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Suffering through Shaolin

July 18, 2010

I’m back from the Shaolin Temple! Actually, I got back on Friday evening. But I’ve been too exhausted to do anything but relax the past few days. And try to catch up with the family.

If I had to describe my experience at the Shaolin temple in three words, they would be: uncomfortable, embarassing, and enlightening. There was a good deal of pain in there too, but I’m lumping that with uncomfortable. I’m in a listing mode, and I’m trying to condense a lot of information into this post without rambling on and on, so I think I’ll just go through the three words.


  • Terrible downpour of rain on our way to the train station as we embarked. We had to haul our suitcases through puddles. Everything got soaked.
  • The overnight train ride over, in a dirty train car. I had a bed, but it was tiny and hard. The pillow was scrawny. (I managed to sleep most of the way, though.)
  • Upon arrival, the incredibly uncomfortable and dangerous car ride to the hotel. If I thought Beijing drivers were bad… I was tense the whole way.
  • Every following car ride was just as uncomfortably dangerous, with tons of annoying horn-honking. Constant sound of horns, every time a pedestrian or other vehicle was in the car’s way. Also, lots of flies in the car.
  • Ass a pedestrian, I got honked at. Constantly. Even when I was totally NOT in the way of the vehicle flying by.
  • Constantly was batting bugs away from me, mostly mosquitoes and flies, both outside and inside. Also the occaisonal bee or other scary bug.
  • My hotel room, although beautiful, was full of bugs, particularly centipedes–very uncomfortable. Every time I brushed my teeth, I was looking at the floor to make sure they didn’t crawl all over my feet.
  • Air conditioning in the room didn’t work.
  • No internet access, in my room or otherwise. Very uncomfortable.
  • My international phone card didn’t work, for some reason. Could not use Chinese cell phone to call home.
  • As a result of above two, could not communicate with my friends and family at home. Or update this blog.
  • Air was sticky humid the entire time. So I was sticky and damp the whole time with a mixture of sweat and air. Thank god the temperature was mild.
  • Food was not pretty bad at the restaurant we always ate at. It was also a dirty, ugly restaurant. With lots of flies.
  • Whenever we went sightseeing, we had to bring our own food, which was all processed junk from the supermarket since we had no refridgerators.
  • Got stared at a lot. Was asked to pose in pictures with foreigners a lot, especially when I was with my friend Iddriss, who is black (he’s from the Ivory Coast). They would shout, “Hei ren! Hei ren!” (“Black person! Black person!”) We’d pose, smile, make peace signs with our hands. Never knew whether to laugh or shudder.

But the absolute most uncomfortable part of the trip, trumping all the rest, was the muscle soreness. On our first day of learning Kung fu (gongfu) at the Tagou school near the Shaolin Temple (but not affiliated with Shaolin, I later found out, to my surprise), after the first 5 hours of intense leg work, I was so sore that walking hurt. Climbing stairs hurt much worse.

This all compounded because we had no chance to recover from the tears in our muscles. It was Kung fu every morning, hours and hours on two days, climbing a mountain another day, and lots of physically active tourism on the remaining days. I didn’t start to recover until we got back to Beijing. A lot of the other kids were in much better shape than I was, so their soreness was mild. But mine was tortue. This segues well into…


  • I fell on my way off the buss. Luckily, came away with two conveniently placed bruises, which never bothered me, but everyone saw me go down. Into a puddle.
  • Had a roomate at the hotel. Our bathroom was pretty, but the walls an door were all made of glass. Zero privacy.
  • Was so miserable on our first day of intensive gongfu, so angry at my muscles, so annoyed with the discomfort, so homesick that I started crying. Quite a few people saw me, including both teachers.
  • That afternoon, I called my boyfriend Rick in tears, and unfairly blamed him for my problems while still in tears. Not my proudest moment.
  • Too exhausted for the afternoon session of Kung fu on our first day. Didn’t go. Everyone asked me why at dinner that night. Said I’d been homesick and sore.
  • Attempted to interview some students at the Kung fu school for my report. They didn’t understand me, and they laughed at me. From then on, too embarassed to interview students. Changed my report topic.
  • Couldn’t make it to the top of Song Shan moutain the day we climbed it, because I was still too sore from my half day of Kung fu. Most of the kids who did the full day made it all the way to the top. It helped that three others stopped with me 2/3 of the way up.
  • Skipped the next morning of Kung fu, pretending to be sick. I think most people saw right through that excuse, as I was clearly the weakest of everyone there. Showed up for the afternoon, though, to reclaim some dignity.
  • Dropped my iPhone in the toilet that night. Pretty sure it’s dead (still working on it). Roommate witnessed my idiotic move. Hated myself that night.
  • Didn’t know things could get even worse, but when we finally left, I forgot my passport and my chinese text book in a drawer in my hotel room. When I told the teachers on the bus, they repeated what I’d said loudly. The whole bus heard. (They’re mailing me the passport. Hope I can trust the Chinese postal service.)

But for all of that, the trip was also a major learning experience–which I’ll leave for tomorrow’s post, because this one’s already too long. Stayed tuned for more of Philospher!Morgan’s reflections.

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