Shaolin: The big white guy returns

July 1:After the usual and customary delays for Chinese domestic flights (only two and a half hours), I experienced what some believe are not the usual and customary events after a Chinese flight: a safe landing. Air safety has improved a great deal with Chinese airlines. Previously, the CAAC, which is the government name for the airline system (otherwise known as Chinese Aircraft Always Crash), used primarily Russian type aircraft, with some American and some other "god knows what it is but it can fly" airplanes. However, just in the past two or three years, the Chinese government pushed for the purchase of brand new Boeing jets. And they did another wonderful thing: they made all flights and all terminals No Smoking. (Now if they can make this hotel No Karaoke, I'd be in good shape). Years ago, after the plane's wheels left the ground, a huge cloud of smoke, bigger than any clouds you'd see outside, would start to fill the cabin, making it extremely difficult to breathe. Terminals were the same way. Now, clean air. Well, almost. Someone on my flight was sneaking a cigarette. The Chinese stewardesses for some reason ignored the violator. For some reason they didn't ignore me. My seat back just couldn't get into enough of an upright position for them.

I was met at the airport by the Shaolin master who was to train me. As I forget his monk name, I'll just refer to him by his real first name, DeQing. Wang DeQing actually. He waited the two and a half hours in the airport with his sister. Or, was it his cousin? Gong fu sister? I still don't have that straight. Interesting thing these Chinese airports. They list departure times on this white magic marker board, that some half English speaking woman writes kind of illegibly on, every five minutes or so, making known the changes of all of the flights. Of course, they announce it over the PA system, but who can understand that stuff? So, when departing, it is necessary to constantly run up and back to the magic marker board to see what is happening to your flight. When there is a blank space next to your flight number, you're in trouble. Arrivals are a whole different story. No magic marker boards. No announcements. No listings. Who are you going to call? Nobody. You just sit and wait, and when the flight arrives, it arrives. Poor DeQing and sister, or whoever she was. They just waited, and waited, and.....

As for the sister, or whoever she is, I did get out of DeQing, who, during his sojourn this year teaching martial arts in Hungary learned some English, that she had wanted to meet me. He told me that she was married (past, present?), and that she was separated (married but husband was away, separated as in hates the guy, divorced as in killed him?) So much for DeQing's English. So much for her's. She didn't speak any. That got me off of whatever hook she had planned for me. A smile, a nod of the head, and some poor attempts at speaking what little Chinese words I could remember, and I was a hit. They took me to the Holiday Inn in Zengzhou, which, after spending a night there, I decided that I was to see this place more often. One hell of a nice room, a real size bed, running water both hot and cold, and a restaurant that had real cakes. On top of that, a health club (rare in Chinese hotels) with an indoor pool (even rarer), and I was in heaven. I made plans to definitely return at my earliest convenience.


July 2: The next day it was time to meet some of DeQing's friends. That is, after a nice two hour visit to the pool.... DeQing brought me around to meet some of his business friends, and the Zengzhou chief of police. Definitely a good contact for when I get into trouble. The Henan people are very friendly towards foreigners, and from what I can gather, Americans are on the top of their list. So much for the anti-American sentiment when Uncle Billy bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. (Though there was still plywood over the broken windows of the American Embassy in Beijing on Thursday. And, other than Christine, I did not see another American my entire time in Beijing. And just the rare European). I get the impression that this friendliness is both genuine and forced. True, they seem to be a very warm open people. But, I can always find some sort of hidden reason for their wanting to be friends. A contact in the US means easier visa's and personal passports out of China. And I've been approached more than once by people who have wanted me to help them import American products into China. Like bicycles. To me, that made a lot of sense. They make the damn things here in China, we import them to America, put our names on them, and then these people want them back. I told all these people that I'd stay in touch. I still haven't figured out why the police chief was so friendly.

We made it to the Temple towards late afternoon. For now, I was going to stay in the usual shithole, the Shaolin Hotel, which was built when the government built the wushu guan for the monks. Unfortunately, I didn't get my usual room, as a group of four Chinese kids from Canada were in it. I stayed next door. For some reason, the hotel is cleaner than I last remember it. And surprisingly, the water is running all the time. At least, so far.

The officials have kind of put a twist to the water management, which threw me for a bit. Previously, hot water, if there was to be any, would run through the pipes at around 8PM, give or take a couple of days. We would use the Riddles trick (named after the great water wizard, Andrew Riddles), that is, turn on the hot water faucet, and wait for the air to come rushing out in some large disgusting pipe fart, thus signaling the near onset of hot water. You would then fill your bathtub or take a shower, if there was enough pressure, long before everybody else did, thus ensuring that you would have some sort of chance of finishing your bath before the hot water ran out. Well, this worked in the past, provided the officials heated some water at 8PM. (Historically, you had a better chance of seeing Christ walk naked on the wushu guan roof than getting hot water for a bath). Last year when I was here, I had been informed from reliable sources (remembering that reliable is not a word I've yet found in the Shaolin Chinese vocabulary) that the hotel was going to put a hot water tank on the roof, thus ensuring more hot water. I guess they haven't found that tank yet.

Well, the Riddles trick just didn't work this year. Until I figured out that the Chinese are now running hot water all day, that is, cold water in the hot water lines.  And, so far, and I hope that I haven't just been lucky, hot water has come out of the hot water lines at 8PM. As for the Riddles trick; you have to turn on the cold water faucet. When they heat the water, they stop running cold water through the hot water lines and run it through the cold water lines. And after 9PM, the stop running hot water through the hot water lines and run cold water. Then they run air through the cold water lines. I still haven't figured out how the toilet (thank god for the toilet; you can't imagine the options....) gets water all day, that is, when the pump is running. Unless it's hooked to the hot water lines..... It's all just another attempt by the Chinese to confuse the Americans.

July 3: Saturday we started training. DeQing decided that he wanted to train me in the actual Shaolin Temple. I thought it a bad idea right from the beginning. I've already noticed that where ever I go, I'm watched. Photographed. "Take picture with me".  Curiosity can be an obnoxious thing. All I could think about was training in the Temple, and being watched by hundreds of Chinese. Great. Instead, DeQing took me to one of the halls in the Shaolin Temple, actually, previously used as a training room,  now used as a meeting room. Inside was the Abbot of the Temple, a monk whom I had met on a few occasions before. For some strange reason, this time, he was friendly to me. We sat and talked for a brief while, and after a period of time, he left, bringing his entourage with him. We shut the doors to keep out the tourists, and we trained.

It wasn't the greatest experience. The incense was nice, but the overhead fluorescent lights which they had installed recently was a great bother. Needless to say, after an hour in there, I just wasn't feeling well. Ironically, I was saved by a monk, a Buddhist monk (as opposed to the martial monks), who came in and threw us all out, as this hall was his "station" for the day, and he had people to meet there. Hell, I thought, didn't he know that we threw the Abbot out of this very same hall this morning? Besides, the Chinese had opened the doors and were watching us train. We were definitely far more entertainment than this Buddhist monk could possibly dream to be in this lifetime and his next. Especially my "tornado kicks", which brought much joy to the crowd (a "tornado kick" -DeQing's translation from whatever the Chinese is, involves a running start, and a backward spin to the body, as you jump high, and kick backwards in a circular fashion, well over the height of your head. Why in hell you  would want to kick someone who was taller than you, I'll never know). But the whole concept of raising 225 pounds of all American beef up in the air, spinning it backwards, and kicking out an appendage or two, and landing it on the ground without destroying chairs, tables, and Buddha's, was definitely a site to behold. And lots of Chinese wanted to behold it. Well, OK, once, I almost took out the Buddha.

We were out of there, and headed back to my sanctuary. By then my head was not nirvana, and I definitely needed to rest. The early afternoon was spent in bed.

Later in the afternoon, we decided to train as DeQing had trained as a child; mornings in that hall in the Shaolin Temple, afternoons, way up in the mountains. Not bad, especially since a storm was moving into the area, and the usual haze and pollution which blunted the sun was increased by the clouds. An occasional light shower moved through the valley, which really didn't do much to my already completely sweat soaked clothing. Training was difficult at best, as I had absolutely no flexibility or grace to whatever I attempted to do. I really hadn't practiced much of this wushu for the seven months that I had been gone; most of my energy had gone towards dealing with our lovely legal system in the US, and the incredibly corrupt and dishonest attorneys that I had to deal with. I was a sight to behold, practicing wushu in the dirt. And it wasn't a pretty one.

We worked out for a few hours in the dirt, got dirty, had a great time, and eventually returned to the shithole. DeQing returned to his school, and I worked on my web site. I was a sore puppy. Fortunately, DeQing had wanted to use Sunday for a rest day, which was traditional in China. I figured that I would work out on my own, but would primarily use the day to adjust. Regardless, for some reason, I just couldn't imagine what the next day was going to bring.


July 4: Sunday. It brought rain. Lots of it. And it also brought one hell of a migraine. So much for working out; it had looked like I was going to spend a good deal of the day in bed. But Sunday also brought something else. It brought DeQing. And he wanted to train me. So, in the light rain, outside, for a few hours, we trained. And my head just got worse.

But one has to remember a simple fact about China; more specifically, the Shaolin village. And even more specifically, the Temple. There is suffering in China, but there is no pain. I had learned that on all of my previous trips here. You can suffer, and you most probably will, but you can't show pain. That damn stoic attitude of the Chinese which I found so helpful with improving my attitude towards chronic pain just came back to bite me in the ass. There's no complaining that you don't feel good. You just do it. And did it I did. It wasn't fun, but we got some stuff accomplished. In the last two days, we reviewed all of the forms that I knew, and now we were moving on to new territory. Some praying mantis style of fighting. Very low, very precise, very painful. Both for the attackee and especially for the attacker. It was an interesting day.

The afternoon brought a relief from training, and instead of resting, I decided to go climb the mountain to Damo's cave. It was time to renew the vows that I had taken years ago, when Shi De Cheng made me his disciple, and a disciple of the Shaolin Temple. The climb up the 100 meter high mountain in the rain was the usual fun. But seeing the face of the monk inside Damo's cave when he saw the big ugly bald American come in, made it all worth while.

It's Sunday night, and it's still raining. Rain pretty much preempts any kind of martial arts training in the village; that's why all the kids training here look forward to seeing storm clouds come over the horizon. No doubt tomorrow will bring some rain again. No doubt tomorrow will bring DeQing knocking on my door early in the morning again.


July 5:The rain finally came again on Monday, and with it came Deqing, for a morning work out. The fog hung low in the valley, preempting any bit of sunlight that wanted to come through. It was slightly cool, with the occasional sprinkle, and the even less occasional full blown shower, and it made for a perfect work out day. Again, I could go outside without my sunglasses. Again, I awoke with a migraine. But work out we did, and despite frequent rest breaks to try to combat this damn migraine accompanying fatigue, I got through the morning. We started working on ton lon chuan, which is Chinese for praying mantis boxing. This is not exactly the type of gong fu that you would teach an American, especially a large one, as it requires many low stances, and complicated hand maneuvers. It is a very powerful way of fighting, not only because of the sudden and powerful movements, but also because it is terribly deceptive. It just doesn't look like a powerful way of fighting. Especially when I do it.

The kids next door probably thought so too. I train on a large concrete patio, in front of the hotel (I hate to call this shithole a hotel....), and off to the side, overlooking another school, in which there are about forty children and teenagers studying wushu. Well, they should be studying wushu, but instead, when I appear, usually at 8 or 8:30 in the morning, they kind of stop what they're doing, and watch. It's almost as if they've never seen an American before. Well, some of probably haven't, with a good deal of these kids coming from areas of China which are far off the tourist path. And I can assure you, they've never seen an American do wushu before, at least the way I try to do it. They kind of just stand there and look in amazement. Are they impressed? I doubt it. I get the feeling it's one of those "look how he's screwing up our sacred wushu". Well, I try. And for the most part, I try all morning, and I try all afternoon. With the bow staff, the sword, the boxing routines, and now, a little praying mantis. The kids really get entertained when I start swinging the bow staff around; some of them even laugh a little, as they banter on with their gibberish that three years of on and off Chinese training allows me to understand, well, nothing. They're having fun, or at least, being entertained, in part by my attempts to get this stuff "flowing", in part by the fact that they've probably never seen a big American like me. A bald one at that.

Lunch was the usual protein drink mixed with water. I have a bit of fear, well, no, it's a great fear, of going into the restaurants to order food. My attempts at getting chao fan (wo yo y ban chao fan: I want a bowl of fried rice) has historically gotten me anything from steamed rice and a funny look, to boiled pig's blood and deep fried pig's fat. But this year I've gotten the tones down a little better, and when I say "wo yo y ban chao fan", I get the damn chao fan. And, ko ke ku la, always gets me Coke. Especially when I point at it. Now, to get a cold one (the Chinese haven't figured out that Americans like cold drinks with their meals) requires a bit of work. "Bing" means cold, that is, if you use the proper high flat  tone. To get a bottle of cold water, one would say "wo yo i bing ping quan chuan schwei", which to my understanding means "I want a cold bottle of mineral water", but to some of the restaurant girls, who are listening to this with my New York accent, it looks to me more like I'm saying "I want to screw your family's cow".  When all else fails, getting up and pointing does the trick.

More ton lon chuan in the afternoon, along with xiaohong chuan, and the bow staff form, as well as the basic gong fu maneuvers. The old legs just don't want to let me get down low, nor do the one legged stances allow me to stand upright for more than what seems like a millisecond. The balance is bad from the old head injury, and I can't seem to get it better. The afternoon workout was slightly better, though the migraine and fatigue made it all very difficult. Even the kids next store can see me drag. Oh, by this time, they finally learned that when I get tired of having them watch me, I kind of move down the patio a bit, so I'm out of their line of vision.  HA!  Fooled the little buggers. Thought they could get cheap thrills out of watching me all day.


July 6: To them, it was no problem. You see, by the next day,  they climbed the small hill next to their school, and had cleaned off all the vegetation, so that they could sit higher, and have a non-obstructed view of me working out. They actually made a little sitting area up on the hill. To them, the circus was back in town. For some reason, they really get a kick out of watching me swing the bow staff. They're probably taking bets as to when I'm gonna smack myself in the balls with the damn thing. And there's always one or two of the clowns mimicking me, with the occasional whistle or a yell of hello, I turn around and see one with a tree branch, following my every move. God forbid I don't get low enough in a stance, because, from way over there on the hill, will come a hello, and a clown with a tree branch sitting lower in the bow staff position than I could ever get. "Wait till you hit puberty kid, you'll never do that again" is all I could think of, and it reassures me that one day, he's gonna get old and worn out like me.

990707: Wednesday brought the usual work out day with one exception: I awoke migraine free. Last week, out of fear of some crazy unexpected cardiac event precipitated by the huge catecholamine surge that working out with these guys brings, I had stopped my anti-migraine medication. My meds have some cardiac accelerant effects, and all I could imagine was having some sort of disaster, like a cardiac arrest, from the combination of meds and exercise. The last thing you expect in a place like this is some little bastard running up and yelling "I know CPR". So, last week, the meds were stopped. And the head went bad. It had gotten to the point where I was so fatigued, my workouts, and days, were just not worth it. I started the pills again yesterday. And boy, did they help.

The kids next door must have noticed the change too. No more clowns with tree branches. Now they just sat there, yelled hello, and waved. I wave back. God help them if they come up to my patio....


July 7: Thursday brought the end of ton lon chuan training; we had finished the praying mantis form. I guess it helped that I had learned some of it last year. Deqing had started me on the road to ton lon chuan last year, but couldn't finish it because he had some other important business to take care of. So, last year, the completion of the first half of ton lon chuan was left to his best student. Hell, I didn't care, he performed it very well, far better than I could ever. Problem was, he performed it wrong. The week was spent correcting what I was doing wrong, and fine tuning what I was doing right. Also, I got the second half of the form. And, as is not customary in the usual wushu schools out here (at least until the fourth year of training, and then, not always) Deqing taught me the actual applications to the form. That is, how to use it to fight. It's sometimes very difficult to see how these forms are actually used, especially when you start getting into the animal forms. Things like lions and tigers and bears (Oh my!) are pretty easy to figure out, but when you start getting into animal forms like dogs, frogs, eagles, and praying mantis, it's not easy to see how these things are actually used. It is not common to learn these "secrets", as they are usually reserved for the monks. Becoming a disciple two years ago helps.

The workouts all this week so far have just been incredibly painful. And not just physically. Mentally, they have been anywhere from a complete frustration to a total embarrassment. Having forgotten things that I should have remembered, being unable to do things that should be natural by now, and above all, not being able to hit DeQing, hard, and where it hurts. Just like he wants me to. Gong fu requires precision, balance, speed, focus and power. I have the power, to the point where most of these guys are afraid of being in the direction of where my fist is heading to. I don't have the balance, precision, or focus. But the real problem is, I think they're more afraid not of how hard it's going to hit them, they're more afraid of where.

You see, I have poor proprioception in my right arm. Another consequence of that head injury. If I don't see my right hand, I don't "know" where it is until I see it, or it runs into something, like, a full glass of Coca Cola on a busy dinner table. Usually, I just view the whole thing as a comical event. Well, after a while, DeQing figured it out, and decided that he was going to view the whole thing as a comical event too.

So, while performing some basic gong fu moves and strikes, such as xie bu chong quan (where you twist on your feet, ending up with crossed and lowered knees, striking with one arm to the opposite side), DeQing would stop running from one side to the next, as I struck him hard with my left fist, accurately and powerfully, and completely missed him with my right. You just don't see your fist until it's in front of you, about to hit it's target, and DeQing noticed that fast. He also noticed that my poor balance (another consequence) made me kind of wobbly as I twisted around to strike. As I could almost always hit him and hit him hard with my left, and almost always completely missed him, any part of him, with my right, he decided to continually stay on my left side. If I were to say that he is a damn good teacher (and he is), I would say that he did that to train my bad right side. If I were to say that he just doesn't like to be hit, I would be wrong.

From the look on his face, I just think he thought the whole thing was funny.  So he stayed on my left side, and watched me continuously miss him. Such a comedian.... It actually got funnier when I did xiezi bai wei. That's where you twist around 360 degrees, prepare to strike with not one, but both arms, and keep one leg held up high off the ground. Even the guy from Argentina stayed around to watch that.

I guess I didn't get into the guy from Argentina. Kind of reminds me of William from two years ago, the ex con who was hiding out in Shaolin village from the US authorities. He had the attitude of a New Yorker and a mouth that went along with being in the slammer for ten years. We had bonded immediately. F--- this and F--- that, I had just gotten a complete kick out of it (F----, wo yo yi f----- wan mei f----- fan; translated, I want a New York bowl of rice). He spent his time teaching basic English to some Chinese school children in the village ("See John run. See John F------ run"). Wish I had had a teacher like him. Anyway, this guy from Argentina supposedly is a sixth degree black belt in some sort of Okinawan karate system way down in the Patagonia region. That's way down there. Like, on the bottom of the world. I asked him what he was doing way up here. Like, as William would put it, "in the middle of F------ nowhere". In his very poor English (and his completely non-existent Chinese; (he can't even say that he wants a bowl of rice or bottle of water), he explained to me that he needed to get away from his children and his ex-wife for a year or two. I guess he had had a nasty divorce down there (I also guessed that some American attorney's had moved down to Argentina. Poor country. Now it's in trouble). He had been in Laos for a month, living at a monastery, just meditating. I understood that. I know that there's not much to do in a Laotian temple other than meditating. Especially if you don't know Laotian, Vietnamese, or French. (He doesn't). And then, he saw DeQing's picture in a magazine down there, so he decided that he would travel to Shaolin to do some more meditating and gong fu. He showed up at DeQing's school with the idea of staying two weeks; to learn some gong fu, and practice some tai chi.  He also showed up with one hundred Yuan (about twelve dollars). That was about two months ago. He's still there. Still waiting for his school to send him money. Still eating and sleeping at DeQing's school. Still hasn't practiced gong fu (a back injury has kept him from practicing for the "past few years"). Still hasn't learned how to say "wo yo yi wan mei fan". I wished that William was here. He'd teach him how to say it.

I told Yong, who bunks right next to this Argentine in one of the small rooms of DeQing's school, that he was probably a mass murderer from Argentina, hiding out from the authorities. That he probably had disemboweled and eaten the remains of many a poor old lady in the Patagonia region. I told Yong, that being a doctor from New York, that I was experienced in such things, and that I could just "see it" in this guy's eyes. No doubt, within a week, the Chinese jibbered and jabbered throughout the small school with that rumor. God help this guy now.

Oh, I've completely lost track. Back to the training stories.

The school next door


The kids next door took great glee in the fact that my master was punching me. My attempts at using various praying mantis forms to block his punches and kicks and to strike back (usually unsuccessfully) caused cheers to rise up from the dirt bleachers they had built. I'm glad they were entertained. I was black and blue, and they were having a great time.

The afternoon was spent visiting two of the Shaolin Temple's great masters; Shi Su Xi, and Shi De Yang. Visiting the great masters is not something that everybody gets to do; they are not exactly on the tourist circuit. And, significantly, Shi Su Xi, who is 76 and is deteriorating from Parkinson's disease, rarely takes visitors. But Deqing, knowing that I had met him last year, arranged my second meeting with him, in order that we could talk about his life. Shi De Yang, who is 32, is the disciple of Shi Su Xi, and is one of the greatest wushu monk masters of the Temple (Deqing being another one). I met both of these masters in their living quarters; what I found out of their lives I'll put in another section of this web.

So much for entertaining the troops next door. I'm sure they missed me.

990709: Friday morning it all started to come together. Deqing and Yong were supposed to show up at the hotel to train with me in the morning, prior to our going to Zengzhou to see Deqing off to Hungary. Yong and I were going to take this opportunity to stay in Zengzhou overnight, he to purchase a laptop computer, me, to stay at the Holiday Inn and eat cake. I had looked forward to sleeping in a real bed all week. But they never came. I had started early in the morning, going through all of my forms, and the new praying mantis boxing, by myself, doing each one ten times. That, along with the basic gong fu maneuvers, the kicks, the stretching, and the other gong fu movements, took me around two and a half hours. But, what  I was starting to feel yesterday was getting stronger today, much stronger. I was starting to move with more grace and speed, more power and flexibility, though my balance still leaved a little to be desired. The strikes were more powerful, the stances lower, the praying mantis looking more like a praying mantis than a pregnant elephant. It was all starting to flow into something that is was supposed to look like. It just felt right.

The kids next door just stood and watched. They didn't say a word.

Deqing showed up at 1100, about two hours early. "Let's go, we leave", in his actually improving and impressive English. Yea, like I was ready to go. That's something that I have learned about him. Never on time, or far too early, or, kind of late. Never a plan that follows through. No timetable, no schedule. He just takes every hour as it comes. Just whatever happens, happens. A little different from the usually regimented behavior of, well, Chinese waitresses. The Chinese table is set in a distinctive way, and god forbid you change it, by, well, like putting a laptop on it and rearranging all the plates, chopsticks, and other paraphernalia that you find here. I would show up to a dinner table, lay out the laptop in a convenient position after rearranging the entire table, and from out of nowhere, would come a Chinese waitress, always smiling, to rearrange the table the way it should be. I would just smile, let her do her thing, and after she left, put everything back the way I had it. No problem, until she noticed it. She would hurry right over, smile (which meant, "Leave my table alone you American pig!"), and put it back together the way she had it. It was the same with all waitresses everywhere I went. At least, in the "upscale" restaurants, those being the ones with real floors. And none of them understood the fact that I don't drink tea. It would be 95 F------- degrees outside, as William would say, and they want to give you hot water to drink.  (Also, don't ever order rice when you have already ordered noodles; for some reason, they don't understand the fact that one could possibly eat both in one meal. That brought me some real funny looks. It also caused them to stop pouring me tea. I guess I wasn't worthy anymore). Highly regimented and unyielding, were these waitresses. And the girls that "clean" the "room" where I stayed, they were just as regimented and conditioned. But that's another story.  After a while, I actually started to take great pleasure in rearranging the table just to see how fast they would notice the changes, and if they would remember all the changes to the table that I had made. Needless to say, I made many friends in these restaurants.

Deqing and our little entourage left Shaolin for a wonderful feast at his school. He went out of his way to impress me, having his cooks make some incredible dishes, more food than he would usually have made for his instructors all week. But I was a foreigner, and one thing I've noticed about these people, is that they go out of their way to impress foreigners. Warm and friendly, they have really taken a liking to me. But their attitude towards America is one of disdain. They like American people, but they hate the American government. And the one person that they really hate is Clinton. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia has really set them off.

The day ended with a goodbye dinner at a nice restaurant in Zengzhou. Deqing was to leave on the train for Beijing along with Shi De Yang, on their way to Hungary for a month. Transportation usually occurs at night here, that is, for passengers. During the day, the roads are full of coal trucks and the like, and travel is tedious (and dangerous) at best. The distances are great; it takes a bus, and a train, about eight hours to go from Zengzhou to Beijing. Deqing likes the bus as the night buses here have about twenty four individual sleeping compartments in them, all with tiny televisions placed right above your head. You can lay down in these buses and watch TV (on the "ceiling") all night. Deqing definitely likes to watch TV. Shi De Yang for some reason likes the train. As there is no TV on the trains, Deqing kind of hates them. But as De Yang is senior, Deqing didn't get his television tonight. After a warm and friendly dinner with Deqing and his friends (there's nothing like roast pigeon, deep fried chicken feet, and god knows what else), Deqing left for Hungary. I'm sure going to miss him. He's one hell of a martial artist, and a great guy on top of it. I'm not going to miss that roast pigeon though. The pigeon breast isn't all that bad; the head is just a bit too crunchy for my taste.

Pigeon: tastes like chicken

Hong Shar Ke Lin Ton


A favorite dish now here in Henan, hong shar ke lin ton (Roast Clinton), from what I'm told is some sort of cooked fruit that looks like sheep testicles. Then again, the "beef" I had last week turned out to be donkey, and the "pork strips" turned out to be cow stomach. They like to watch foreigners eat all the shit that they think we would never eat if we knew what it was. I still think hong shar ke lin ton is sheep testicles. Clinton would be proud. They actually didn't taste too badly.


Me (all 233 pounds of me) and DeQing's closest friends. To my left is Ahsia,(or something like that, DeQing's gong fu sister), behind her, DeQing, behind me, DeQing's gong fu brother Bruce Lee (OK, I haven't the slightest idea what his name is, but he looks like Bruce Lee, so that's what I called him. He liked it), and to my right, some girl. Yong is the dedicated photographer here.

Oh, and I learned something very important today about China. Don't ever go into a Chinese toilet without a newspaper....

After DeQing left, the training slowed down in some ways, and speeded up in others. Yong was training with me (Yong is a disciple of DeQing, his monk name is Shi Yong Qiang, which means 33rd generation Shaolin monk; Qiang meaning "strong". My monk name is Shi Xing Heng, which means 32nd generation, heng meaning "eternal", "powerful", "constant". Kind of like the odor from my underarms at this point).

We were left to our own devices. Since DeQing's school was in Deng Feng, a twenty death defying minute bus ride from the Shaolin village, Yong just moved in with me. He brought his gong fu sneakers, which kind of look like a piss poor imitation of Keds, and a tee shirt. I wished I could travel that lightly. It was good to have a companion who spoke good English in a land where English is a rarity. We trained together and rapidly became good friends.

As he had been training at DeQing's school for a few years, he was pretty experienced in the gong fu and the forms that I had wanted to learn. So, as opposed to the first week where DeQing had trained both of us in Tang Lang Chuan (praying mantis boxing), the next three weeks were going to put Yong in not only a co training position, but a teaching position. DeQing had arranged also to have some of his senior instructors travel to Shaolin to teach me. From time to time, we learned stuff together. And from time to time, we did absolutely nothing.

One of the interesting things in Shaolin village, is that rain, of any type, completely shuts down gong fu training. It could be terribly cold, or terribly hot, humid or dry, sunny or dark, and we, along with everybody else in the village, would be outside training. But a little rain, and it's all over. The sneakers that everyone wears have terrible traction, basically, because they're smooth soled. My more expensive karate sneakers are no exception. Trying to do this twisting and turning and jumping and crouching gong fu on dry land is an experience that is incomparable. Trying to do it in mud is comical.

But instead of going up to the mountain to train, we had decided to just use the concrete patio outside the wushu quan "hotel". It was easier, and besides, it was closer to my source of ping bing quan chuan schwei. Cold water. Bottled water. "Safe" water. As long as they didn't buy it from the kid who takes these bottles and fills them up in the river. In the heat of central China, working out for about four hours at a time causes you to lose lots of water. My heavy karate pants would routinely get completely soaked. It had gotten to the point that wearing a shirt was nonproductive. It was just better to bring one and hang it up somewhere, to use as a towel to wipe the sweat off of your face. Sweat pours off your face and gets into your eyes, a precursor to eye infection to those who wear contacts. (Which is exactly what happened). Water was a precious commodity here. And at three Yuan a bottle, a bottle being 600 milliliters, drinking about four to five liters of water each workout period when it was hot started to get "expensive". Three dollars in water a work out period. Three dollars actually goes a long way here in Shaolin. Three dollars can feed two people many dishes of unidentifiable food.  But it was necessary. It is very easy to get dehydrated with all sorts of electrolyte imbalances here. So water, and Gatorade, are a necessity. Which brings me to a key survival rule here. Bring Gatorade. I had learned that one years ago.

You see, years ago, when I first came here with a group of fifteen, I discovered that by the third day, we were all sick. We were all terribly over fatigued, mentally slow (well, some of us came here that way...), with overall muscle weakness and cramps. The attendance the first two days of training with DeCheng had been high, with an incredible amount of anticipation and eagerness, and a little anxiety. But by the third day, we had been decimated. Those were back in the days when it took me less than a week to figure out simple problems. And our joint problem had been, we had all suffered from electrolyte imbalance. We were all drinking this bottled water, but we weren't getting any sodium or potassium in our drinks or our food. But there had been a dilemma. One guy had brought powdered Gatorade. And he wasn't about to give up his precious few packets to take care of the rest of us.

So I had asked Matt, our group leader and guide, to ask the Chinese cooks at the wushu quan restaurant, to start adding lots of salt to our food. Since they couldn't understand that, I asked that we have peanuts at every meal. The cooks always added salt to those, but only when they were fried. (Have you ever had boiled peanuts? It kind of tastes like little hong shar ke lin ton....) And I had the cooks add bananas to our daily diet. Within a day, we had been better, and the training had continued.

Watermelon. A damn good summer food for maintaining proper hydration and fiber.

But back to this trip. Where was I. Oh, the weather. Yes, the first two weeks had brought horribly overcast skies. Add that to the usual humidity, pollution, and god knows what else is up there, and we essentially had great work out weather. It was "dark" enough for me to be able to work out without my sunglasses. And during those rare moments that the sun came out, there had been enough humidity or fog in the atmosphere to make the sun relatively opaque. Great for the eyes, especially considering how photosensitive I am. It was also great for the body, as the temperature hovered in the high seventies to mid eighties. Still required water, but the typical workout during this period required only about two to three liters. It was great to work out, but only when the old head allowed me to. You see, the weather, though completely overcast, changed on a constant basis. From relatively ok, to bad, to absolutely horrible. And back again. All without a hint of what was going to happen.

Rain here is interesting. It either comes down as a drizzle, or it absolutely pours like all hell has broken lose. And the even more interesting thing about it is, you don't have much warning as to what it's going to do. With the constantly dull skies, you could be working out one morning, and a half hour later, it's coming down in buckets. That made hiking the every other day climb to Damo's cave interesting. You start out in relatively "sunny" skies (sunny skies means that you can approximate the relative position of the sun in the sky), and you end up huddled in Damo's cave, hiding from a severe thunderstorm, much to the dismay of the monk stationed there.  It led to an early discontinuation of the every other day hike to Damo's cave, and it also led to a complete change in our daily work out schedule. It was no more 8 or 9 to 11 or 12, and 2 or 3 to 5 or 6. For the first two to three weeks, it was "the concrete is dry, let's go".

Which leads me to another rule. Work out on dry concrete, or ground. Period. Unless you want to experience splits that you had never thought possible. It's kind of hard to leap up into the air, twist 360 degrees, kick, and land with "precision", ie, not breaking any bones, when you start on slippery ground. And the concrete here is slippery.

The far end of this patio was one of the places we worked out. The pine trees offered much needed shade during the "sunny" periods. Practicing gong fu forms amidst hanging and fluttering sheets and brassieres made for quite the experience.

Just about all of the concrete here, whether it be for roads, patios, foundations, or buildings, is mixed by hand. Dump the mixing ingredients on the ground, add water from a bucket, and stir with a shovel. Then dump it where you want it. And smooth it out. It has to be as smooth as possible. If it isn't smooth, it doesn't look good. There's none of this throwing salt on the top of it, so you get pitting of the surface. Salt is for food. Concrete is for walking. So, you have this smooth concrete, everywhere. And when it gets wet.... Well, you get the picture. Let's just say that they haven't experienced personal injury attorneys here yet.

It's ok to work out in the rain, as long as the concrete or ground isn't too wet. When it gets wet, it's over. The kids in the village always looked forward to rain, because they knew that they would get a day of rest. Problem was, they had no idea when it was going to rain.

But I did. Yes, it was great to have this overcast cloudy miserable weather, as it made for cooler darker days. But the constantly changing barometric pressure wreaked havoc with my migraine condition, and my constantly changing migraine condition wreaked havoc with my work out schedule. If the head was bad, I tried to ignore it. Remember, the big rule: there is suffering in China, but there is no pain. "Losing face" is very important to the Chinese. You can't just stop and say that you don't feel good. Pride and honor are way up there on their list. I guess when you don't have much of anything else material wise, pride and honor get pushed up there. If you hurt, you keep going. And you don't show it. This Chinese stoicism was easily noticed by me two years ago, when I made some "house" calls as a physician. Or should I call them "hut" calls? But it had greatly helped me with my attitude towards chronic pain. If I was having a bad head day, I continued. As best I could. If I was having a worse head day, I meditated, and tried to continue. Or, I slowed down. But one day, I was having, as William would put it, one bad f------- head day. I woke up with it. I tried to work out, but my right leg was weak, my balance was terribly off, and I couldn't remember a damn thing about what I was doing. The fatigue was overwhelming despite my medications. Yong kept asking me what was wrong; I told him nothing. I just kept trying. And failing. And falling. And trying.

And after an hour of this nonsense, all I told Yong was, "It's gonna rain. And rain bad". Yong had looked up at the clearing but still slightly overcast skies and laughed. He said that this was the best looking day we had had for a week and a half. I just went upstairs and went to bed. As William would say, f----- this pride shit. I gave up. I retreated to my room and just tried to sleep it off.

Four hours later the skies absolutely opened up into one of the worst thunderstorms we had ever seen. And it poured so thickly, that you couldn't see past fifty feet. The water blew out of the drain pipes that came down from the flat roof. It rained like that for about five hours. "I told you" was all I said to Yong, with an air of experience. Yong wasn't just amazed. He was completely flabbergasted. All he could mutter was "weather master".

But over the weeks, we muddled through it all. Whether we worked out at night when it was cooler, or during the mid-afternoon in the sweltering heat, we got through four new advanced gong fu forms. Some work outs were an hour long, some were over four. It all depended upon the weather, the condition of the concrete or ground, and my head. It also depended upon how late Yong stayed up at night playing computer games.

After we had seen DeQing and Shi De Yang off to Hungary, I took Yong to the computer "store". He was searching for a laptop, and not really knowing anything about them, wanted me along for my experience. I guess he figured if I was that good with the weather, I would be really superb when it came to computers. So, off we went. It was quite the experience.

The "computer store" was basically made up of a group of streets that had these tiny little shops distributed all throughout this area. There really didn't seem to be any specialization amongst them. These people basically just bought what they could find. Some had all sorts of Chinese and Taiwanese imitations of what we have in America, some have American brands. It was kind of hit and miss shopping here. We basically had to walk into every shop to look for a laptop.


Most of the stores just had desktop stuff. And it was all oriented along the "make your own computer" lines. But we found one store that sold a very limited variety of IBM ThinkPad's, and another, across the street, who sold an equally limited variety of Toshiba. I had told Yong that we were limiting our choices to these two. There was no way I was going to let him buy any of these Chinese imitation laptops. The inferior quality was just too obvious to me.

We had started in the IBM "store", but were rather dismayed by the prices. I had figured from what I could remember, (having just bought  a new ThinkPad before I left) that the prices here were about seventy to eighty percent higher here in China. As we were not successful playing the "good cop, bad cop" routine with this Chinese merchant, me being the "bad cop" who was looking for the computer, Yong being the "good cop nice guy translator", so we left for the Toshiba place. There we found a rather nice, though pushy merchant, who was a bit afraid of me. That helped. Just the situation I was looking for. If we couldn't use bargaining to get Yong a good price, we were going to use fear and intimidation. I kept my sunglasses on as we stayed in the store. My head was still shaved, and I was about twice the size of the average man here, in width and in weight. Besides, I was on the average a foot taller also. You could find me in a group of a few thousand people in Tiannenmen square. I could spread fear and intimidation with the best of them. And I wasn't leaving without getting a good price for Yong.

It didn't work. The guy wouldn't budge in price. We had found something that would be good for Yong, but we couldn't get him down in price. I set plan B into motion. I told Yong we were leaving. I walked out without saying goodbye to the guy. Fear and intimidation led to disgruntled asshole buyer. We went back to the ThinkPad guy.

He wouldn't budge either. Tough little buggers I thought. I had to think this one out. So I brought Yong with me, and we started looking around the area. I was interested in software. And I wanted to see what they had available to them. And I needed some time to figure out what I was going to do next.

The real computer store. Well, not really. You can buy all sorts of computer related things in here; mostly parts, and pirated software.

We found it. One store that had most everything, except for a variety of complete systems ready to go. What I found really interesting was the variety of software available here. Everything imaginable. Microsoft Office 2000, which had just been released in the US. CorelDraw, version 9. Games. Some that haven't even been released in the US yet. You name it, and they have it here. But nothing is in their original boxes. The CD's have a number written on them, other than that, they are fairly nondescript. And most of them are wrapped in these little plastic baggies, and then placed into these little cardboard sleeves. Printed on the cardboard is a whole bunch of Chinese, with some pictorial description that I could recognize. And a serial number, so that you could get the program to install. I snickered to myself as I thought about fifty thousand Chinese calling Microsoft to register the same serial number. They had just about everything you could want software wise. You just had to find it..


Yong looks for software.

The software is then placed in these bigger cardboard boxes, completely out of any sort of recognizable order. Yong had no idea of what he was looking for, having very little computer experience. He looked for Chinese games and music, which, after I had helped him install them, wasn't too impressed with the Chinese software creation ability. I basically went through all of this, and picked out all the various applications that he might need, and games that he might enjoy. Windows 98, Office 2000, FrontPage 2000, Corel, Photoshop, network software, Autocad, professional level stuff, all expensive, all right here. I asked Yong  how much the standard Office 2000 disc was. He inquired of the one sales lady. Six Yuan. About eighty cents.

I told him that there was no way you could get the new Office 2000 for eighty cents. He inquired again, and rather dismayed, the sales lady got a bit frustrated and yelled back at him five Yuan. We had gotten a discount, and I wasn't even looking for one. Seventy cents for Office 2000. Five Yuan a disc. It really didn't matter what it was. It was five Yuan a disc. Needless to say, we spent a few hours in there, going from one sales table to another. I bought everything I could find.

Yong asked what we were going to do with the fifty or so programs I had bought. I told him that I couldn't believe that these would work, so I had bought multiple copies, in the hopes that one of them might actually work the way it was supposed to. The Chinese who were shopping there had gotten quite a kick out of the amount of stuff we were carrying. I told Yong that even if none of them had worked, the twenty bucks or so I had spent was worth it. I had enjoyed looking through all of this stuff, and to me, looking at software was worth the twenty bucks. That's one of the things, other than my dogs, that I really miss. Computer games. And even if none of the damn discs worked, we could have a lot of fun climbing the mountain up to Damo's cave, and flinging them down upon the people below. I told him we get some use out of them. He was yet again, flabbergasted. The weather master had lost his mind.

Well, I hadn't lost my mind, but I did make a mistake. When we went back to the IBM store, it did appear obvious that we needed a computer. We had a pile of software with us. When I had realized my mistake, I had thought of having Yong translate the story of flinging the discs from the top of the mountain down upon the peoples below. But I just wasn't sure how that was going to come across. Fear and intimidation turns into asshole turns into idiocy. I was losing this purchase battle. I had an MD degree, and this IBM clerk barely finished the third grade. And he was kicking my ass. No bargain.

Just then, the little guy from the Toshiba store brazenly walked into the IBM store, and told us not to buy from this guy. Right in front of him. He told us he would give us a better deal. Now here was a sales tactic that I hadn't considered. Put them both together and make them fight it out. Absolutely classic. Why didn't I think of that? I just kind of stood back and watched the fireworks. And I put my sunglasses back on. A little fear and intimidation amidst a bidding war couldn't help. Thoughts of taking some of the software discs out and flinging them at the fighting salesmen entered my mind.

The IBM guy lost. Tough luck. I was starting to admire the balls this Toshiba guy had anyway. He had what we call over here "gong fu". He might not have known how to do a tornado kick, or a "scorpion sweeps his tail", but he had "gong fu". We went over to the Toshiba store. It was done. I kept my sunglasses on while we were there. I wanted to let this little bugger know that I had "gong fu" too.

I got him down in price, got him to add a few things, and Yong's life was forever changed. No more dropping off to sleep for him at 9PM. Now he was in for long nights staring at a little computer screen, trying to kill monsters or watching video CD's (VCD's). How he was ever going to be able to get up at 0500 to run when he returned to his school was beyond me.

The whole idea of climbing the mountain to Damo's cave and flinging the computer discs down at the peoples below never materialized. Actually, I was quite disappointed. The software worked; at least most of it did. I was really surprised. Some of it was exact copies of the real thing. The programs installed exactly as they should have. Some of the discs were Chinese manufactured things, where they took programs from discs, shrunk them down into zip files, and put them on CD's. You had to play with those to make them work. Some of them were copies, at least to the best of their ability, of the real thing, but they wouldn't work because a file was missing or misplaced. I was able to "play" with the software in some cases to make it work; in others, it was just a frustrating experience. Some of the stuff just didn't load at all. Thoughts of climbing the mountain started to come back into my mind......

But then started the real training. Teaching Yong how to use a computer. Windows is not really a difficult thing to master. But try to teach it to someone. Using Windows when you understand it is fairly easy. Teaching a complete computer neophyte how to use Windows is kind of hard, but not to bad. Try teaching it when it is completely in Chinese. Now, that, is an accomplishment.

The days were spent training and resting, and searching out new restaurants to eat at . The nights were spent praying for water and teaching computer. There were benefits to having Yong with me. Trips to the restaurant were not longer the "here it is, guess what it is" experience. Yong ordered most of the time. After a while, I would order using some of the limited Chinese I could remember. The girls got a kick out of that. They also got a kick out of watching me try to read the menu, all completely in Chinese. Of course, I hadn't the slightest idea of what I was looking at, but I wasn't going to "lose face" and let them know that. If they can't "lose face", why should I? It got even better when they would point at something to suggest it. Of course, I would look at it, and shake my head. How dare they suggest that, I thought. I have no f------ idea what it is.

The restaurants come in all shapes and sizes, and varieties of cleanliness. Actually, with respect to cleanliness, they're all pretty clean as long as you don't ever pick anything up that has dropped onto the floor. Spitting, though pretty much looked down upon by the Central Government, is still pretty common. It is not as frequently encountered as it used to be. But between the rice, chicken bones and spit, walking in a restaurant without slipping and falling can be a feat. And this leads me to another survival rule. If if falls on the floor, consider it gone. But if you must retrieve it, protect the top of your head.


Some of the restaurants are outdoors. They cook on these little coal driven stoves. This year I noticed an increase in propane fueled stoves. The food ranges in variety from just pouring hot water on freeze dried bowls of noodles and mystery meat, to "cooked before your eyes" noodles with mystery meat. Try eating a meal and getting up off of one of those little stools.


I've always said that everything in Shaolin village teaches you gong fu. The typical chairs are not the exception.... Here Yong has his daily dose of "little red things in the glass of water". The glass is half filled with little red and green beans and god knows what else, and the rest is water that has probably soaked these little beans for the past year and a half. I've actually tried it, and it isn't all that bad. After seeing the effect on Yong after he eats the bean portion of the drink, I avoid those. He's better in those Chinese toilets than I am. Oh, and using those toilets teaches you gong fu too..... And yes, I did get up off of that stool. I'm sure the stool was happier than I was after I got off of it.


A "better" Chinese bathroom....

It teaches the proper horse stance. Or else. Which leads me to a very important survival rule. Don't eat the little red and green things. Or, more basically, watch what you eat, and where. Access to a real bathroom, water or no water, is highly desirable.



Bathrooms here mean different things to different people. At least he's doing it near the garbage container.


Some restaurants are like the outdoor ones, but with a small wall and roof over it. These restaurants are not much larger than my bathroom back at home. And what makes them more fascinating, is that the owners live in them. A "bed" can usually be seen somewhere in most restaurants.


He became my little buddy. He really didn't care much for Yong or some of the other Chinese, but he absolutely loved me. He would come and practice gong fu in the mornings with me. I would kick, and he would gnaw at my toes. I sure do hope the woman that owns him doesn't like hong shar dog gie


As evening started to wear on, major changes occurred in the village. People would start bringing straw mats out to the sidewalks, and sometimes parts of the streets, in order to prepare their sleeping area for the night. The nights tend to be cooler in the summer, and many people just slept outside. I noticed a lot of students doing that also. Restaurants start moving their tables outside so people can eat outside. Televisions, which is a bit of a rarity here, are brought outside along with the (thankfully rare) karaoke equipment. Evening time is the time when people come out to socialize, to eat, and to sing. They wanted me to sing the karaoke stuff one night, but fortunately, I couldn't recognize any of the Chinese characters. The karaoke songs are all the same, just like all the Chinese movies. Guy meets girl, guy falls in love with girl, girl already has boyfriend, boyfriend beats the shit out of the guy, the girl feels badly, kisses the guy, and leaves him. Guy sits by the side of a lake and thinks sad thoughts. No wonder why the other option, gong fu movies, are so popular. In those, guy meets girl, guy beats up girl, guy beats up boyfriend, and then sits at side of lake thinking what a bad ass he is. I like those better too.


This was our favorite restaurant. They did the Tang ban hong sher shie, or something like that, really well. (Don't feel bad, the waitress didn't understand me either). In English, that's tomatoes with sugar. They peel the tomatoes, slice them, and then pour sugar all over them. Yumm. Great stuff. There's a reason why they peel the tomatoes.... At least, the "better" restaurants. You see, I discovered what they do with all the refuse from the Chinese toilets. Almost kind of like a Soylent Green solution. They pick up all the rotting stool from the pit outside the Chinese outdoor toilets in buckets, and then, with large ladles, scoop it up and put it at the base of each plant in their little farming areas. Life is one big circle, and they really know how to maintain the cycle. Problem is, disease spreads rapidly from one person to an entire village in this fashion, so the peeling of vegetables, or the thorough cooking of them, is paramount. Which leads us to a really important survival rule. Don't eat uncooked vegetables, and don't eat the exterior of fruits. Or else you'll end up contributing to the "cycle" for many days... And don't eat at restaurants that have large funny looking ladles hanging on their kitchen walls.


The kitchen of our favorite restaurant. Actually, a cleaner kitchen than most. Absent are the rats and other furry creatures that you occasionally see in these areas. All mostly basically the same, they have a coal driven fire upon which rests a large wok or two. Food is largely kept in an unrefrigerated state, and the vegetables tend to be fresh, bought from local farmers on an almost daily basis. Note, there are no funny looking large ladles hanging on the wall. A good restaurant.