My family and I took a weekend vacation in the middle of September to the province Zhengzhou. We were going to see locations that were over 1,500 years old! Not only that, but we were going to take our very first bullet train! It had been a while since we had left Beijing province and we were looking forward to seeing some major sites!
We left on Saturday morning and arrived at the train station at 5:30 am to meet up with out FCN group. As I mentioned, we were super excited because we had never taken a train ride before. The bullet train was amazing! The guide said that the train ride from Beijing to the city of Luoyang used to take 8 hours. Now with the revolutionary bullet train, the ride there takes a little over 3 hours. This thing travels as up to 306 km/hour. That is 190 mph! I knew the train was fast, but I hadn’t realized that it was that fast! Even so, the travel was surprisingly smooth, more-so than the subway we use everyday. The bathrooms were all western style (no squatty potty!) and there was even a hot water dispenser so that passengers could make their own cup of noodles. The bullet train is now one of my favorite ways to travel. Although I would definitely take a pillow because the second class seats don’t have a ton of padding around the head/neck.
Once we got to Luoyang City, the tour guides took us to a mall nearby to grab some lunch and we headed straight to Longmen Grottoes. The grottoes are a famous UNESCO heritage site comprised of THOUSANDS of man-made caves. The limestone caves are filled with over 100,000 Buddha statues that range from 2 inches to 57 feet tall. What was even more unbelievable was that the caves had begun to be carved over 1,500 years ago. Unfortunately, the statues are not all in great shape. Many of the statues were vandalized during the cultural revolution. Some of the bigger Buddha statues were completely decapitated, their heads somewhere in a British museum. It was sad to see but at least it also made us more thankful that the ones that were available were still alright. One cave was super impressive because it had 15,000 Buddha statues, most of them were 2 inches tall. The cliffs are pretty long though and it took several hours to get through most of the caves.
We had never been to this part of China before, it is actually the furthest south that we had ever been. I had gotten pretty used to living in Beijing, where we sometimes get stared at but as I said, I had gotten used to it. When we came to the south, our group of foreigners was well-received by the Chinese tourists. We were asked to take pictures with kids, filmed without being asked, and even followed by one guy around the caves. I am still under the impression that many of these Chinese peoples had not seen many laowai (Chinese word for foreigner) before. As we took pictures in front of the largest Buddha statues with the group, we had some Chinese sit down with the group and have their family members get their own pictures! Calvin was our hottest commodity, being the only foreigner child on the tour. He was asked many times to pose with Chinese adults and children. He was a little nervous about this so Korey got dragged into a few photos on this trip. It actually became a little game for us, to take pictures of people that want to take pictures with us. We got quite a few on this trip too.
The best views of Longmen’s Grottoes were across the river! I didn’t mention it, but the cliffs are on the banks of a gorgeous river. We got some wonderful pictures of all of the caves and the largest Buddha statues that are over 50 feet tall. After our 3 hours at the grottoes, we walked back to the bus and headed for the ancient city wall called Luoyang Old Street. The Lijing Gate area is a huge walled off area formerly used as a fortress. It once defended a city, but now it was a nightlife area filled with street food and art stalls. Similar to our last stop, our group didn’t even have a chance to stop listening to our guides’ instructions before people started trying to take pictures with us. One couple was actually trying to get selfies with us in the background for several minutes. It is not like I have a big head about it either. They kept rotating back to try to get laowai faces in the background. When we were finally done, I ran up to them with my own phone and started to get photos with them too. I was lucky because instead of being embarrassed, they just laughed and got in on the fun. They also asked for solo pictures with Calvin because he is just so handsome!
We continued into the city and loved the tourist street! There were a bunch of interesting food stalls and drinks. Most of them were made with pomegranate, I think they must be easy to get in the city. Anyway, we walked down and checked out all of the souvenirs and I am not happy to say that we ended up spending quite a bit. There were beautifully painted Chinese fans, paper lanterns, and large cloth-burned images. Korey got to use his haggling skills, too. He spent over ten minutes haggling over the price of a wall-hanging with a burned image of a dragon (yes, he wanted a dragon) and attracted quite the crowd. It was really funny because Calvin and I were sitting on the other side of the street as we watched Korey try to bargain with the store owner. A nice Chinese man with some English skills tried to help out Korey as the translator. Then, more and more people started filling the entrance of the store trying to figure out what was going on. As soon as he left to come over to us, the crowd dispersed. You may think I am kidding, but check out the photo below. Either way, we really liked the tourist street and are bummed that we only had 1.5 hours to check it out before dinner time.
We stayed in a nice hotel and left early the next morning to go to the Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Kung Fu. It a functioning 1,500 year old school and has students studying from childhood to be future Kung Fu masters. Our guide says that many of the students grow up to have careers in Hollywood or with the Chinese military. These kids are disciplined and people come from all over to see their weekend shows. It was supposed to be a 1.5 hour drive but ended up being almost twice that. We were incredibly lucky though because we showed up with 30 minutes left before the last Kung Fu show. We even managed to get up right to the stage and see all of their moves up close. They had kids that could do pushups with 2 fingers and contort their bodies into different positions. One even threw a needle through plate glass and popped a balloon (after a few tries, remember they are still students). The best part of the show was when the students brought up a few adults so that they could see how difficult the martial arts really was. One adult didn’t do too bad, but the other two were having a hilariously difficult time. It was a really great show and I am happy that we had the opportunity to see them.
After the show, we continued around and checking out the Shaolin Temple itself. It was really awesome to see where the monks trained and where an emperor once slept whilst visiting the temple. The student monks would practice finger-punching on the trees here and they had a 500-year old tree that still bore the marks. The temple is still functioning for worship and the monks were still walking around and providing incense so that the tourists could pray. I had a wonderful time wandering around with my family and seeing the Buddhist statues. We continued onto the Pagoda Forest, where the monks were buried when they died. A pagoda is a many-tiered Buddhist temple and these stone pagodas were numerous, each memorializing a Shaolin temple monk. They even had a newer one with pictures of laptops and other electronics in it. But eventually, we had to leave and take another long drive back to Luoyang to make the train back to Beijing.
Our trip to Longmen Grottoes and Shaolin Temple was amazing. We immersed ourselves in the culture of an ancient area and got to see an amazing martial arts show! I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has the chance! Thank you again FCN!