Friday, July 30, 2010

Ancient History

I feel like such a baby sometimes.

I am, here I am, complaining that I am sooo old at 23 years of age when this tree pictured below has been planted for over 5,000 years!

Talk about putting things into perspectives, huh?

China's extensive history never fails to bring me to awe. I come from a country that is only 234 years old. To be able to visit another one that has so much culture, traditions and ideals embedded only puts me in my place about how much I still don't know and how much I have yet to find out.

This is Luoyang. It was a previous capital of China before Beijing initiated a hostile takeover on its butt.
Luoyang's history is especially rich. We visited one of the oldest universities in the country (and the world) while here. But it is here at the Longmen Grottoes where, amidst all the intricate stone carvings, I can see the timelessness of man's creativity and craftsmanship.

The two carving figures' names we are mocking ever so enthusiastically are Hmm and Haww. You can tell who is who from the shape of their mouths. (Teehee, we Chinese sure do have a sense of humor.)

This is a giant Buddha. Pictures don't do it justice.

Thanks for a lovely visit, Luoyang! You are so not over the hill. You are the hill! (Do you get it, 'cause the grottoes are like hills... I'll just stop myself now.)

Eat It

I don't want to sound like a brat but I will.

Sometimes, I am just a little sick of fine dining.

As you roll your eyes, I am going to tell you that sometimes, three nights of abalone and shark fin soup can get a little tiring. Sometimes, you just don't want to have just swallowed the last morsel of your freshly carved Kobe beef only to have the waiter swoop right in and replace your plate with a cup of piping hot chicken broth. *Ho hum. Oh boo hoo me. I could show you all these gorgeous pictures Tom, or Chester, or Nebula took of these fancy 3-hour dinners and lunches but I'm not.

Instead, let me show you how to eat like a monk.

You take two large bowls.

And they come around with food to fill those two bowls.

Here is what we all got for lunch. A bun called a man toe, a bowl of soy milk, and a ton of savory vegetables topped with rice. Don't let this picture above fool you. That was a FULL meal. Jani and I failed and couldn't finish it. But Nebula and Carrie were iron women. Hear them roar!

So after that meal, I felt like I could eat cleaner all the time! I felt like I should make a nice break from my regular diet of meat... and oil... and...

Oh who am I kidding. The next day, this is what I resumed to eating.

And this.
And we ate until we looked like this. Aaaaaaaahhh...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kicking Through Life

The Shaolin Monastery or Shaolin Temple (Chinese: 少林寺; pinyin: Shàolín Sì) is a Chán Buddhist temple at Song Shan nearZhengzhou City Henan Province in Dengfeng, China. It is led by Venerable abbot Shi Yǒngxìn and martial abbot Shi De Li. Founded in the 5th century, the monastery is long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu, and it is the Mahayana Buddhist monastery perhaps best known to the Western world.[1]

(Thank you, WIkipedia)

Our group were granted special access into the elusive Shaolin Temples for a few days.

We gawked at amazing sportsmanship

And two-fingered pushups (!)

Then visited the top Shaolin school in the city filled with many Shaolin schools.

We were greeted with hundreds of students lining our entrance way, enthusiastically clapping for us the entire time we strode onto campus. Talk about a welcome!

We checked out observed these students at work. (Hey, give us a break, four girls have already gone a week without really substantial eye-candy! Momma needs her sugar!)

The school was mostly testosterone-heavy so I had to give some blog love to this cute little girl who was trying so hard to stay in line with the boys. Look at the strength and determination on that face!
We began our own training shortly after, taught by our super awesome (and cute!) shi fu. (I'm telling ya, it's been almost a week by now!)

You'd think we're just doing some stretching exercises from these pictures here but it was hard work learning all those moves! Muscles that I didn't know existed were getting stretched.

I ended up feeling quite sick during one of the afternoon practices so I stayed out of that lesson. But I did get to catch some of it on tape. Apologies for the weird conversation I was having with these two guys who were off-camera. They kept telling me to center the shot and I was like, "no, I'm trying to GET the people in the back!"

Here we are performing our moves to the poor, unassuming visitors of the temple. When we first started, a bunch of people were recording us, thinking we were some hotshots. And then they realized we were just a hot mess and ran away.

Apologies for my performance. I was not feeling well! But I'm a trooper, right? Right.
After that, we grew muscles the size of Popeye's and can kick anyone's butt if need be. The end.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Simple Kind of Life

Since being in Hong Kong, I recently got internet back and a cell phone where people can reach me on a regular basis. I also started going on Facebook again and found a place where I can veg out and watch TV and movies all day if I choose to.

And I hate it.

As free and full of options all these things give me, I feel trapped sometimes within the confines of technology and choice. I don't HAVE to check my facebook inbox but I somehow have to. I don't have to text 24/7 but I somehow have to.

That's why it was nice to kind of see that you don't HAVE TO live that kind of life. You can live a simpler one.

One morning, we took some time away from the Shaolin temple and went up this mountain.

Beautiful winding trail where butterflies flocked around our hips and the winds blew in the bushes.

Our destination is this cave where a couple of monks sometimes call their homes. Because the cave is relatively isolated and cool, they come here to meditate, practice Shaolin and just enjoy being in the present moment.

We came here to help one of our monk friends with some chores.

The whole lot of us were helping to water the monk's garden, where he grows his own meals.

Then we worked out a bit. Nebula is fierce.

Because our monk friend is relatively clean and simple, there really weren't much to do after gardening so Carrie and Jani decided to sweep his entranceway. Nebula and I supervised.

After proving our spectacular housekeeping skills, we returned to civilization and our store bought meals and our iPods and designer shoes. But it's definitely nice to know that life doesn't have to be so complicated, so fraught with complexities we often bring upon ourselves.

Over the years, this is definitely what my travels have taught me: that it's okay to chill out, to enjoy the present moment, to be a little zen. I'm still not a complete master at it but it's a work in progress.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Shaolin Scene

So in Beijing, you saw us in pretty dresses and heels and eyelashes and drinking tea with our pinky fingers lifted up and all that. In Deng Feng, the birthplace of Shaolin martial arts, we were taught to kick ass. And boy did we kick. Over and over again until our knees only felt pain. Half of the people in our group were from the Shaolin temple back in California and they had come to China mainly for the purpose of visiting the original Shaolin temple. We, as beauty pageant girls, seemed a little out of place but we quickly made ourselves at home taking lessons from a very talented (and cute!) Shaolin shifu and mastering this art. We also did some other things:

Like visiting a Shaolin school and interviewing with a local TV station (what can I say, we got paparazzi all over China.)

We checked out this amazing percussionist-based performance in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater. It was this big mountain/cave thing where they built the stage.


For half the night, I was like this monk, who was napping meditating throughout the entire show. I didn't regret missing the flying monk part though because a) my cousin-in-law can do that in his sleep and I get to watch him do it all the time and b) the music, the night air, the comfy seats... it was a perfect place to nap!

We also gardened and tidied up a monk's cave home (more on that later)

And of course, we also made our nether regions sore by learning Shaolin martial arts! More on this later as well!

I'd definitely say this portion of my trip was the most out-of-the-ordinary and refreshing. I did keep getting nightmares sleeping in the hotel rooms though but praying to Jesus Christ helped snap me out of it! Praise God for new experiences!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

To Be Very Important

There are days when I enjoy just being a regular person.

You know, one of those you see crossing the streets and give nary a glance to. There are times when I just want to be treated like everyone else. Given the same amount of trouble and negligence by staff members, by teachers, by boys.

But then, there are also times when it is really really good to be VIP.

Visiting the stadium built for Beijing's 2008 Olympics, the bird's nest, was one of those times.

It would have been okay catching a taxi or riding the bus like other normal civilians, but it was a little bit better to have a police escort leading our van into the stadium so we would only have to walk the minimum amount of distance to get into the nest.

It would have been nice to just stare at the nest from the outside like all the other tourists were doing but it was just a tad cooler to be able to go into the stadium VIP status for a tour.

And to sit at seats where foreign dignitaries and celebrities and athletes were sitting to watch the opening ceremony at a more comfortable view.

It would have been nice to leave after visiting the bird's nest cause it's like, "cool, we got the inside view" but it was just a smidge better to get another view of the nest from the outside on a VIP rooftop suite.

It would have been nice to just leave you with pretty pictures of us in polite poses but it's just way more fun to be a little goofy and pretend we're on the cover of a Spice Girls album.