A Travellerspoint blog

October 2012

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting...

Shaolin Temple


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We had a day of travelling from Ti'an to Zhengzhou with most of our time on an 8 hour train ride. In the morning the haze had cleared enough for us to see the mountain in Ti'an that people come to climb.
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It takes 6 hours to climb to the summit but each year they have a race and the fastest person reached the top in 59 minutes!
We'd stocked up on snacks, managed to find our seats on the train and settled into the trip.
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We past the time playing cards, much to the locals fascination as they tried to work out what games we were playing sitting at very close quarters to get a good look, personal space seems to be an unknown context. The train soon became rammed with people, kids, sacks and bags of all shapes and sizes and each station they somehow managed to cram more on. Luckily we had reserved seats although Dan was sat opposite a kid who coughed in his face for the whole journey!

The next morning we went to the Shaolin Temple, the home of Kung Fu, where we would get to see the pros in action as well as take a 4 hour Kung Fu lesson ourselves!

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We arrived early enough to see the training sessions taking place which was an impressive sight. What seemed like 100s of boys/men in formation practicing different skills and techniques were around every corner and you could hear their cries and shouts and the resounding stamp of their feet as they carried out their moves in unison.

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They start their training from as young as 3 years old to build up their flexibility and strength and it was incredible to see them doing back flips and splits on the stone floor of the training ground.

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We were also amazed by the show that was put on by the Shaolin monks, after we battled the crowds to get our seats first!

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The Shaolin Temple itself had several unique features compared to the other temples we had visited. One impressive one was a tree which had been used by the monks to practice their Kung Fu moves. The holes in the tree had been made by their fingers as they struck it over time!

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At one point practising Kung Fu outside was banned by the Emperor and so the monks were forced to practice inside and dips have formed where they repeated their moves on the same spot each day.

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Pagodas of the monks were also in the grounds and could have up to 7 levels depending on how many followers they had and the wisdom that they had imparted. One of them was of a modern monk and his pagoda had symbols of a car and computer on the side!

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It was now our turn to try to learn some Kung Fu!!!

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Posted by doyledan 23:34 Archived in China Comments (0)

Next stop Ti'an


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After the dumplings we managed to get a nice group photo with our Beijing guide Jason, not before Sam, Jenny and Sophie took some funny photos whilst I went to toilet. Haha!

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At 9pm we set off from Beijing for our first sleeper train adventure. Just like most things in Beijing the train station is massive. It is like being at an airport with security checks, huge waiting areas and screens. The sleeper train is made of carriages with bays containing 6 beds stacked up in close proximity. It was a mad rush to get in and everyone was claiming their bunks and chucking bags around but once we were sorted we were actually pretty comfortable despite the cramped conditions.

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For most of the trip we all were fast asleep, I woke up in the night with a slight panic as really we didn't know when the sleeper train would stop at the right station. We had an arrival time but it wasn't for certain and we had noticed that not all the stations had the names translated into English and reading Chinese characters is no ones strong point. As I was awake and wasn't going to get back to sleep due to the air conditioning being right by my bed blowing out cold air I sat by the window and watched the scenery pass by in the night. From what I could see most of China we travelled through was fields with every so often a new town with tall high risers being built, now doubt to accommodate the vast population who still live in poorer conditions.

Fortunately my fears of missing the train were nullified as our ticket man came into the carriages and started tapping on the beds for those who needed to get off at Ti'an. Phew!! Otherwise we could have ended up as far as Gullin without knowing it!

By the time we got to Ti'an it was daylight and we met up with our new guide Summer (who named herself that because it is her favourite time of the year and they choose their own English names she would later tell us). She was really sweet and very excited that we were there to see her home town and also give her a chance to practice her English as she had only given three other tours before that had required it.

Despite her positivity we all were tired from the trip and really needed a good breakfast to kick start our day, however what we got was the worst meal of the trip. It was described as a 'buffet' but in China they eat the same food at breakfast, lunch and dinner so having rice, seaweed, some kind of boiled egg that looked green and stank and what can only be described as a stress-ball of dough for bread, was unsatisfying to say the least.

Later we made our way to the hostel and only had an hour to rest and get prepared for our trip to the Confucious Temple. It was going to be a long day! The hostel was set in an old government building and many locals had shops set up within the grounds, the rooms were good and to our delight the beds were comfy.

The destination of the Confucius temple was about an hour away from Ti'an in a town called Qufu, so we jumped on our tour bus and made our way. It was all beginning to feel like a bit of slog as we had only managed to recuperate from travelling and already we were on the move. Most of us slept on the bus but it wasn't long before the uneven roads made it too bumpy to sleep.

Confuicous Temple was really interesting and what was good was that Summer our guide began to talk in more detail the history of the temple, the teachings of Confucius as well as the Chinese traditions.

The first tradition she spoke of was how men and women should step over the threshold of the doorways to the temple, which are high to stop evil spirits from getting in. In China the male is always on the left and the female is always on the right. Therefore when stepping over the man should lead with his left leg and the women with her right leg. Other stories we were told were the meaning behind the statues. All around the temples there were statues of dragons that have been morphed with other animals. In China the Dragon is a symbol of power and is very important to their culture, the story goes that the dragon had 9 sons and each son had different strengths meaning they changed their appearance to accommodate this ability. For instance one of the sons was good at carrying things and therefore changed into a big turtle so it could carry heavy things like tablets. It was good to hear these explanations because we had seen this statue but really had no idea why the turtle had a dragon face!

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As we entered the wall of the temple we walked through the main arch and then came to a bridge which we were told that when u make it to the middle you must look each way in order to have wealth in your life, which we made sure we did. The temple courtyards were quite similar in design to the temples in Beijing but having Summer meant it was still interesting. We found out that Chinese people come to the temple to make wishes/prayers to Confucious for the future and they are written on these red plaques which were hung together.

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After the temple we made our way to the Confucious Mansion which was the Emperor had built for Confucius and his descendants. Only the oldest male in that generation could live in the mansion with his family. The females of the family were not allowed to interact or be seen by other males and certain parts of the house reflected this tradition. To get water for example the male servants had to pour it through a hole in the wall that lead to the female part of the house. Today the mansion is now a heritage site as the descendants live in the USA and they only come back for certain ceremonies each year.

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The final stop of the day was the Confucius cemetery where Confucius and his male descendants are buried. On approaching the cemetery there are several guards and if you touch them on the bum you get wealth, the head was good luck and touching the teeth was good health; so we all gave it a good pat!

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Being at the cemetery was a far cry from any we had been to in the UK or countries, even if they were a tourist attraction. The respect of silence was replaced with huge crowds of Chinese tourist groups who had come to see Confucus' resting place each with their own guide with head piece and booming speakers. It was quite overwhelming at times and wore down our patience after such a long day, particularly when we became part of the attraction being papped.

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Stay tuned for more tales.

Dan

Posted by doyledan 00:54 Archived in China Comments (0)

Last day in Beijng


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Today was our last day in Beijing and we all had a lie in but still managed to wake up around 8ish. We packed up our room and tried to get everything back in our bags. Sarah's bag is still rammed despite the fact that along her travels she has managed to lose some shorts, cardigan and sadly her "I love my duvet" hoodie! Sarah and I needed to send some items back home so we made the trip to the post office with Jude and Jackie. It was a bit of a drawn out process with one desk for packaging and another for posting but after a couple of forms, miscommunications and translations we got there in the end. So hopefully it will make it back home supposedly in 10 days.

With nothing else on the agenda for the day we took a leisurely stroll through Beijing towards the Lama Temple taking in all the different sights of little side streets, shops, stalls, signs, food, dogs, bikes, lanterns along with the sounds and smells of the city. Car horns are the constant background noise of Beijing!

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The Lama Temple is a Buddhist Temple which is still used for worship today with many people visiting each day to pay homage to the various Buddha statues within the temple itself. Each statue has a different meaning including past, present and future. People show their respect by burning incense sticks and bowing in front of each temple before going in, kneeling and placing 3 unburied incense sticks at the foot of the Buddha statue.

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The Lama Temple is also in the Guinness book of world records for the largest Buddha make out of a single piece of sandal wood. Standing 26 metres tall it is quite a sight to behold and you can only see the top by craning your neck and leaning backwards.

We decided to brave one of the smaller restaurants which had only a couple of locals inside to sample a traditional hot pot. Each table had a burner in the middle and a large bowl of chicken broth with chickens pieces is pot on to boil and you add the veggies that you want. This was by far the best meal we had and only cost a fiver each!

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Back at the hostel we had some time to relax before heading to the train station at 9pm, luckily it was dumpling night and so we all got to learn how to make dumplings and have them for dinner!

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Posted by doyledan 04:56 Archived in China Comments (0)

Early bird gets the worm....


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So you can probably tell from our previous blogs that we have really crammed in some of the best bits of China and having finished on a high at the restaurant we knew we would have two more days of free time to kill. It was agreed we should all make the effort to get up much earlier to make our way to Jingshan Park. Not only would it offer great birds eye view of the city but also we would get a chance to see the older generation practicing Tai Che.

With much struggle (and grimace from Sarah who was not pleased to be woken) we got up at 6am and made our own way there conquering calling 3 taxi's and translating our destination.

Uponing entering the park it was immediately apparent that this was going to be a good experience. There were only a few people around but already some were practicing Tai Che with swords!!

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We started our ascent of the temple that sits central to the park and would offer the priceless views. The hill supposedly protects the Forbidden City from evil Spirits and dust storms. Hopefully the pictures below give a good impression of the sheer size of Beijing and the also the wow factor that we all got when reaching the summit.

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As i mentioned before we were told that it was a good place to see the older generation practicing tai Che but we were surprised to see one old dude who was a supple as a 15 year old Olympic gymnast and the yoga skills to boot.

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Upon making our descent we managed to spot more older people exercising as the park became busy and we all thought that taking a page out of their books would be good practice for a better and longer life. We also managed to spot a larger group performing tai Che.

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We left the park for the hostel as our stomachs began to growl for breakfast not before I stopped to do my customary mimicking pose with animal statues . (Not my best picture, haha)

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To make our way back we took the subway which was relatively easy but no different to London's rammed carriages! Sarah was happy though, she finally was able to reach the hand grips. (The average height of a Chinese person helped make it possible)

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Stay tuned for more tales....

Dan

Posted by doyledan 00:40 Archived in China Comments (0)

A place fit for an Emperor

Summer Palace and the Hutongs


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The Summer Palace is one of the most tranquil places we have been to in China, despite the crowds of people. It is simply beautiful! With over 75% of the park dominated by the shimmering Kunming Lake you can easily imagine why royalty chose this as the place to come to escape the summer heat at the Forbidden Palace in the heart of Beijing.

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The Summer Palace was the main home of the emperor's mother which is shown in the statues within the grounds. The Phoenix represents the female and the Dragon represents the male. Normally the dragon takes priority and holds a ball of power, but here as it is the emperors mum who rules the roost his ball of power is missing!
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Some girl power with the Phoenix!

Many locals come to the Summer Palace to relax and several people were practising how to write chinese calligraphy with big brushes and water on the stone ground. It was mesmerising to watch the sweeping movements. They made it look so easy but it takes years of practice to master the symbols and to get the strokes just right.

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The Long Corridor is the longest walkway in the world and runs next to the lake beneath Longevity Hill. It is decorated with paintings of Chinese scenery and paintings depicting tales from Chinese history.

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We then went up to the top of Cloud Dispelling Hall which after climbing many steps rewarded us with an amazing view over the park and lake.

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Some of us opted to get a pedal boat and explore the lake. After a few dodgy steering issues at the beginning we were on our way navigating between the Dragon Boats and other inexperienced pedal boat drivers. We each took turns to pedal and steer the boat and there were a couple of near misses but Jude expertly steered us back to the jetty (although the boat coming in behind us were not as skilled and bumped into the back of us).
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We then took rickshaws to explore the Hutongs. Hutongs means narrow alleyways. Criss-crossing Beijing over a million Chinese (10th of Beijings population) live in these areas. The houses tend to be one storey with courtyards and can be home to more than one family. We were invited into one of the Hutongs and were told about life there. Our host was the fifth generation living in this house which had been handed down through his family and was shared with 16 family members. The central courtyard offered space to relax and where they could grow vegetables. Minor birds are a popular pet to have, although his was shy and did not want to speak when we were there.
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As well as being his home he also did paper cutting in a small studio off the court yard. It can take over a month to make one of these intricate works of art and when it is finished it is glued on to silk. I bought one of a dragon and a Phoenix encircling each other which is a good luck symbol for couples. Quite fitting for our trip and future.
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We were invited into another home for a home cooked lunch. It was the best lunch we had had yet of traditional Chinese dishes including beef and carrots, pumpkin, garlic pork with green beans and a firm favourite dumplings!

In the afternoon we were taken to an indoor market which was insane. Spread over 4 floors you could buy anything from electronics and shoes to tea sets and pearls although majority of the goods on sale were fakes with classics such as sumsang and Cath Kidcup. It was like running the gauntlet being pulled in every direction and having goods thrust in your face. Some of the girls got some good deals, all I wanted was a small badge of a Chinese flag which initially was 95 yuan (9 quid!) but after some haggling I got it for 15 yuan. A couple of us opted for the calm of the roof terrace followed by a cooling McFlurry and Dan went on a mission to quench his Oreo craving.

We were all starving and tonight began our free time without our guide Jason so we were on our own to find somewhere to eat.

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We confidently headed out to a street we had been recommended and soon were seated at one of the many restaurants but once the menus came out we became a bit unsure. The huge selection of dishes was a bit daunting but fortunately the menu had pictures which was a good thing as we could steer clear of the turtle and other dishes where the heads stayed on! After some complicated ordering we were relieved when the dishes arrived although we had over ordered slightly! It was a great meal and on the way back to the hostel we enjoyed some traditional dancing and music which seemed to have spontaneously started in the street.

Just a side note for those not aware Facebook is blocked here, I think our blog updates are going up automatically but you won't get any replies from us on Facebook until November

Sxx

Posted by doyledan 22:02 Archived in China Comments (1)

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