One of the more interesting places that I've been, not because of its scenery, but because of its origin and probable future effect, the Shaolin village was bred from the Temple, and in some ways, is slowly acting to destroy it.
Prior to 1976, there really wasn't much to the Shaolin village. Actually, from what I am told, it really didn't exist back then. This little diverse and almost perverse hamlet was formed to fulfill some basic needs for a growing martial arts community in the early 1980's. The village is made up primarily of martial arts supply stores, clothing, some food places, and a multitude of restaurants, both indoor and outdoor.
The architecture and construction is typical Chinese village; mainly bricks and concrete slabs. Everything is built by hand; the use of heavy equipment is just not seen. Even concrete is mixed by hand. Bricks are made locally, and everything is hauled either by man powered wheelbarrow, over short distances, or these two cylinder tractor devices, and sometimes trucks, for longer distances. Modern construction implements are a rarity. I had the opportunity to see an electric powered drill the other day, but those instances are rare.
Stores are basically one room affairs, as are most restaurants. The store owners tend to live in the back of their one room area, behind a partition. Cooking is done in a wok over a small, usually coal driven, fire. Heat is also obtained the same way. Living quarters tend to be small, typically on the order of a usual US bathroom.
Years ago, the village was absolutely filthy. Excrement and rats were a common site in the streets. Although the rats are still around (they hide better now), the sanitation still leaves much to be desired. But the streets are almost spotless, the result two years ago of an order given by the Central Government. Apparently, the powers that be decided that China needed a little sprucing up, and in all of the cities and villages that I have been, attempts had been made to increase cleanliness. The effect upon Shaolin village was remarkable. Now, if they can only get these people to stop using the river, which runs primarily in the spring and during rainstorms, for their cooking, cleaning, washing, bathing, toilet, and occasionally, drinking water (One can still see the children fill up the used plastic drinking water bottles downstream from "other uses")..
This village, which originated to take care of the needs of thousands of Chinese who came to the Temple for training, no doubt has ruined the Shaolin Temple area. The long term effects of the ever-increasing growth of this village upon the Temple remain to be seen, but in my opinion, they won't be beneficial
Click to see a photo gallery of Shaolin village circa 1995