February 24, 2000 07:06am
On the Strip, the Divine and the Carnal Collide
by: Angie Wagner
(LAS VEGAS, NV) -- Meditation and prayer can help a 1,500-year-old monastery only so much when it is in dire need of a face lift. The Shaolin have come up with a more worldly solution.
They packed up 20 Buddhist monks skilled in martial arts from their secluded monastery in the mountains of central China and headed for Sin City.
The monks didn't count on winning any jackpots - the monks, after all, don't gamble - but they did bet that a show featuring sword fights and walking on knives would sell in Las Vegas.
After all, everything else does.
"Las Vegas is not just a city of gambling," said Jian Wang, the monks' manager and interpreter. "It's a city of entertainment."
For this month's two-week run at the MGM Grand hotel-casino, the monks perform kung fu in unison, walk on knives, break granite with their hands and snap iron bars over their heads.
The Shaolin monks follow a strict and chaste routine of meditation, prayer and martial arts training. There are no televisions and no drinking and gambling.
So why come to the city of excess, where alcohol, gambling and strippers are everywhere?
Wang said the visit will not only help their monastery financially, but also serve as a cultural exchange. The Shaolin monks are considered the jewels of China, and the Chinese government gave its blessing to allow them to travel to Las Vegas, Wang said.
"As a monk, you take every corner of the world as your home," he said.
Las Vegas has not only been an eye-opener for the monks. The monks, who always wear robes, usually orange, have gotten more than a few stares as they walk through the casino.
They recently toured Hoover Dam, ventured out on the Strip and even rode a roller coaster.
And what about an urge to slip a quarter in that nearby slot machine?
Doesn't happen, the monks say.
"It's no problem," said monk Shi Yan-Wen.