn near miracle. To put it mildly, it was quite a site.
The drive from the Grottoes to the White Horse Temple was…interesting, to the point of almost colliding with three buses overtaking consecutively. Not that I didn’t like it. If anything, it felt good to really be back in China as I know and love it.
The Temple itself was surprisingly pleasant. There was a gentle ambiance, embodying my admittedly limited understanding Buddhism. The pleasant smell of incense, sold by the kilogram in nearby shops, added to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, we were only able to spend half an hour there due to time constraints, but the experience was still deeply relaxing.
In a pattern that we have become very used to, we arrived at Shaolin at 2pm for a “late lunch,” within the same compound as one of the Wushu academies. Immediately after a decidedly average meal, we took in a performance at the adjoining academy. The feats of strength, both mental and physical, that were displayed by the students were just as awesome as my previous visit to the area. An interesting nugget of knowledge: the crack of the whip that echoes through the arena is caused not by any physical impact. It is the sound of the tip breaking the sound barrier.
Following the performance, we made quick stops at the Pagoda Forest and Shaolin Temple, where we saw firsthand what a Buddhist ceremony actually consists of. I now sit here trying to type of Zhengzhou’s most bumpy highway, but that is a minor annoyance that has no hope of offsetting what has really been an incredible day.

Flickr Update: As you probably will have noticed, I haven’t uploaded any photos recently, which is due to low bandwidth at hotels here in China, so I’ll try and put some more up when I get back to England.

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