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African students learn Chinese culture while living at Shaolin Temple

By Xinhua in Zhengzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-22 08:17

Clenching fists, flying kicks, snapping punches - Shaolin kung fu made a big impression on the children in Mabre N'guessan Valerie's village in Cote d'Ivoire when he was young.

"The Shaolin Temple is very famous in my country. I fell in love with Shaolin kung fu when I was 10 years old when I first watched The 36th Chamber of Shaolin," said Valerie, 23, referring to the classic 1978 kung fu movie starring Gordon Liu.

However, the dreams of the children in his hometown mostly faltered in poverty. With neither education nor training, many young people struggled to survive.

"I'm a lucky dog," said Valerie, who entered the Shaolin Temple as a Shaolin charity education program student in February 2012.

Wang Yumin, dean of the Shaolin Temple's Foreign Affairs Office, said that nine students from African countries, including Gabon, Cameroon, Uganda and Cote d'Ivoire, have been admitted with free room and board for a five-year course in Shaolin culture.

Valerie struggled to adapt to Shaolin life at first. "We were not used to the food here, and the language is difficult," he said with a slight French accent.

But 18 months later, he gets along well with his Chinese peers and speaks decent Chinese.

An ordinary day is simple but meaningful, said his compatriot, Yahou Hugues Michael, 29.

They rise at 5:30 am, half an hour before kung fu practice, and by 7 am, they are having breakfast. At 8:30 am, the second morning session starts.

Chinese classes are compulsory from 10:30 am until midday.

After the third training session, in the afternoon, the students are exhausted.

"It's extremely tiring but I am used to it," said Valerie, who added he is physically stronger than when he started.

Wang, the dean, said the temple does not force its beliefs on the African students.

"Though we provide free accommodation and training, and even robes, shoes, socks and other basics for needy African students, we don't force them to cultivate themselves according to a strict religious doctrine," said.

However, Valerie and his friends attend morning prayers, which he said are "pleasant to hear and can quiet our hearts".

Emmanuel Ngalle, 26, from Cameroon, has taken longer to learn Chinese than Valerie has, but Ngalle likes meditating and is interested in Chinese art. In his spare time, he listens to Chinese pop songs and can now sing two Chinese hit songs.

Emmanuel's next goal is to learn Henan opera. "We have a cook where we live, and he likes Henan opera, so he tunes into the same channel on the radio every day," he said.

After 19 months in the Shaolin Temple, Emmanuel is still getting used to Chinese food.

Wang said: "Each student is different in personality. Some convert to Buddhism when they come here. Others focus more on kung fu."

They also pick up other aspects of Chinese culture as they continue their studies.

Michael wants to study Shaolin medicine, but "my language is not good enough. Once it is good, I'll learn medicine and tuina massage."

Despite their uniform gray robes and cotton shoes, they have different dreams for the future.

"I want to go home to find a kung fu school and teach kung fu to local children who cannot afford to study in China," Valerie said.

"Maybe I'll start a school with different courses, not just kung fu, but Chinese language and culture," said Emmanuel.

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