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Travel Journal

moneyhuntersMoney Hunters
by Susan; October 17, 2010

In 2000, I had a business trip to Luoyang--a historical city of China. My local friend told me: If you don’t visit Shaolin Temple (there is a humorous movie “Shaolin Temple” in which the well-known actor Jet Li was the leading actor), you will not really have been Luoyang.

Once finished work, I began my trip to the temple by coach. Half an hour later, a boy of around 8 years old got on and gave an apparently non-Chinese bill to the conductor. At the conductor’s questioning, he wept, “My father beat me. My step-mother scolded me. I stole some of their British pounds to look for my real mom.”

A woman, having a baby on her lap, sighed, “How poor he is! How can we help him?”

A young man, wearing a police uniform, said, “We can exchange his bill for Chinese Yuan. But nowadays, fake bills are everywhere. Who knows if the bill is real or not?”

A middle-aged man with a black suit claimed, “I work in a bank. I know the ratio of British pound to China Yuan is 13:1. Luckily, I have a Currency Detector with me. Let’s check.”

“Wow, it’s a real bill!” The bank man was excited, “I want to exchange all your money. How about 3: 1?”

The police man argued against it saying, “You are actually robbing this poor boy’s money. Even the ratio of 6:1 is still the best deal you can find on this Earth. ”

At the police man’s insistence, the bank man exchanged two hundred British pounds. Following the bank man, five other passengers exchanged the remaining 1,000 pounds. The boy constantly bowed down, thankful for the people’s help. Watching this scene, my eyes were wet.

A few minutes later, the boy got off, then the bank man, the police man, and the woman. Our bus went on. Indifferently, the conductor claimed: “They are a gang--the boy, the woman, the ‘police man’, and the ‘bank man’. The so-called ‘British Pounds’ are worthless. You guys can go to the bank to verify.”

An epiphany came to everyone. Nobody said a word; no one blamed the conductor for not warning us before. He was scared of being revenged later. I had to admit the gang was super “smart” in collecting money.

Finally, the coach arrived at the Shaolin Temple. I told myself to throw the former depression away, to enjoy the breathtaking architecture, to communicate with the soul of Buddhists. In addition, I wanted to pray for the “smart” gang, wishing their conscience to return.

Stepping off the bus, I was so “welcomed.” Ten vendors surrounded me. “Do you need candles?” “5 incense sticks for $2. …” This time, not distracted by the overwhelming numbers, I escaped into the temple. There, I was still followed by a 50 year old woman. Before I entered every prayer room, she would ask -- in a murmuring voice--if I needed incense sticks. When I prayed, she also kneeled down to pray sincerely. Later, I was not annoyed by her following me anymore, and began to think in her shoes. Probably her children were waiting for her money to pay the tuition; or her sick parents were expecting her to buy medicines. As we came to the main palace, before her asking, I bought her sticks and lit them all before the statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva, praying for the restless myself, for her misery, and for the immoral gang.

Out of the main palace, my rumbling stomach reminded me to have lunch. In the temple’s Cafeteria, I stared at the food with wide, bewildered eyes: “When has meat been allowed in the temple?” I saw some meat there. While I was hesitating, a Buddhist came, “May I help you?” I told her my puzzle. She burst out laughing, “They are actually made of wheat gluten or mushrooms. This is one of our specialties to attract visitors.”

That was  really smart! I bit a mouth full of “meat-ball.” It’s not meat-ball but its delicacy was beyond that. Being praised by their brilliant ideas, proudly, the Buddhist further told me: the temple, built in 495, occupies 30,000 square meters, and has thousands of Shaolin martial art schools in the world. And now it has own Website (www. shaolin. org. cn) also. During our relaxing chat, I had wolfed down three dishes of “meat food.” With a fully-filled tummy and a more peaceful, purer soul, I said “Er Mi Tuo Fu” (a greeting or goodbye words in Buddhism) to the kindly Buddhist and the Shaolin Temple. I knew the current Shaolin Temple was a modern, wealthy one, but the beliefs were the same as the ones in the “Shaolin Temple” movie.

On the way home, I remembered everything. That was not as enjoyable a travel experience as I had expected. But it was a reflective day of my life. Life’s journey is a mixture of various flavors.

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