Shaolin 1998
Tales from last year, 1998...

    It's Monday (I'm leaving out a lot of the capital letters, because, basically, I'm pooped, and I don't feel like hitting that shift key way over there) here, and winter just arrived this afternoon, much like it did last year, at about almost the same time. Yesterday's sunshine and warmth turned to overcast polluted skies, and one hell of a chilly breeze. It's tough working out almost outside (I'm in the entrance lobby of the wushu guan, as the germans are learning tai chi in the main training room, and the polish are learning the basics in the main demonstration room). (Funny, they don't talk to each other) The germans talk to me, in german (I just shake my head), as their tour leader, a man whose name I can't remember, or pronounce if I did, was here last year at this time. We're regulars. The poles only talked to me long enough to find out what I knew. Once I went with my master to another area to train, they kind of excommunicated me. A few spoke english, but they probably didn't like the fact that I wasn't going through the basics with them. I guess it's an ego thing. If they only knew what training I went through today compared to what they had...

Yesterday was a bright sunny day, as only china can present. I required sunglasses, but the haze and pollution and god knows what else up there opacifies the sun made the light its usual soft quality. The requisite climb up the mountain was done, in an attempt to strengthen the legs. Today, training began. I started at 0730, as I usually try to do, doing all the running and stretching and basic maneuvers and forms on my own, before formal training starts at 9. We finish at 11, which doesn't seem to come soon enough, after which a "passing out on the way too small bed" is in order. I started again at 1 on my own, and had more formal training for what was supposed to be two hours at 3.

I only made it to 4. I guess I'm getting old. Master understood.

Master (not my real master, I'm just using this one as mine is in Austria, and is supposed to return here in November) is 25 years old. He's been here for fifteen years, just learning and practicing gung fu at the temple. "Damn good" doesn't do him justice. ("Pitiful" fits me just right). As I've been here before, we basically reviewed almost all of the basics, and one of the four forms that I know, and then headed off into not the usual waters.

When the monks teach the foreigners, they teach the basics and some basic forms (katas in our lingo), without getting too far into what it all means. Call it secrecy, call it "having to be a member of the club", the foreigners just don't get it all. They're shown some moves and expected to perform them, without really knowing how you use them to kill people. Last year I became a member of the club, and I started to learn the applications to these things. Today, we practiced them, not full contact, but with some contact. It was interesting to hit a monk. They're pretty hard, they're bones seem like rocks, and when you hit one of them, or get hit by one, you know it. Then again, the monks haven't seen legs like mine, so whenever master was going to get kicked, master just got out of the way. I avoided his arms, he avoided my legs. It's kind of perfect. In any event, training was hard today, and I'm pretty sore.

He is pretty patient, as I find that despite proper breathing and frequent small rest periods, I still get that damn head pressure. I didn't get it much the last time I was here, as the usual migraine triggers don't really exist here in large quantities, but today was just not good. My usual medication is just not holding me; I've had to retreat to a bunch of aspirin and Advil to keep it within tolerable limits. the head does keep my mind off of the legs, which are not exactly too happy either. Despite the pain, it was a good training day.

I am very, very fortunate in one respect. Yes, it is still the same place as last year, with a few exceptions. A little cleaner, more cleaner "restaurants", some monetary inflation (bottled water now costs 3 Yuan instead of 2, a Yuan being around 13 cents), the same run down rooms, but this year, two very major differences. I know have running water all day, and, last night, for the first time in all the time I've ever been here, I had a really hot shower. The "hotel" turns on the water when there are large groups here, and even puts out some hot water at 8PM for a brief time. Because of the germans and the poles, I can wash in water that is not cold. It has made all the difference in the world. Now if I can only get that karaoke place in the valley to tone it down (they must have gotten new amplifiers this year), maybe I can get some sleep.

A favorite restaurant


A favorite outdoor restaurant


Economically, the changes in this little village are fairly large, and noticeable to me, having started coming here four years ago. People have more money, they dress better, and now instead of getting around mainly on bicycles, now have scooters and small motorcycles. The streets are clean (no more rats constantly running around, though I did see one briefly yesterday), the "shops" are better equipped, and the "restaurants" are actually improving, at least visually. I haven't been too tempted to try the food (even though I know have a flushing toilet, and no longer have to hunt down water to flush it), I don't want to push it. My sustenance has largely been protein packs that I have brought from home, with some mandarins, and the requisite "street cooked" lamb, so perfectly prepared by the Muslim who slaughters a lamb once a week or so.


The Lambmaster


So far so good.  I really don't know if I can jury rig the phone system in this room yet, nor do I know if I can access the net in Beijing from here. Once I get that down, I'll be able to get more out.


The "consequences" of not finding water to flush your toilet....