Yangshuo of Guangxi Province is a quiet village town by Chinese standards, bursting with local tourists, souvenir shops and fantastic restaurants. Away from the commotion, the Long Tou Shan Martial Arts School seems surreal in its pristine environment. The moutains surrounding Yangshuo are quite incredible, random peaks covered with lush vegetation in all shades of green.
I am boarding in this school to get some basic knowledge of the art of Tai Chi. Check out their website: www.longtoutaichi.com
The two teachers are both women, and both masters in their art: Mei and Master Tang. They teach in Chinglish, and make themselves very clear to students of all nationalities. They are very patient, and will show you a move over and over again until you get it just right.
Tai Chi is an internal martial art, and teaches you to control your own vital energy, or Chi, whilst teaching you the bases for self-defense. More info on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi_chuan
It is early days for me, so I am simply learning to “hold the ball” and the dance moves… coordinating legs and arms is more difficult than it seems!
My legendary shortened hamstrings are also getting a good work out, as they get stretched 3 times a day.
My daily routine goes a little like this:
7am – wake up, meditation or jog (depending on weather and mood!)
8.30am – breakfast (either rice and seeds, or noodles… yum!)
9.30 to 11.30 – Morning Tai Chi training
Noon to 3.30pm – lunch, then time off. Generally spent reading (Wild Swan: three daughters of China, auto-biography of/by Jung Chan), studying my books (The philosophy of Numbers in Traditional Chinese Medicine or Chi Nei Tsang Techniques Manual) or even sometimes chatting with my fellow students!
3.30 to 5.30pm- Afternoon Tai Chi Training, often followed by a 30 min run
6pm – dinner, followed by time-off (shower, reading, chatting, interneting…)
9/10pm – well-deserved sleep!
The other students here are great: similar minded, mostly health-freaks, alternative by nature smart people! We have interesting discussion about East meets West, medicine, Yoga/Tai Chi!
It all sounds too perfect! The problem is that the weather here is both cold and damp. The humidity coupled with the draft and the intense cold makes it very difficult to even walk across the courtyard. Obviously there is no heating in my box-sized bedroom, which tends to be colder than an ice-box. I refer to it as my personal fridge. Of course, once in bed, one is used to warming up the covers and in a few minutes feeling very comfortable.
Not here: the percentage humidity is so high that everything is constantly wet. Clothes of course, but also bed linen, pillows, sleeping bag. Getting into bed feels like a bad dream: the thin mattress might as well have been left under the rain, and when pulling the duvet over me, it’s like having a cold shower all over again.
Under this moisture, my knees start shaking first, despite my two pairs of socks, thermal tights, trousers, at least one short-sleeved and two long-sleeved t-shirts under a thick jacket, as well as the obligatory pair of gloves, a scarf and a hat. At this point, I start feeling my knee caps: they start making a rhythmic sound as they bounce on and off my femur. It is then my entire long bone that makes itself known: I can feel the femur precisely, the articulation with the pelvis, the contours of my hip joints… I then feel my tibia and fibula, and every single bone in my ankle, followed by my metatarsals, and all the tiny bones within my toes.
I try to visualize myself on a beach, somewhere warm. I imagine rays of sunshine warming up my body. I generally succeed in limiting the bone-cold from entering my spine, and even make it regress down into my feet. But there is the biggest problem: I have not had warm feet in bed for the last week. Please don’t tell my grandma Jeanne, she would cry if she knew.
My body gives in to the cold, and tiredness takes over, so I pass out and wake up when my alarm goes the following morning. I try to move my toes, but by this time I cannot feel them. I get out of bed, and use hot then cold water alternatively to bring them back to life. When the blue shifts back to white, I dry them very carefully and put some clean socks on – but they are damp because of the humidity. D’oh.
Nevertheless, I am enjoying myself here, and the tuition is good. But if the weather does not change, if the humidity keeps up its current levels, I am not sure how long I can stay in these conditions. Within the short time period I have been here, three people have come and gone due to weather and extreme conditions of living here.
The food is great, the company is awesome, the teachers are fantastic… but the rooms and bathrooms are wet, unheated and mostly unsavoury. Actually, for China, this place is relatively expensive too!
Time will tell… There are many other places I can continue my studies in, that may be a little more comfortable, or at least better value for money!