Shaolin Temple // China Trip 12/21

Most people go to the beach or skiing during the winter holidays. Not me. Always up for an adventure, my wife and I traveled to China where we visited friends and family, saw the sites, ate, shopped and got lost. As always, my eyes were open for insights on culture, consumers, branding and marketing - you’ll find them in this set of posts - most starting with a bit of business, followed by some fun (and strange) trip stories. (4th in a series) Insights - After our too-short stay in Shanghai, we’re off to Henan Province to visit the Shaolin Temple, which was the birthplace of Chinese martial arts. I’m excited to see what this is all about. Maybe I’ll jump into a class, do a little sparring. So I thought.

Having seen an impressive but unengaging demonstration by the students at Shaolin, I found out that the real thrill was walking the historic grounds where kung fu was invented and the place where Bodhidharma sat for nine years while he conceived of Zen Buddhism. By the end of it all, Christie and I felt as though we’d shared a powerful experience, but not for the reasons we expected.

This is kind of how it goes with experience marketing. That is, it works because it mimics real life. In this case, my affinity for the brand was strong enough to endure a little let-down, which is something most of us can never count on. But in the end, the Shaolin brand delivered, because it enabled me to discover new things about it, and about myself.

The best brands find ways to deliver both — reliability and discovery. It means you have to deliver on the basics and then overdeliver on the extras.

Trip Notes - It’s a 90-minute flight from Shanghai to Zhengzhou. Like I learned in Europe in the summer, we see again how much better the airlines are in other countries. We’re on China Eastern Airlines — a clean, new-looking plane with a friendly staff and free meal, even on this short flight. The announcements are in both Chinese and English, and I can’t help thinking about how difficult it must be to get around in America if you don’t speak English.

Zhengzhou is just a pit-stop. It’s a little town nobody’s ever heard of, except for the seven million people who live there, and perhaps the residents of Richmond, VA, Zhengzhou’s American sister city. We’re picked up by the guide and carted off to Dengfeng in the Songshan mountains — an actual small town (about 60,000) and home to the Shaolin Temple and the 30,000 kung fu students living at the city’s 100+ kung fu schools.

After shivering through the quick kung fu demonstration (20-odd young boys flying through the air), we move up the hill and visit the remainder of the temple grounds. One beautiful building after another as we walk through China’s most famous Mahayana Buddhist temple.

Pagoda Forest, where the monks from the Shaolin Temple are buried

We then make our way to the Pagoda Forest, where the Shaolin monks are buried. I’m not sure why this is interesting, but it is. After taking pictures in front of the forest’s oldest pagoda (791 AD), we snap shots of the newest, which has carvings of the monk’s favorite modern comforts: an airplane, video camera, laptop, train, and cruise ship. Really strange.

Shaolin photo album