Touring Henan Province

Luoyang, despite being only a few hours away from Xi'an and home to two major tourist destinations in Central China didn't seem to be overrun with foreign tourists (as Xi'an did). When we checked into our youth hostel, we seemed to be the only guests (and there wasn't anything noticeably wrong with the place). It was late when we arrived, so our first activity was to hit the night market in the old city for dinner. We walked for what seemed a long time, once we got to the spot where the night market was supposed to be, we were told by locals that it didn't exist anymore. So ... Yann and I did what we usually do for dinner, pick the first restaurant we happen to come across. This gave us the chance to demonstrate our perfected food ordering techniques:
1) Point at dishes that other clients are eating (not easy when there aren't any others, this time we ended up with some delightful deep fried fish bites)
2) Go to the kitchen (sometimes you don't really want to see what's there), point at ingredients that you would like to eat
3) Point at ingredients in the 'Food' section of our phrasebook (again, this can sometimes cause confusion, like when I asked for pork and got pork intestines, it's all the same right? Wrong!)
Technique one has proved especially perilous in the past, but this time we ended up eating a good meal, trying local dishes with an enthousiastic owner who spent most of the meal sitting in the corner with our phrasebook. We spent most of the next day at the nearby Longmen Caves, a series of thousands of grottoes carved out of the limestone banks of the Yi River (from about 500-700AD). Many of the carvings are missing various parts, but enough are there, relatively intact, to give you an idea of the immensity of the scale of the site. Especially from across the river, where you can see the hundreds of niches dotting the cliffs (too bad for the giant plastic pink lotus floating directly in front of the main cave). On our second day in Luoyang we made the trip to the legendary Shaolin Temple at Song Mountain. Immortalized in Chinese films and stories (see Shaolin Soccer and Kungfu Hustle), for generations this birthplace of Kungfu is not so much a reclusive temple among the misty mountains as it is a tourist-geared Kungfu Disneyland. Gone are the days of the Shaolin monks enduring grueling mental and physical training, living as quasi-hermits, intervening in times of crisis on the part of the good and righteous. What exists now is still a school, a giant one at that, with hundreds of young Chinese kids in Shaolin tracksuits, aspiring to someday be part of the Shaolin Temple entrance show (which I might add, is quite the show). If there was ever and peace and serenity at Shaolin, it is long gone, replaced by colourful costumes, tacky acrobatics displays and expensive admissions tickets. If you have no shame, you can even pose with a little monk doing the splits (we just took a picture of him instead). The Shaolin Temple itself is quite impressive, although rebuilt less than a hundred years ago after being burned to the ground by a local gangster who didn't get along too well with the resident monks. Behind the temple is the lovely Pagoda Forest, home to hundreds of pagodas, many crumbling and lopsided. Further away still from the mayhem of the Shaolin entrance gate, are the Song Mountains. We rode up by cable car to the path that hugs the limestone cliffs, not coming across too many other tourists (most of them are being whisked on and off tourists buses for speedy visits of the temple and maybe a jade factory or two). Other than the haze, which was pretty bad, the views were awesome and we stayed on the path for most of the afternoon. We were pretty hungry after such a long day, I managed to talk Yann and my dad out of the 24-course Luoyang Water Banquet (served with the speed of flowing water) and into dinner at an American chain restaurant which will not be mentioned here.


2par4 said...

National Geographic just phoned. They want to meet with you asap.


paradiso(angry) said...

Oh c'mon , it was Pizza Hut!