The Shaolin Mountain Run

The infamous Shaolin mountain run is fundamental part of Shaolin Kung Fu training. Whether you’re studying at one of the many kung fu schools in and around the Songshan Shaolin Temple or somewhere else, the run normally begins each morning before breakfast, or at minimum takes place once a week. This type of mid-distance hill climb not only pushes the body but the will power of students as they charge up and down the mountain, often descending steep steps on all fours.  This type of traditional training places emphasis on strength and stamina. It separates the weak from the chaff.

In order to properly prepare yourself before you arrive in China as well as improve your strength, stamina and potential running times I’ve put together these three core running workouts that you can do throughout the week.

cen-21. Aerobic Workouts and Preparation:

The mountain run is all about running at a consistent and comfortable speed with the right cadence to reduce effort and build fat-burning exnzymes, cardiovascular endurance, and time on your feet.  Alternating between long runs and short sprint training is a good tactic as a training method. As is making sure you start your hill climb in the knowledge that a power hike on the upward climb might be more efficient than running until you’ve built up your endurance and stamina. Power hiking is something that can also be trained for and is an excellent way to keep your heart rate in check. Another highly recommended tip is to swap your kung fu shoes for running shoes. Kung Fu shoes are super cool and excellent for form practice, but for the sake of injury prevention do the mountain run in your running shoes. You’ll thank me later.

2. Threshold Workouts:

The threshold is where your body begins to use more glycogen for energy and less fat, and when you train at and slightly above it, you can “raise the roof,” so to speak, so you can run faster at easier efforts (pretty cool). There are several workouts that you can fit in this slot, below are three.

How to find “threshold effort”: You know you’re at this effort when things start to feel uncomfortable, and it’s hard to talk. If you can get out one word responses, you’re there. If you can tell me what you did last night, you need to pick things up. If you’re gasping for air, slow it down. Because this is a physiologically based run, it works best when running by your effort rather than a pace; as you gain fitness, your pace will improve or you may slow down when the elements are challenging (heat and humidity). At the kung fu school its relatively easy to bond with other students. Finding a running partner is not going to be difficult. Doing the mountain run together and talking to each other supporting and driving each other you are able to find your threshold effort. With your partner you can select a combination of the three workouts or choose the most appropriate one that fits with your training schedule.

Five-Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeat four to five times: Run five minutes at or slightly above your threshold. Recover by jogging easy for two minutes in between. Cool down running five minutes easy and walking three minutes slowly.

2 or 3 x 10-Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeat two to three times: Run 10 minutes at or slightly above your threshold effort. Recover by jogging easy for two minutes in between. Start with two repeats and build to three over time (maybe even next season). Cool down running five minutes easy and walking three minutes slowly.

20-30 Minute Tempo Workout:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Run 20-30 minutes at or slightly above your threshold effort. Cool down running 10 minutes at an easy effort and walking 3 minutes slowly.

Mountain Run

3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Workouts):

These workouts may be the hardest effort-wise, but they also make the most dramatic changes in aerobic fitness, speed, metabolism and caloric burn, and overall fitness. My favourite HIIT Workout is:

1-2-3 Intervals:
Warm up three minutes walking. Run 10 minutes at an easy effort (conversational).
Repeats two to three times: Run one minute at a hard but controlled effort in the red zone. Recover with one minute easy walk or jog. Run two minutes in the red zone followed by one minute walking and one minute jogging easy to catch your breath and recover. Run three minutes in the red zone followed by one minute walking and two minutes jogging easy to catch your breath and recover.

Another option for your third workout is to alternate HIIT speed intervals one week with hill repeats the next. In both cases, you are working at a high intensity–in one, focusing on speed; in the other, building strength.

Workouts 4-5: Training on three running days is an effective strategy, but it also works well when you fill in the gaps with strength training and a low-impact cardio activity like deep stance training or static holds. Since your three running days all lie on the harder end of the effort scale, keep the stance training and strength workouts to an easy to moderate effort. That way, you won’t miss recovery along the way and get into a chronically fatigued state by training too hard.

As you put these workouts together, it will look a little something like this (this is a sample training plan):

Monday: Easy-effort stance and strength training
Tuesday: Interval workout (1-2-3s)
Wednesday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 14 miles
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, light moving qigong, taichi (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds, qigong, taichi 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Easy aerobic run — 45-60 min.
Wednesday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong, taichi 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 10 miles (race effort: five easy miles, four at moderate effort, one mile hard)
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, qigong, taichi (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training, qigong 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Mountain run (repeats or hilly road)
Wednesday: Easy-effort qigong, stance training, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 16 miles
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga (light stretching)

Monday: Easy-effort stance training 30 min. and strength training
Tuesday: Easy aerobic run — 45-60 min.
Wednesday: Easy-effort qigong, taichi 45-60 min.
Thursday: Tempo workout (5 x 5 min.)
Friday: Easy-effort stance training, static holds 30 min. and strength training
Saturday: Long run — 10 miles (race effort: five easy miles, four at moderate effort, one mile hard)
Sunday: Rest or restorative yoga, qigong, taichi (light stretching)

The Mountain run schedule might look something like this:
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run 4x; race-effort run, easy, moderate, one hard
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountian Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; conversational, happy effort
Mountain Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; race-effort run
Mountain Run; 4x race effort

This is a fun, effective way to improve your mountain run times with less overall impact on your body; however, it’s not to be taken lightly. It’s not a beginner’s plan–so ease yourself into it.

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Is Practicing Forms Important for Real Fighting?

by An Jian Qiu

In all martial arts, many students will one day ask themselves:

“Is practicing forms important for real fighting? Should I just be performing drills, or sparring?”

The answer to this is not a simple yes or no because it depends on how you practice your forms:

  • Do you let your mind wander, or are you incredibly focused?
  • Do you ‘take it easy’ and treat it as a warm-up, or are you challenging yourself each time with deep stances and powerful movements?
  • Are you just ‘following the motions’, or do you have a specific goal in mind?

At An Wushu, we believe form training done correctly is incredibly important for developing your kung fu:

  • Forms develop what we call your ‘kung fu body’. Strength and endurance are a very important part of kung fu, but can be developed by many activities; the specific attributes you need for perfecting your kung fu, however – such as flexibility, timing & chi skills – can be best developed through forms
  • Forms teach movements in a logical sequence (e.g., “Strike… if they block, then you do this”) and create useful muscle memory*
  • If you practice your forms the way you fight – with spirit, power, and accuracy – then you’ll fight the way you practice your forms

*Many students are also curious about the applicability of ‘grander’ movements, such as flips, spins, kicks and so on. There are a few schools of thought on this:

  1. In years past, it was not uncommon for future masters to be taught incredibly slowly, often learning a single form over five years! If you have practiced a movement 100,000 times or more, you will definitely be able to use it in combat – even if it is perhaps not as efficient as it could be
  2. Many movements are taken to their extreme to better develop the body: e.g., if you train with your horse stance at parallel, spending minutes then hours in this position each day for many years, your legs will become incredibly strong. If you only stand at ‘fighting height’ for these years of training, you will miss out on this strength.
  3. In some styles, there are moves that are simply not meant to be used in combat, e.g., backflips, and are simply there to develop the body of the practitioner. Similar to Point 2, if you spend years training backflips, you will have much more explosive muscles and better co-ordination than if you didn’t. (Note: There are no movements like this in An Wushu, however, as part of a complete training system this is a great way to train.)
  4. Much of the power generated in kung fu is difficult to do in a small way until you can do it in a big way: e.g., even a beginner can sharply twist their body, push off their heel and throw a strong ‘cross’ punch (albeit at the probable cost of their balance). But if they limit their twist to only 1-inch, can they generate power? The answer is no. By starting with an over-exaggerated movement, a beginner is able to gain the internal feeling needed for any movement and gradually refine the movement to its usable form.

So, is practicing forms important for real fighting? As with anything in kung fu and in life, you only get out what you put in.

To learn more about An Wushu or how to study with Master An full-time in China visit www.StudyMartialArts.Org we work exclusively to help dedicated students connect to quality martial arts schools. This includes visa assistance and independent information all at no additional cost to you. Check us out with no obligation.

The Martial and Mandarin: Are you a type A student or a type B student?

In China dedicated martial arts students who plan to make the most of their time generally fall into two categories.

Type A – You’re a martial arts student in China and you’ve reached a level where in order to further develop your understanding and skill as well as make your life easier you’ve got no choice but learn the language.

Type B – You’re a Chinese language student who’s always been interested in martial arts but has yet to take the step into training. But things have finally come to a head and you’ve had enough of conversations about where you’re from, how much you earn and whether you like Chinese food, girls or football.

Chances are a few of you reading this post have had at least contemplated at least for a second combining martial arts with language learning.

You might have considered the following options. A university course with a certain amount of martial arts training, finding an elusive badass master and informally studying the language or by joining one of the many international kung fu schools and taking their free classes.

The benefit of combining martial arts and language learning can be found in the practical skills you learn that not only add to the experience but also your CV. Indeed such a step can take many in completely new directions abound with opportunities for the wily foreigner. Overall these programmes allow participants the opportunity to develop their martial arts and deepen their own understanding of Chinese culture and language.

“It’s a unique way to study with a high level master outside the normal international kung fu school route as that all important Chinese visa can be provided relatively cheaply through a University.”

Find a badass kung fu master  

This video clip above was taken in Yantai, Shandong province.

Yantai is a small second tier Chinese City on the northeast coast of China. It has cheap housing and has a good environment. Yantai is famous for a number of kung fu styles including Taichi Mantis, Tongbei quan, and Baguazhang. Locally with a little care you can find good masters. The city itself is a hot bed of kung fu schools and is well worth a look.

“Yantai is a hot bed of kung fu schools and masters on the east coast of China”

For details of our Traditional Martial Arts and Language Learning programmes in Yantai email info@studymartialarts.org. You can also check out Master Sui’s full biography and training schedule here. Or you can have a look at this school Kunlun International Kung Fu School which has links to Ludong University in Yantai for long term visas and currently has a very good Shaolin Kung Fu and Mantis Kung Fu master that you can study martial arts with.

Two alternatives that may be more suitable for those who are less independent or would prefer an all-inclusive experience are  The Yuntai Mountain International Culture and Martial Arts School founded by Shi Yan Lin, also known as Xie Xu Yong. This school is the only martial arts school currently offering a quality half day martial arts and half day language learning programme. The other option I would recommend is Capital Sport University of Physical Education in Beijing.

shaolin-schule-yuntai

Yuntai half and half programme

Master Shi Yan Lin is a master with over 10 year experience in teaching to both Chinese and International students Shaolin Martial Arts. The school is located in the famous Yuntai geological park, which attracts thousands of tourists every year and is fairly close to the fabled Northern Shaolin Temple. The Martial Arts training at the school will primarily focus on the various Shaolin fists and weapons as well as Sanda and Taichi. The school building formally a hotel has been converted into student accommodation, as a result the rooms are comfortable and comparatively of a high standard. The newly built training area and performance hall is five minute walk from the main accommodation area, so everything you need is close at hand.

The Chinese language course organised as part of the half martial arts, half language learning programme is available in partnership with Jiaozuo University. These courses can be specially tailored and intensive. This, makes the school a very real prospect for serious Chinese language learners. This close relationship between the martial arts school and the university means that long term student visas can be obtained for long term International students of the school.

The down side to the programme primarily relates to the schools relative isolation and the management insistence for compulsory school line ups throughout the day. Sometimes this can make students feel like they’re prisoners rather than students.

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University Programme

Captial University of Physical Education & Sports is one of Beijing’s premier Martial Arts Training Universities providing top-ranking conditions for international and domestic students. The university is supported by Hanban and Confucius Institute offering Chinese Language Learning Programs, Martial Arts University Programs, TCM, Sports & Health Care Programs.

The University offers the following programs; 4 Year Undergraduate Programs, 3 Year Master Programs, 3 Year Ph.D Programs, 1-2 Year Non-degree Programs and Short-term Programs.

The Universities Featured Programs are:

1. Chinese Language Programs
The University employs a special team for teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. This team is specializes in training international students who want to learn Chinese Culture and speak the Chinese Language. Class sizes are smaller than other universities and attention and help given to students is higher than at other Universities.  Thjs helps to ensure that students acquaire the language competences sufficent for their speciality studies in China. Small classes of differnt levels are provided as well as one-to-one teaching to meet students needs.

2. Martial Arts Programs
According to the period of study students can expect to study martial arts from martial arts champions who are experienced in both teaching and competitions for performance and also sport.

3. TCM Sports Health Care Programs
The instructor for this program is Ru Kai an assistant professor of Sports Rehabilitiation Department of Schools of Sports Science and Health. He is also the successor and master of Xisui Neigong, Baduanjin and Yijinjing.

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One of the main benefits from studying Mandarin at Capital Sports University is obviously the facilities, access to top coaches plus relatively small class size for language learning.

If you would like to learn more about studying martial arts and learning Chinese check out these great articles.

9 Mistakes to avoid when learning Chinese at a Kung Fu School in China

The things Chinese People Say

 

Huang Shan – China’s famous Yellow Mountain

The Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan, 黄山) is among the most visited and notable mountains in China. For those looking for a unique natural landscape and don’t mind having to compete for it with swarms of other tourists, this is the place for you.

You might have to use the new martial arts skills you’ve been learning at your Kung Fu School in order to fend off the other tourist that will be fighting for rooms and places to stay on this mountain. This is not a joke nor an exaggeration. Tensions can get pretty high over the last rooms when the alternative could be a cold sleepless night on this huge rock.

Once your rooms are secured you have two options to get to the top of the mountain. The first is to hike up the mountain stairs. This is the best way to get a good view of the landscape. The other is by Cable Car. The earlier you get the cable car the better. It’s not unknown for their to be kilometre long lines of people even at the break of dawn. If you successfully get on the cable car, expect more hiking.

Once at the top book into another hotel (this should be done in advance). That way you can relax and enjoy both sunset and sunrise the next day. In terms of the hotel quality, expect them to be overpriced, and rough. Prices range from 200 rmb to 1,000 rmb. For the 200 rmb range think refugee camp conditions.

Here is a link to some of the best accommodation options for Huang Shan.

To avoid disappointment I’d recommend you plan to visit off season, defiantly not on a Chinese holiday. Pre-buy and take with you any expensive food items. Whether expensive snacks or a cheeky bottle of rice liquor everything will be way more expensive at the top.

Huangshan, is a mountain range in southern Anhui province in eastern China. Vegetation on the range is thickest below 1,100 meters, with trees growing up to the treeline at 1,800 meters. Wikipedia
Address: Huangshan, Anhui, China
Elevation: 6,115′
Highest point: Xuelian Feng
Province: Anhui
Country: China
Phone: +86 559 558 0033
Listing: Ultra-prominent peak
Mountains: Tian Du Feng, Xuelian Feng, Guang Ming Ding

Top tips for visiting Huang Shan & Detailed Guide

  1. Plan ahead, check the weather and make sure its off season.
  2. Book your accommodation in advance
  3. Expect lots of people and cues
  4. Bring your survival and luxury rations
  5. Expect things to be more expensive

How to get to Huang Shan

Huang Shan is located in the western part of Anhui province. Below are a couple of options by train from either Shanghai or Beijing.

  • Shanghai (5 hours on the G1509, leaving in the morning at 8.27);
  • Beijing (there are fast trains from 8 in the morning to 15.30, and the trip lasts a little under 7 hours) and on the same line, Tianjin;

From the city of Huang Shan, where long distance options arrive, shuttles depart for Tangkou (汤口), adjacent to the entrance to the Park, at the foot of the mountain. If you choose to climb on foot, the climb starts at Tangkou. If instead you’re going for the cable cars, there are shuttles that connect directly to the station, airport and the city of Tangkou obviously. These city buses don’t cost more than 20 Yuan for the longest trip. Even taxis and tuk tuks are available if you arrive from the airport or station, but to get to the cable cars you can only use designated buses.

Pictures of Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan, 黄山)

Yellow Mountain

porters2

Locks on Huang Shan

Campsite

Porters

Crowd at sunrise

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Martial Arts Travel Guide for China

People who travel to China without downloading this travel guide are 138% more likely to be unprepared for the journey ahead. All right, so maybe we’re exaggerating this point to grab your attention. However, the fact is that after you’ve read this guide you will know exactly what preparations are required before you begin your journey and also how you can deal with all that China has to offer.

This guide walks you through, the dreaded Chinese visa, what to pack, health and safety, money and banking, domestic travel, living in China, communications and much more.

You’ll learn:

  • How to prepare in advance of your trip
  • How to keep you and your belongs safe
  • What you’ll need to become an expert traveler
  • How to earn extra travel & training cash
  • Ways to save money

Download the guide here

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Hua Shan – the worlds most deadly hike

Hua Shan has 5 peaks, the deadliest of these is the infamous Plankwalk.  For those looking for a unique and frightening challenge while taking some deserved R&R from kung fu training this is for you.

Arriving in Huayin (the town at the foot of the mountain) the day before is advisable. That way you can get a rest the night before. Do make sure you book because this place gets busy.

Once your room is secured you have two options to get to the top of the mountain. The first is to take a 6 hour hike up the mountain stairs. This is the best way to get a good view of the landscape. The other is the new West Cable Car (140 RMB/pp each way, $22 or 100 RMB/pp with student car, $16) the earlier in the morning the better. If you successfully get on the cable car, expect a further 4-6 hours of hiking.

To avoid disappointment I’d recommend you plan to visit off season, defiantly not on a Chinese holiday.

Top tips for visiting Hua Shan & Detailed GuideScreen Shot 2016-04-12 at 23.07.35

  1. Plan ahead, check the weather and make sure its off season.
  2. Book your accommodation in advance
  3. Expect lots of people and cues
  4. Bring a change of underpants

What to expect from the Plankwalk

‘During the actual walk you are walking across a narrow plank walkway nearly 5,000 ft in the air after all during the least intense part of the hike.  The remainder of the trail is composed of iron rods protruding from the mountain, small cut outs in the actual rock for your feet and/or chains for gripping yourself close to the mountainside.

The path itself is TWO-WAY traffic for the entire day, which means you are sharing an already extremely treacherous path with limited space often.  You will be required to move your harness over other hikers heads and step on the outside of them, sometimes only having room for one foot to stabilize.  It gets especially tricky when sharing either of the ladder areas and/or cliff cut outs, as they have even less real estate to offer. (http://blog.unboundly.com)’

 

 

 

 

Why people choose us

At StudyMartialArts.Org we are passionate about Martial Arts and Travel. We believe that the combination of both provide a powerful catalyst for greater awareness. Our mission is based on connecting you to the right schools, masters or instructors.

Below you will find a testimonial from one of our past students Arvid Velt. Arvid first joined the SMA 1 month intensive martial arts travel and training tour. On this tour we combine historic sites fun and travel with training with a variety of high level masters throughout China. During that time we assisted him and advised him on the next move to bring his training to the next level.

Arvid at the time of the filming through our support and that of his Master studied in China for two years.

For further information contact us at info@StudyMartialArts.Org or visit our website. www.StudyMartialArt.Org Or why not view our other testimonials here.

Top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China

You owe it to yourself not to be the drunken foreigner and more importantly the wrong type of drunken foreigner and let yourself down. Remember the purpose of your journey is to Study Martial Arts. Heavy drinking won’t help you reach your aims and objectives and may cause you, your hosts or school and Shifu to loose face (embarrassment).

Drinking in China and smoking is common place. With cheap alcohol and cigarettes everywhere, this is not the best place to run away to if you want to change these bad habits. This must start at home.

Most social drinking in China is primarily associated with eating. Most drinking takes place around the dinner table and meals as a way to cement relationships and do business. As a topic this subject could easily have a series of blog entries but that will be a story for another day.

Here are my top 5 tips for surviving drinking in China in brief.

1. Showing respect when drinking is probably one of the first things someone will explain to you. When drinking tea or when drinking alcohol with a superior clink your cup/glass lower. Its super simple and easy to remember. But its much appreciated by your elders, fellow guests, shifu’s. The rest of the customs and rules need not be learnt straight away and are things you’ll pick up on or learn as you go. As a foreigner you’ll not be expected to know them or everything.

2. When inviting or being invited out for dinner or meals in China. The standard rule of thumb is usually the inviter pays unless stated otherwise.

3. When drinking follow the lead of others at the table in terms of speed quantity and times. Whatever you do avoid mixing baijiu and beer. You should remember drinking in China can start very slowly but once the individual toasting starts it can be rapid and all those small cups will start catching up on you especially if you’ve insisted on drinking out of turn.

4. If you don’t want to drink have an excuse prepared in advance or warn your host of this. Excuses related to health tend to be the best. Having tried many over the years these where best received by hosts and guests. If you’re not going to be drinking much but still want to show respect have tea ready in your cup and don’t empty the cup (ganbie) just drink as you wish (suiyi).

5. Eat, eat and eat. Show appreciation and be a good guest.

If you would like to learn more about how to survive in China why not check out my post on 10 Mistakes Foreign Martial Arts Students Make in China.

An Family Martial Arts School

Here is our latest StudyMartialArts.Org Video. In this video you’ll see footage from our visit to An Wushu Family Martial Arts School.

An Wushu International Martial Arts School is a kung fu school steeped in family tradition. Located in Prefactured City of Dezhou within Shandong Province the school is just two hours from the capital Beijing by fast train. Dezhou and the School is therefore easily accessible for those wishing to experience traditional Chinese martial arts training.

The school offers both full-time and part-time classes to both Chinese and international students with the international students primarily being taught by An Jian Qiu.

Teaching at the school takes place in a picturesque setting and there is both indoor and outdoor facilities. This school offers a warm welcome to those who are serious about studying martial arts and learning about Chinese culture. Recent improvements to the school mean that it can cater for long term students providing both accommodation and food.

Like and share…

 

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Tibetan Sky Burial

by Kerrie Henderson

“Separation of the body and soul”

photo 1(2)This morning, in the hostel in Kangding a Chinese guy asked me whether I’d been to Sida or not. For a lot of young Chinese people it seems to be this years ‘In’ destination… “and did you see the ‘tianzang’ (i guess he didn’t know the right words in English…) ?… I really want to see…” I did, but at Sida I wasn’t that comfortable with it.

I’ve seen one before, 2-3 years ago whilst biking through Gansu province. A body was carried up a hill and a gathering of Tibetan relatives and lamas stood or sat watching. There were a few foreigners there too, but we all knew that our cameras were to be kept inside our bags. We stood watching for around an hour or so… in awe of the birds, their size, their grace and the way they sat on the hill silently, waiting for their turn to pick at the remains….

In Sida its very different. Around 12.00 a handful of drivers stood outside the hilltop hotel yell ‘去天葬吗 ?and Chinese tourists haggle over prices or ask around to find others to fill up their cars. Around 12.30 most of the cars have made their way down to the bottom of the monastery complex and are beeping at each other as they negotiate their way through the muddy bumpy truckstop village at the bottom. The beeping and racing continues as the cars go down the road, turn and go up a smaller narrower mountain road. Its raining but the car park is already half full and its hard to see the end of the line of cars still making their way up the mountain. There are already around a hundred or so tourists, all Chinese stood behind a rope when I arrive. A couple of lamas and nuns (maybe real… maybe tour guides dressed up… I’m really not sure now…) were telling people to stay behind the line and not to take photos of the body or of the people surrounding it. I pointed my camera at the birds, as awesome as I remembered sat waiting patiently on the top of the hillside, looking for the right moment to make their way further down.photo 2(2)

I have no idea when the ceremony started. There was a nun singing ‘o-mani…’ and lots of Chinese people talking. I guess the ceremony wasn’t quite what the Chinese were expecting as most had left within 1/2 an hour or so. I stayed watching the crowd thin, and staring at the line of vultures sat on the hill above me. I couldn’t help wondering why the the vultures were more interested in watching their friends than eating lunch, and then realised I was doing the same thing, not really watching the ceremony and the proceedings but the behaviour of the crowd, and the way the Chinese people reacted to what they were watching. There were a lot of ‘i’m very cold’ and ‘I’m hungry’ ‘s… There were people taking pictures of the birds squabbling over the body (the very thing the monks told them not too…. and, yeah I know I shouldn’t have taken 2 of the pics. here but my iPad doesnt have the same super sized zoom lenses that many of the Chinese photographers cameras do…) A few Tibetan people were gathered around the monument at the bottom, near the pit where the body and vultures were and a few more groups were scattered around the hillside sat quietly. I wondered what they thought about what they were seeing… their relatives death being turned into a macabre tourist attraction, and how westerners would react if a group of Chinese tourists turned up at a church burial wanting to watch when and how the coffin was lowered into the ground and to take pictures of it.  photo 3

I can’t help thinking that death and the ceremonies that surround it are a personal thing, for the families and friends of the person that died. In western culture funerals are usually sad events, but in other cultures (and sometimes in the west, but not often), they are happier occasions, a celebration of the deceased’s life… and that being invited to watch the ceremonies associated with it is a privilege, not something that people should expect to see when they go to a Tibetan tourist place.

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I wonder whether the monastery is deliberately encouraging the tourist crowds. The sky burial site has a large white monument and construction is underway to make it and the car park alongside it bigger. In Gansu, the ceremony and the place where it took place was simple, the surroundings natural. There was a weird beauty to the proceedings. In Sida there was nothing ‘natural’ about it. 10 minutes or so later when a young boy took my ipad off me to look at my photos I realised that the tour guide/nun had stopped singing and had disappeared. A few minutes later I saw her lead a group of people across the grass, one of the places where were told not to go. The people in her group were pointing their cameras at the vultures and the body below and no one was stopping them. By this time the crowd had thinned out. Horns were beeping as the cars were pushing past each other to make their way out of the car park. The vultures were still picking away or watching and waiting. I stayed a while longer, watching the birds, the snake of cars slowly making its way down the hillside and the small groups of Tibetans sitting in the distance. I couldn’t help wondering who were the vultures. I don’t think the monastery intended to promote this type of tourism, but now that seeing a 49 day old corpse being pulled apart by vultures is one of the latest ‘in’ things for Chinese tourists heading to Sida to see I don’t think it will be easy for them to control.

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But back to the story… I asked the guy why he wanted to go and see one. ‘because… because everybody talks about it. It sounds good. I really want to see. People say Sida is the best place to see it.’ ‘Maybe you should see it.’ I told him ‘It might make you think…’ but, judging by the group of tourists I watched 4 days ago… I doubt it.

The Tibetan sky-burials appear to have evolved from ancient practices of defleshing corpses as discovered in archeological finds in the region. These practices most likely came out of practical considerations, but they could also be related to more ceremonial practices similar to the suspected sky burial evidence found at Göbekli Tepe (11,500 years before present) and Stonehenge (4,500 years BP).[citation needed] Most of Tibet is above the tree line, and the scarcity of timber makes cremation economically unfeasible. Additionally, subsurface interment is difficult since the active layer is not more than a few centimetres deep, with solid rock or permafrost beneath the surface. (Wikipedia)

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