This morning after lining up outside, we were told that Saturday is a half day. Training for an hour in the morning, then cleaning duties and free time. It was a joy to see all the kids grabbing mops, brooms and sponges and cleaning the school up. They were wearing their regular clothes and the mood was much more light-hearted. They would dash past with some sort of cleaning apparatus and say “Ni Hao” (hello). I think it’s a combination of the mood that they’re not training and they’re probably less weary of my presence.
After breakfast, I watched to see how many of the students would take my “gift” of sponges and washing up liquid. Fail. They all continued to wash their bowls and chop sticks with their hands. It’s either a combination of not wanting to use something they think is mine, or they’re just so used to washing up with just cold water. We’ll find out with time.
As a returning student, Matthew asked Master Wu for a special favour of writing some calligraphy on two scrolls he carefully brought with him from home. Master Wu, as it was becoming evident, is not just a master of kung fu, but calligraphy too. After doing a practice run, he gracefully painted up the scrolls for Matthew as the students watched and stamped on the Wugulun academy seal.
Without the late morning training session, I took the opportunity to go for a run. The school is half way up the 10km road from Dengfeng to the Shaolin temple. I thought it would be useful to know how to get to Dengfeng on my own, so the best way is to cover the distance on foot with a straight road, so you can’t go wrong. I took position on the edge of the main road and started jogging. I got some pretty funny looks while I ran. A combination of being a westerner in a small rural town and something like a “why is this guy running” (because even the poorest people here have at least push bikes). As I ran the route, I memorised landmarks as a way, so that I could run through them in reverse on the way back to recognise the turn off. Yellow sign, big rocks, umbrella, hill. Other than hitting a tree branch with (thankfully) yellow pollen on my yellow t-shirt, it a success.
The road that I run down has so many kung fu schools. All of these schools are the traditional “wushu” schools. These schools practice the external art of kung fu, with the emphasis on using force, jumping and more theatre type movements by 100s of perfectly synchronised shouting kids in bright red outfits. It makes me glad I stumbled upon the school I’m at, because my understanding of the Wugulun practice appears to be something special. As I turned the corner returning back to the kung fu school, I bumped into the students walking to lunch. I appeared to get some respect from the senior students seeing me jogging and doing more training, which was nice.
With the other students left to their own devices, Matthew and I took the bus (for 1 RMB) into Dengfeng. With two missions. Firstly, to go to the clothes shop to get some presents, and secondly, to find the Shaolin Traveller Hostel that I had been recommended by both Veena and the Lonely Planet. I ended up buying four suits to be sent home. Whilst the shop could have sent them home on my behalf, they explained that the cost of sending them would be more than the suits themselves. You could see the horror on their face that I was even considering it. I don’t blame them. To me it demonstrates the imbalance that exists in the world. They suggested that it would be cheaper and easier to send them from Hong Kong, than from a small rural village. With Hong Kong on my plans after China I decided to take them as they were. I gave myself a hypothetical pat on the back for not over packing and leaving room to temporarily carry gifts (we’ll see how good a plan this is when I try actually try to send them in Hong Kong).
After struggling to find the hostel (even armed with an iPhone and a pre-printed map) we jumped in a cab and got dropped off at the hostel. The hostel had a great feel to it. Well kept rooms, comfy chairs, free wifi and washing machine facilities. I can see why many of the foreign students come here at the weekends to relax and have a good wash. Comi, the guy at the hostel, even offered to take me to the local mobile phone shop to help me get a Chinese sim card. What a legend. I booked myself a room for the next weekend and headed out to grab dinner.
To celebrate the success of the mission to Dengfeng, we naturally stumbled upon another hot pot place and did our best to eat 6 plates of vegetables and noodles.