China trip – Beijing to Xi’an

Beijing Drum Tower
Beijing Drum Tower

I just got back from my vacation last week. It’s the first time in quite a while that I have gone very far afield so I decided to share a few photos here.
I arrived in Beijing but just stayed long enough to enjoy one evening in a busy hutong and then meet some friends the next morning as they were finishing their China trip before I headed off by train to Zhengzhou.

Zhengzhou - park with haze
Zhengzhou – park with haze

Zhengzhou is not my favourite place in China. It is a useful travel hub with lot of high speed trains coming and going to various destinations. However even this less than lovely city manages to have a large and leafy park serving as much needed lungs for the populace. It was very well used anytime I visited it from very early morning to late evening.

Shaolin Temple view
Shaolin Temple view

From Zhengzhou it is a short bus ride to Shaolin Temple – famous both for kung fu and for being the site where Buddhism entered China. Although crawling with tourists even more than when I was there 15 years ago, one can still get glimpses back in time… blinkers required!

Shaolin Temple detail
Shaolin Temple detail

If you’re in the mood, you can try out some exercises as illustrated right on the architecture!

Xi'an - terracotta warriors and horses
Xi’an – terracotta warriors and horses

After doubling back to that hub Zhengzhou, we went to Xi’an. Last time I was in China it seemed too far but now the high speed train takes you there in just 3 hours – 300 km per hour!! The terracotta warriors were fascinating, impressive and also appalling when you consider the megalomaniacal mind behind the whole thing.

Xi'an - beautifully sculpted terracotta horses
Xi’an – beautifully sculpted terracotta horses

And for the end of this segment one of my favourite shots… perfect horses ready for parade in any era – very life-like!

I will continue with the next leg of the trip soon!

photos (cc) 2013 Hilary Farmer

Bodhidharma…

Damo meditates with a cup a tea
DaMo meditates with a cup a tea

Bodhidharma, also known as DaMo in Chinese, is famous for many things. Born in India around the year 440, he converted to Buddhism and traveled to China where he is credited with introducing Zen Buddhism (called Chan in Chinese). According to tradition, he spent much time at the Shaolin Temple establishing the famed martial arts practiced there and also managing to meditate in a cave for 9 years.

During his years of meditation, he fell asleep (once!) and in his determination to keep it from happening again, he cut off his eyelids. Where his eyelids fell, the first tea plants sprang up to help him (and all the rest of us lesser mortals) stay awake while enjoying the pleasures of tea at the same time. (Well, the pleasure part isn’t mentioned in the histories.) This explains why representations of Bodhidharma always show him with bulging, lidless eyes.

Other ways of telling that a painting you’re looking at is of DaMo is that he is either crossing a river on a hollow reed (how he was said to have crossed the Yangtze), sitting in meditation in a cave and usually facing a wall, or often, with one shoe on a stick over his shoulder. The story goes that some time after DaMo’s death, an official said that he had met him in the mountains heading back west and saying that he was returning to India. He was carrying a staff on which hung a single sandal. The monks back at the temple got curious and decided to open up the tomb. They found just one sandal inside.

Much of this content is common lore regarding DaMo/Bodhidharma but a lot of information can be found in the preface to The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma translated by Red Pine.

image (cc) 2009 Hilary Farmer