China Travel 2018 – A Second Try

China Trip – 2018 – Prolog

October, 2017 my trek to Mogao Caves was suddenly shortened to return to the US. JoAnn had broken her leg and I returned to take care of her. I was in Beijing at the time, and packed and returned to the US. Training at Mogao was postponed. They were very kind and accommodating to postpone at the last minute and I was not certain we could reschedule the training. Fortunately they kindly rescheduled and so I am again leaving for China for five weeks in Mogao working with the English speaking guides.

China – 2018 Departure

This time I decided to take United Airlines even though there is a connection in DC, Dulles, because I was returning with a stopover in San Francisco and United had a more convenient Beijing to SFO flight.
The sequence was Boston to Dulles on UA 525 at 0935 to make the connection Dulles to Beijing on UA 807 leaving at 1250. Then an overnight in Beijing to make a 0640 Air China flight to Dunhuang.

The DC to Beijing segment was quite filled in economy and I upgraded, at quite a premium, to a row which was not filled. On boarding, the window seat was now taken, but there was more leg room and with the middle seat empty, it was less claustrophobic. Departure was delayed due to unspecified issues which the pilot continued to update us with less than usual information and more of “they are working on it.” This is the second consecutive time I have taken United on an Asian flight and had it delayed.
My priorities on flying are get out my books and magazines, settle in, find the earphones and the In-Flight entertainment and put on some music. I found there was no music channel on the onboard entertainment. The Flight Attendant told me that it was because the licensing fees were too high. Too high for United with their financial and Management issues. OK, I had lots of reading material. I monitored progress with the In-Flight route map. I noted after an hour that we were taking a different route from the usual North West over Canada. In fact, we were headed due north. The Flight Attendant confirmed, that this was true and in fact we were going to pass over the North Pole. Over the top and then turn right. Following up with the app www.flightaware.com, the route was mapped out. In fact, from the data reported we were about 1600 miles from the true North Pole before we turned more eastward.

There must be a reason to fly this route, because it is longer and takes more time. Not knowing the details, I would guess there are fees that United can avoid with this route. Flying this route, the left, west, side of the plane has continuous sun while the right or east side of the plane was in continual darkness. Flight time at 13 hrs. 34 min.

Arrival in Beijing with United means a gate at the terminal. Hainan, with the shorter western route stops on the tarmac and you transfer to a bus to be delivered to the airport.

Overnight at a nearby hotel in Beijing allowed for six hours of sleep before a 4 AM wake up call to catch the 0640 flight to Dunhuang.

Arrival in Dunhuang at 1010 and Lucy was there to meet me.

 

 

www.overseventy.xyz / www.rpinkowitz.com

expand your mind   :   stretch your body

 

CHINA 2017 – A NEW ADVENTURE BEGINS

Off to China – 2017

Modern Technology Makes Travel Almost Easy

Slightly prior to the one year anniversary of last year’s trip I am off to China again. This time, JoAnn has her own agenda and is not accompanying me. It has been a fortunate coincidence that my retirement was last Friday, Sept 29 and I the trip to China was planned to start on Tuesday Oct 2nd.
I was invited by the Dunhuang Academy to spend a month at Mogao working on the cave presentations with the English Speaking Guides. The best time for training is when no one else wishes to visit, so alas, my trip is not during pleasant weather. The best bargain was November. At least not the dead of winter.
This allows three weeks in October in Beijing studying with Margaret at the Mandarin Zone School. I will start with a side trip to the Shanxi Museum in Taiyuan and then to Datong, to see the Yungang Caves, the last of the major Chinese Caves I had not yet seen.
Off on Hainan Airlines flight HU482, non-stop between Boston and Beijing. This is a wonderful development. That longer routes are being flown, and non-stop from Boston, saves four hours. Avoids the stop-overs required by other carriers. Further, their planes are newer and cleaner and the service is quite good. Yes, a bit conflicted about not using a US carrier, but the benefits with Hainan are too significant.
Planes are numbered, a fact I had never considered and the Boeing 787-9 on this flight was Hainan Number B7667. Amazing; anything you wish to know seems to be on the internet. Without many clicks I found that the Boeing number 62720 and it was delivered in July 2017. Only three months old.
Last year we postponed our trip for a week because it coincided with Golden week, an autumn week long holiday in China. We were warned that everyone in China is travelling and sightseeing that week, but this year I had few alternatives.
The flight, in the middle of Golden Week Holiday was not completely full. Many families, with small children, returning to China. Yes, lots of crying during the flight making sleep on board difficult.
Retirement brought the change of medical care that is highly charged in America. Off the corporate health coverage onto a mix of Medicare gap insurances, dental insurance, vision and hearing insurance, and Plan D, pharmacy coverage. Did I miss something in the list? Possibly! New rules, co-pays, different coverages, donut holes, etc. it is quite confusing, but possibly worthwhile so that we understand our costs and coverages. Truth be told, we did spend the month of September visiting all of our caregivers for last minute procedures, prescriptions, etc. Going into retirement and Medicare coverage, we feel we are as healthy as possible.
Preparation was quite hectic for us both, JoAnn and me. Two months away for me and JoAnn planning her month in London. But quite amazing what has become possible in this modern world. Finding flights, trains and organizing connections are an at home compute project. Hotels, homestay, any sort of accommodation rentals, are at the control of the mouse. Maps, reviews, competitive information, Google maps to see the neighborhoods all in advance of a decision. I can price as well as the local travel agent.

It does extract a toll. I was mentally exhausted with I boarded.
Further amazement at this modern world, arrival in a foreign country, place your plastic card in an ATM, enter your identification and within less than a minute you have made a withdrawal from your account and are handed local currency.
The taxi driver has a GPS with exquisite address and location information, down to feet. An obscure address of a residence can be located with this technology and I am securely left at the door of the hotel, not down the street, on a dark night.

Bingling Si

Bingling Si

Leaving Xiahe, we drive to take a boat to Bingling Si.  The caves which are on the Yellow River have been partially flooded due to a dam built across the Yellow river creating a large lake.  Our guide Lydia knew of a dock closer to the temple that wold make shorter boat ride and lower cost.  To find it, we had to navigate an unpaved, rutted dirt road off the main road.

Off season rates, or maybe special consideration for our guide, the cost was only 500 RMB for the round trip, 20 minutes each way.  The day was calm and the ride was very smooth and we cruised at about 30 kts.

Arrival at the Bingling Si dock we decided to have lunch on the permanently docked boat.  The food wasn’t too bad, Joann had an eggplant dish and I had the beef noodles.

At the ticket gate we tried the “We work at a museum in America, let us in for free,” approach, which did not work.  We then went for the “Old person” discount, which gives us discounts and at BingLing Si was half price.   Thing have changed over the past years, or maybe my Chinese has improved.  Previously they demanded the Chinese card for old age, but now they look at my passport and give the discount.

BingLing Si is a very peaceful and serene environment.  Sandstone cliffs, obelisks surround the canyons below.  This Buddhist site is clearly prepared for tourists with marble fences and tiled pathway.  Beneath the walkway, which is probably filled with water at high water season, is marshy grass and reeds.  So cool and serene.  Very calming.  I can see how monks would choose this space for meditation.

After a few minute’s walk you glimpse a silhouette of the giant Maitreya statue and then you come upon the carved niches in the mountainside.  They have good descriptive labels, and they are numbered in sequence from our start, starting with number 3.  Earlier niches were carved lower in the cliff and have been damaged by the waters of the reservoir.

We have arbitrarily agreed that niches do not qualify as caves in our goal of “30 caves in 30 days.”  The art and architecture are from the same periods as earlier caves and they are great examples seen up close.  There is a greater degree of carving and statue at Bingling Si. The style shows a great influence of Indian art in the clothing and body positions.

Cave 3 – Tang Dynasty.  Central stupa, typical Tang architectural item.  Niche in left hand wall had statues, barely seen, but quite Indian in style.  Wall painting well preserved.  Stories in blocks as in Kuqa, not free form as in Dunhuang.

Cave 4 –   Tang dynasty.  Buddha seated not in Lotus position. Nicely draped robes over legs.  Ananda quite slim and fit figure.

Cave 5 – A nice niche with a seated Buddha.

Cave 10 – Tang dynasty.  Buddha with disciples.  Not only are there disciples painted on the wall, looking over at Buddha but we found images of disciples in Buddha’s aureole.

Niches 17 – 47 are a series of sculptures and reliefs along the wall of the cliff.  They are wonderfully stylized.  Much Indian influence in the postures and clothing of the women.

Cave ? – A sculpture of Avalokitsvara with five heads and eight arms.  She was repainted later.

Niche 134 – A wonderful small composition of Buddha, disciples and attendants.

Maitreya – Best seen from across the canyon to appreciate her size and artistry.  She is not completely Chinese, with a nose, eyes and lips more central Asian than Chinese, but with an oval face. Her not too complex drapery of the clothes indicates an early stage effort.

Unfortunately being off season, the upper floor caves and niches were closed to the public.

The pathways back crossed Grotto 16, from the Wei Dynasty which had a clay sculpture of Buddha in Paranirvana.  In this case, Buddha had feminine lips and face.

We returned to the car and drove to Lanzhou.  Rush hour in Lanzhou was a third world experience.  One of three major North-South routes was under construction and was reduced to a one lane unimproved road.  Lydia, our guide said that all roads in Lanzhou were under construction.  This seemed more third world than economically developed nation.  China still has a way to go.  One mile took one hour.

Hotel in Lanzhou, a Crowne Plaza was certainly five star.  Unfortunately we were there for one night with little time to appreciate. The accommodations.

Beijing Subway – Contagion of Courtesy

Courtesy – An Infection

 

               Beijing subway travel during rush hour is a numbing experience.  Within two weeks of morning rush hour travel I too have become personally desensitized to the discomforts of the train.  It is a torture you endure until you are released onto your destination.  I sense from the running of many on the street that the discomforts of the train are only the beginning of the daily grind and that the race to work may indicate indignant bosses carefully watching the clock.

               My habit at my starting point Shilihe Station is to get on the line at the bottom of the stairs.  At this door is a very nice guard trying to keep order as the masses push and pull when the train doors open.  Keeping people from pushing forward and blocking the doors so people can exit the train is his challenge.      

               There is no courtesy for those exiting the train.  The crowd of people waiting to get on is a formidable force.  As a group they are focused and their energy is combined and they will push each other to pack the train.  The individuals exiting are not as unified.  The first group, prepared to exit are organized and their group energy can overcome the energy of the entering group, but the stragglers trying to exit as individuals are often overwhelmed by the onslaught and swept backwards into the train car, even further back than before.  You can hear their cries of helplessness and despair.  The crowd is unmoved by their problem, they are determined to get on, no matter what the cost to others.

               One morning, with the usual scrum standing in front of the door I noticed a woman carrying her child, probably two years old, standing with others in the middle of the lines.  I asked the woman in the front of the line whether this woman with the child could get in the front of the line with her.  Women, the kindest of our species, understood the woman’s predicament and agreed.  She moved to the front of the line holding her child. 

               For the next moment our door was organized.  People were standing in two lines on each side of the door, not crowding the center, allowing people to exit.  Did the act of courtesy remind them of their humanity?  Did, for that moment, they remember what their parents taught.

               I hope, for one moment they stopped and thought.  I hope they pass it on.

 www.overseventy.xyz     :    Expand your mind.  Stretch your body.             

Beijing Traffic – Bikes, YIKES

Traffic Beijing – YIKES

My Beijing Bike
My Beijing Bike

 

               What was I thinking when I decided to borrow a bicycle for a ride on Saturday afternoon.  YIKES.  If women readers need confirmation that men don’t always think things through, this story is a  confirmation that they are correct.

               The traffic in Beijing is terrifying.  Not the volume, which really isn’t much different than any major city.  It is the lack of any discernable rules, or maybe the rules are not followed.  Since a battle between a human being and anything motorized favors the motorized vehicle, pedestrians beware.  In Beijing you check all four directions, left, right, ahead and definitely behind before crossing.

               It seems that everything is well organized.  There are pedestrian sidewalks, lanes for bicycles and scooters and lanes for cars.  On many roads there are high barriers between bike lanes and auto lanes.  There are red and green lights at the intersection and at major intersections timer’s countdown seconds to light change.  One hint is that there are also red and green lights for scooters.  The cars are identical to auto brands those found in any city.  They have motorized three wheel vehicles, called Modi, used for many things, flatbed in the rear for delivery, enclosed plastic cabin, good for one person, in the rear as a mini taxi.  Scooters and bicycles, some motorized, complete the picture.

Modi in Action
Modi in Action

       

               The only rule I have observed is that cars do not drive on the sidewalk.  That is unless they are parking on the sidewalk, which happens with regularity.  Otherwise, the rules are flexible.  It is a wild west, open territory.  Maybe, I am expressing a cultural bias that western rules have intrinsic value and purpose. 

               I will start with the rules from most followed to least, or maybe not at all.  Cars fall into this category.  They mostly follow some rules.  They have licenses, registration and maybe some sense of responsibility.  The most, not always followed, is driving on the right.  No, not all cars on the road are going in the same direction.  Not often, but once a day I see a car on the right hand side driving opposed to traffic.  The driver has not made a mistake.  He probably wants to go back home and going around the block takes too much gas.  Also, the most, but not always followed, is stopping and waiting at a red light.  More frequently, actually always, cars are going forward or making left hand turns when there are no oncoming cars.  Do not expect those drivers to stop for pedestrians, maybe they slow down, they definitely honk horns.  You can be a hood ornament on a Chinese car.  That ends the most followed, but not always followed rules.  In truth, these are the only three rules I have seen followed with any consistency.

                      All other vehicles, which by the way, significantly outnumber cars, follow their own rules.  Not their own, as in Official Rules for Scooters, but as in, I feel like doing this, rules.   You avoid scooters, bicycles, etc. on the street, sidewalk, and street corners.  They come from all directions all over.  They are kindly ladies with grocery bags, women with children on the back, delivery men rushing to get the hot meal out and return.  The amazing and most frightening is the three wheel delivery cart which somehow they manage to pack to three times the width of the vehicle and twice the height of the driver.  These things are perilously balanced, viciously wide and quite abundant on the streets.  Then the people on bicycles.

               The courtesy is that everyone honks a horn when they are about to pass.  This makes for a very noisy road, since everyone is passing the bicycle and honking, scooters with men are passing scooters with ladies, scooters with one person are passing scooters with two people, cars are passing scooters, Modis, bicycles and each other.  Honk, HONK, HOOOONK. 

               Nearly two weeks into my stay, my legs are tired from walking I asked my landlord if I could borrow a bicycle.  He gave me a choice and I took the black one without the child seat.  Neither was high enough for an adult but choices were slim.  I’ll make do.  A sunny Saturday afternoon, Panjiayuan, the wonderful flea market was only one mile and a quarter away.  What a short ride on a nice day to test myself.

               YIKES.  What was I thinking?  Actually, I was clearly not thinking.  If standing on a corner as a pedestrian was risky, what was I doing in the melee?

               In the world economy, China is inching up on America as the world’s largest.   We should not mistake this for the reality of life for the individual.  China’s population is four times the US population and the income per person in China is therefore one quarter of that in the US.  This is a calculation easily made in the abstract, but becomes real on the ground in Beijing.  The bicycle he offered, which he considered, “good” would be in the junk heap in America.  But off I went.

                Pedaling into the street, I stopped to make check for oncoming cars.  To my surprise, SURPRISE!!!!, the brakes did not work very well.  Left into the street, no cars, over to the bike lane on the right.  One block to warm up.  Whoops, a car parked in the bike lane, have to move left to the traffic lane.  Whew.  No problem.  Coming onto the corner.  All of a sudden a motorized cab pulls in front of me and stops.  Quick stop, no brakes, put feet on ground.  New lesson, really go slowly.  

               Left turn onto major street.  Even though I am on the right side of the right lane, bikes, and scooters are coming towards me.  Who has the right of way?  I focused my eyes on the oncoming rider waiting for their commitment to a direction.  Maybe it was also the focus and expression that said, “You had better move because I am not.”  

               The next two blocks were the major challenge because they were very large thoroughfares.  The bike/scooter lane was separated by a barricade from the car lane, but cars were coming at me and then other bicycles, and then scooters and then some more cars.  Sometimes I swerved and sometimes the screech of the brakes gave me goose bumps.  Then on to Ring Road 3.  This is one of the extremely busy roads.  The bike/scooter lane was barricaded from the auto traffic, but still bikes, scooters, cabs, etc. were coming toward me in this narrow lane. 

               Arrived at Panjiayuan.  A 10 minute bike ride replaced a 25 minute walk.  A bit sweaty, but triumphant.  This is not Wal-Mart or the local fairgrounds.  There is limited parking.  Scooters have a parking area overseen by a woman who is quite competent at collecting her fee.  I found a railing and began to lock my bike and she came along to charge me 2 YUAN.  A public street, a public railing and still being charged.  After my death defying ride, 2 YUAN, about 30 cents was not worth the debate.  Later, my landlord told me that the usual charge was 1 YUAN.  Ripped off before I even got inside.

               What a wonderful feeling.  I had arrived at Panjiayuan, slightly damp from the exercise, 2 YUAN poorer, but refreshed.

               The ride home, like the ride out, was highly eventful and challenging.  Even more cars decided the bike/scooter lane had less traffic than the car lanes and the lane was crowded with parked cars.  Cars with tinted windows are difficult to stare down, and they are also bigger, so I spent much time screeching to a halt and ducking between parked cars.  Getting more confident I followed the rules for bicycles, the I think I want to go there rule.  Light was red, couldn’t cross the street so I went up the wrong way on the pedestrian crossing.       

               One more block to go and still survived.  Arrived at the gate.  Decided to get off the bike, walk it to the building and lock it up.  Walked upstairs to the apartment. Took off my coat.  Got into bed and curled up in a fetal position.

www.overseventy.xyz     :     Expand your mind.  Sgtretch your body. 

China Dichotomy – The Subway

 

The China Dichotomy – The Metro

Platform at Rush Hour
Platform at Rush Hour

My Chinese friends have always argued that my perception of Chinese courtesy was wrong.  “They are nice to you because you are American.”  It is hard to believe and reconcile my personal experience of continued kindness and courtesy by strangers with the native belief that Chinese are not nice.

Maybe as a tourist, I never looked closely, or had the opportunity to view China closely.

I decided to spend one month in Beijing for intensive language study.  With more than one billion people speaking Chinese, it is probably a useful second language.

I am settling into the routine of travelling to my 9:30 AM lesson.  It is a 20 to 25 minute subway ride from my residence, on the South side of Beijing, to my class in the Chaoyang District, near the Central Business District of Beijing.     Seven stops from Shilihu to Tuanjiehu on Line10.  Line 10 is the outer ring of two lines that circle the center of Beijing.  The rings lines are intersected at Transfer Stations with other lines connecting the entire grid.  On Line 10 during rush hour, between 7 and 9 AM, the next trains arrives within a minute or less after the other leaves.  They are moving people of the platforms, but not as fast as they are accumulating.

The trains leaving are more than crowded.  The train has taken its maximum from the platform, leaving others waiting for the next train.  Within that one minute between trains the line extends, people waiting to get to work.  The platform is isolated from the tracks by a glass partition.  The train stops and the train door lines up with the door on the platform.  Lining up for entry is well marked.  One orderly line on each side of the door.  Human nature, being what it is, there are always people trying to move to the head of the line, and they are met with polite comments, which they quietly accept and usually move to the back.

The train arrives, the doors open and orderliness disappears.  This may be the similar to the Black Friday phenomenon when people are trampled by others so focused on their quest they lose their sense of humanity.    In Beijing, this is a daily event repeated every minute or so for two hours, not limited to a few people and a few stores.  It is actually numbing.  For some there is resignation to the situation, for some it is discomfort, but for some there is fear.  The force of the crowd is far greater than they can manage and they are physically controlled by the crowd.  For many, their effort will be futile and the ability to determine their own direction is lost.

The train arrives and people push off and are met by people immediately pressing to get on.  It is nonviolent physical confrontation.  In this mix of oncoming and off going people it is a challenge of will and physical effort to win achieve your goal.   It takes me two trains to move from the end of the line to get on the train.  My judgement when the car is full, people barely fitting in, is to stand back and wait for the next train.  But, that is an obscure courtesy.  There is always some person, even sometimes a petite female, pushing into the crowded train, squeezing one more body into the filled space and then pushing on any available wall or ceiling so that they do not get expelled, until the doors close.  People are more pliable than oranges in a crate and can be squeezed and not crushed. For me, at nearly six feet tall, I have space above my shoulders to breathe and see, but pity the smaller people, heads buried in another’s furry collar.

The crush invades your body.  In the first stages of the crush you are surrounded and may wiggle or twist a bit.  Not wiggle or twist too much so as not to create some impression on your neighbor, who is now is a physically intimate as sexual partners, yet clothed.  But when that last person pushes himself onto the train, you are then locked into the position you last held.  There is no room for movement.  Your clothes are pressed tightly against you because the adjacent person is also squeezed against you.  The agony on faces of smaller people, without air to breathe is disturbing.  The situation exacerbates when someone tries to get up from their seat.   People are locked into position, beyond movement and now one more person is added to this crowd.  Before someone can be removed from the crowd to take the seat, an elegant dance occurs.  This takes at least six steps.  They must wiggle and squeeze until the seated person can clear the seat so that someone can then sit.  Shoulders twist to present a side view as the person knifes into the space the other person created by turning sideways.  They find the next seam and turn sideways in a different direction and the next person obliges so they can slide across each other.  The pressure from each step, adding a person and removing more space from the crowd is felt three or four people away from the action.

During Rush Hour on Line 10
During Rush Hour on Line 10

This travel extracts a toll on people.  Resignation at the daily ordeal is written on everyone’s face.  In one case, the woman was a bit late, or maybe polite in standing behind someone, when the doors opened.  In the five seconds it took her to try to get to the opened door, the oncoming wave of people literally swept her further back into the subway car.  Her helplessness in the situation was disturbing.  One day I was standing near the car door.  It opened and a woman was being swept out of the train by the crowd.  I was able to grab her hand and pull her back.  A drowning person swept away, being saved by a helping hand.  She was appreciative of my help.  Surprisingly, she did not appear to be very shaken by the experience.  To her, it may have been routine.

Existing on the Beijing subway takes advanced planning and thought.  One day I was engaged in conversation with someone and the doors opened at the stop before mine and the crowd came rushing in.  Too late.  I was now at the door waiting for the stop and six people deep.  The door opened and four of the six in front got off.  The other two were not moving and the crowd began to rush inward.  This is not pleasant, and for those squeamish, please go immediately to the next paragraph, but the big guy in front who was not moving and not planning to get off at Shilihu stop but who would not budge to let me by, did find himself on the platform at Shilihu trying to get back on.   He looked left trying to see what was moving him, I moved right, blending into the crowd.  Sorry Mother, I know you taught me better.

I expend effort on the subway to smile at everyone, say “Hello” and try to remind everyone that there is comradery in even this numbing situation.  That you can create human connections in this inhospitable experience and that the misery can be shared.

As I leave the subway, a bit sweaty from the bodies I enter the building which houses the language school.  The selfsame people from the subway are courteously lined up waiting for the next elevator.  No pushing ahead, so cramming into the elevator.  A very civilized situation.

I leave it to the professionals to draw lessons and parallels from this experience.

 

www.overseventy.xyz     :     Expand your mind.  Stretch  your body.

Luoyang

Luoyang and Longmen Grottoes 

 

Multiple niches in Luoyang
Multiple niches in Luoyang

               Longmen Grotto in Luoyang is one of the four major Grottoes in China.  We have visited two already, Mogao in Dunhuang and Maiji Shan near Tianshui.  Unfortunately, on this trip we will miss Yungang Grottoes in Datong.  Which gives us an excuse to visit again. 

Luoyang is different than the other sites, but it is possible that it is in the presentation of the caves.  Kumtura, Kizil, Bezeklik, Mogao and Western 1000 Buddha Caves focused on larger caves which could include many people even to the size of caves for larger assemblies of worshipers.  Luoyang, like Maiji Shan, were mostly niches, which housed small and very large statues.  Few of the “caves” in Luoyang appeared large enough to allow large assemblies of worshipers.  I would call most of the work at Luoyang, niches.  However, while we were allowed inside Mogao and others, Luoyang was only viewed from the outside,  and the majesty of the cave may be lost. 

What is most impressive about Luoyang is the quantity of sculptures.  Every available cliff space is occupied by some sculpture.  Between niches are marvelous miniature carvings.  The wonderment at the extent of the work is startling.  Your eyes roam away from a major figure and then is confronted with some marvelous miniature with exquisite detail. 

               Luoyang was an ancient capital of China in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) when it moved east from Xi’An.  The earliest caves at Luoyang date from the Norther Wei Dynasty, the early sixth century.   The Longmen Cliffs are on the bank of the YI River.  The western cliffs have the greatest number of carvings including the largest, the Fenxian caves.  They claim over 2,000 caves and niches and over 100,000 statues. 

               It does seem that the earliest caves are in the Northern portion of the Longmen Grotto, closest to the city and newer caves were sculpted later.  There are three Binyang caves.  The central cave is the oldest, Northern Wei, about 523 AD.  The Buddha in this cave has facial features typical of Northern Wei, elongated face, slimmer body a quite a humorous smile, the robe covering both shoulders and flowing robes with many folds.    Buddha is flanked by his disciples, Kapsyapa and Ananda. 

               North Binyang cave, to the right of the central cave was begun in Northern Wei but finished in Tang Dynasty.  This cave has the Buddha’s right hand in the Kapitthaka mudra, two fingers pointing upward, “removing fear.  South Binyang Cave was also begun in the Northern Wei Dynasty but completed in the Tang. 

               The major sculpture are in the Fengxian cave which is about 30 m x 40 m (100 feet by 130 feet).  The central Buddha is 17 meters, about 56 feet tall.  The cave was commissioned by Empress Wu Zeitian and it is said that the Buddha resembles the empress.  She was the most powerful woman in China since her husband, the Emperor, Gaozong, has a stroke and was incapacitated.  Five figures are in this cave, two flanking on each side.  On the northern side, the side accessible from the city of Luoyang are two Guardians, Vajripani first with quite a fierce look and strong pose, and then Vaisravana who is holding the protective stupa and is poised standing upon a vanquished earth spirit.  On the right of Buddha are two disciples, Ananda and Kapsyapa, Kapsyapa quite destroyed and a Bodhisattva. 

               The view for the east side of the river has a good view of the magnitude of the effort in carving the Longmen Grotto.