Chapter Sixty Five XIII
I'm up early, leave Janah and Oceane entangled in bed. I make coffee and tea, feel Janah stir. She and Oceane go to shower, a few minutes later I pop in her head.
I see Oceane's tummy, then eyes up to her face, pretty clear what's going on. Janah taking advantage of the sylph.
You are despicable.
Janah, I merely follow instructions. I recall it being you last night who took first advantage.
The past is gone, I live in the moment.
Me too, yum.
I pop out of her head and pour myself a cup of coffee. Ten minutes goes by, then fifteen, I don't hear the shower, sneak a peek into Janah's mind. Through her eyes, in bed again, looking down on beautiful Oceane sea green eyes over the flat smooth Janah tummy.
What have we created?
Janah, Bliss, she's electrically enthusiastic, ooohhh, gotta go....deep gasp, I hear a groan of ecstasy from the bedroom.
Minutes later, Oceane comes along, bereft of clothing as usual, I hand her a cup of tea, "I see you're still exploring girl sex."
"It feels good, I can't decide which thing I like better."
"I've been searching for that answer for years, still doing research."
Janah joins us, "Wonderful night and a lovely morning, I'm not sure how the day gets better from here."
Nikko knocks, she and Zi come in, "Coffee, tea?"
Nikko, "Had some, are you going down for breakfast or room service?"
"We can get dressed in a few, then go downstairs for that mega buffet."
While we dress, Nikko gets in my head, I haven't been in your mind, Zi was feeling frisky last night, so she frisked me. There is a distinct difference in Oceane, has she....?
She has, last night and again this morning, Janah and I both beneficiaries.
Wonder if it will ground her a bit.
I think so, I had a short, normal, chat with her this morning. No voices in her head, she may still have them I suppose. By the way, she's decided to tour the family, don't be surprised if she makes suggestive suggestions. Actually it might be fun for her to get hit on, perhaps you can suggest, or Zi, or both of you, she'd like that.
Zi's good at making her wishes known, she's mentioned it before. We wanted to let Oceane decide, none of us knew about her orientation or non-orientation.
We're at the buffet. Hotels, even in China, seem to be engaged in hyper-elaborate breakfast buffet wars. We engage the selections, embed omelets, smoked salmon, fresh fruit, there are a myriad bread options, waffles and granola.
Janah, "What's left of the filming?"
"Amaya says four more days, Childers is ahead of schedule by a day. Weather is immaterial, everything is inside."
Nikko, "We were leaving tomorrow, but Zi thought it over and wanted to stay extra days. We fly home Friday."
Janah, "Flight is fourteen hours in an inverted U up to the Arctic Ocean down to New York. Leave at nine a.m., get to New York at ten thirty the same day, benefit of the international dateline."
"Why is there an international dateline? It seems confusing."
Janah, "The short answer is, with no dateline, if you fly west at twelve a.m. January 1st, you go backwards an hour in every time zone, so in the first hour change, it's December 31st. But it will stay December 31st no matter how many times you circle the globe. If you fly east, it's the opposite problem. You leave at twelve a.m. January 1st and it stays January 1st forever. Like the movie Groundhog Day."
"Even though the date never changes, you would still age. I prefer how we do it. The dates change, but we don't."
Oceane, "I'm fifteen, and fourteen forever."
Nikko, "We don't know if it's forever, and we can die from accidents just like anyone, it isn't a license to get reckless."
"I will swim today."
Janah, "I want to go to the National Museum and tomorrow we fly to Luoyang and visit the Shaolin Temple."
"I'll stay with Oceane, I can follow the culture in your head."
I have one piece swimsuits for Oceane and me, best not to antagonize the cultural sensibilities with micro-kinis. The pool is indoors anyway, we aren't missing a tanning opportunity. We do laps, feels good to exercise, skip lunch, in and out of the pool until two. Have it to ourselves the entire time. I followed Janah and Nikko through the museum while I swam, beautiful artifacts and loads of sanitized history about the People's Revolution.
In the suite for a hot shower and the pleasant sensation of post exercise fatigue. I make tea and we lounge on the couch. It's just Oceane and me, no reason to burden ourselves with apparel. One thing leads to another, while Janah, Nikko and Zi investigate Chinese history, Oceane and I investigate American lust. Bet we had more fun.
Janah, Nikko and I had trouble concentrating on the displays, the display of you and Oceane was more culturally fascinating.
Zi doesn't mental, guess she got the most Chinese cultural education. They return at four thirty, to the suite for afternoon tea. I've slipped on a t-shirt, Oceane didn't, tasty tease.
The movie makers arrive, Amaya, "Cocktail, immediately, my nerves are wracked, Chloe had two fight scenes and got thrown down an elevator shaft, then insisted on climbing the cable back up on her own. She fell halfway and had to do it over again."
Chloe, "It was twenty feet made to look like a hundred, and the floor was an air cushion, long as I didn't land head first it wouldn't have mattered."
Amaya, "Nonsense, it was dangerous. And then the katana against two armed men, the big Russian kept tossing you across the floor, I think the sadistic bastard was enjoying himself. Chloe got thrown against a concrete wall, then a stainless steel vat."
Dasha, "Eemaya ees make ridiculous. Russian was hafink fun, not mean. Everything ees pad, make beeg thump, pretend Vesnushki bashes head, fake blood on face."
"She doesn't look injured," I hand Amaya a large vodka.
Amaya, "Anything could happen, it better not happen to Chloe, thank you Daphne."
Eloise, "What did you guys get up to?"
Janah, "Nikko, Zi and I went to the National Museum, Daphne and Oceane spent a few hours swimming."
Oceane, "Then sex."
Amaya, "Daphne is such a perv, she attacked me when I was but fifteen, a child, with no concept of the evil world, a babe in arms."
"I concede the babe part, and the part about being in my arms. The evil world part I dispute, you were well versed."
Amaya scrunches her lips, "Point taken, what is for dinner?"
"How's room service, skip dressing and going out?"
Chapter Sixty Six
Today, a nine o'clock flight to Luoyang and a fifty mile ride to the temple.
We'd booked a couple of rooms in Dengfeng at the Jinpeng Eco. Dengfeng isn't a tiny place, seven hundred thousand people. It seems like almost as many visitors to the Shaolin Temple. I have no idea how monks live here and get anything done, it's like a beehive. Shaolin is allowed to thrive (sort of) by the government because it draws tourists, which provides jobs and revenue for the state.
The current Abbott, Xi Yongxin, took over in 1999. He got rid of all the fake wushu monks and schools that cluttered the area outside the monastery. Fake monks and shoddy schools are still here, just gone from around the temple. Gung Fu became wushu in China, an attempt to claim 'authentic' Shaolin fighting techniques by rebranding. It's baloney. The techniques, northern style, southern style, even the standard forms have all been altered over the centuries. A seventeenth century monk wouldn't recognize Praying Mantis or Snake today. And there are hundreds of 'styles.' The idea is to offer a veneer of originality, a mystical secret sauce, a brand. Like yoga, there are only so many ways to breathe (in and out works best) only so many ways to stretch and bend. In martial arts, there are only so many ways to punch, kick, choke, twist a wrist, ankle or lock a joint. Everything else is marketing.
The temple is now a cross between monastery (they do follow Chan Buddhist teachings) and tourist entertainment. And there are numerous shops nearby with all sorts of rip offs. You can buy a small white horse replica for pennies, but some old lady comes over and 'blesses' it, which means waving it through incense. Then it costs seven or eight dollars, if you bargain them down. It's China, this province is poor, people do what they need to do, and tourists are the dopes they do it to.
Zi, "The temple is well maintained, better than when I was here as a child. Abbott Yongxin wasn't Abbott then, all the rattraps outside the temple grounds are gone."
A monk appears, a ranking disciple by his sash. He bows, asks Janah a question in Chinese, she answers in Chinese. He smiles, doesn't have to deal with English.
Janah, "We are invited to lunch."
Someone has investigated and we've been outed. Various monks from here have visited our temple in Manhattan, but we didn't tell anyone we were coming to China. Didn't decide to come to Dengfeng until a few days ago.
The dining hall is long narrow tables, not dirty, not pristine, soup with vegetables. Inside Shaolin temples, the food is vegetarian. Outside, eat what’s available. Some Shaolin insist on all veg all the time and disdain carnivores, every group has its Taliban. I'll skip commentary on the quality. The temple here is not wealthy like ours, they do what they can with the resources they have.
A commotion at the door, the monks rise, turn and bow, it's Abbott Yongxin in his saffron robe, making his way to us.
"Master Sylk, Master Zhang, Abbess Svensson, welcome to our temple. I am delighted you chose to visit."
Janah bows, "Abbott, we came as tourists, to see Zi's former home. I should have known the Abbott of the original Shaolin monastery would not be caught unaware."
Yongxin, "Not so hard, our diligent servants of the People's Republic make sure VIP visitors are looked after. I am told the famous Miss Chloe Sylk is filming a movie in Beijing. That led to the name of Master Sylk, of course Master Zhang is already known to us. Masters and disciples have visited your temple in New York, and come to us with stories of the Abbess and her companion Master Sylk. Two trained by the old mystic, Master Tan."
Janah, "Abbott, you are well informed."
Yongxin, "Shaolin is a large community, but ordained Shaolin priests are a small one. Your temple is the last to retain the old practice of branding. Now they say it never happened, but it did, in a very few monasteries long ago. I have never seen the brand, would you indulge me?"
I pull up my sleeves, intending to just show Abbott Yongxin, but he is flanked by two disciples, with others behind him.
Yongxin, "Amazing, it must be painful, but much of wushu is painful, still, a severe burn."
"I've had better days."
He laughs, "May I borrow the Abbess for a while? First, though, I must welcome Master Murakami, her father is legend in kendo, and she is now 6th dan, quite an accomplishment for one so young. Welcome."
Nikko bows, "I am honored, Abbott."
Yongxin, "The young one, I do not know."
Janah, "Our most recent family member, Oceane."
Yongxin bows, Oceane cocks her head and smiles her ethereal smile. She's wearing one of her several linen dresses, long enough to cover her feet, this one white. It's belted with a simple light blue sash. Her hair is cropped short for swimming. She wears no jewelry, no makeup. She looks like a monk in a sect of vestal virgins.
"Serenity surrounds you, you are Buddhist?"
"I am Oceane, ocean, the source of all life, all life is in me, there is nothing that is not life."
The Abbott is silent, I wonder if she's insulted him, or appeared arrogant.
Instead, he's curious, "How did you come to such understanding?"
"Better to ask, what prevents understanding."
Yongxin, "I asked to spend time with Abbess Svensson, or Master J as she prefers. May it include Oceane?"
"It would be nice to visit the small river, perhaps the lake."
The three go off to do whatever, solve the mysteries of the universe perhaps Nikko, Zi, and I are shepherded around the temple by three masters. We are more interested in training than artifacts and our escorts are aware we are martial artists. They take us to several practice areas. Here a group of disciples doing more advanced training, elsewhere children, another older students. All are absorbed in forms, balance, slapping water in barrels, anything to make the body strong and resilient. Ordination is even more difficult, studying Buddhist texts, on top of regular academics. It's not a life of ease or luxury.
Chapter Sixty Seven
I ask Master Xin, "Is it possible to practice?"
"Of course, perhaps you will gives us a demonstration as well?"
"Maybe tomorrow, today I would like to be a simple student, you may decide I have nothing worth demonstrating."
Xin grins, "Follow me."
Zi and I change into standard monk-wear, grey uniforms, their supply is extensive, we find practice shoes in our size. I insist on paying, the cost is minuscule, Zi and I find ourselves in a group of monks doing forms. The instructor calls out positions, we only need to follow along, standard stuff, hand strikes, crouches, kicks. It feels good to train. We go for an hour, then break up into smaller groups for sparring.
Sparring isn't full contact, fair to throw the opponent, just not so fast as to slam anyone. It's more like a dance routine. I'm paired with a disciple, he's good, knows the attacks and counters, we flow back and forth. I let him toss me over his shoulder, roll forward, twist and leap to a front snap kick. I don't kick him, just tap his uniform. He shoots a fist to my head, I catch his wrist and sweep his feet from under him.
He stands up grinning, "Faster than I have seen here."
"Lucky genetics, quick reflexes. You are skilled, hands are callused and hard. Glad I don't have to take a punch."
Courtesies met, we exchange bows.
"I am Chin, fifteen years in the temple, perhaps test for master soon, but no one ever says anything."
"That's how we do it. One day the disciple is asked 'in what do you take refuge'? If he or she answers correctly, they take vows that evening at the close of meditation. The next day the gauntlet."
Chin, "Your temple requires brands? I've never seen such a thing."
"Branding is voluntary. If the disciple completes the gauntlet, they are a master."
"I see, you chose the brand."
"Yes, as did Master Zi, others don't. They are no less a master."
Chin, "How do you decide who is ordained a priest?"
"A priest must pass rigorous tests on their knowledge of Chan. They also must have exemplary coursework in their chosen academic study. That's something most masters do anyway. To become a priest in our temple, one must also bear the brand."
Chin, "Ah, and do most accept?"
"About half. Not everyone wants to be a priest. Everyone who passes to master must take the vows, live the Shaolin creed. We don't follow people around when they leave the temple. However, if we discover they have broken the vows, we remove them from the Order of Shaolin."
Chin, "Have you removed many?"
"Five or six. I'm sure others have broken vows, we just don't know it. The ones we find have opened schools, then it comes to our attention they use intoxicants or teach forbidden techniques. Kicking them out doesn't stop them, but they are no longer able to use the name Shaolin. We enforce that, to any degree necessary."
Chin, "The vows mention death."
"Yes, they do."
He stops cold, studies me, absorbs my meaning.
Master Xin comes over, "I watched you practice. We would be honored if you and Master Zi would demonstrate for us."
"Tomorrow then, I'll ask Nikko to demonstrate the sword if you wish. We are here until one, then we need to get to the airport and return to Beijing."
"Ah, kendo kata, I hope she agrees. It is time for evening meditation, will you sit with us?"
"Of course," Nikko appears and we join what appears to be a hundred monks in a large hall, grab a cushion and take a place.
After the hour is up, Abbott Yongxin makes an announcement, "Masters Sylk, Zhang and Murakami will demonstrate sparring and weapons for us tomorrow after breakfast in the main practice ground. All are invited to observe and learn. And we are honored to have the Abbess of Shaolin Temple New York Chinatown, Master J as she is known. With her is a remarkable young lady, Oceane, a member of Master J's equally remarkable family."
We file out of the hall, curious glances from monks. Lots of visitors train, few ordained priests, mostly gung fu students from the many schools across the globe. People like to say they practiced at the primary Shaolin Temple in China. Resume building infects all walks of life.
In our hotel room I ask, "I didn't follow your chat with the Abbott, anything interesting?"
Janah, "He's a good man, strong leader with definite ideas. He has a qualified administrative staff, his duties are mostly ceremonial. He's a representative of the People's Congress and chairman of the Henan Buddhist Association, I imagine he stays busy."
"And what of Oceane?"
"He spent much of the time asking her questions. After he found out she studies nothing and has no opinions on temporal matters, he was bemused. Asked if she thought she should be more formally educated. She talked about art, languages, skipped the part about reading emotion from objects. Said her family allows her to pursue her interests, feels no need of classrooms or degrees."
"What did he say?"
"That he questioned their value as well. He said education is to open the world to inquiry, but frequently does the opposite by offering predigested answers. We were at the lake by then, Oceane drifted off to her alternate universe. We talked of our schools. He was impressed by the lack of grades, test scores, how we allow students to explore. I said we require certain basics we think necessary, math proficiency, computer science, basic chemistry and biology, reading and writing of course. He circled back to Oceane, correctly concluding she was an exception. I said we try to treat all students as exceptions. But when parents enroll their children, they and the state have certain expectations we are required to meet. He got it."
"He say anything more about Oceane? He notice how she's there and not there."
"Yes, he said if she was a Tibetan boy, she would be the Dalai Lama. Then he retracted, said she is beyond Dalai Lama, beyond Buddha, that she contains universes."
"I reminded him of what she said earlier, everyone is everything, but they are blind to it. Buddha wanted everyone to find what he found, which implies everyone is capable. He nodded, then switched subject and asked about Shadows. They have a problem here, so many Shaolin attracts Shadows, it's bonus points if they kill a monk."
"Have they killed many?"
Janah, "Monks have died suspiciously, hard to say it was Shadows. They don't advertise themselves or take public credit like a terrorist group. I asked if he had Sensitives capable of sniffing them out. They don't any longer, the couple that did have disappeared. Shadows would go after a Sensitive first, appears that's what happened."
"Zi hasn't noticed anything on our tour. If there are Shadows, they're operating outside the temple."
"I haven't picked up anything either, and the missing monks lived elsewhere, not in the temple. He can't say for sure. Monks decide to travel, China is huge in itself and monks frequently travel across borders. They don't keep track of them unless the monks keep in touch. The Sensitives were in regular contact, then it just stopped and they vanished. The same thing happened with half a dozen others. Monks who called, e-mailed, sent a text regularly, then nothing."
"Should we stick around? See if Chloe or Zi can come up with anything?"
Janah, "They can't walk every street in China, there must be hundreds of Shadows. In a billion people, maybe many more. We have enough on our plate at home. We can't train them to spot Shadows. Sensitives are born, not made, it isn't like transmitting qi skill."
Chapter Sixty Eight
It's a bright blue morning, thirty or so masters and disciples have been invited to attend. We requested only advanced disciples and masters for a reason. We don't want the average monk or kids to attempt what we do. Zi demonstrates long staff, then takes on two monks. The staffs bang and crack, Zi handles the match beautifully, grace and speed. The monks are considerate, they play the role of aggressors, but not aggressively. Zi defends. The point is to show the others the techniques, not to win a match.
Nikko performs a kendo kata, the blade so fast it's impossible to follow. I zing shuriken at her, she slices the stars in half right out of the air. I don't gift her any throws either, I zip those suckers.
My thing is nunchaka. I do my best to entertain, and had to show off with my signature final move. I toss them high in the air like a propeller, then one eighty and catch them behind my back. Bow to another round of applause.
Zi, Nikko, and I put on a sparring match, them against me. We don't train anything but full contact, we demonstrate like we train. I'm bashed and battered, crack Zi across her jaw with a crescent kick, Nikko comes in and sends me flying with a side snap kick. I hit the dirt, roll. Both of them are after me. I leap over their heads, flip and catch them with a double back kick that sends them sprawling. I'm in the zone, as they charge, I do a horizontal three sixty spin, catch Zi on the side of her head with one foot, Nikko with the other. I land upright, shoot a foot to Nikko's jaw, not to make contact, to show what would have happened on a finishing move. Then a second shot to Zi. We drew a little blood, busted lips, a bloody nose, just like at home.
This time there's no applause, the monks rise as one and bow.
Master Xin, "We have been treated to a masterful demonstration of the art of gung fu. I want to thank Masters Sylk, Zhang and Murakami for a brilliant performance. We see they held nothing back, asked for no quarter, gave none. Do you have any final comments for us Masters?"
"I don't suggest you train like this every day."
"I do suggest you train like this occasionally. It helps to realize even a hard blow can be overcome. That's what qi is for. Control energy, overcome pain."
One of the monks asks, "I try to generate qi, sometimes I think I feel something, but it doesn't last. What am I doing wrong?"
"Nothing, unless you quit. How long have you been training in gung fu?"
"Ten years Master Sylk."
"And do you perform perfectly now?"
"No Master Sylk, I have many flaws still."
"Are you going to give up?"
"No Master Sylk, I continue to work hard."
"Very good. Qi control is more difficult than the hardest gung fu. How many times do you perform kuen?"
"And so it is with qi. The difference is, kuen are active, qi is passive. Can you sit for ten thousand hours? If you can, you may learn. Few learn because the pain of inactivity is worse than the pain of activity."
Master Xin, "Master Sylk learned from the mystic monk Master Tan. Some of you have heard of him. Her level of qi is beyond what we can achieve on our own. It must be transmitted from the master to the student. Am I right in saying, Master Sylk, the process is hard, even dangerous?"
"Yes, monks have lost their way trying too much too soon. Some become Shadows. The process caused Master J to fall seriously ill, fortunately, she made a complete recovery. I went very slowly, over years, I had the advantage not only of Master Tan, but my Abbess. If you pursue the transmission, your motives will be intensively questioned, you will have to pass certain tests, it will be tedious and painful."
Master Xin, "We have no Master Tan. How does one qualified receive such training?"
"Master J, another priest in our temple, and myself decide who is qualified. Talk to Master J, it must be an advanced disciple or a master, and we may or may not accept them. A candidate would have to travel to New York and be prepared to spend years. He or she must also be able to demonstrate the qi they have learned on their own."
Master Xin, "What will they be required to show?"
"Hot hand, cold hand. Sit outside all night the freezing Manhattan winter ice. The ability to light or extinguish a candle with their mind, boil water with no heat other than their own."
The audience laughs, one says, "Then no one can learn."
I ask for a candle, a monk goes off and returns with one in a bowl. I take it, place it on the ground and sit cross legged in front of it. A minute later the flame ignites. Stunned silence.
From the back, "A trick!"
"Come forward please."
A monk walks up, I tell him to hold his hand out. He does, palm up. My fingers points to the palm, skin turns red, he yelps. I turn my hand to the burning candle, curl my fingers, the candle snuffs out, small trail of smoke lifts from the extinguished wick. The monk is showing his blister to the others. Incredulous eyes turn to me. I'm not getting into telekinesis, Daria would have them mesmerized sending shuriken flying with her mind.
Master Xin, "We witness the miracle of unrestricted mind. I am humbled by its power. Our friends must get to the airport, they have given us much to contemplate."
Xin walks with us to the car, "It may be years before we have a candidate, if ever. A few here are skilled, warm hand, cool hand, no more. What you did opened minds, a student cannot do what he believes impossible."
"The entire purpose of education, yes?"
Xin smiles, "We have been truly educated today. A safe journey, Master Murakami, Master Zhang, Master J, dear Oceane, beyond master according to our Abbott. How such a family came together, another mystery."
I hug Xin, whisper, "No mystery, intention."