*This post was written on Saturday July 11th! Apologies for a delayed post.
The feeling of eyes tracking my every move never lessened throughout our week at Shaolin Temple. Even as our bus was teetering away from the campus on Friday, students stared at our group with fascination. Regardless of this foreign intrigue though, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I became friends with some of the long-term students at Shaolin Temple. By the last night of our trip, little kids were knocking on our dorm room, asking if we wanted to watch a movie or play cards.
Tuesday was our second day of kungfu, and it started as always with a morning run at 5:30. The two highlights of the day were the interviews I conducted: the first with our kungfu coach and the second with the African American student from Long Island named Moses. After lunch, my friend Rachel and I planned to meet with our coach Lyman for an interview about kungfu misperceptions. But after lunch, we found him outside in front of our hotel playing guitar with some other HBA students. We joined in and had a really relaxing jam session. We got to know our coach better then and realized that he is just like us: he is a nineteen year-old college student from Georgia! Who would have ever guessed?
The second conversation I had was a two-hour one with Moses. After dinner, Rachel and I ran into him on the stairs and asked if we could interview him. Since my social study report topic is misperceptions about kungfu, I wanted to ask him what the foreigner’s perspective is. Moses was really open and willing to share throughout the interview, and he told me a lot about the school that I had never expected and that people outside of the school probably don’t know. It was fascinating to hear about the goings-on within the school, amongst the students. We talked and talked late into the night, and Moses gave us a tour of the school afterwards. Reflecting back on the entire week, this was the best thing that happened to me at Shaolin Temple. I learned so much about kungfu, this school, and Chinese contemporary culture. I really feel like I took something special away from this trip, and I think I gained a truly unique perspective. I cannot thank Moses enough for all that he shared with me.
It was late by the time Rachel and I returned to our rooms, but we ran into some friends who were starting to watch a popular Chinese movie called Breakup Buddies. With our teachers and a big group of HBA students, we watched this Chinese comedy about love and travel. It was really interesting to get a taste of Chinese humor; I’m sure there are many different genres of humor, but this type at least was not too different from American comedy. I ended Tuesday with a freezing cold shower at midnight; my only complaint about our hotel is that I only had a hot shower once during my time there.
On Wednesday, we went hiking again, and this time was even worse than the last. My sore legs were even sorer by the end of the six-hour hike. They were literally quivering as I took my last concrete steps down the mountain. I went up the mountain with a group of boys who love to sing, so I had an a cappella group with me every step of the way. I don’t know how I would have survived otherwise. After our hike, we all treated ourselves to ice cream and relaxed for a while. We then went to the new school (newer campus/branch of the same school we were studying at) to interview female students. It was great to talk to the girls and get their perspective, especially because their experiences are so relevant to my report topic. At the end of the interview, I asked them if they had any questions for us, and, of course, we bonded over Korean food and K-pop. It was hilarious and really cute to see them get so excited about fried squid (a popular Korean street snack) and boy bands.
The second half of the week at Shaolin Temple flew by. Thursday was our last day of kungfu, and we ended with performances of our sequences, a pep talk by our coach, and photos. It was so great to see how close we had all gotten over the course of the week, especially with our coach. That night, we had another jam session in the hallway of our hotel—our coach, the teachers, and all the students. We played guitar and sang along to music on speakers. There was definitely a unity there that could only be built by suffering together.
Most of the students turned in early because we had an early morning ahead of us the next day. I stayed up a little while longer and chatted with some friends and our coach. The more and more I talked to him, the more I saw of his “American” persona. And it really was just like ours.
Our last day of the social study trip: We left Shaolin Temple early in the morning to visit the Longmen Grottoes. These are manmade Buddhist carvings into the sides of cliffs from the Northern Wei and Tang dynasties. It was absolutely amazing to see what people are capable of without the technological tools that we depend on today. It was also interesting to see how the carvings had changed over time: Many of the faces were deliberately chipped away by people resisting Buddhism. After going through the caves, we went to a famous restaurant called Zhen Bu Tong (Really Not the Same), where we ate like kings. Literally. The concept of the restaurant is to serve guests as a Chinese emperor would be served. The waiters all wore traditional outfits and presented the dishes by reading them off a scroll. Eating like a king also meant having more than 25 dishes, about half of which looked absolutely untouched by the end of our meal.
After such a meal, a long trip back to campus was a welcome treat. My food coma came at the perfect time. Now I am back at BLCU. This is going to be a weekend of rest and preparation for the second semester.