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Approaching Long Men Caves
On the morning of September 23rd, our only full day in Luoyang, we were awakened at 6:30 AM by the sound of raucous Chinese marching music. It turns out that the square in front of our hotel serves as the venue for an early morning Chinese aerobics class. After starting our day out with a bang, we went downstairs for our first Chinese (non-western breakfast), and met May at 8:30 for the day's activities.
May is our youngest tour guide so far: she has been doing this for six months after graduating last year, and has three years of English language education. She is a great fan of American movies (Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts) and rock and roll music (The Eagles and Nirvana). Mr. Liang is also our friendliest driver so far. He wears a coat and tie and always seems to be smiling.
Luoyang, like Xi'an, is one of China's ancient cities and served as its capital for many years. Our main tour today was to the Long Men (literally "Dragon's Gate") Caves. Beginning in 494 AD, during the Tang Dynasty, the emperor began work on what eventually became a site of more than 2,100 niches and 100,000 Buddha statues. As with the terra-cotta soldiers in Xi'an, we were awestruck by the spectacle of what we saw, and no words or pictures can begin to describe the incredible experience. We were very discouraged to see that many, many of the statues have been completely defaced by tourists and vandals over the years, as well as during Mao's terrible Cultural Revolution. We can only imagine how magnificent these caves must have looked when they were complete and intact so many centuries ago.
Some of the irreplaceable treasures that have escaped vandalism
At the Long Men Caves, we were shocked and saddened to learn that Gail's father passed away. Myron Nigh died of a heart attack on Thursday evening, September 20th (one day after the anniversary of Russell's parents' death). A memorial service was held on Saturday morning. Dad will be cremated and his ashes interred at a new military cemetery park in Myrtle Creek, Oregon.
Before our trip, dad and Gail had discussed the possibility of something happening while we were away (his health had been failing for awhile). He was adamant that we continue our trip -- he had always wanted to travel around the world, and he saw our adventure as the fulfillment of his own dream. In many, many ways, what we are and what we have are thanks to him.
Throughout our trip, we had been purchasing pins from every country for dad to add to his collection. Mom and Gail have decided that the boys will now wear these pins in their visors to remember him. We will continue to purchase pins throughout our travels, and we will add them to dad's living collection.
At the same time as dad's memorial service in Oregon, his great-grandson Keegan Ryan was being baptized in San Francisco. According to his mother, Keegan is a perfect baby, and he behaved very well throughout the ceremony. In China we are taught that everything happens in cycles, and that for every ending there is a beginning. As we grieve, we feel the wisdom of this philosophy.
We are very sad that dad is no longer with us, and we cut short the rest of our day's activities. At the same time, we know that dad was very proud of his new great-grandson, and very proud of us for what we are doing.
For Grandma, with love
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