July 2004

Jesus Christ.

That's all I could say to myself, when I saw the remnants of Shaolin village today.

Now, I've taken video of this place last year (not yet posted), when the remnants of the structures, all up and down the streets, were waiting to be carted away. And, when other buildings were in the process of being torn down. But, I never expected to see what I saw today. The Chinese are truly amazing.

From the Shaolin gate onward, all remants of buildings are gone. In their place, is grass and trees. Not just ordinary trees. Mature, full grown trees. Mature full grown trees that have been transplanted from god knows where else. And hills. Hills that were never there before. The Chinese made hills. Put fully grown mature trees on them. And grass. Oh, and nicely placed landscaped rocks and boulders.

It looks like a giant garden. For as far as the eye can see in the humid foggy atmosphere. All the way to the mountains.

I wasn't sure if I found it beautiful, or, appalling. It was "too perfect", too organized in a highly unorganized fashion. You could tell that god didn't make this.

But, it's what the abbot wants. A recreation of Shaolin, from the 1900's.

And to accomplish this, for the UNESCO bid, he's torn down almost 40 % of the temple. They're rebuilding the old and refurbished buildings. Even changing the plans of them.Apparently, someone had found Japanese photos of the temple from the pre-1928 burning, taken during one of the Japanese incursions in the early 1900's.

They're rebuilding the already refurbished and protected temple buildings, to look like the pictures. Talk about historical conservation.

I tend to think more of Disneyland.

I'm not sure if this is a historical preservation, or a recreation of what once was. It's beautiful. It's bizarre.

But it's effective. Tourism is nuts here. The Wushu Guan currently has three performance teams now. They rotate from day to day. Each day, five shows are done, at 1000, 1130, 1330, 1500, and 1600.

The Vegas showroom like performance hall, seats about 300 people. It was half full today. Each ticket costs 20 Yuan, which is about $2.50.

I figured, on an average day, they're taking in about three grand. Good days, six grand. Each team has about fifteen guys on it, each who make, about $100 to $200 a month.

You do the math.

The wushu guan has entered into an agreement with some large Singapore corporation to renovate the "new" wushu guan hotel, and tear down the "old" one. For those of you who don't know the difference, the "old" one was the building with the rats in the lobby. Both, rarely have running water. Or heat.

I've seen the architecture plans for the new environment. One massive waterfall to the left of the grand staircase. A brand new large five star hotel in the area that the current restaurant is in. And, a rebuilding of the two work out areas in the wushu guan, which, I've been told, has already been completed.

I had trouble figuring that out. The mirrors appeared to have been replaced. And, already broken. But, a stretch bar was installed, new paint applied, the floors repaired, and, the most beloved green carpet, cleaned.

I think. When I stepped on it, the dust didn't rise to envelop my feet.

God, I miss the old place.

It's all looking quite good actually. They moved the statues from the initial courtyard, and placed them in the fake workout area outside. They manicured that a bit, and made it more appealing. And, everything has been cleaned up. The newly renovated wushu guan is actually looking pretty good.

Tagou is still standing, as their new, incredibly ****ing massive complex is being completed. I have photos from last year, which I haven't posted, and videos. I'll take new ones this year. What they've built, has got to be the absolute largest single complex of buildings in Henan. It's incredible. The growth in Dengfeng, is outrageous. New buildings everywhere. New schools. Same old beloved single cylinder tuk tuks.

Thank god they don't change everything.

Photos and videos, when I return.

I can remember it well.

You travel to the nearest major city hub by regular commercial transportation, and then you get on the brand new highway on the road to your entertainment destination. The highway, because of it's necessity to move large amounts of tourists, is one of the larger and fastest highway thoroughrares in the area. It most definitely cuts your travel time in more than half, from what it used to be. Upon your arrival, you're ushered into a huge parking lot, which is organized by letters, numbers, and signs, so that you can either find your car or the tour bus that you took to get to this place. From there, a shuttle takes you to the entrance to the theme park. An entrance, huge and grand, which includes hotel accomodations, many restaurants, and many, many shopping centers. You pay for your ticket at one of the many ticket boothes, and then jump on another shuttle to take you to the park. A park, incredibly manicured and neat, thoroughly well designed to be not only ergonomically efficient for it's many tourists, but organized so that the greatest number of people can be hurried through in any given amount of time. The object, of course, is to move as many guests as possible through the attractions in order to maximize your income potential.

My first trip to Disneyworld was memorable. As was my first trip to Disneyland.

No doubt, I might have the same feelings one day next year, when I return to Shaolin.

It's incredible. It's also very controversial. But first, the facts.

The highway between Zhengzhou and Shaolin is completed. In fact, it's much better than the part of the road one uses when one travels from the airport. Given the fact that most people in China travel by train, it wasn't a bad choice. The road has been under construction for the last few years, and is finally finished. It takes about one hour to make the journey, as opposed to the two plus god knows what, in the past, depending on truck traffic, breakdowns, accidents, and the usual and general Chinese **** that one finds in the typical and general Chinese road.

The highway ends at a parking lot. A rather large one at that. It's being built by the local Dengfeng government, and from what I've heard, some local entrepreneur has spent one hell of a lot of money to "lease" it for the next ten years. The expected profits are supposed to be huge. It lies on the outskirts of Shaolin village, directly to the east southeast of the huge monk statue that greets you, in the triangle between the road to Shaolin village, and the road to Louyang. It's still under construction.

Next, directly to the south and west of the monk statue, is a new village. A rather large one at that too. About eight large two to three story old Chinese style architecture. All of which, is supposed to contain hotel accomodations, restaurants, and shopping centers. Oh, and the ticket agency. You have to buy a ticket to see Shaolin temple. (In all my journeys through China, Tibet, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, Shaolin was the only temple that I've ever seen a ticket counter for).

The old Tagou school still stands, but it's future is grim. For the new one, a structure which reminds me of the Pentagon in the US, (but higher), is starting to become functional. In fact, the new Tagou school is just incredibly huge, most definitely the largest group of associated buildings I've seen in China other than the Oriental Plaza structures in Beijing. But, the rest of the village in that area, is just about gone, with the exception of one school area to the south. Many of the structure remants (pads, etc) still remain; the area closest to the original Shaolin temple area gate, which is next to the Wushu Guan, has been relandscaped, in the typical "grass, mature tree, better than God" approach. The remaining Shaolin village foundations will be removed, and the new Lord of the Landscaping will work his magic there once again.

The Wushu Guan's renovation is complete, with the exception of the hotel area, and, the new five star hotel complex that will be built with the help of an unknown Singapore corporation. The arena across from the Wushu Guan, along with all of the other land to the south of the temple road, is completely landscaped. In order to maximize the flow of visitors to the temple, a road has been built to the south of the river that runs through Shaolin valley; it is primarily for automobiles and buses. The old tree lined temple road apparently is just a walking road now.

Transportation takes you past the old temple to the south of Shaolin, to the large parking lot near the Pagoda Forest. The shopping stalls are still there, living precariously with an unknown future. The Pagoda Forest is unchanged. Shaolin temple, is not

There has been a lot of construction at Shaolin. I first saw it over a year ago, when Guanyin Hall was torn down. It had startled me at first, but, upon a subsequent visit, it had been rebuilt, identical to what was there previously. Yongxin had the thing rebuilt because the frescoes were in danger of being destroyed by the expected collapse of the building. But what is being done now, is a different story.

The four guardian statues at the second gate have been removed, repainted, and replaced. The Bell tower is undergoing renovation, as is the Drum tower. The museum area with the clay statues of the monks is still partially obliterated by the eyesore performance arena, where Yongxin has monks from his associated three Dengfeng schools perform modern wushu. And, of course, banners with his picture abound. The first main temple hall upon entering the inner gate is undergoing renovation. As for the buildings directly to the east and west of that, they're completely gone. In fact, they are being "reconstructed", not according to what was there recently, but supposedly, according to what was there in the pre-1928 times. Someone dug up old Japanese photos of the temple; these temple buildings are being rebuilt according to those photos. I saw one photo, which the temple used as an advertisement. It looks nothing like what they are building. And, if that is what they have to go buy, their architects have one hell of an imagination. God knows what will be put in these new huge buildings.

The other temples, in line with the north-south axis, are the same. Some are undergoing some minor revisions, such as painting and cleaning. Floor areas are being rebuilt. New handrail partitions have been raised. It doesn't look much different. At least, at this point.

The second major temple hall is the same, except for the fact that there are many pictures of famous Buddhist monks adorning the east and west sides. I saw no wuseng whatsoever in these pictures, at least, none that I knew.

There is a lot of major construction occurring on the east and west lateral sides of the temple grounds. Shi Su Xi's house is gone. As is Shi Su Xi. He's currently in Guangdong, doing well, or, as well as can be expected for a man with severe Parkinson's disease. The reason for his absence is unknown. No doubt the loss of his house may have something to do with that. The monk areas on the east side have been torn down also. What will go there is not known to me.

Oh, and there's a new shi bei in the stone tablet area..... (see the Shaolin Politics section: Stella! A new Shi Bei in town....)

The new changes at Shaolin are quite striking. And they're not always visible.

I've been there many many times. And I've never paid. Just had to claim to be a wushu guan student. In fact, when I went with Shi De Cheng, we just waltzed right in. The "security guards" at the main gate just let us in. Knew him, in fact. I mean, it was Shi De Cheng's home. He lived there.

He still maintained a residence there after he opened his own school.

But, that residence, like all the others, are now gone. Levelled.

It was an interesting experience, going through the main gate, with the major international magazine team I was working with. And, with, of course, Shi De Cheng. We were doing to do a photo session in there.

The police, yes, police, working the main gate wouldn't let us in without tickets. Wouldn't let Shi De Cheng in either. Talk about an embarrassing, face losing moment for him. Eventually we just wiggled on through en masse, but it was an uncomfortable event.

Things change. The impression that the "team" got from this occurrence, was one of pure, money hungry, greed.

Inside was interesting, we ran into Shi De Yang, and Shi Ming Wu, who were teaching Hong Bu (sp?), a Hong Kong martial arts movie star, who used to be a student of Shi De Cheng's Nice guy, supposed to visit me in Vegas when their current movie production moves there.

I wonder if he and his production team had to pay to enter.


She had these wild eyes. At least, from a distance, I thought it was a she. It might have been a he for all I knew. I had to get a closer look. The multi-colored tatoo that graced the right leg, and, the closely shaven hair, down to a virtual stubble, had thrown me a bit.

The day was a week or two ago. I was in Shaolin temple with Shi De Cheng, some of his students, and the Nat Geo photographer. We were there to set up some shots for the magazine. I brought the group into the museum area that held the clay figures that depicted all the various historical events related to Shaolin. One of China's movie stars, a previous student of Decheng's, was working out with Shi Ming Wu. I made my quick hello to Mingwu, and got back to our business at hand. I found Decheng staring, in a quite puzzling fashion, at this woman, or man, who was obviously accosting him.

'Where is Shi Yan Lu?" It was a woman, in her early twenties. Yes, I could tell, once I got closer. She had breasts, if you want to call those droopy things that. Coming from Vegas, I got used to the fact that all breasts had to not only reside on the upper half of a woman's torso, but, had to be rather large, and point to the sky.

"Where is Shi Yan Lu?", she started to shout, and almost scream, at Decheng. Yes, she had a wild look in her eye, one I immediately recognized. Yes, seen it before. Once you've spent some time with inhabitants of local psychiatric institutions, you recognize that glare. She had it. Most definitely. I kind of stood back and just watched the spectacle.

"Shi Yan Lu promised me that he was going to meet me here. WHERE IS HE?". She was not only loud, but she was arrogant. And, from what I could tell, French. Not sure if the arrogance was from the schizophrenic side of her, or the French side.

Decheng just stood there, not really knowing what to do. He just kept telling her that Yan Lu would show up. Now, I kind of got the feeling that Yan Lu probably wanted nothing to do with this woman, which is why he wasnt there with us. But, this girl just wasn't going to have anything to do with that. She saw Decheng in his monk robes, so Decheng just had to know what was going on with Yan Lu. The assault continued. She wasn't going to back down.

I decided to enter the fray. I couldn't watch Decheng try to fend for himself with this nutty bitch. So I went up to her and basically told her that Decheng was from a different part of the monastery, that he didn't know Yan Lu nor of his whereabouts, and that she was just going to have to ask someone else where he was.

Wow. Big mistake. She started attacking me verbally. As if I were responsible for Yan Lu's actions. And failure to show up for whatever appointment she had supposedly made with him.

You reach an age in your life, where this whole Buddhist concept of tolerance just kind of wears away. You get tired of ignorance, most probably because it seems that you're constantly surrounded by it. I just looked at Decheng, and got the feeling that he was thinking the same thing.

We both walked away.

She remained, motionless, with fire in her glaring eyes.

He was a young very thin German boy, with some sort of strange pony tail kind of shaved hair do on his bony head. Now I'm not one to talk when it comes to hair do's, but, this one was different, in a nice sort of way. He was sitting in the back of Decheng's van, with some slight but obvious gastic discomfort. Decheng told us that they had just brought him to the hospital for stomach pains.

I stuck my head in the van and asked him how he was feeling. I immediately started my evaluation, before he spoke a reply. I could tell that his abdominal problem was nothing serious, from the way that he comfortably moved in the seat. No doubt, he had gotten the Dengfeng drip, a term that I had affectionately used for the dysenteric illness that we all seem to get, in one severity or another. In the past, I had had it from "mild" to "god damn awful". It appeared to me that this kid had it too.

He told me that he had been there a month already, and that he couldn't have any sort of diarrheal illness. I reassured him that the antibiotics that the Chinese doctors most likely had given him would take care of this abdominal discomfort, and that he would most likely feel better the next day. I did my best to reassure him, as I could tell by his eyes that he was not comfortable with this whole sick thing. Getting ill in the middle of China can be an anxiety inducing experience. Especially, if you've seen the local hospitals like I've seen the local hospitals. But, that's a different story. I did my best to assure this young fellow that he would most probably be better in the morning. I told him that I had been dealing with the same illness.

The next day, he was training in front of Decheng's school. Just going through some basic kick routine, one kick after another. Simple basic kicking stuff. As I walked by, mentally preparing where we were going to go to shoot photos that day, I had asked him how he was feeling.

He didn't answer. Just kind of looked right by me. I got the impression that he hadn't heard me, so, I asked him again, with a slightly louder but polite voice, in a concerned manner.

"How are you feeling today?"

Without stopping from his leg raising routine, he looked at me with an angry stare, and said with a harsh German accent, "I am practicing". It wasn't the first time I've basically been told to **** off. Again, recognizing ignorance, I ignored this beloved basic Buddhist tenet of tolerance, and walked off, not caring if the **** started to drip out his pants in a stream that flowed down the street.

Two Shaolin afficionadoes. Two individuals who have traveled far to learn the Shaolin way.

Two individuals who have very, very much to learn....

My lungs had been acting up. Started to get this restriction with respect to my breathing. It's what happens when you have spastic bronchitis. Allergies can be a real bitch.

Being in Dengfeng is not exactly a reassuring thing, when you constantly feel like you're going to suffocate. So, I made a mental note of where the hospital was. Yong told me that there was one just across the street. I kept that in mind, and went about my business with the photographer team.

The hospital across the street probably would not have done me any good had I had any sort of breathing problems. I found out later that it was a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital, as opposed to the significantly smaller western type, or, more appropriately, "wanna be" western type hospital down the street. So, one day, just for giggles and ****s, we went there, in search of a lung specialist who might be able to help me with this lung disease I was battling for the past year and a half.

What a place. You pay this registration fee, of about twenty cents, at the door. Then, you sit in this smoke filled hallway, and wait for one of the doctors to become available. There's no line to get on; you just sort of find a room that has space, and wiggle into it. And, you watch the doctor in that room evaluate and take care of other patients. Talk about privacy.

We found the supposed lung specialist. She, from what I could tell on her poster on the wall outside her room, was one of the older ones. She was applying some sort of brown **** like substance on this kid's back, and then pasting this huge piece of tape over it. The poor kid was screaming.

He was covered in tape. I thought to myself, god, I hope I don't get this treatment. I started to think of how I would look with big pieces of tape on top of my bald head.

Eventually, my sheer size paid off. I was able to squeeze in front of the other poor bastards in the room who had come to see the doctor. She had been intrigued by me.

The exam was the typical TCM exam that I've come to know and love. Feel the pulse for ten minutes. Each wrist, using three fingers. Look at the tongue. Ask a few questions. We told her about my lung disorder. She wanted to know if I had a cough.

Well, yea lady, people with spastic bronchitis have a cough. It's part of the allergic asthma syndrome. Then she asked me if I ever had trouble breathing. Well....

She had made her diagnosis. Good heart, bad lungs. I knew I was in good hands. She wanted to treat me with this new special treatment. The brown **** like substance that she had smeared and taped all over that poor little kid's body.

I suggested to her, that I might be allergic to whatever was inside that little jar. I kind of offered to her that maybe another medicinal application might be safer for me. I was allergic to aspirin and non steroidal anti inflammatory agents, god knows what was in the brown **** in the jar. My friend Yong started to push me, telling me "Try it", as he always did with the god forsaken food that he always tried to get me to eat. I told him that I wasn't going to look good with tape all over my body. The doctor's assistant, no doubt a doctor to be in training, was busying himself by tearing off six inch long pieces of tape, and sticking them to the desk. He was eyeing my body up and down, no doubt, mentally preparing sites to stick these offensive objects to.

She then decided that there was a better, more modern treatment that would take this allergic asthma away. It wa a liquid; what she would do, is soak some gauze pads with this liquid, and tape those all over my body. I thought it was a better option than the brown **** stuff she had smeared all over the kid. I asked to see this liquid, just to make sure I wasn't allergic to any component of it. Her assistant stopped tearing off pieces of tape, and ran to the pharmacy down the hall. He looked excited at the prospect of sticking me with tape.

He came back with a small box, which contained a bottle. For some strange reason, the box was labeled in Chinese and English. I read the English half, and discovered that this stuff that she wanted to paste to me, was simple cough syrup. It contained codeine (used to suppress coughing), and ephedra (used for it's sympathomimetic properties, bronchodilation and decongestion).

I looked at Yong and told him that this stuff would work better if I drank it. The whole concept of applying cough syrup soaked gauze pads to my body, and covering them in tape, was not only ridiculous, but dangerous as well. Had she been aggressive in her use of gauze pads, the possibility of giving me too much codeine was significant. Cough syrup applied to the skin, under impermeable tape, would eventually get absorbed by the skin. The eventually absorbed dose depended upon how much was applied, and how much was absorbed. Not exactly a scientific way of administering something that was meant to be measured and imbibed.

She was excited at the prospect of curing my disease by taping this **** to me. Her assistant hurriedly tore more tape. He reminded me of a fourth year medical student who was scheduled to hold retractors in his first major abdominal operation.

I needed a way out. I basically told her that I was allergic to a component in the liquid. I asked her if there was anything else she could give me. And, there was.

The balls. The little **** colored brown balls. I had them before, but in a much larger version. The doc in Beijing gave me these large brown balls, half the size of a ping pong ball. I was supposed to swallow it. Instead, I tore it apart and swallowed pieces of it. It did seem to help. These balls were smaller.

She wanted me to take fifteen of these little balls, three times a day. I opted to take five. Just to see what happened.

As we left the hospital, I took five of these little things. Couldn't imagine taking fifteen at a time. The effect it had on me was interesting. Kind of like the effect that herbal tea had had on me last year. But not as intense.

I could feel my pulse getting stronger. Could also feel a slight headache. I got the impression that the active ingredient in these little balls was the same as the **** that caused all that trouble last year with the TCM tea. No doubt, ephedra. They use it for lung disorders, because it causes bronchodilation. It also has some adverse effects on the cardiovascular system. You have to be careful with this stuff.

I downgraded the use of these little balls to three balls, twice a day. Six balls as opposed to forty five. Six balls a day gives me a slight headache. But I press on. Got to believe they say. Forty five balls? Well, I can only imagine what havoc that would have created...

It's been an experience. One that really wasn't worth writing about. A sojourn, here in Thailand, training in Muay Thai, getting fresh air, and rebuilding my health, after a devastating year and a half of runaway allergy problems and lung disorders. I thought things were finally starting to calm down.

Until we got the phone call the other day.

My Thai girlfriend's father was found dead. Another experience, and an "education", which I haven't figured out yet if I should write about it. A journey into Asian family relationships, foreigner relationships, Asian medical care, and the disposition of the deceased.

I've been busy, and will be. I'll be back.