China · China travel · Travel

Luoyang photo roundup

These are a few more good photos from Luoyang’s Longmen Grottoes and the Luoyang Museum in Luoyang, Henan, one of China’s great ancient capitals.

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The North side as seen from the South side of the Yi river. The giant Fengxian cave is the one on the middle.

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This shows how much these caverns filled up the cliffside. There was a fair amount of climbing involved to see everything.

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There were countless small caverns with multiple statues such as this.

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There’s a main Buddha statue with several figures standing by the side, and many smaller sitting Buddhas around him, with a row of tiny figures on the top.

 

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I swear this Buddha is smiling right at the camera.

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A row of small figures with a row of tiny figures beneath.

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Statues of famous monks lined part of the South bank of the Longmen Grottoes.

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Luoyang has a history stretching back thousands of years ago and its museum exhibits reflect this. These objects are from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC), the second dynasty in Chinese history. There were artifacts from the first one too, the Xia Dynasty (2000-1600BC).

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A man taming a horse. A lot of the pottery depicted scenes from life, unlike most pottery which are just normal staid objects.

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This procession was buried in the tomb of a member of royalty or nobility.

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A band of musicians and a dancer, from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).

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A bronze ding that’s over 2,000 years old from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC).

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A fine example of the famous Tang Dynasty tricolor glazed pottery horses. It was quite big and there were several of these on exhibit.

 

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A garbage bin at the Longmen Grottoes. At the museum afterwards, I would see a frog statue that resembled this.

 

China · China travel · Travel

Luoyang’s famous Longmen Grottoes and museum

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The most famous sight in Luoyang is the Longmen Grottoes. The main reason I came to Luoyang, the Longmen (Dragon’s Gate) grottoes were a UN World Heritage site and one of China’s most famous grottoes. Thousands (yes, thousands) of Buddhas were carved into caves on the cliffs on both sides of the Yi River starting from 493 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty, though most of the statues were carved during the Tang Dynasty. Yet I have to admit that it was the history of the grottoes (and Luoyang), and not the actual statues, that first attracted me. I had looked up the history and photos of the Longmen Grottoes and I wasn’t impressed. The grottoes seemed small and the statues unimpressive. Well, I still went ahead to visit it and not for the first time, I turned out to be completely wrong. Far from being small and normal, the Longmen Grottoes were fascinating, numerous (as I said, thousands), and in some cases, magnificent.

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The site lay at the southern end of Longmen Avenue, so it was a straight bus ride from my hostel. When I got off, I passed through a lane lined with souvenir stores (a very common sight in Chinese tourist attractions), then walked out into a large open area to the entrance. On one side, there was a musuem which was almost finished but not open yet. During all this time, I still hadn’t seen any of the stone statues since I assumed they were easily visible from outside. As I entered, I found the place was actually quite pleasant. A central walkway was framed by willow trees lining the side of a placid river and a cliff where the statues were carved on. The river was spanned by a multiarched stone bridge near the entrance and another one further in the distance.

The stone statues were mostly on the cliffside and you had to climb wooden staircases to see most of them since only a few were at ground level. Be prepared for a bit of a physical workout if you want to see most of the statues. The statues were different sizes too; some were human sized, some were tiny, smaller than your hand, and others were giant. Some statues were carved inside small caverns while others, especially the hand-sized ones, were carved directly onto the rock. There were serene Buddhas, smiling Buddhas, and fierce divine figures. At some places, carvings and caverns covered the entire surface. Unfortunately, some were destroyed due to war and the ravages of time.

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On the North side of the Yi River in the Longmen Grottoes.

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The large cavern contains a Buddha but each of the open spaces also contain Buddhas.

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The walls of this mini cave are carved with thousands of tiny figures.

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The sheer amount of statues carved onto the cliff was overwhelming and impressive.

The best part was the Fengxian Cave, a large open cavern where nine giant Buddhas as high as 17 meters loomed, flanked by heavenly kings, temple guards and other divine figures. It was a really impressive sight and by itself, would warrant a visit. It took me a while to get through this entire side of the river, which was the north side. The grottoes were located on both sides of the river but most of the statues were on the north side. The south side has many shrines, temples, steles, the grave of Tang poet Bai Juyi, and a big surprise.
I walked into the 1,500-year-old Xiangshan Temple and right above it, was a much more recent villa. This was where Chiang Kai-chek, the then-leader of China, came to celebrate his birthday in 1936. The villa’s rooms were left in an impeccable state and filled with photos of him and his wife, as well as a Kuomintang flag. I knew Longshan Grottoes was a place where past emperors had come, but I certainly didn’t expect Chiang Kai-chek to have. By this time, I had spent over two hours and I had to rush to leave, so I didn’t visit Bai Juyi’s grave which was beyond the exit on the South side.

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Fengxian Cave, where the 17-meter-high Buddha is surrounded by eight other giant figures and many other statues.

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Xiangshan Temple.

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A room in the Chiang villa where Chiang Kai-shek came to mark his birthday and meet with generals in 1936. That’s the ROC flag and a photo of Sun Yat-sen, the “father of modern China”, Chiang’s mentor and a founder of the ROC.

But Luoyang, being a former great capital, had more than just the Longmen Grottoes. My next destination was the Luoyang History Museum, which was further north. I took a bus up and then got off an intersection that I knew was close to the museum. I’d even asked the bus driver but she wasn’t sure, and another passenger even said it was further north (where the museum used to be). I didn’t mind since I’m pretty sure the driver didn’t see many visitors trying to get to the Luoyang Museum. The road looked kind of shoddy and so I decided to take a taxi. The road to the museum passed through some empty lots and construction sites and was quite far from the intersection, so vindicating my decision to not walk (it looked close enough on the map!).
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The museum wasn’t new (having been opened since 1958), but its building was. It was a massive angular reddish-brown building perched on top a concrete base. The inside was spacious and new, and there were very few visitors. There was a lot of cool exhibitions including Tang Dynasty tri-colored glazed pottery (Tangsancai) horses and camels, artifacts from the Xia Dynasty (21st-16th century BC), fossils, and even a full-scale skeleton Asian mammoth. Lots of history happened in Luoyang, which dates back to the 12th century BC. I was in a rush so I breezed through the galleries on art and paintings. I needed to catch my train back to Xian in the afternoon. I exited the museum, which fronted a large park though only a few people were around. A few children were riding little bikes and a couple was getting their wedding photos done in the distance.

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Stone animal statues from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).

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A Tang-dynasty tricolour glazed camel. It looks like it’s in agony.

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An Asian mammoth (Palaeoloxodon naumanni).

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I’ve never seen this color used in Chinese pottery horses before but this blue horse is unique and impressive.

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Pottery lamp from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).

I took a taxi back to my hostel, where I had an interesting conversation with the driver. I commented on how the museum was really nice but it was a shame that there weren’t many visitors. He talked to me about Luoyang and its history, comparing it to Zhengzhou (the provincial capital) and saying that Luoyang had more. In fact, that was why Zhengzhou had taken the Shaolin Temple away from Luoyang’s jurisdiction, he said, so that it could claim a historical place as its own. I don’t know if that’s true but I know information about the Shaolin Temple always mentions Zhengzhou as the main starting point, which isn’t that much closer than Luoyang to the temple.
I quickly checked out of my hostel and took another taxi to the high-speed station, where I had another interesting conversation with the driver. This guy also bigged up his city, talking about Luoyang’s history and culture. Unfortunately he used some complex words that were beyond my limited vocabulary so I couldn’t understand a lot of what he said. What I did understand was when he said that Luoyang people had a different reputation from other Henanese. Us Henanese have a negative reputation, he said, but when people hear you’re from Luoyang, their perception changes. It’s unfortunate but true that Henan has a bad reputation for being criminals and swindlers. The province is one of China’s poorest and its people are sometimes derided. It’s sad because this was the cradle of Chinese civilization. Thousands of years ago, this was where Chinese history began and civilization took shape. I hope that more can be done to help this once-proud province.
My trip back to Xian went without incident other than a consistent stomach upset, and a cute kid who sat with her mother next to me, who sang, talked, and even danced continuously. At one point, her mother even apologized to me and there was absolutely no need!

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The train back to Xian rolls into the Luoyang station.

China · China travel · Travel

The Shaolin Temple

The Shaolin Temple is China’s most famous Buddhist monastery with over 1,500 years of history. Of course, the main reason is its famous fighting monks, which most of us have seen in Chinese martial arts movies, and that was the main reason I was going there. Located in Henan province, a few hours from both Luoyang and Zhengzhou, it’s tucked away in a mountain range where multitudes of monks still practice their kungfu. The Shaolin Temple has fully embraced its martial heritage, opening its gates to visitors, putting on kungfu shows, and going on tours. It sounds very commercial and indeed it is. I was torn between avoiding it because it didn’t seem very genuine and visiting it out of curiosity and taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit the cradle of Chinese kungfu. I finally gave in and decided to go. It turned out to be a lot of trouble but it was worth it.

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The morning of that day, I set out to the bus stop across from my hostel. The nearest traffic light was about 10 minutes down the road so I just did what a bunch of other people did and ran across the avenue. I sprinted across one half of the massive avenue, waited until traffic was stopped at the red light down the road, then ran across to the other side to wait. I had to take a minibus to Dengfeng, the small town that was the gateway to the Shaolin Temple. After a false start, when I hailed a bus that I thought was going to Dengfeng, jumped on and asked the driver, and instead of getting an answer, got a scowl and had to jump off in time before the bus drove off (it sounds very rude, but amazingly I had an even worse experience once in Taipei). The buses had no numbers, but the destination written in Chinese on the front. Eventually I hopped onto one which I believed was going to Dengfeng. I asked the conductor, who said yes, paid the fare, then sat back for the two hour-long trip to Dengfeng. The bus continued down Longmen Avenue, past giant hotels, apartments, and car dealerships, and then turned into a series of side roads that led to more rural surroundings. I had no idea where I was and just sat back. After about an hour, the bus drove into a small, shoddy village and entered a parking lot. I thought this was Dengfeng so I asked the conductor how to get to the Shaolin Temple. She led me to another bus, told me it would take me to the Shaolin Temple, and then handed that bus’s conductor some money (small alarm starting to form in my head) and the second bus’ conductor gave me a slip. The second bus’ conductor said we aren’t going to the Shaolin Temple to the first conductor, but they had a conversation, then she seemngly said ok. This is the point where I was very aware of both my Mandarin limitations and my inability to understand the somewhat rustic Henanese dialect that was being spoken by these people.
The second bus got underway soon and I thought, cool, I’ll be in the Shaolin Temple in a short time. We passed through several small towns where a main road ran through the middle. There were street markets being held, and farmers herding goats along the side of the road. It was amazing to be in the middle of nowhere in rural Henan, I thought. After about half an hour, I asked the conductor how much longer until the Temple. About an hour more, she said, and we aren’t going to the Temple. What?! I replied, more stunned than angry. She repeated her answer, some of which I couldn’t understand. I understood enough to realize she was going to another place, from which I could then take a bus to the Temple. I was now a little worried so I called my hostel receptionist and asked her to talk to the conductor. The conductor basically told me to calm down and that I would just have to follow the conductor’s advice. I was a little angry, since I thought this bus was going to the Shaolin Temple. Instead it was going to another place, and I’d have to take a THIRD bus. I was worried, but not about my safety, but about whether I could find my way back to Luoyang if I got off the bus.
This bus soon went onto a highway, with a lot of dry land all around and a large mosque at the side. A city came into view and I asked the conductor again where she was going. Dengfeng, she said. I then realized that this second bus was indeed going the right way. However it was the first bus that had taken me to the wrong place. And the first conductor was the one who had tricked me, not this conductor. When I had hailed that bus in Luoyang, its sign had said Luoyang-Dengfeng, plus the conductor had said it was going to Dengfeng. I asked this conductor why that first conductor had said she was going to Dengfeng when she didn’t, and the current conductor said the first conductor probably tricked me. During this whole journey on the second bus, I didn’t pay anything, probably because the first bus’ conductor had paid the second bus’ conductor. So basically, I was tricked, not out of money, but for my business and time.
At Dengfeng, the bus pulled into the West station and I got out, relieved to be finally about to go to the Temple. Another shock happened when I asked the staff and she said the bus to Shaolin Temple was at another station, the North station. She told me to take the bus, and by this point, I was confused and exasperated. I was in a strange town and didn’t know my way around, but I was expected to go and take the bus. I was seriously tempted to give up and go back to Luoyang. I called my hostel again and the receptionist told me to take a taxi (good advice which I should have thought of). The North station wasn’t that far away so the taxi ride wasn’t expensive at all. As soon as I got out of the taxi, I saw a bus that looked like it was going to the Shaolin Temple. It was, so I got on, and in about 20 minutes, I arrived at the Shaolin Temple. After three hours on 3 buses and a taxi, I was finally there!

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The entrance to the Shaolin Temple resembled that of a theme park or major tourist attraction (which it was). After passing through a massive stone paifang (Chinese arched gate), I entered a large open area with neatly arranged trees and shrubs, stores and the ticket booth at the side. After I bought a ticket, I was approached by a freelance guide, one of several who were standing together. They seemed official but I wasn’t in the mood to hire one. I can come guide you and we’ll discuss the price at the end, she extorted me. I declined and walked away while she insisted that I wouldn’t be able to understand and appreciate the sights by myself inside.
Inside, a main walkway runs through the complex, with temples, quarters, performance halls, training fields, and other sacred sites located on either side. The Shaolin Temple had been established in 495 AD, and since then had housed monks who developed their famous martial arts and actually fought for the emperor at times. The temple has a complex history though; movies I saw often had them fighting imperial forces.
The place was actually pleasant, being nestled within a mountain range with the historic Mt. Song on one side, and forest on the other. I saw a field where several young monks were training with weapons, in blue training robes and yellow sashes. Walking closer, I saw even younger monks, no older than 10, doing running back flips over and over. They were bareback and boasted muscular chests and stomachs.
I passed the Wushu Training Center, a large training complex, where martial art shows were held regularly, but decided to continue since I didn’t want to waste time waiting for the next show. As I’d wasted over 3 hours getting here, it was already past 2 when I had arrived. I walked along a tree-lined part of the path until I reached the actual Shaolin Temple. There was a small entrance pavilion, which led to a courtyard with giant stone steles inscribed with messages and history. One stele had a poem written by Emperor Qianlong which he wrote when he stayed at the temple in 1750. A temple was in the center surrounded by pavilions at the side. Behind this temple was another one and then another one. I’d seen this pattern at other temples such as at Putuoshan in Zhoushan. This temple was a reconstruction from the early 20th century, due to a warlord having destroyed the previous temple. There were a lot of tourists and monks served as ticket collectors, souvenir sellers, and restaurant staff. This was a clear demonstration of the temple’s commercialism and it was a little sad to think the temple’s main goal was to service tourists. I’d also read that after being sacked by rebel forces near the end of the Ming Dynasty, the temple’s monks were effectively shattered as a fighting force. No longer would they go and fight battles anymore.

I continued to walk on and soon reached the Stone Forest. Over 200 giant stone monuments lay within an area at the foot of a hill, fenced off so you couldn’t walk amongst them. Each stone tower commemorates a Shanghai monk. These stone monuments are in the shape of pagodas topped by several layers, which represent the achievements of prominent Shaolin monks they were built for.
Walking further along, I saw paths leading to sites like the Dharma Cave where a monk was said to have meditated for 9 years and attained the ultimate spirit stage. In the distance on the left, Mt Song loomed ahead, itself a holy place with several significant religious sites. It even had a cable car, which many attractions in China including Huashan and even Putuoshan have. Mt. Song was also one of China’s Five Great Mountains, making it a counterpart of Huashan and Taishan. Unfortunately I was pressed for time and had no time to go on it. I didn’t even have time to visit the Dharma Cave since I went on the path, and after about 15 minutes, asked people coming back how much longer, was told “just one hour!” I had no choice but to walk back, since it was past four and I had no desire to be wandering about in Dengfeng in the evening trying to make my way back to Luoyang.

I wasn’t too pleased by the commercialism of the Shaolin Temple, which I’d read about before. Yet I have to say, the place is actually very pleasant. The entire site is quite large and green, and the sites are spread out. The stone forest was about 15 minutes from the temple, and the temple was about 20 minutes from the entrance. The fact that the Dharma Cave was ove an hour off the main pathway shows how big the place it. The entire Shaolin Temple lay in a valley next to some hills with Mt. Song on the other side. The Shaolin Temple was actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with the temples, ancient academies, and an observatory on nearby Mt. Song. I’d read that together these Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian sites meant that many centuries ago, Dengfeng was one of the most important spiritual centers of China, being poetically known as the center of heaven and earth. Now, unfortunately, it was just a nondescript, out-of-the-way town whose glory days had long passed by.
I was keenly aware of how many tourists there were, with most of them in tour groups. I saw a few monks hanging around, but couldn’t find a valid reason to talk to them. When I passed by a barracks building, I saw some young monks training in the courtyard. They were mostly youngsters, possibly less than 8, all training hard doing running somersaults and flips. One small guy was bareback and he had stronger abs than me. As I’m writing this, I suddenly thought of the Jedi order in Star Wars, and the younglings, who were adopted by the order as kids and spent their whole lives training to become Jedi. It’s a little similar with the Shaolin monks, I thought. Of course, one big difference is that the Shaolin temple doesn’t go around recruiting kids, as usually, parents bring their children to the temple and let them grow up there to train to be kungfu experts.

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I then came upon an incredible sight. As I walked toward the direction of the entrance, I kept hearing what sounded like muffled fireworks in the distance. It wasn’t fireworks, but the sound of a multitude of fists and feet striking on pads. On a vast field, hundreds of teenage trainees were practicing. These teenagers covered the entire ground, practicing in groups of a few dozen each. I was transfixed as it was impressive. This was when I really felt like I was in China, looking at something that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.
In the group nearest me, I saw a guy get singled out repeatedly for not doing a kick properly before the trainer told everyone to stop, then walked up to him and demonstrated the right way. I walked around the edge of the field, across to the other side where one group was practicing with weapons and another was doing flying front kicks. There was even one group of little kids, who were even younger than the 8-year-olds I’d seen earlier. Some of these kids looked like they were five! DSC03693

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I watched these students for a while, before I encountered a couple from Zhejiang who I’d met while entering the Shaolin Temple. They were on their way out and I decided to follow, since it was almost five and time to leave. For some reason, I couldn’t quite get where they were heading to, as when I asked if they were going to Luoyang like me, they said something weird like sure they could go to Luoyang, but they weren’t staying there. They got onto a bus that was full so I got onto another one, and got back to Dengfeng with no problem. I bought a ticket for the bus to Luoyang that was leaving in half an hour, so I waited around in the bus depot. I thought about going outside to take a stroll, but the streets weren’t exactly appealing nor did I want to miss the bus. The bus actually came early by 10 minutes, vindicating my decision to stay inside. I got into the minibus, sat on a foldout aisle seat, and soon we were off for Luoyang.
I wish I could say that that was it for the day and there would be no more mishaps. Unfortunately when the bus reached Luoyang and drove up Longmen Avenue, I missed the hostel, and had to get off somewhere uptown. I had no idea where I was and couldn’t establish exactly in which direction Longmen Avenue was, but after some walking (there was a nice-looking park and fancy hotels but I was in no mood for sightseeing) and talking to a few helpful old folks, I got a taxi and reached my hostel. The hostel boss lady took pity on me as it was too late (by Luoyang standards) to get dinner outside, and she actually cooked me dinner – scrambled eggs, vegetables, and Henan-style congee (less flavorful than Cantonese congee) which I washed down with a bottle of Tsingtao (this I bought).
I still feel annoyed when I remember my transportation problems on that day, but I also regret not being able to see more of the Shaolin Temple, not to mention missing out on an actual performance. I would still like to go back, and I recommend the Shaolin Temple if you ever find yourself in Henan. The place has been really touched up for tourists and the original monasteric atmosphere has been long lost, but there is still a lot of historical and interesting sights. Just make sure about the transportation and everything should be alright.

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The last sight I saw leaving the Shaolin Temple.

China · China travel · Travel

Luoyang- the first night

I’m really trying to finish up the writeup of my Xian-Henan trip last October as I’m embarrassingly behind schedule.

After Huashan, my next destination was Luoyang, the fourth of China’s four ancient great capitals. Located in Henan province, the cradle of Chinese civilization and boasting four ancient former capitals, Luoyang was a bit overlooked in travel circles (see my recent article on Luoyang, an attempt to remedy this). I was going there mainly to see the Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site with countless Buddhist statues that had been carved over 1,500 years ago, from when it used to be one of China’s most important cities. I was also going to visit Luoyang’s history museum and Old Town. Luoyang was also close to the Shaolin Temple, the famous kungfu institution which you’ve probably seen in movies, especially Jet Li.

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Night market near Luoyang’s Old Town.

I took the high-speed train from Huashan to Luoyang, the second of three similar trips on this Shaanxi-Henan jaunt. I was midway through my journey when I looked across and got a shock. I saw somebody who I thought I recognized two rows ahead on the opposite side. That guy looked like my cousin, who I had met for the first time the year before in Zhoushan, Zhejiang. As I kept looking, the guy spoke to his companions, and his voice sounded just familiar. I felt like calling out to him, but I was a little worried about if he turned out to be somebody else. I mean, he looked like my relative, sounded like my relative, but this was halfway around the country. For Americans, this was the equivalent of being on a train in Colorado on a holiday, and seeing your distant cousin from Rhode Island, who you had only met for the first time the year before.
When the train stopped at Luoyang, I decided to ask the person besides me, who was in my “cousin’s” group. “Are you from Zhejiang?” I asked. “Yes”, he replied. “Are you from Zhoushan?” I then asked. “Yes,” he said. Then my cousin came up to me and indeed it was him! We got off the train and talked. He was with his colleagues on a company vacation, having just been to Huashan like me, and now on his way to Luoyang. We split up at the exit, he with his colleagues on a tour, while I went to the taxi stand. I got into a taxi and the driver immediately said something about the meter display and offered a fee. Apparently he didn’t want to use the meter. I asked why and he replied, but I couldn’t understand or agree. After a few minutes of this, a train station staff knocked on the window “What’s the matter? Why aren’t you on your way?” The driver then drove off, and soon he dropped me off at my destination – Luoyang International Youth Hostel. It was at the edge of a long nondescript three-storey building, which I could have easily missed. It was a good location because it was right on Longmen Avenue, a wide boulevard which went southwards directly to Longmen Grottoes. The taxi fare was RMB20, roughly the same as what the driver had told me. I was later to understand what he had been going on about when I got in. At the side of the avenue was a separate small road for bicycles, something which Taiwan should do well to copy. My first impression of this Henanese city from the vehicle traffic and the people was that it was much less urban and developed than Xian or Shanghai, which was to be expected. Henan as a whole is one of China’s poorest provinces and its people had a (unfair) negative reputation for being tricky and poor, a far cry from its glory days over 1,500 years ago when Luoyang, Zhengzhou (the current provincial capital) and Kaifeng served as imperial capitals. Nevertheless, I was glad to be in Henan because of its importance in Chinese history and because I think to fully appreciate China, visiting the less prosperous areas outside of the wealthy coastal regions (Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu etc) was in order.

The hostel may have had a casual entrance, but the inside was a different story. The entrance was decorated with posters and flyers of other hostels around the nation, and the inside was spacious and clean. There was a decent porch with couches and a computer at the side, and the rooms were arranged around this area and in the above floors. As soon as I checked in, the front-desk lady asked me if I wanted to go eat “shui-xi” (水席) for dinner. This was Luoyang’s famous water banquet, a set of over 20 soup-based dishes that dated back to the Tang Dynasty. Another guest wanted to go that very evening and he was looking for company. I agreed and I met R, a young solo traveler from Shantou. He and I set out to take the bus to Luoyang’s Old Town. I’d heard of this before and it was nice to be able to go eventually. I’d had some concern about taking the bus due to worries about pickpockets and not knowing the route, but with R, it was alright. We walked into the Old Town, which was guarded by a massive stone tower. Inside was a bunch of restaurants, bars, and stores along pedestrian lanes, housed in old-style single-storey stone buildings. We eventually found a simple restaurant that served shui xi, and had four dishes of it. One of them was quite good, having a sweet and sour flavour, though the rest were just alright. The Old Town was quite nice, and it was near a night market, which looked a bit like those in Taiwan, but not quite. The lantern-strewn lane was wide and there was a lot of meat and seafood, including “xiaomi crab”. The Old Town closed early, as by 9.30 almost all the stores and restaurants were closed. We went back by taxi because the bus stopped at 9.30 as well.

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The entrance to Luoyang’s Old Town.

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Inside the Old Town, with its pedestrian lanes flanked by stores which all featured lanterns and banners.

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Restaurant with a big sign indicating that it serves the historic “shui xi” dishes. 

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The four shui xi dishes we had. I liked the top left soup stew the most as it had a sweet and sour flavor.

The next day I set out by myself to the Shaolin Temple, the aforementioned subject of countless Chinese kungfu movies. It was supposedly easy as the hostel staff told me I could take a bus directly to the town of Dengfeng right on the avenue outside, then from there take a small bus to the monastery. Indeed I was able to take the bus to Dengfeng, but it turned out to be a bigger journey than what I’d expected and my only real negative travel experience on this trip.

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BBQ meat and fish eggs at the night market at one end of the Old Town.

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The living room of my hostel. It was very spacious and nice.

China · Sports · Travel

Assorted China links

Xi Jinping was officially confirmed last week as China’s president, and with that, here’re some photos of Xi in his early days, no doubt carefully selected but still worth a look. There’s a few photos of him as a young university student and with his family. I must say, he’s got some big smiles in most of them, which suggest he might truly be jollier and down-to-earth than other Chinese leaders such as his immediate predecessor.

BBC has a decent article about China’s departing leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the ex-Premier. What did they do, it asks. On the surface, this might seem easy to say as the two didn’t exactly oversee any spectacular achievements. But they did oversee a growing economy that saw GDP per capita grow more than fourfold and weathered the 2008 financial crisis, a spectacular 2008 Beijing Olympics, and significant strides in ties with Taiwan. No doubt, there were some negatives as well, such as growing socioeconomic inequality and a reduction in personal freedoms. I do agree with the article’s conclusion- it is still too early to draw a conclusion as the results of their rule will be seen in the following years.

I’ve been steadily following MMA (mixed martial arts) for several years, mainly UFC because it’s by far the biggest league, and it’s cool to see it growing in popularity in North America, Europe, and East Asia. The Economist has a short piece about MMA in China. MMA has been surging in popularity for some time in the US, Canada and Europe, not to mention it used to be big in Japan, and there’s hope that it’ll grow in China too. China has had one fighter fight in the UFC, Zhang Tiequan, who unfortunately is on a three-fight losing streak. The Economist piece reports about a big MMA event in Inner Mongolia, where one of the champions won 1 million yuan, a significant amount of cash for a young sport in China. Yet one consequence of MMA’s popularity is the decrease in interest in traditional martial arts, specifically kung fu, claims the Economist article. The piece doesn’t go into much detail about this claim so it’s not for certain. The Global Times also has a good article about the obstacles in China facing growing MMA , with Zhang being interviewed in the article as well. Besides domestic promotions, Chinese MMA fighters also fight in Asian such as Legend FC and One FC.

For these youngsters in the famous Shaolin Temple in Henan province, kung fu is still definitely big.

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Burma used to be considered one of China’s allies. Diplomatically shunned and isolated by the West, Burma could usually rely on China as a steadfast economic and political partner. Now, with Burma’s opening up and the resurgence of ties to the world, it seems China is not considered such a good friend anymore. Apparently, this was a big shock to China, claims a Burmese official in this Atlantic piece.

China · Travel

My Luoyang article

The city of Luoyang is one of China’s four great ancient capitals. The other three – Beijing, Xian, and Nanjing – need little introduction, but Luoyang seems to lag. That’s why I wrote a piece about Luoyang for China Daily. It’s in Henan province, and about two hours from Xian by high-speed train. The most impressive sight is the Longmen Grottoes, which features thousands of Buddhist statues – as high as 17 meters, human-sized, finger-sized – carved into cliffs on both sides of a peaceful river. Luoyang also has a fine historical museum, the earliest Buddhist temple in China, the White Horse Temple, and Guanlin temple, which honors Guan Gong/Guan Yu, a Three Kingdoms-era general who was deified in the Sui Dynasty and is widely worshiped in Guangdong and Hong Kong. His head is also buried at this temple.

Meanwhile this following article was not written by me but it’s an interesting piece nonetheless. Marriage is a tough process in China, as this New York Times piece shows. There’s a lot of pressure on both men and women, involving stringent requirements – wealth, education, even height- as well as a commercial aspect (which other Asian societies like India also have). In major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, if you’re a guy and want to marry, you got to have your own home, otherwise you’re almost screwed.

China · China travel · Travel

Ancient China trip to Shanxi and Henan

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I took another trip to China last month. This trip was to the cradle of Chinese civilization, where the earliest Chinese settlements and dynasties started. This area is known as the Yellow River Basin, as the Yellow River (China’s second mighty river after the Yangtze) passes through it. Most of China’s earliest kingdoms and dynasties started here, including the Qin Dynasty, from which China got its name from, and the Han Dynasty, from which ethnic Chinese are named after. After going to Beijing earlier this year, it was fitting to now be going to Xian, another of China’s great capitals and arguably its second famous. Xian has the world-famous terracotta warriors and it was the capital for most of the great Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). Besides Xian, I also went to Huashan, one of China’s holy mountains, and Luoyang, which was in neighboring Henan province. Luoyang is also a former capital, one of China’s four ancient great capitals, though probably the least well-known (Beijing and the charming southern city of Nanjing round out this prestigious quartet).

A is Xian, B is Huashan, and C is Luoyang. This area, especially Henan province, is basically the cradle of Chinese civilization. As you can see, Shanghai is to the southeast and Beijing is to the northeast.

It was the first time I was going to Xian or the Yellow River region in general, and ironically it was a region which I didn’t have much interest in before. Despite all the great history, I thought this region, including Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan and Gansu provinces, was old, dusty, and a far cry from its past glories, especially as the center of Chinese civilization slowly but gradually shifted eastwards to the Yangtze River Delta to Nanjing and Hangzhou, and northwards to Beijing. Henan province has at least four former ancient capitals but you’d be hardpressed to read any recent positive news about it. I turned out to be completely wrong, which isn’t the first time it has happened.
This was a completely solo trip which made it a bit more challenging. Initially I was going with my mother, but a medical emergency with a relative forced her to stay behind. Anyways, all this just meant that this was a great opportunity to see new sights, to challenge myself, and to test my faith in China and its people.