Sunday, March 30, 2008

See ya, Shaanxi

Train travel has become a recurring theme here at Meldreth Musings over the past week or so. Today, I sit here on a double-decker train from Xi’an, in Shaanxi province to Luoyang, in neighbouring Henan province, home to approximately 100 million people, as well as China’s highest AIDS rate. So a word from the wise: don’t develop serious health problems or engage in promiscuous sex in this area.
Funnily enough, according to the Lonely Planet, the cause of the endemic AIDS problem is due to a government initiative. Back in the 1980s, China’s blood reserves were precariously low. Cash incentives and tax rebates were handed out to those willing to give blood. Henan is host to a large, poor rural population, so farmers and peasants pumped out blood by the gallon. Unfortunately, these were the days before careful medical sanitization, so all it took was one unassuming AIDS sufferer to contaminate the province’s blood supplies. The problem was publicly admitted discovered when the blood had already made its way into the region’s medical channels, and so the story goes.
But it ain’t all bad. What, from the sounds of things so far sounds like a large African country really isn’t. Between Luoyang and Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, two magnificent “cultural relics” can be found. First off, there are the Longmen Grottoes, where dozens of Buddha statues of increasing size sit carved into the cliffs towering over the Yellow River.
Several hours down the road lays the town of Dengfeng, built around a few tourist hotels and restaurants. Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but there is obviously a cause of this tourist infrastructure, and it lays a few kilometres up the mountain: the Shaolin Monastery, where Wushu Kung Fu was developed. Down the single-track road from the Monastery is the Pagoda Forest, another dazzling testament to the engineering might of pre-Industrial China. Dozens of pagodas, big and small sit nestled among a hillside forest.
Near downtown Dengfeng, amongst the ever-popular Wushu academies lays the Shaolin Pagoda. After an ascent of several hundred steps, stunning views of the major sights of the area can be afforded. Of course, that is providing conditions are neither foggy nor Chinese polluted. But if those conditions prevail, then a mystical nature beholds the setting.
It probably sounds like this won’t be my first time in Henan, but boy, am I ever looking forward, after several slightly dull days in Shaanxi and Shanxi.

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