Warriors, Buddhas, and More (Part 2)
Next morning’s adventure led us east on a bullet train to the 4,000-year-old city of Luoyang, in Henan Province. It was a mass of humanity. A friendly Kentucky Fried Chicken employee we met helped us understand the true scale of China’s cities. He told us about his “small” hometown—of only four million people! Luoyang’s traffic was bonkers. One of our drivers changed lanes by swerving across the dividing line into oncoming cars.
In Luoyang we had another animated twentysomething guide. Dong Dong was a walking encyclopedia. He taught us about everything from the I Ching to the sociological effects of China’s one-child policy. We drove to Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These are Buddhist caves into which 1,300-1,500-year-old statues are carved. I felt powerful energy emanating from the stones, amplified by the beautiful river flowing alongside them.
The agenda for our last day promised visits to two Buddhist temples: White Horse Temple and Shaolin Temple. (You might have heard of Shaolin Temple via Jet Li’s first movie, filmed onsite.) Dong Dong explained that two prominent categories of Buddhism exist in China today: traditional and modern. White Horse Temple, China’s first Buddhist temple built in 68 AD, characterizes traditional Buddhism. Monks embody a pure, ascetic lifestyle centered on prayer and ceremonies. They do not own property or involve themselves in worldly affairs.
Modern Buddhism has a different flavor—easily tasted at Shaolin Temple. Modern Buddhists are socially active. They enjoy educating others about their religion and culture. They also participate in the world’s progression. Example: I saw one monk driving a car while chatting on his cell phone. The temple is nestled in the holy Song Shan mountain range, which reminded me of Colorado’s Flatirons. Over 80 Kung Fu schools reside in the area, and monks practice martial arts as a form of movement meditation. We were lucky to watch young monks perform Kung Fu for a live audience.
At Shaolin Temple I also gobbled my favorite meal of the trip: a deceivingly simple noodle bowl. It was bursting with freshly made noodles, eggs, tomatoes, and spinach. Toss in a few spices and you have a little taste of heaven. Hunched under a tent on a tiny wooden stool, I savored each bite (and slurp).
The trip closed with an hour-and-a-half journey east to Zhengzhou. There, we laced through hordes of people to catch another bullet train. Returning to Beijing felt oddly calming after navigating China’s interior. From warriors and Buddhas to new friends and scrumptious eats, this country continues to surprise and captivate me at every turn. The sign below says it all.