Shaolin 2

Leaving Shaolin today, already. I just went out this morning, about 6:30 am. To take pictures of the students doing their morning exercises. After a few shots someone started waving a finger at me so I moved away. I walked past a few classrooms where the students sat in dim light facing a teacher at the chalkboard and imagined it would have been a great photo, but didn’t have the courage to walk in the room and cause a disruption. Later the groups were marching back from the exercise ground and I stood inches away from them, hundreds, staring as they marched past and shouted. I snapped only a few frames, one which I like quite a bit. Walking back to the hotel a few moments ago (which has signage indicating it is a ‘foreigner approved hotel’) I saw the Shaolin students squatting in the dusty alleyway, brushing their teeth …

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Shaolin

In Shaolin now, one of the destinations I was most excited to visit. It has been interesting but we are only here a short time, and arrived today exhausted from the overnight train. The campus brings back memories of Oak Hill Academy, another secluded place where young men play sports in a little mountain village. Our local guide told a story about one of the first monks at the temple, who wanted to study here but was forbidden. I’ll do my best to recall the gist of it: The original master of Shaolin would not accept a monk who badly wanted to study there. The master said the new guy could study when “the snow turned red.”  That night it snowed, and the monk stood outside the temple and chopped off his arm, and walked around 3 times making the snow red, and he became the first student of Shaolin …

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Shanghai, cont.

Started the second day in Shanghai with a long morning walk, making way towards the Bund, a long riverside promenade, which was blocked and covered with construction crews. Crossed the Huangpu river on a ferry and reached Pudong, home to the Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center, two extremely tall buildings. Inside the SWFC, took what seemed like the fastest elevator on the planet to the top floor. The observation deck is touted as being the highest in the world. The view was surreal; sky-scraping city stretching on, and on, and on, in every direction. Afterwards, lunch on the ground floor at Jamaica Blue Coffee and ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery were a nice Western diversion. Spent nearly the entire day with my neck craned up at the skyscrapers around Pudong, before eventually taking the neon-lit space tunnel back across the river to Nanjing. In the evening …

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Welcome to Shanghai

We arrived at Pudong Airport in the early afternoon, after a short flight from Chengdu. The three hundred km/hr Mag-Lev train zipped us from Pudong to Shanghai, dropping us in the subway. The Nanjing Hotel was only a few steps from the subway station, and right beside Nanjing Rd., which seemed to be very much like the “Times Square” or “Hollywood Blvd” of Shanghai. We went for a typical Shanghai-style lunch at a busy restaurant, where we had to sit down at a still-occupied table for lack of space. The city specialty is a soupy-dumpling served in bamboo trays. As the sun went down, I stared out the hotel window at Shanghai and took a few photographs. The city looked cosmopolitan and modern, but also also very historic, developing, and crowded. In just an afternoon here, more than anywhere else, I couldn’t tell the difference between communism and capitalism. Nanjing …

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Checking Out Chengdu

After a long day of travel, and a night of cough-interrupted sleep, it was a good feeling to wake up in a modern city like Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. We woke early and left the Jiulong Hotel, at 90 Babao Street, to get to the Panda breeding center while the bears were active, before they decided to relax in the shade for the day. On the ride to the Panda center the city seemed busy. Many sharply dressed Chengdu urbanites were fighting the traffic on their way to work. I was surprised to see many girls wearing long dresses buzzing along on scooters and motorcycles. View Map The Center is home to dozens of Pandas, and expects to oversee six or seven births this year. Photographing the babies was prohibited for some reason. A lake within the complex was the home of hundreds of photogenic Koi carp. An informative film …

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Travel Sickness

I woke up this morning with a headache, and a scratchy throat. I think the recycled air on the boat, mixing with the cigarette smoke of a few dozen German tourists and the smog pouring out of riverside factories, was the source of my discomfort. The M.S. Fortune stopped in the morning and we disembarked, immediately discovering a gigantic staircase. I hired a porter to help with my bag, before seeing that she was an old woman. She tried picking up my bag and carrying it several steps before I released her of her duty and hauled it myself. We crammed into a van which carried us to Chongqing across a heaving, crumbly road for four hours. I began feeling quite sick during the ride as we bounced up and down past factories, through farms and old villages. The entrance to the Chongqing train station was underground, where a food …

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Cruising Reflections

Being in China is a bit like being a child because it is a constant confrontation with an unknown world, a reminder of everything you don’t understand and an indication of what you can never expect to learn in a lifetime. The Chinese however seem much better at accommodating the English than English are at accommodating the Chinese. Paper cups aluminum cans bits of Styrofoam all floating by on the Yangze. Little speed boats for transport, cargo ships of coal, piled up, lone fisherman in wooden canoes, rafts, Chinese mostly seem very nice, it is hard to judge how “free” people are when you look them in the face and they smile at you and you see the kids eating candy, and they get so excited about a game of foosball. I once believed Keruac when he said “freedom is an inner thing.” Maybe the argument isn’t about freedom in …

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Bridges on the River Yangtze

Cruising the lesser three gorges passed Wushan, 80,000 people relocated, Old Wushan flooded, new bridge projects, travel to Chongqing before 13 hours now five, copper mining, hazy in summer, snow in winter, many in New Wushan with cars, before no room only for motorcycles, now a big test before driving, old Wushan one square km, new seven sq km. Water level 120 meters in summer, rises over 70 in winter. Sesame seed crops in hills, plants for rice paper. Difficult to navigate at night, light posts seldom seen on cliffsides. Winter water level visible on side. Last night 8/24 docked at Ba Dong. Now passing Ba Wu gorge. The boat is shaped like a 707 with windows on the roof. Approaching the “high coffins” where the leaders of the community from ancient times are buried. In ancient times when wife looked for husband the men would line up and she …

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Yangshuo to Yichang

Today was an exhausting day of travel. We left Yangshuo on the 23rd on a bumpy, loud bus to the train station. Every twenty meters or so the driver mashed the brakes, and the horn screeched about every eight seconds. Chinese pop music poured through the cabin speakers, accompanied by videos of dancing and singing on a TV screen. We arrived to find a fairly comfy waiting room, which was soon offset by a cramped train car for 18 hours. We arrived in Yichang on the 24th, where we waited for several hours to take another bus to board the boat. In Yichang, we stopped at a modern supermarket and I was suspicious it was an activity recommended by the Gov’t to display “the best” of China. After 18 hours on a train, it is easy to become suspicious of nearly anything. I took a walk around the surrounding area …

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Hot Air Balloon

This morning I rode a hot air balloon in Yangshuo. My alarm didn’t wake me and I was worried they would leave me, but luckily the driver came late. My shoe fell off as I climbed into the basket. We were in the sky by 6 a.m. I think, and the sun was just peaking up. A nice couple from Amsterdam was in too, but they were speaking Dutch and the whole thing was so beautiful that I didn’t have anything to say anyway. The flame was almost burning my head the whole time and seemed too close. We were up to 900 meters at one point, I think, the balloon-man navigated with a little Garmin GPS. He was communicating with someone on the radio, saying I don’t know what. After rising very high, we were brought down low above the river. The town seemed larger from the air then …

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