5 chinese girls trumps fat rich american every time (Shaolin Monastery, China, 4/25/2009)

So yes they did sell me an inconvenient ticket. When I landed in DengFeng, 15min from ShaoLin, swarms of unlicenced taxi drivers swarmed the bus. Since I didn’t see an obvious ticket window to Shao Lin Monastery, I asked the shill lady how much. $50!! No way. I pull out 30. “Ok ok.” She says. Never, ever, pay full price in china. So she motions me to a small minivan that may or may not be a taxi. Some grizzled unshaven middle aged chinese dude with a cig hanging from his lips, who looks like he runs dice in the alley, gets in. He starts yelling at me in chinese, so I will understand him better. I wonder if he’s going to take me to a back alley and rob me. Except I outweigh him. Advantage: me. I wonder if he gets in an accident will he leave me for dead on the highway. Hmm, no counter to that one. 

After a little while he drives down a small side street. He stops, motions to me to roll down my window, and yells out my window to a woman. I hold my left ear closed to avoid going deaf. I think he’s telling his wife he’s got a job and will be back later. She looks at me sceptically. 

When he figures out I don’t know English, he hands me a ShaoLin brochure. “No!” He says theatically. He weaves in and out of traffic at a high speed. He shoves a Shaolin tourist map at me. Someone has carefully taped it all over with clear tape. “No!” Or maybe he means “Know!” What is he saying? Otherwise why would he show this to me? I look at the map. One picture shows a suspended bridge with monks on it. Can I go there? What if the bridge was only strong enough for small chinese people? If it breaks when I’m on it, will I be able to use my legs to brace myself when I hit the side of the mountain? Hmm don’t want to break my leg in china. Risk assessment says No. I decide against asking where the bridge is.

He motions out the window at the Songshan mountains. “Know!” He exhorts again. He comes to a turn. “Yong tai su?” He yells at me at the top of his lungs. I’m only 12″ from him. “Yong tai su??” I have no idea what this is. Su means temple. Is it shao lin, or a waste of time? I say OK. “Know!” He says again. 

We reach the parking lot and its deserted, but yes there’s a temple. I fumble in my mandarin book and point to “please wait for me” and “hour” and I hold up one finger (wait 1 hour). He pulls out a dirty wad of crumpled bills and shows me a count of 70 (us$10). OK, the price has gone up. I pay him the money and he gets out of his car. It turns out grizzled dice guy is going to give me a guided tour so that I don’t dawdle. He directs me to the ticket booth. I take out 100rmb. He actually puts his hand in my wallet and pulls out another 100 bill. Did I just pay for a ticket for him? The attendant gives me 2 tickets, one for yong tai and one for shao lin. Ok now we’re getting somewhere. He leads me thru the temple taking some nice pix of me in front of everything. Every time we’re ready to move to the next Kodak moment, he says “know!” What the hell is he saying? It’s chinese for something. Grizzled dice guy is leaning against the wall in the picture below:

He makes sure I get coins to throw onto the lucky frog. He makes sure I see all the shops. I buy a nice ring of sacred beads. I bargain her down 30rmb. Mama never pays full price. Then the 2 of them go off in the corner while she pays him heung yau (kickback). Hey I don’t read James Clavell for nothing you know.

Then as he’s driving me over to Shao lin he picks up 5 chinese girls (this is a chinese mini van, could fit about 2 dozen chinese people in back) and he and they proceed to gossip about me right in front of me and giggle. I can tell, because I can hear them say meiguo (american) several times. I give him a few dirty looks. He motions to me and says something about Shaolin and motions to them and says something else. Ok, he’ll still take me to Shaolin before taking them to their destination. He stops at a gas station and kicks me out and has the girls tell me to walk over to the temple which it turns out is actually not far. 5 beautiful chinese girls trumps fat rich american every time.

Shao lin is beautiful. But I don’t have a map and I can’t tell where all the cool stuff is. Is this gate and the shops all there is? I do some more shopping. I buy one of long 6ft strands of huge wooden beads (65rmb $10us). From henceforth this will represent my kung fu. Debating whether to give it to my program manager, we need all the kung fu we can get. And all that kung fu trickles downhill. As I’m exiting the bathroom stall, I miss the step and twist my ankle and fall on the (wet) floor. Hard.  A nice person helps me up. My ankle hurts. A lot.

I can see on the map that I finally obtain that there is some cool stuff around the bend (forest of pagodas) but I’m not sure my ankle will hold up. I rest but it only gets a little better. Maybe I will just have to come back again on another trip. So I didn’t get to see this:

As I limp back to the front, another transportation hawker yells “bus” and “Zheng Zhou”. How much? 27RMB (US$4). Yeah – getting here cost 30+70 (US$15) so that sounds good. Skipping armpit DengFeng sounds even better. She wants the money now, but I motion to show her I’ll pay her when we get to the bus. As soon as I can verify the soundness of the transport with my own eyes (it’s a medium sized bus with tires that are not worn down) I pay the money.

And now I sit here on the bus telling you my story.  Should be back in ZhengZhou at 1815 and my train is at 2216 so lots of time for dinner and shopping. Right now I feel pretty satisfied with my adventure. But the wheel will turn and you will have to wait for the next installment to find out what happens next. 

ZhengZhou circa 2009:

P.S. On the way home, I met a university student on the train who wanted to practice his english with me. He started talking english to me when he saw me writing in english on my phone. His english name is David. He goes to Er Lo agricultural university. He studies animal science. We show each other the pictures on our cell-phones. Even the guys next to us wanted to see. (They did not know David) He showed me a picture of green eggs but he could not explain what they were. My pic of DD outside the hotel in Hawaii is coming in handy, I have shown it to everyone. He asked if I liked the food in China and as proof, I showed him many pics of food that I took. They laughed to see the pix of dumplings and hotpot and baijiu. It was really nice to talk to him. He gave me his email address (which later I found to be invalid).

Shaolin Temple
Songshan MountainDengfeng 450000,China

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