As I write this to you, I am sitting at a splendid outdoor concert, surrounded by pretty dancing hippie chicks in bright-colored clothes and diaphanous gowns, all groovin’ to the beat. It is the flower of the California music scene, blooming gloriously on this summer’s eve. But suddenly, just like Bruce Lee fighting Han in the hall of mirrors, the scene fades to a flashback of a moment at Shaolin Temple.
It was 4 years ago, the 1500th anniversary of Shaolin Temple and I am walking down main street with a newfound friend, Dr. Richard Russell. The mountain air is sharp and clear, the evening is cool and serene, and we are both exhausted from our training, but happy for this pleasant stroll. Doc is drinking the air like a man about to giving up breathing. He was only staying for two weeks and was to leave the next day. I was staying for a little while longer. He looks to me and says in that genuine New York accent, “Ya know Gene, I am coming back here. There is something about this place…” He doesn’t have to say anymore. At that moment, I can perceive his heart as clearly as I can perceive my own. It is one of those moments of clarity I will always remember.
We both returned to Shaolin Temple separately a few times. For me, it has always been a great source of inspiration. I began publishing articles about Shaolin, and have built up a modest reputation as the American authority on Shaolin. Doc, being the big white bald guy, built up his reputation at Shaolin since few locals had ever witnessed someone of his stature. He is easily recognized in the sea of shorter Chinese and has penetrated the temple to great depths. We both took vows as laymen disciples under the same master, Shi De Cheng. I was first, making me the elder brother. Much to Doc’s amusement, his Shaolin name was Hung and mine was Long.
I have always admired the sense of humor within my little brother Hung. During our first visit to Shaolin Temple together, the water lines broke for a week, leaving us high and dry in 100+-degree heat and infernal humidity. No showers, no flush toilets, lousy food – believe me, it was a far cry from Kwai Chang Caine and Master Po. In frustration, Doc tried to complain to the Chinese maids, threatening to shit right in the center of the lobby if somebody didn’t get his toilet to flush. The language barrier reduced his rant to a hilarious routine of charades. This was another moment I will always remember.
Shaolin Temple is a strange and wonderful place, full of magic and intrigue, and the source of power for many heroes. Like the rest of the world, it is on the precipice of great changes brought from modern advancements and societal pressures. For many, it seems unimaginable that this ancient holy place can be victim to such mundane objects as laptops and tourist traps, but in reality, nothing escapes the great wheel of time. When Doc said he was going to build this website to document his stay at Shaolin Temple, I had to applaud his ingenuity. I am confident that Doc’s observations will reflect his faithfulness and his humor in regards to Shaolin Temple, the cradle of Chan (Zen) and Kung Fu. While he has been so kind to invite me to add to his site, now I am here in California and he is there at Shaolin. Here, I think little brother’s tales will upstage mine too much, so for now, all he gets is this forward.
Now my flashback fades, bringing me back to this summer concert. It is a perfect night to be out listening to live music – another cool and pleasant evening to enjoy the fruits of the Golden State. Meanwhile, Doc is probably getting his big ugly American butt kicked by a bunch of Buddhist monks, eating crappy food, and trying to get his toilet to function. For a moment, I think it would be nice to change places with my sworn little brother. But then another hippie chick dances by, trailed by an aroma of patchouli and pot, and I wonder why my mind wanders back to Shaolin Temple.
I feel some regret for not joining him for this most recent pilgrimage back to Shaolin. We could be there now, strolling main street to stretch our aching muscles. For now, I’ll have to live it vicariously through my little brother over this website. At least, it is comforting to know that he is there again, keeping the faith.
Gene Ching ~ Shi Xing Long
July 14th, 1999
Lilith Fair, Shoreline Amphitheater, CA
- Written by: Gene Ching