Deng Feng, a small town by Chinese standards and a home to Shaolin Temple, makes an impression of a place from the Shaolin Soccer universe. There are numerous kung-fu and wushu schools in town and it seems that everyone is involved in some sort of a martial art here. Shaolin Temple itself is a very tourist oriented place which is reflected on a steep entrance fee (100Y). Upon arriving into the town I met this local kung-fu / tai chi practioner, whom I taught a couple of capoeira tricks. He, in return, told how to get to the mountain and temple for 2/3 of the price. You go to other side of the mountain and buy a ticket for only the mountain entrance (35Y, not advertised anywhere) and then at the temple pay only for the temple entrance free in form of donation (30Y). Voile, a little saving and great mood for the whole day! Anyways, Shaolin Temple is just another temple, nothing special about it except the hype and all the history. Kung-fu show demonstrated by Shaolin monks was ok, apart from the terrible music and poor coreography. Nice moves, though. On the other hand, supplemental sights as Pagoda Forest, 500 Buddhas Hall and Songshan mountain are magnificent. Songshan is the central mountain out of five Taoist mountains and plays an important role in China’s history for one reason or another. Joseph Campbell with his “every mountain is a central mountain” sprang to mind. No wilderness here, but the hiking infrastructure is impressive. The mountain looks like a civilized park, but on the other hand if not for infrastructure it would be rather difficult to climb the mountain. Had mixed feeling about that one. Shame though that even here up in the mountains you cannot escape the Great Air Pollution Wall of China.
I planned to spend some time to Keifeng the next day and leave to Shanghai by a night-train, but upon arriving there learned that there are tickets only for a day fast train. No Keifeng sightseeing for me, but on the other hand got another chance to feel myself immersed into the futuristic world of Chinese high-speed trains. This one is not as fast as previous one (top speed 200km/h vs 330km/s of the previous one), but I got a soft seat, which is essentially the first class, as China is theoretically a classless society.
Xi’an turned out to be pretty boring. With population over three million, ultra-modern architecture, tourism oriented mentality, air pollution and numerous designer clothes shop (Prada – check, Louis Vitton – check) it rather resembles a trendy capital in Europe than an ancient capital of China. Few ancient sights as Bell and Drum Tower and City Wall are in top notch condition and give an impression of being built just a few years ago. Terracota Army, the main attraction of Xi’An is one of those “been there, done that” sights. Nothing special, apart from historical value and huge hype surrounding it. On a more positive note, one of the pleasant memories about Xi’an was playing ping pong and doing tai-chi push-hands with local people in the park outside the city walls. Push-hands was particularly interesting – 20 minutes of wrestling resulted a bruised elbow, a dirty t-shirt and invaluable experience. Nice one! And all that without any successful verbal communication.
Anyways two days in Xi’an was more than enough for me, mainly thanks to extremely polluted air. I arrived in Deng Feng, home to Shaolin temple, via Luo Yang by a high-speed train (with the noted top speed 334km/h). Three times more expensive than a regular train, but the train is superb. Ultra-modern, with enough leg-space, comfortable seats, reasonably priced snacks and real-time floor sweeping. As a bonus it makes you feel like you are in a sci-fi novel. No wi-fi though, but there are power sockets. Loved it.
Shaolin temple and mountain hiking tomorrow. Yep.