Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shaolin Temple

Friday morning and we were able to sleep in a little bit, as we didn’t need to meet our tour guide until 09:00. Well rested we set out to see the birthplace of kongfu and see one of the five sacred mountains, Songshan.

Upon arrival at Shoalin temple, were greeted with throngs of tourists, which we knew would happen as it is a major tourist attraction for Chinese. As we wandered through the full parking lot and waited for our guide to grab our entry tickets we laughed at the crowds of people posing in various kungfu style poses out side of the main gate. Tickets in hand we head in through the turn-styles and are told it’ll be a 5-10 minute walk. That’s fine as we are excited to see Shaolin temple and we had also asked if we would be able to see some of the monks doing their training. The temple itself has 15,000 students being trained in the martial arts, with somewhere around 50,000 be trained in at total of nine schools located in the area – this is where the best of the best come (think of Top Gun but for kungfu). We approach one small building that has a few kids practicing outside and some nice statues showing various moves and are ushered up and in alongside hundreds of others, this we are told is the show that we wanted to see and that we should try and grab as seat towards the back in the middle. Theatre in the round on a smaller scale, even Tina’s knees were wedged into the row in front of us and with the darkness on the stage we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get great photos. That was before we saw that signs saying no photos or video were allowed during the show.

This was mass un-organization at its best. People are trying to climb over each other in the attempt to get seats as others moved out of seat to go and get their photos taken with a few monks up on stage. We briefly considered getting our photos taken with swords or an axe in our hands alongside an old man in a robe and small child doing the splits, but for some reason decided against it.

Can you pick out which four are the tourists?

Sometime after the room was filled past capacity, people standing in the aisles so that some end seats would have a restricted view, they dimmed the lights for the show to start. The stunts that these guys did were truly amazing. We tried to capture some of their movements with our camera, yes did tell us that videos and camera were not allowed but as everyone was taking pictures we figure we would be safe, but they were too quick to get great shots. The only way to describe this would be to say - picture a Cirque Du Soleil show, with a full monk cast and more modest clothing. It the middle of the show they decide to sell DVDs of the show, so people are climbing over seat and passing money to women wandering at the front of the stage – just interfering with being able to see slightly. It got worse about two-thirds of the way through the show when they started handing out photos to the people who had posed earlier. It really was unbelievable how the tourist side of this was run, it was a great show but poorly organized. Leaving after it was over was another issue, as you’ve heard us talk before about everyone’s need to be the first out, here was no different.

From there we walked around a corner and up to a restaurant for lunch where they served us more food then we could ever have eaten. They served sweet & sour chicken which we had always heard was just a western invention and didn’t really exist in China, but we looked around and it wasn’t just us, they were serving it to all of the tour groups.

We were able to enjoy a quick downpour from inside the restaurant, but it had stopped by the time we were leaving and was even giving signs that the sun might just poke through the clouds….

Okay, this has been a long one – this was a full day, so I’ll stop here and let Tina tell you more tomorrow.

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