By Julianne Keskey
Our day’s first stop was a park in Zheng-Zhou. These women were dressed up for a performance.
After walking around and exploring on our own I met a group of people folding pieces of shiny gold paper. We learned these were wishing papers, to be burned in a giant kiln, fulfilling the hopes and dreams of those who folded them.
I walked around for hours with my hair full of ashes. I couldn’t just brush them away, as they were there for luck. As we headed back to our bus I spotted a distant plot of unusually vibrant, flowering trees. Upon further inspection I noticed that these were fabric. This is a common practice at various historic places here. I love the idea of preserving history in as natural a state as possible. In China, they are not concerned with keeping the original façade intact but instead, holding onto the memory of its beauty.
My excitement for the day began to build as soon as we left the park in Zhengzhou. For the rest of the afternoon and evening we would spend our time exploring the Shaolin Temple- home to kung-fu!
Upon arrival we were piled into little commuter vehicles that would take us into the monastery. Walking was an option but, due to the rain (again), we all opted to save our feet. The start of the tour brought us to the Pagoda Forest. Each hand-built statue (some dating back to 791 AD) serves as a resting place for the monks that lived their life on the Shaolin Temple. The foggy skies were the perfect atmosphere for the occasion.
The Shaolin Temple attracts many tourists. I dreamed of people-less photo-ops, but alas, this was my best shot. While prepping for my trip I looked forward to seeing this “original” landmark. Sadly, I learned that it was a replica.
Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not everything was a reproduction. A pathway of these lotus stones lead up to another building. Good luck is promised to those who step on seven of them in a row. I made sure not to skip a beat.
This tree was one of my favorite sites at the temple. It was filled with pock marks from years of kung-fu practice- something you can’t reproduce!
Here I am, placing three incense sticks into the sand for my past, present and future.
At the end of the day we were treated to a performance with grand light and sound. Sitting down for a two-hour show after the exhausting week seemed almost painful but was so worth it! We were even able to rent huge, puffy winter coats stay warm on the benches.
After the performance we boarded the bus and headed back to Luoyang for our last night together in China. I had booked an extra day on my own but saying goodbye to everyone was bittersweet, I had made a small group of friends that helped to guide me through an experience that I was very new to and intimidated by. I’ll hold the experience close to my heart for the rest of my life.
I spent my last day in China alone without a guide of any kind. My goal for the day was to make it to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army. That morning I woke up with a fever but was determined to not miss a beat that day. I made it – after a taxi ride, a high-speed train, figuring out the local bus system even though I couldn’t speak or read Mandarin, finding a bank that I could use the ATM to get more cash, getting back on a different bus, transferring to another bus at a different station and walking a few miles in between. It was, and still is, a top contender for the most empowering experiences I’ve ever had.
Once I arrived I hired a local guide to stay on schedule. I wanted to get through the whole thing in less than two hours. She thought I was a little crazy but she shoved her way through the crowd of people and filled me in on everything I needed to know.
Ever since I learned about the Terracotta Warriors in 7th Grade, I thought they were your average doll size. I was completely wrong… they are LIFE SIZE! All of the photographs I’d ever seen didn’t show these statues’ full scale. It was truly a remarkable site and a must-see if you are ever in Central China.
I decided to spend the last of the money I had to take a taxi back to the train station; I just couldn’t deal with the buses again. Once back at the hotel, I treated myself to a bubble bath and room service for dinner. It was the best way to unwind and spend my last evening.
My experience in China was empowering, magical, informative, eye-opening and just all-around wonderful. I saw things I never could have imagined. I tasted wonderful, delicious things plus other things that I wouldn’t care to taste again. If you ever have the opportunity to visit China, take it! Its people are hospitable and happy to show you the best there is to offer of the culture, heritage and centuries of rich, dynamic history.