Monday, September 2, 2013

Karate Blogger

Why am I having such trouble getting this entry out? Normally I would accept such a damming up of words as meaning the entry is not ready to be written. In this case, I’ve written all the events surrounding that trip except for this initial foray into adventure. I’ll give it another shot. Please forgive me; I sense this will not be some of my best writing.

Ever since watching the version of Karate Kid that came out in 2010, starring Jacky Chan and Jaden Smith I have made the temple featured in that movie one of my traveling priorities. This temple, home of the Shaolin Kung Fu discipline and the foundation of the Taoist philosophy, is situated atop the Golden Roof Mountain, for centuries only accessible to the heartiest and most devout. There the monks develop self restraint and the art of harnessing energy, the Tao, and incorporating Taoist philosophy into every aspect of their life. One could compare it to The Force, as elucidated in Star Wars.

Jacky Chan says in the movie: “Kung Fu is not an art, it is a way of life.” And echo of  the philosophy expressed by Obi Wan Kenobi

Here I am, a three-year resident of China and I finally have a train ticket to that revered destination. To add gravy to those mashed potatoes, I have students/friends who live in that city and will meet me and guide me through my visit.

Strange: this whole year I’ve been in a rather deep, pensive mood. Even more pensive than I usually am. The more time goes by the less company I seek. It has really put a strain on my general attitude, especially since all the traveling I’ve done this summer has involved visiting. No reflection on my wonderful, welcoming friends, but I felt relief that Celine and Amber could not meet me at the train station as planned.

In the next two entries I describe pretty much everything other than climbing the mountain and visiting the temple. Ashamed of my own negligent narration, here goes.

Celine, Amber and I were to meet at the foot of the mountain, only 6 bus stops away from my hotel. Easily enough we found each other. I had forgotten how vividly beautiful Celine is! How vibrant and full of life! Immediately my misgivings about being in company vanished. We all hugged and chattered like magpies while ransacking the usual outlays of tourist kitsch that are the bane of any attraction I’ve visited thus far.

The heat was intense and the sun merciless. Being at the foot of the mountain, we were not getting any breeze. Time edged closer to noon with the sun directly overhead. Because of that and also because of my dismal haircut I decided to buy a hat.

We clowned a bit, trying hats on. Celine looks good in anything she wears. Amber, dimmer in the presence of her more flamboyant friend but nevertheless a pretty girl found her look wearing a wide brimmed creation. I preferred the fake felt fedora but selected a light colored straw Stetson lookalike for its cooling properties. Ultimately everyone ended up buying the same style, same color hat.

How ironic! I lived in Texas for years but had to come to China to buy a Stetson!

Remember: I was pretty hungry because I had not yet eaten anything, but the heat robbed me of any desire for food. Still: we’re going mountain climbing. That is not something you do on an empty stomach. I should probably pack in some carbs. The girls were still full from their breakfast. We compromised by snacking on small cakes and vacuum packed snacks the Chinese are so famous for.

The girls got to witness firsthand the effect fish has on me. Gagging, spitting, doing my best to not throw up right then and there. Maybe they remembered from our class discussions that I cannot stomach even the smell of fish. After my fit and guzzling long draughts of water, they asked me why fish has such an effect on me.

It has to do with a bad piece of fish long in my past that made me sick immediately after eating it and laid me out for days afterward. Even now I cannot stand the smell of fish or seafood.

There! Mystery solved, reason revealed. In future entries, when I mention fish derogatorily I can refer you back to this entry for the reason why.

In the meantime, my appetite is now even less. Celine, the coordinator of this jaunt decides it is now time to climb the mountain. One last spit, one last chug of water and off we go, to the bus that will take us the first part of the mountain.

Warning: another Chinese illogic coming up!

I paid 240Yuan bus fare to get halfway up the mountain. Celine and Amber got a substantial discount for being students and for being native to the area, but still paid a hefty chunk. All others on the bus I presume were legitimate, out of town tourists like me, and paid the same fare I did. Being as I paid so much for this excursion I intended to fully enjoy the experience. Imagine my consternation when all who were close to windows drew the curtains closed because the sun was too bright!

Too bad no one has told them that bus windows are usually coated with UV protectant. Or maybe someone did, and the knowledge defied absorption.

Whatever their reason, my view going up the mountain was limited to the half of a window next to Celine. I too could have selected a window seat but the knee injury incurred a few weeks ago in Chi Bi, in conjunction to the usual problem I suffer with leg room called for me to take an aisle seat. I handed Celine my camera should she spot anything picture worthy from the window.

That child is a cloud fanatic!!! It is not all bad; she took magnificent pictures of clouds. Unfortunately she ran down the camera’s battery so much that it needed a recharge once we got atop the mountain. Fortunately I did have my charger with me and there was a hotel that had a convenient outlet. We allowed 30 minutes for the battery to charge. That was another one of those freaky things that was just right.

I am ashamed to say that I am pathetic. Given my age, excess weight, poor physical condition, and my bum knee I had no lack of excuses to not climb the multitude of steps that led to the temple. After paying outrageous fares for buses – and not being able to enjoy the sights, and another 170 Yuan for the cable car, the final automated leg before only stairs made the temple accessible, I opted to park myself on a stone bench, giving the girls my camera and citing poor health as my excuse.

They weren’t going to climb the stairs if I wasn’t. They would have no fun if I couldn’t be there. They felt terrible at my inability to fully enjoy the excursion. After much prodding and arguing, they finally left. I sat on my stone bench, massaging my knee.

And thinking. What kind of person have I turned into that does not rise to a challenge? How can I claim this temple has been a targeted destination of mine if, when faced with the opportunity to visit it I park myself on a bench? Since when do I allow myself – encourage myself! – to wimp out???

Nay, I say! Never! I send the girls a text message to wait for me. Slowly but surely I am coming up that mountain, whether I’m fat, out of shape, fear a heart attack or have a bum knee.

It was not as bad as I had projected it to be. In fact I was barely winded when I summited. Maybe I’m not in as bad a shape as I thought I was! That’s good news indeed. There were a multitude of stairs to climb and I did have to rest occasionally, but no more often than anyone else. And, as usual people were very kind and encouraging to the big foreigner, smiling and shouting ‘Jia You! Jia You!’ (go on! Go on!).

The wind on the mountaintop made my spirits soar. The sights of distant peaks, either shimmering in heat’s haze or shrouded in cloud made me feel as though on majestic ground. The joy at reuniting with my friends and sharing this moment with them… at that moment, my heart was full.

I was disappointed to not feel any type of mysticism. It seemed to me that the monks were either costumed workers or not typical monks who embrace their belief wholeheartedly. Whole areas of the temple were off limits, among them the sights exposed in the movie. I didn’t expect license to prowl over every square inch of the temple. I would have been happy with just one or two iconic sights. As it was, there were only a few buildings and platforms for tourist enjoyment.

You should read the next post to find out where I found that deep connection to the mystic unfathomable.              

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