It all started in a plush conference room of the Ritz Carlton Shanghai. I was sitting in a meeting not understanding a word being said – partly because it was mostly taking place in Mandarin and German and partly because the English stuff was all technical mumbo jumbo (I think the Chinese made more sense) – smiling and trying to look engaged and interested while my mind was slowing numbing, my eyes drooping an I was in imminent danger of falling asleep. I had already pretended to take notes (all the while actually writing out a little chart converting yuan to dollars so that my shopping calculations would go faster), mentally remodeled my kitchen and imagined in great detail an encounter with George Clooney in Italy. I was BORED! So I excused myself on the pretense of having to go to the ladies room and instead wandered about the little shops outside. I guess I took a tad too long (or timed it just right depending on your point of view!) because when I returned the meeting was over and we were being whisked away to a dinner at a private dining club in the city.
Here I was still bored but at least there was food – and LOTS of booze. The booze made it a bit easier to keep that stupid smile plastered on my face.
Well the next thing you know we are being invited to visit a factory in Luoyang a “small” city about 2 hours by plane from Shanghai (small is relative in China – only 1.5 million people live in Luoyang – practically a village). I figured my husband was just being polite when he accepted and that he would later phone with an excuse as to why we could not make it.
Well he didn’t do that and as it turns out I could not have been more pleased.
Luoyang has a long and colorful history; it was founded in the Xia Dynasty and was the capital of 13 dynasties ruling China. As our host said “if you want to know 200 years of Chinese history go to Shanghai, if you want to know of 2,000 years of Chinese history, go to Beijing but for 6,000 years of Chinese history – go to Luoyang.
Luoyang is also as it turns out the peony capital of China which I guess makes it the peony capital of the world. As luck would have it our trip coincided with the annual Peony Festival which takes place from April 15th to 25th. We toured through miles of vibrant blossoms each one more beautiful than the next.
That evening we were served a feast that consisted of 24 dishes for eight people. It was a traditional royal dinner that would have been served Emperors and included braised chicken feet, cow intestine and other delicacies. Lots of them were gluten free! We also had some wicked liquor that tasted like flowers and kicked like rocket fuel and a sweet wine that complimented the food perfectly. It was a truly memorable experience.
The next morning we journeyed a few miles out of town to the Longman Caves. This was spectacular! For a period of about 200 years 1500 years ago over 100,000 images of Buddha and his disciples we carved into the rock of the caves on both sides of the Yi River. Most spectacular is the Ancestor Worshipping Temple that was carved during the Tang Dynasty between 672 and 675. The central Buddha figure is over 50 feet tall; his earlobe is taller than me!
There are no words to describe how beautiful and awe inspiring this place is. The mist rising from the river up the fragrant green hills revealing the magnificent cave sculptures with their serene and benevolent expressions. This is truly a remarkable way to spend a morning.
Just north of Longman Caves and included in the price of admission is the Guanlin Temple, burial ground to legendary “Lord of War” General Guan Yu. Unfortunately only his head is buried here as he was executed as a bad guy and then later it was decided he was a good guy – with a title like Lord of War I am sure he did not lead a quite peaceful life.
Now let me just take a second to rant here. The day that we toured the flower gardens my husband took approximately 50,000 pictures of peonies that while gorgeous could pretty much be summed up in about 15 or 20 shots. He then forgot to charge the camera so I only was able to snap a few pictures of one of the most amazing sites I have seen in China. Anyway….
Weather and vandals have stripped away the heads and hands of almost all the statues in the caves but the current Chinese government is preserving this area. Signs are happy to point out that these caves were sorely neglected until the liberation when the People’s Republic took charge and got this country organized.
After the tour we witnessed a Kung Fu demonstration in the parking lot from a martial arts school based on the famous Shaolin Temple. I realized that if these boys could make their bodies fly through the air, balance on the point of a spear with out injury and gracefully kick a dummy with enough force to stop a rhino that I could probably manage to do some Pilates once in awhile after I get home – we’ll see.
If you travel to China do not miss this pretty little city. Spring is the best time when the peonies are in bloom and before it gets to hot to for walking the caves. The people of Luoyang are proud of their history and tradition and will eagerly share with you all they know.
I arrived in Luoyang sullen and put out and left inspired!
An Unexpected Pleasure – Simply Gluten Free
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