Friday, August 14, 2009

The last feast in China

Hello for the last time in China. That is a really sad thing to say but tomorrow I fly back to America and this amazing adventure will come to an end. Today was a little more of a down day because we had to travel back to Beijing in order to get on our flight. We woke up and finished packing and then had a quick breakfast before loading onto the bus. On our way to the train station, we made a stop at some local stores to buy kung fu uniforms, shoes, suvineres and more. It was a very fun stop and another chance to blend the American and Chinese cultures through shopping experiences. The "shoppertunity" soon ended and our bus took us to the train station. The five hour train ride back to Beijing was surprisingly enjoyable and comfortable. It was the last time for our entire group to bond together so we made it a fun time together. The train eventually arrived in Beijing and we got in a bus to our hotel. We had a little bit of time to get changed and then it was time for our Duck Dinner.

Everyone was dressed in their nicest clothes for our last meal and we were so excited to enjoy a Chinese favorite. I was wearing a black silk kung fu master outfit that I had purchased a few days earlier. It was increadibly comfortable and looked very stylish, almost like a tuxedo. Well all of us decked out in our fanciest outfits got on the bus for our restaurant. The restaurant is one of the most famous in Beijing and for that reason was very busy. As we entered we were taken into the elevator to the top floor where we went to our own private room. Before eating, our videographer, Jimbo, who has been filming us the entire trip played the films that he had edited. You have seen them on the main blog ( and they were shared with us on the big screen. It was so phenominal to relive the things that we had done together one more time. This trip has been so outstanding and the dinner was the perfect end to it. The main course was peking duck that was absolutely amazing and so fresh. I have had peking duck before in the states but this was so much fresher and tasted a lot nicer. After the chef was done carving the whole duck, he sliced off the head and put it on a plate in the middle. I figured that I wouldn't have many opportunities in my life to eat duck brain so I took my chop sticks and dug in. I was not a huge fan of it, it was very squishy and the flavor was not very appetizing. Come to think about it, it actually tasted as gross as you would think duck brain should taste. That was not the only exotic dish at our last meal, however. Before the duck our server brought out a dish that had scorpians on it. I was not going to leave China with out eating bugs and now I can leave a happy person. The scorpians didn't really taste that bad they tasted like a very crunchy potato chip. It was actually pretty tasty, the only thing was the knowledge that it was a scorpian. Before putting it in my mouth the small creature was staring me in the face and it was a huge mind game. My brain was telling me that it was a scorpian and was weird and gross but my mouth told me it tasted pretty decent. Eventually my mouth won in the fight and I ate two scorpians to fulfill my desire to eat bugs. The meal came to an end and I was so happy to enjoy these two exotic Chinese meals. Saddly, though, the ending also meant an end to the trip and we had to start saying our goodbyes. We will still see the students and teachers at breakfast tomorrow but it was our last time with most of the Chinese travel staff. We said a somber goodbye and took pictures and returned to the hotel for one last night of sleep in China.

Since this will probably be my last blog post from China I want to really thank Discover Student Adventure so much for this opportunity. They really have an unparalleled way to allow students and teachers to explore foreign lands in a truly exclusive and authentic way. I really hope that you have enjoyed following me on this adventure digitally and I hope that through my blog you have also learned about the land of China. I would strongly suggest for anybody who has thought to travel abroad to do it now and do it with DSA. Trips in 2010 include destinations such as Australia, South Africa, Arctic, Italy and Greece, Costa Rica, Galapagos and Equador, New Zeland and Fiji, and of course China! For more information on any of the trips take a look at or feel free to email me at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Exam Day

Ni hao! It is outstanding how when you don't think the days on this trip could get any better, they do. Today was an absolutely phenominal day. We woke up early again, 5 am this time, and walked over to the Shaolin Temple. Our hotel is in a great location because it is a 5 minute walk to the temple. We made the walk today with great excitement because we knew that waiting for us at the Shaolin Temple was a real warrior monk who would be leading today's kung fu lessons. We were soon at the temple's courtyard and were greeted by our master monk. He was 24 years old and has been a monk for 10 years. It is very surprising that while the monks and kung fu masters are so physically fit and strong, they are not very muscular or buff. Anyways, the monk first had us warm up and strech. The first exercise was a Tai Chi kung fu routine similar to what we did with the Tai Chi master. We had to channel our energy and use it to strech the far limbs of our body. Tai Chi is a very relaxing martial art and makes you feel really good after you do it. The next two exercises we increadibly dificult. The first was the horse posture and the second was the long stance. For the first one you had to squat with your feet about two and a half foot lengths away and your knees bent at a 90 degree angle. We were told to hold it for two minutes but I could barely hold it for thirty seconds. The kung fu masters deffinately have extreme leg stregnth because the monk explained that he usually does that stance for 30 minutes a day. The second position was a little easier, we had to extend one leg and keep the other bent at 90 degrees. The monk had us hold this for 2 minutes on each side as well. It was a lot easier then the previous one, but maintaining the proper position was still a dificult task. After doing those two positions for a prolonged amount of time the monk had us do them rapidly and switch. On his count we would do the long stance to the left and then the horse followed by the long stance to the right then the horse again and so on. He made us do 20 of these in a row and stressed the presition as we did each switch. That drill marked the end of our stretches and it was time to begin todays first lesson. Our group's first lesson was in kicks. The monk demonstrated three kicks for us durring lesson one. He had us all line up in the courtyard of the temple in two single file lines next to eachother for our practice. He demonstrated the first one, a normal forward kick with your arms straight out, your fingers pointing upward, and your thumb tucked in. After the demonstration, the monk had each of us do the kick two people at a time from one side of the court yard to the other and then back. The next kick was with our hand in the same position and kicking our foot in a circle from out to in while keeping our upper body still. We also did this kick two at a time from one side to the other and back with our right leg first and then our left and so on. This was a lot more dificult then the first one because it was a big challange to keep you upper body still and get your leg high enough up. The third, and final, kick was very similar to the one before but rather then going outside to in, we went inside to out. Again, this was dificult but the monk did all three with ease so we need to at least attempt them as well.

Our first lesson of the day ended and our next stop for the morning was the Pagoda Forest. This collection of pagodas was only two minute walk from the temple courtyard. Now if you don't know what a pagoda is, because I did not until today, it is sort of like a grave. It looks like a tall and thin building with a few terraces. Each pagoda had either 3, 5, or 7 levels depending on the importance of the person burried there. A pagoda would be used to bury the monks and would contain their creamated remains. If the monk was very important then they would get their own pagoda with no openings and a certain number of levels depending on their contributions as a monk. If it is not determined that they deserve their own then their remains would be put in a public pagoda which is 7 levels and has opened windows to insert the remains in. The pagodas are all made of stone and are hand carved with things that the monk enjoyed in life. One of the pagodas that we saw was the newest one, built in 2005, it is made of a single stone that was then carved into a beautiful urn. The carvings on it included a laptop, airplane and other interesting symbols that were a sign of the times. In all there used to be 500 pagodas at this pagoda forest, however, many of the pagodas have been destroyed and today there are only about 250 pagodas in this "forest".

When we finished viewing the beautiful pagodas we had time for a quick break and then breakfast. A little while later it was time for lesson two with the master monks. Since the temple had opened for tourist by this time, we met the monks in a valley on the mountain a small walk away from the temple. We were greated by four masters this time, two monks and two monks-in-training. This lesson was our final practice before we would be tested on the routine that we learned at the Small Dragon Kung Fu School. The masters had us line up in our formation and run through the routine numerous times. While we thought that we knew it, the monk did the routine much faster and with a few different and more powerful moves. The monks did not simply move from one position into the next, they made all of the moves one routine and had very smooth and distinct transitions. It was a slightly dificult transition from our teacher at the kung fu school who was there to help improve us to the monks who were there more to test us. Nonetheless, we took the challange and met it head on. To think that only two days ago most of our group did not know a single thing about kung fu and today we would be tested by the best kung fu masters in the world. We watched the masters and practiced our routine with them until it was perfected and we were prepared for our test later in the day. When they felt that we knew the routine well they released us and our group was on our way to lunch and then had another small break.

After our break we all walked back to the Shaolin Temple for our offical Kung Fu test. The two monks that we were with earlier in the day were there along with one of the monks-in-training. We had one quick time to review the routine and then it was testing time. We were tested two people at a time with the monk-in-training guiding us and the two warrior monks observing us. It was a very nerve racking test, almost as bad as the SAT's, and the stage fright really threw a lot of us of. Even so, the monks let a few little errors go with everyone and all 12 students and 4 teachers received certificated for our Kung Fu training. It was a truly amazing experience that we were some of the very few people in the world to ever train in Kung Fu with the Shaolin Warrior Monks.

After we finished our exam we had time to rest until our farwell party. In our hotel room we turned on the television and, even though we couldn't understand a word that was said, I noticed something interesting. On Chinese TV rather then having 30 second commercials, like we are used to in America, they have 10 second comercials. I guess that the Chinese are just smarter in this respect because they can make triple the money on tv commercial sales. This observation pointed out that their are differences in our cultures and life styles even in the smallest details like commercials. Anyways, today was not about finding the differences between American and Asian culture, it was about embracing the culmination of the two throughout our two week journey in China.

Our rest was over and the group loaded on the bus to begin our farewell party. The first thing, of course, was our feast. We would never go to a feast alone in China, though. On our way to the restaurant we made two stops to pick up the warrior monks and the kung fu students that we had been learning with durring the past couple of days. There are not many people who can say that rode on a bus with a monk but now I can. The bus was not the coolest part; when we arrived at the reasturant our groups split up so that we would all have an interpeter and either monks or kung fu students eating with us. I was lucky enough to sit at the table with two warrior monks, Andy and Tommy. Andy spoke pretty good English so it was easy to sustain a conversation and I learned so much from him. The monks explained all of the rules they must follow such as they cannot lie, kill, have a girl friend and more. It was also interesting that when they explained their reasons for being a monk. Andy explained that he attended a kung fu school and became a warrior monk because it was the best training for kung fu and he wants to be in movies like Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee. Tommy, on the other hand, became a warrior monk for the spiritual side of it and he doesn't want to leave the temple; he eventually wants to become the head monk. The drastic contrast between the two was very interesting to observe. Other interesting things that they shared at the meal were that they practice kung fu about 6 hours a day and only pray 45 minutes a day. Their days also consist of time for learning and some leasure time. For fun the warrior monks like to play soccer and basketball and some have computers. Andy said that he uses his computer to help learn English. An awesome thing about him is that he has a facebook account. As soon as I heard that I got on my blackberry and sent him a friend request. I'm so excited to have a monk as a friend on facebook! The meal was absolutely outstanding and I couldn't believe that was only the begining of our party.

The monks, students, and all of us got back in the bus for our next stop which was the Shaolin Temple. When we arrived at the temple the warrior monks directed us to a room which is the monk's kung fu practice room. When we walked in we were greated by 60 monks-in-training and 20 kung fu students who were all cheering for our arrival. It was such a great feeling when they welcomed us so warmly. The two groups were seated on the floor in a very strict formation with perfect rows. This was just one last sign of the dicipline of the Chinese children. As we sat down we were welcomed to a night of cultural blending. The discovery deligation was asked to come up first to present our long awaited song, Shaolin Shaolin. We all sang it to the crowd and it was deffinately the best we have done so far. The other kids were cheering and screaming which made us feel so good. It feels amazing that we now have a little bit of Chinese musical culture to bring home. The next group to go was the warrior monks and, since we sang a song in all Chinese, they sang one in all English. It was very interesting that we had no clue what the song was but it was sung very nicely and such a cool gesture to exchange the experiences and we cheered for them so loud. The last group to go was the Small Dragon Kung Fu School students. They marched onto stage in unicen and reacted to the leader's commands in military style. These students truly are brought up in a different way then most American students because they basically go to Chinese boot camp all their life. When they were given the command, they faced forward stood tall and began singing their school song. We did not understand any of it but it was a very nice way to explore their culture further after learning with them. When this first part was over, we started a small talent show. Every group had a few students sing songs, do a martial arts routine, or dance. It was cool to listen to the songs that were played. One of the warrior monks began to sing a song in Chinese and the two other groups all knew the song perfectly and sang along. We also have songs like that in America but this was a moment to realize the grand scope of music and how much it effects every cultures identity. The final thing at the party was a martial arts exhibition. The warrior monks went first and their presentation was mind boggeling. They had different routines using swords and flips, punches and kicks and more amazing stunts. Two of the preformers were only six years old and were phenominal. They were doing back flips on their head using no hands. Some of the other moves included contortioning; one of the warrior monks put his feet behind his head and with his fists through his legs he lifted his body. I was in pain just watching his body do these things. Another preformer had two swords and was twirling them in ways that looked absolutely increadible. For the last routine, all of the warrior monks each acted as one of the animals of the zodiac with their kung fu postures. This was also how the preformance from the day before at the kung fu school ended. It must be a common routine for a kung fu show because of their focus on culture and the zodiac. When that preformance ended our group was filled with fear because it was our turn to end the party with our kung fu routine. We stood on the mats with our four masters from the kung fu school guiding us. I was shoked to because of how good it felt like we were doing. I think that everyone tackled every move and succeeded with the whole routine. When we ended the audience exploded in applause and I was filled with happiness to know that I was able to successfully learn a Chinese song and a kung fu routine and preformed it for some of the most skilled kung fu masters in the world.

This trip has really expanded my views on Asian culture and history and has taught me things I could have never know. Tomorrow is a day of travel back to Beijing and then we all have a big duck dinner together. After that it is time to get a plane and make our way home. It is really sad that such an amazing adventure is coming to an end but, as the old saying goes, "don't be sad it's over, be happy it happened".

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An early start to a long day

Hello everyone, today was a very extreme day that was increadibly different from any day so far. Wake up was at 4:30 in the morning and we started our day with the Shaolin Monks. We arrived at the Temple at 5:00 and were given instructions on how the morning was going to work. Our group was going to experience a day in the life of a monk. We prayed, ate, and cleaned with the Shaolin Monks. We were the only non-monks in the temple which made it an even more interesting experience because of the exclusivity. The first thing we did was lined up in two line, one for guys and one for girls, outside of the Grand Hall. This hall is where the monks of Shaolin pray daily. We entered and stepped over the thresh hold with our left foot and formed a single line of guys to the left of Buddah's statue and girls to the right. The room was home to 7 statues, three of them were very large gold sculptures of Buddah in different positions and the others were smaller gold figures. What was interesting about the sculptures was that the Buddah was not the fat male version that we are familiar with, rather, it was a very physically fit and almost female version of Buddah. It was interesting to see that there are these very different views of Buddah. After glancing around the room and observing the decoration it was time to pray. The monks entered dressed in gold robes and a few of them had a brown cloth draped over them. Two of the monks were actually wearing black robes. The monks filled in the three rows infront of us and it was silent. I was very surprised about the size of the temple and the number of monks. I expected the "Great Hall" to be a lot larger but it was only four rows of benched and there were only about 25 monks at prayer with us. Throughout the entire prayer service (about 50 minutes) we had to remain standing and still except for the occational bowing and one occation when we walked around the hall in circles. One of the monks in a black robe struck a drum and the service began. The prayer was done in sanscript, an ancient Indian language. We did not understand it and could not have our interperter translate but we hummed along with the prayer. Durring the entire service there were monks banging on hollow drum-like instruments to embrace the prayer. We just stood in the back trying to take in this religious paradigm shift. I, coming from a Jewish background and participating in three weeks of Jewish learning immediately prior to this trip, was very interested in the service. I saw a lot of parallels between my normal services and this one along with a lot of differences. The Buddhist service had a strong focus on communal prayer like at home and had a very defined order of prayer and actions such as bowing. Another interesting thing to note was that the Buddah faced south toward India and everyone faced that way to pray and at in Judaism we face west toward Isreal. There were so many interesting things to notice during the prayer service that I cannot point them all out but I hope that gave you a little insight.

After the prayer service the monks exited and we followed directly behind them into the dining hall. When we entered there was a gold statue of Puti Dama, the builder of the Shaolin Temple and said "Ar Me Toa Fua" which is a statement of greeting and respect. We entered and sat down in the back of the room awaiting our food. Breakfast was eaten in silence which created a very weird feeling in the room. The monks-in-training, wearing gray robes, served the meal to us. The monks all have a vegitarian diet so it was vegies for our meal. Breakfast consisted of fried bread which was delicious and some sort of Chinese cole slaw and an onion dish in a weird sauce. We were told that you must eat whatever you get in your bowl because of those who have none so everyone was sure to signal the servers not to give us a lot. The vegitable dishes did not taste very good but I had to fight through the taste to digest it. Thankfully they also were serving sugar so I chased down the bad vegitable taste with the sugar and bread but it was still very dificult to swallow.

A short while later, breakfast was over and it was time to help clean the temple. Everyone was given a broom and we swept the courtyard. The brooms were not like home, the handel was bamboo and the brush part was numerous twigs tied together on the end of the stick. As foreign as it was, they got the job done and we were able to give the monks a day off from their usual chores. When the courtyard was clean it was about 7 o'clock and we made our way back to the inn for a little bit. We had some time to change and freshen up before another Kung Fu lesson.

We arrived at the Small Dragon Kung Fu school again to have our first of two lessons for today. Today we would begin learning with sticks and swords. Before that, however, it was time to run some more laps. We ran in cirlcles around the room for a few minutes and then had a little bit of review from yesterday. The masters went through all of the positions we had learned yesterday and some how we improved greatly. After some review it was time for the long awaited weapons. We split into two groups and my group got the bamboo sticks. These sticks were about 5 foot tall and made of about one inch thick wood. It was some what like baton twirling, martial arts style. The master taught us two methods of how to spin the stick and then a routine with it. The spinning was increadibly confusing but I tried really hard and almost got it. Maybe with a little more practice I will become a master. When the spinning practice was done the real master taught us a Kung Fu routine with the stick. The routine was more like the positions we origionally learned and was much easier. My favorite part of the routine was at the end we whipped the stick onto the ground. It was a great anger releaser and it was quite empowering. After our new lesson our group came back together and did one last review of the origional routine we learned yesterday. Tomorrow we will be doing this routine for the Warrior Monks at the Shaolin Temple to get our Kung Fu certificate so we need to perfect it. We left the school and had lunch at a local reasturant. One of the dishes was a chicken dish with the chicken cut into bite sized pieces. At first look it looked like delicious boneless chicken, however, upon closer examination, it was deffinately not boneless. The chicken was still on the bone and it was a very interesting task to eat around the bones and still enjoy the tasty, but spicy, meat. When our group finished lunch we had some time to rest at our inn and then it was back to the Small Dragon Kung Fu School. We were brought into a presentation room and all took a seat. The students of the school, some of them who had been teaching us, preformed in one of the most amazing martial arts presentations I have ever seen. The show included moves, flips, and stunts that were phenominal. One of the kids in the show looked about 7 years old, for his part he suctioned a metal bowl on his stomach. All of the other tried to pull it off and were not successful. Then the boy layed down and they attached a wire to the bowl and stuck a pole through the wire. Two other preformers then lifted the boy up with the pole by only the bowl. It was amazing to see it stay. Other stunts included lifting people by spears placed at their arms, legs, and throat. It looked excruciatingly painful, but, somehow the men that got lifted did not seem phased by it. I really felt as if I was at the Chinese circus while watching these amazing acts. Other parts included people jumping and flipping and combating with swords. In one section, each of the men took on the role of a different animal and it was increadible how they moved their body in ways very similar to those animals. The show came to an end eventually and we had faces of amazement from the talent of the preformers. Who knows, maybe if we continue with Kung Fu we will see someone from our group be the next Jet Lee in 10 years.

After the show our teachers gathered us together and brought us upstairs to a practice room for part two of today's lesson. In this part we mainly practiced our routine which we will be presenting to the Shaolin monks tomorrow. The change that our group made in just one day was remarkable. We still were not good but we were no longer bad so I say that is progress. We went through the routine enough times until we started to memorize it and we kept speeding it up. At first he would do one more and we would repeat it, now we were doing five at a time. We would go forward, push right, right leg out, punch left, squat down, cross fists, etc. The routine had a definate science and we are begining to conquer it. At the end of our lesson our travel managers explained how tomorrow we would be going to the Shaolin Temple to have Kung Fu lessons with the warrior monks and then present our routine to them. We were all excited and gained some extra motivation to continue practicing and before we knew it our lesson was over.

When the lesson ended we had a chance to go to stores down the street which sold the kung fu school uniforms and shoes and the Kung Fu master's uniform. I bought two pairs of the shoes for the equivelant of $8 US and I bought a Kung Fu master uniform which I plan on wearing to our duck dinner on the last night in China. When our little "shoppertunity" was over we all boarded the bus and were on our way to dinner.

It is interesting how after 10 days of experiencing the local cuisine three meals a day I can know what dishes I do or don't like and what it tastes like. The emergance of culture here has occured in every aspect from the language to religion to recreation and fun to food and of cource accomidations. Talking about that, it is about time to get tucked in to my bed under the China stars and get to bed because wake up is early again tomorrow for the warrior monks. Good night!

In responce to a recent comment, on behalf of the entire New Jersey delegation we would like to reinforce that the purpose of this adventure is to learn about and experience the culture and share it with you and the rest of the world. Because of that, we would love to help you gather information from us in any way possible to bring our experiences into your living rooms or class rooms. If you are interested in setting up any interviews, webinars, or anything else that you feel could benifit other please feel free to contact me directly at Thank you for helping us share our experiences!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pictures are up!!!

I know that many people have asked to see some pictures from the journey and because of internet blocks I have been unable to do that. Anyways, we have been able to work around that and I just posted some beautiful pictures I have taken so far. There is a slide show of the photos on the top of the side bar that will link you directly to my Picasa photo album. I hope you enjoy them and there will be more to come.

Another amazing day in China

Today was an amazing day. Now I do realize that starting today's blog like that will bring about really high expectations but I hope to reach them. We woke up early, had breakfast, and were off to the Kung Fu school for our long awaited lesson. The masters who would be teaching us welcomed our group and we began. The first thing to do was run laps around the courtyard. Now I am not the most physically active kid in the world so this was a very rough start for me. Nonetheless, when actually doing the running, it wasn't as hard as I expected. About ten laps later, we were back in the practice room and were ready to begin our training. For our first day at Kung Fu this was no beginer stuff. We were doing poses to mimic the master and they were so dificult. Most of them were done squating and our master squated with his knees at less then a 90 degree angle. I was having trouble maintaining even a 110 degree angle for our two hour lesson. The masters were very particular with our hands the entire time. Some of the stances contained your arms crossed with you hands in fists and our right arm always had to be first, if not they would come to correct us. Other positions involved squating while punching with fists by our side and over our head. There were often times when we had to balance on one foot or kick our legs up very high. All of the stances were very dificult and we had to hold them for a long time. The masters gave us a short break half way through our lesson and I ran towards my water to rehydrate from the excessive sweating I had been doing. The break did not last long, however, and we were then split into groups. It was now time to show off what we had learned. The first group was up so I was able to watch as they stood alone and preformed the moves that they were just taught. It was increadibly impressive to see us be decent at Kung Fu after just a little training. When it was my turn I gave it my all and I think, surprisingly, I did pretty well. The lesson soon came to a close and we said good bye to our teachers until tomorrow. Our group was then taken on a tour of the school's campus. The lunch room looked not that much different from the one at my school and the classrooms were just slightly different. The rooms had white boards and desks but they were just slightly older and less well kept then my normal ones at home. The dormatories were interesting, they were so clean and tidy. The students beds were made as if they were in the military and it showed the true dicipline of the students there. After our tour it was time to leave and go to our next stop.

Our bus drove up to our next destination, the Astronomical Observatory. This structure was built in 1276 in order for Guo Shoujing to prove that Dengfeng was the center of the world. At that time they believed that there was no world other then China and that the earth was flat and sky was round. After the astronomers studied the shaddows and the sun, it was determined that Dengfeng was the center of the world and the emperor ordered that the capital be moved there. It did not stay there for long, but, this spot was very important because the studies of the sun's shaddows helped determine the length of a day and the seasons. It is interesting to know that the ancient calculation of a year at this observatory is only 24 minutes off of what it is discovered today to be.

After discovering about the history of Chinese astronomy we had lunch at a local restaurant. One of the dishes they served was fresh fish. It came out steaming inside an aluminum foil bag that we had to pop. Inside was some of the freshest, most delicious fish dishes I have ever tasted. Of course the head and tail were still attached but we tried not to loose our appitites and enjoyed the delicious meal. When we finished our meal we had a little break at our inn to nap and then were off to the Grand Shaolin Zen Music Show.

The show was absolutely amazing. Before it began we actually had the opportunity to meet some kids our age who were studying Kung Fu and would be preforming in the show. It was really cool to see how dedicated they are to the art and how talented. The stage for the show was no where near typical. The stage was a mountain side and they had stage lights to brighten it up. The seats were put at the base of the mountain and there were things happening on the entire mountain. There were four monks at different locations the entire time sitting still and meditating while the action occured behing them. There was dancing and martial arts together with singing and playing instruments and dramatic lighting the entire time. The music was all melow and the show is intended to clear your mind and be in a state of tranquility. The show featured probably one hundred preformers and they were all so talented. There were groups of people on stage from 10 year old boys to dancing women doing increadible movements to the music. A few of the preformers we dressed in light up suits and seamed to be floating through the mountains while dualing with eachother using sticks and fists. The motions through the entire thing were so insinct it was phenominal. At the end a light-up moon and numerous light-up Buddahs came up from inside the mountain and all of the preformers reappeared in the orange robes that the four meditating monks were wearing. This display reinforced to us the real reason why the Chinese people, and us, learn Kung Fu and other martial arts. We are learning to become in touch with ourselves physically and spiritually and be pure souls on earth. The show was deffinately a great end to an "amazing" day. Tomorrow we need to wake up at 4.30 to experience a day in the life of one of the Shaolin Monks so it is off to bed for me now. Good night!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Off the train and on to Kung Fu

Hello again all! Today was yet another amazing day in China. We woke up very early on our train this morning and got ready for our day. The train was a surprisingly fun experience and I slept like a baby. Soon after we woke up and got our stuff together we were at our stop, Louyang. Our group found our bus and got on the way. The first thing we did was stop at a local hotel to have breakfast and take showers. During breakfast we were greated by a special guest, the deputy director of tourism for the city of Louyang. The man expressed his gratitude for our visit and presented us with gifts including a ceramic carving which housed the pioni, the city flower.

The next stop for today was the Longman Grotto, a mountain with over 2,000 Buddah carvings in it. The carvings ranged from a 42 foot tall Empress with Prime Minister, Concubine, and Soldiers to an army of 13,000 1 inch tall figures listening to Buddah. Some carvings were as old as 1500 years but the preservation was truly great and the detail was just as beautiful today as ever. What was very upsetting about the carvings, however, was that many of their heads were cut off. Whenever there was an emperor in charge who was not Buddhist, he would order the carvings to be destroyed. Because of this, many of the beautiful heads are cut off and ruined. The last carving we viewed was the largest Buddah there and it was magnificent. We finished there and got back on our way to lunch. Lunch was not the best that we had eaten, but it was still edible. After that we arrived in at our next hotel, got settled in, and then we walked over to the Shoalin Temple.

This was the only temple we had visited so far that is a working temple currently. Since it is used, we needed to be extra respectful there. Every doorway in China has a tall thresh hold step at the door to keep the deamons away. Usually, it doesn't matter how you cross it but at the temple the men must walk over it with their left foot and the women with their right. Additionally, we had to dress very conservative and be quiet and respectful in the temple. In the temple we saw monks everywhere and greeted them with "Ar Me Toa Fua". We walked through the temple and viewed the beautiful statues of Buddah and the georgeous architecture. After a little bit of touring, our guide led us out a weird door and through an ally. We didn't know where we were going and were brought into a classroom. We were soon met by the temple's head monk. He gave us a small lecture about monks and Buddhism and the Shoalin Temple. It was a very enlightening and the things he said related universally to everyone in the room. The monk discussed the 3 vows that the monks make to learn at the temple which are no anger, no ignorance, and no greed. He also shared advice like live in the moment and worry about your soul's current incarnation and not a future reincarnation. He then shared the history of the temple and explained that it was burned down three times before and what we are seing today was rebuilt between the 1980's and 1995. He also told of a story about how a past emperor was once captured in the mountains surrounding the temple and when the monks heard him 13 monks went to save the man. He was forever greatful so when the man became emperor he gave the Shaolin Temple 2000 acres of land and had the warrior monks become part of China's millitary. Because of that, the warrior monks at the temple are still very fierce and up until 50 years ago still worked with the government. When the monk was done with his lesson we all took a photo with him and then finished our tour of the temple. While touring the monks sold insence for people to put infront of the temple. It is said you should put three in the urn for the past, present, and future and when Buddah smells them he will grant you good fortune. As we left the temple, we walked on the center tiles which had lotus flowers engraved on them which is said to bring good fortune as well.

After the temple we made our way to our home for the next few days: the Kung Fu school. As we drove up we saw hundreds of students marching in formation with weapons in hand. This crew was a scary one and we realized in a short while our group would join them soon. We went into a practice room and watched a demonstration by the students. It was absolutely amazing to see how talented they are and what they can force their bodies to do. Upstairs they were doing some of the best boxing I had ever seen. There were some girls fighting in their that could knock me out with one punch. We got out of their quickly with fear in our minds and said good bye to the students we would soon be studing with.

Dinner was scheduled to end our day and it was absolutely delicious. One of the dishes actually tasted like sesame chicken from home, we were in shock. To make it even better, they had French fries. It tasted so good but was soon over and it was time to go to our inn. As a surprise, however, we made a stop at a local grocery store and bought some snacks because with the upcoming physical activity we are going to get very hungry. We got some chocolate and snacks because they were the only foods that looked familiar and safe. It was time to check out and get a good nights sleep. Tomorrow is an extreme Kung Fu lesson and some exploring through town. Talk to you then!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 7 in China

Da jia hao (hello everyone)! Yesterday was another busy day of travel and touring. We started off early getting packed and checking out of our rooms because we would be going on the train for the night. After our group was all checked out and our keys were in it was off to the Mini Potala temple. The temple is an exact replica of the Dali Lama's actual temple at at 1/3 scale. Its structure consists of a large entrance garden who's path leads to the temple. The temple is a tall read building with a gold roof. We climbed up all 400 steps to the top and took in the beautiful views of the city from up there. The temple is empty and filled only with shops now but in the days that it was being used, hundreds of years ago, its rooms housed the Dali Lama. Our group then had to proceed down the multitude of steps again and load on our bus.

We had a short time to freshen up and then were on our way back to Beijing to catch our train. On the drive we saw the beautiful Beijing countryside and took in breath taking views of the Great Wall. After a little nap on the bus we arrived at our gormet dinner location: the golden arches or McDonalds. It was the biggest relief to see that we were going to take a break from Chinese cuisine and have some good old American food. I ordered a chicken sandwich and it was deffinately different from home, but still good. The sandwich was very spicy and dark meat but, other then that, pretty American. We had a little time to browse around the shops there and then to the train station.

We had to board an overnight train from Beijing to Luoyang. When we got in, the train was surprisingly roomy. The four boys shared one room and we each had a bed. Believe it or not, we were very comfortable and excited for a good night of bonding on the train. After we arrive we will be exploring the Longman Grottos and then arrive at our home for the next 4 days: Shaolin! Well that is all for now, I can't wait to learn some Kung Fu.