Cultural Relics & Sour Soup

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December 28th 2006
Published: January 22nd 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

It's a five hour train ride from Xi'an to Luoyang across the loess plateau, a geographic term to describe the chasms of clay soil and dry river beds, where homes have been carved into the cliff faces. In the trees of the farming villages hang large decorative bunches of dried corn. On a distant hilltop a factory spews smoke into the yellow-brown mud puddle sky. Bring a book or a deck of cards.
I practice tai chi and I think zazen is pretty cool but I had no interest in visiting the Shaolin temple. I came to Luoyang to see the Longmen Grottoes. A couple years ago I'd been out to Datong in the north of Shanxi province on a tour of the Yungang caves. The Northern Wu dynasty had moved their capital from Datong to Luoyang and brought with them their fettish for buddhist cave sculptures. A gaduate of Art History, I was curious to see the progression in style from Northern Wu, to Sui, to the "pinnacle of cave sculptures", Tang dynasty. Unlike so many tourist sites in China, there were none of the young men in green coats and matching hats "standing guard" playing on their cell phones. There was, however, in a cave I couldn't locate, a synthesizer player with an affection for 60s muzak, Simon and Garfunkel, Mamas & the Papas and the hard to plac Zamfir. I took three hours to explore the east and west cliffs and admire the "National Civilized Scenic Spot".
Figures in the largest and most spectacular caves survive but among the countless (2,345) caves and niches, a great number of buddhas and bodhhistavas and divine warriors have lost their heads or are missing altogether. A sign posted near the entrance lists a couple dozen museums in the U.S., Europe and Japan, displaying relics that were looted from Luoyang in the first half of the past century. And, interestingly, archival photos positioned at some caves display images of the missing relics allow a glimpse of what our tourist ancestors would have seen. Personally, I find this one of the most interesting debates, ownership of cultural relics. It's an experience to admire these works of art in their natural setting but it can be a great challenge to get there. For xampl, back in Xi'an, after a day spent in the countryside on the West Tour, I was at a loss why so many of the artifacts had not been brought into Xi'an and displayed in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum.
Returning to town, I explored Guanlin Miao. Don't waste your money. Out front the temple is more interesting, where old men play little boys' games, wielding whips and letting fly their wooden spinning tops. It's a delight to watch grown-ups at play. Something we don't often find in the west. I heard from a fellow traveler that the Baima Si is worth the visit. I caught a local bus to Old Town in the evening but couldn't find too much in the dark, besides a whole pig's head glowing red on a butcher's block. I'm a caffeine addict. I followed my nose to the centre of new town, hopped off the bus, and in the sam mall as the McDonalds stand, found a swanky cafe/restaurant tucked into the back corner on the second floor. A warm place to while away a n hour or two before catching a night train. Or if you're hungry, I suggest ordering a local delicacy, a big bowl of sour soup from the large restaurant across from the station.

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