Shaolin, birth place of Kung Fu

A weekend sortie to check out the monks

I did what I'd always vowed never to do. I signed up for a tour group weekend trip away. As I only have two months left in China, I suddenly have this overwhelming desire to see as much as possible before I leave. Such a vast country, so many sights to see, but holidays I'd almost been tripping over my feet in my haste to escape from China. Now, after three years, I want to see it all.

There must have been about sixty of us, with a large German contingent and far too many little kindergarten age children, which met at the train station in Nanjing the Friday evening, to head 5 hours north on the bullet train to Zhengzhou capital city of the central Henan Province, near the Yellow River. A population of 8 million, the junction of the north/south and east/west train lines. Busy, busy with many people and a KFC on every corner. From there we caught a bus to Luoyang, a much smaller city surrounded by the majestic Song'Shan mountains where we spent the night in our hotel.

Luoyang is a much smaller city, and far less modern. It was one of the ancient capitals of China and I didn't spot a single KFC, although I am sure that they were hiding there somewhere. We woke up bright and early to have breakfast in the hotel, only to discover that what they meant by a western breakfast were slices of bread and jam. Filter coffee was supplied but no cups, so we were forced to fill our juice glasses with piping hot coffee. First time I have ever had rice and vegetables for breakfast and wondered if the fried cabbage leaves I had eaten would backfire on me later. Luoyang is also the hometown of many of the scientific inventions of ancient China, such as the seismograph, armillary sphere, paper making, printing and the compass.

From Luoyang we headed out to Dengfeng City to the nearby Shaolin Temple which was the place of origin for Chinese Zen Buddhism and the cradle of Chinese Martial Art. It was originally built about 700 years ago, but has been rebuilt many times over the years because of damage by marauding armies and the cultural revolution. Zen Buddhism was brought to China by an Indian Buddhist monk.

Dengfeng City has many Shaolin Kung Fu schools where 50 000 boys aged 6-18 attend boarding school and study Kung Fu. The boys come from all over China and their parents make many sacrifices to be able to send them there. Normally, school fees are free, but to attend one of the Kung Fu schools, parents have to pay RMB10 000 a year, which is a large sum for many people. This includes accommodation and food. The boys practise Kung Fu seven days a week and have lessons in culture and other normal subjects on six days a week. Jet Li came from this area in China, and attended one of the Kung Fu schools.

The Shaolin Temple is quite beautiful, but it is the pagoda forst that was really quite stunning. 240 Stone tombs and pillars for monks who were highly regarded by their students. Monks not so highly regarded, just had their ashes put in a public tomb. Our guide said that it's not easy to be a monk, as you have to be between the ages of 6 and 60, have no criminal record and mustn't be married. I did wonder which part made it difficult, the lack of a criminal record or the marriage part, as if you're 6 years old you shouldn't have those problems!

Chinese lunch at Luoyang, but none of the traditional noodles we were told about, and then on to the man made Longmen Grottoes next to a tributary of the Yellow River. These were made in about 300AD and are a UNESCO Heritage sight. The grottoes dug into the rock, all have statues of Buddha and pagodas sculpted into the rock. Quite impressive, and thousands of Chinese tourists having a look-see.

Sunday morning and we had our rice, vegetables and coffee in a glass for breakfast, then headed out to one of the biggest Kung Fu schools with 8000 students. The kids were amazing what they could do. The highlight of the trip. However, when it was relaxation time, it was disturbing to see all these young boys just sitting in the dirt with nothing to do. No toys to play with, nothing. There was one ping pong table with bricks for a net, but that was all. most boys played with sticks and practised their moves.  The children seemed happy enough and crowded around us to see the photos we'd taken.  However, I did find it quite disturbing as it did not appear to be a very stimulating environment.

On the way back to Zhengzhou to catch our train back to Nanjing, we stopped off at the cave houses to see how many Chinese people were forced to live about 50 years ago when gripped by extreme poverty during the Cultural revolution. Incidentally, many of the Buddhas at the Longmen Grottoes had heads and hands chopped off during the Cultural revolution. We were introduced to an old lady aged 93, who is supposedly the last person left still left living in the caves.  I say supposed as I just had a feeling that the whole thing was staged right down to the chopped greens on a table outside ready for cooking for dinner.  The government has built housing for the old cave dwellers and most moved out the caves about 40 years ago.  Sometimes, the Chinese do do anything to making a buck off tourists.  You almost expect to see a show about how we pillaged the villages and raped the women.  The old woman was very keen to show us her toddler-sized feet as her feet had been wrapped in bandages to prevent them from growing.  This horrible practice was started in the 17th Century and continued up until the early part of the 20th century.  The benefits of keeping a woman's feet tiny, was that she had to remain in the house and couldn't walk very far to escape her loving husband.  Also, tiny feet were supposed to be the most beautiful sight for a man to see and highly erotic.  If your parents didn't bandage your feet, no one would want to marry you.  Even if you had the hottest body and most gorgeous face in your whole district.  Big feet were a no-no.

The bus back to the station in Zhenzhou and the train back to Nanjing.  A great trip, very interesting, but next time I'd rather go with people without little children.  Some of them are undisciplined and run up and down screaming while their parents stand and drink beer and do nothing.  If you're ever in China, this does rank with the terracotta warriors in Xi'An and the Great Wall in Beijing!

Our guide for the weekend with her blue saintly Sinners flag that we could follow in a crowd.  She told us to have a dream on the bus trip to Luoyang the first night.
Our guide for the weekend with her blue saintly Sinners flag that we could follow in a crowd. She told us to have a dream on the bus trip to Luoyang the first night.
The rock carvings at Longmen Grottoes.
The rock carvings at Longmen Grottoes.
Rock carvings at Longmen Grottoes.
Rock carvings at Longmen Grottoes.
The Complaining telephone - love these signs we find in China.  Something I'll definitely miss!
The Complaining telephone - love these signs we find in China. Something I'll definitely miss!
Then of course, the NO PAKING sign.  One would think if you spend good money getting a sign made you'd check the spelling.
Then of course, the NO PAKING sign. One would think if you spend good money getting a sign made you'd check the spelling.
A god guarding the Shaolin Temple.
A god guarding the Shaolin Temple.
One of the big pagodas at the Shaolin Temple.
One of the big pagodas at the Shaolin Temple.
1000 year old tree.  the brown spots are from monks centuries ago, who used tree for Kung Fu training to strengthen their fingers.
1000 year old tree. the brown spots are from monks centuries ago, who used tree for Kung Fu training to strengthen their fingers.
Two old men with the very large prayer beads which my Dutch friend jokingly referred to as anal beads.
Two old men with the very large prayer beads which my Dutch friend jokingly referred to as anal beads.
At the Shaolin Temple.
At the Shaolin Temple.
The scenery around the pagoda forest was mystical.
The scenery around the pagoda forest was mystical.
A Shaolin monk showing someone one of the dead monk's tombs.
A Shaolin monk showing someone one of the dead monk's tombs.
Pagoda forest.
Pagoda forest.
Soldiers guarding the tour buses.
Soldiers guarding the tour buses.
Smoke from the incense being burnt at the main part of the temple.
Smoke from the incense being burnt at the main part of the temple.
Crowds at the Longmen Grottoes.
Crowds at the Longmen Grottoes.
Shaolin monks getting ready for a performance.
Shaolin monks getting ready for a performance.
The giant incense holder.
The giant incense holder.
Some of us in the tour group.
Some of us in the tour group.
A Shaolin novice monk writing someone's name in Chinese.
A Shaolin novice monk writing someone's name in Chinese.
A typical rural dwelling on the edge of wheatfields.
A typical rural dwelling on the edge of wheatfields.
A young boy showing off his Kung Fu skills.
A young boy showing off his Kung Fu skills.
A young boy showing off his Kung Fu skills.
A young boy showing off his Kung Fu skills.
A young boy showing off his Kung Fu skills.
A young boy showing off his Kung Fu skills.
The ping pong table with brick net.
The ping pong table with brick net.
Young boys showing off their Kung Fu skills.
Young boys showing off their Kung Fu skills.
This young boy just looked sad and a little lost.
This young boy just looked sad and a little lost.
A young boy at the Kung Fu school playing with a stick.
A young boy at the Kung Fu school playing with a stick.
Just sitting around with nothing to do.
Just sitting around with nothing to do.
Peeping out from behind a wall.
Peeping out from behind a wall.
Some young kung fu performers after the show.
Some young kung fu performers after the show.
Some young kung fu performers after the show.
Some young kung fu performers after the show.
Very young performers.
Very young performers.
The grand finale at the kung fu show.
The grand finale at the kung fu show.
I liked this sign at the hotel where we had lunch.
I liked this sign at the hotel where we had lunch.
Farmer.
Farmer.
Some of the caves people used to live in.
Some of the caves people used to live in.
The old woman's cave house.
The old woman's cave house.
Note the mirror built into the wall.
Note the mirror built into the wall.
Old woman showing her tiny feet.
Old woman showing her tiny feet.

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Comments 34 comments

agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 7 years ago from Australia

Cindy great photos from another world to the one I live in.

I must remember to stay away from your Dutch friend.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

lol Ag, yep, my Dutch friend can be very suspect at times!


Hawkesdream profile image

Hawkesdream 7 years ago from Cornwall

Your trip looked awesome Cindy, your photos gave the insight to the life over there. I agree with you , think the old lady was a stage prop. lol


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Hi Hawke, yeah, it looked like a stage set for me. I doubt that the old lady would have continued living in a cave when everybody else moved into a house 50 years ago!


LAmatadora 7 years ago

That was very insightful and I love to hear about history so this was wonderful! So I must ask...did the fried cabbage catch up with you later? LOL


R. Blue profile image

R. Blue 7 years ago from Right here

Hmmmmm...Those beads worry me a bit...how many of those can you fit?

And I don't believe those spots are from the monk's fingers....probably other parts of their anatomy they were working on.


dianacharles profile image

dianacharles 7 years ago from India

Thank you for a very interesting and informative hub cindy. I remember reading some pretty graphic details about the bandaged feet in Pearl S Buck's novels. Loved the photographs. I wonder if the kids feel homesick...after all leaving home at 6 must be difficult.That 1000 year old tree...amazing...but the indentations are suspect ;)


LAmatadora 7 years ago

I must have missed that photo of the tree....strengthening their fingers ey?? hmmmm...I saw a 1000 year old tree once in Anaheim-California on West St. It was the biggest tree I ever saw in my life. That one in China is small. But maybe that is the way that type of tree grows...LOL


Williamjordan profile image

Williamjordan 7 years ago from Houston TX

Thanks Great love the photos, amazing to see a different part of the world thanks.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

LAmatadora, you should see them do handstands on one finger!

Williamjordan, glad I could show you a different part of the world.

Dianacharles, those indentations are real. I poked my fingers in them.

Blue, now you ain't going to forget those beads, are you?


LAmatadora 7 years ago

but the real question...did the cabbage give you "Chorro"???:P lol


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

No, am a strong old bird with a constitution of an ox


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Miss Cindy

This is beyond cool for me I lurve it! Why you ask? Jet Li and Zang Yi Mou movies are my guilty pleasures! Yep I love them kung fu, shaolin and flying monk movies. Heck I even have the complete collection of Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China! :D


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Then you definitely have to find the time to go there for a visit, Cris. They gave us all a free dvd called Shaolin Monks, a Jet Li movie. Absolutely hilarious! We were cracking up in the bus watching it because I'm sure the dubbing didn't match the original Mandarin, and the subtitles didn't match the dubbing. My favourite line from the movie.

Girl: But you killed my dog.

Jet: I didn't kill it. I ate it. But only because you threw me with eggs.


mayhmong profile image

mayhmong 7 years ago from North Carolina

I kinda figured Jet Li was from the Shaolin area. I thought being a monk was free for all. Since all they do is what? Study kung-fu, culture, eat no meat, and can't be with women? Wish I could've been there to do a lot of site seeing! BTW, love those signs of complaining telephone.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Yeah May, see some really prize-winning signs like that all over China!


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Yes, China tops my list! I shall storm the forbidden city and do the LA Walk on the Great Wall! Hiiii-yaaaa! :D

And maybe sweep the grounds of some temples and walk on water too! :D


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Definitely, Cris if you go to Beijing, there are two shows you HAVE to see. The one is the Acrobat Show, absolutely spectacular and the Legend of Kung Fu is absolutely out of this world. All guys starring in that show are the creme de la creme from the Kung Fu Schools in Shaolin.


mayhmong profile image

mayhmong 7 years ago from North Carolina

Gaaah! Quit bragging about it!


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

You just jealous you didn't get to check out the buffed bodies and hear the men grunt, May!


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Maybe I'll go with May and become a monk! :D


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Yeah Cris, you be the monk and May can be the Monkey! lol


mayhmong profile image

mayhmong 7 years ago from North Carolina

ooh ohhh ah ah ah!

Cris, I hope you don't mind being bald!


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Cris bald will show off his come to bed eyes


shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 7 years ago

very nice pictures. Wish I was there and the (No Paking) is hilarious :):)


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Thanks Shamel, I enjoy taking pics of my travels


Barry Wah Lee profile image

Barry Wah Lee 7 years ago from Auckland

I was asked to go years ago.

Sold some ant wine and other herbal Shaolin wines and bruise medicines.The Herbal relief plasters never sold well though.

Enjoyable Read.

Before you all go trying to dig your fingers into trees,

you should start just poking into a pot of dry Mung Beans, then move up to Blue Peas,

then pebbles, then sand, then maybe metallic balls.Dont go tapping friends on the shoulder unless you know what you are doing after all that training.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Thanks for your comments and advice Barry.


kephrira profile image

kephrira 7 years ago from Birmingham

nice photos, I'd love to go there myself


wing chun training 6 years ago

Good to see that the Shaolin Temple has really opened up in the last couple of years. I have always wanted to visit thanks for such an informative hub. I study wing chun and -as with many martial arts have a rich history orignating from the Shaolin temple.. Can you believe that hundreds of years of history originated from this place. thank you.

As may tell im a bit of a Shaolin martial arts fan

http://www.wingchuntraining.net


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Wing Chung, it was a wonderful trip. Those schools with their thousands of kids all doing Kung Fu at the same time was a spectacle!


sanjeev yadav 6 years ago

very nice pictures....... thank you.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Thanks Sanjeev


TONY 3 years ago

hi laoshi .. may be u remember me i v being here to learn kung fu arts.. its too awesome and amzing ....... :) INDIA

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