I have been very busy, with a total change in my activities and lifestyle thanks to the arrival of my sister.
The Internship in the hospital went very well, I practised many different new techniques on fellow Chinese medical students and patients. My understanding of the human body was challenged more than once, and I take away an incredible experience.
I arranged to meet the Kung Fu master of my Tibetan teacher of all things Chinese from Lijiang (Yunnan). This man, master Liu, lives in the city which was devastated by an earthquake just under a year ago, at the foot of ChongChing Mountains (the most Chinese sounding mountain in the world). Legend has it that this mountain was the home of the first Daoist monk in China, some thousands of year ago.
Daoism is the main religion here in China, it is also a lifestyle, a way of life and a philosophy. All principles of Martial Arts, Confucianism, Feng Shui and even Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are based on Dao (also spellt or pronounced Tao) which literally mean « The Way ».
Master Liu is the “Abbot” of Daoist martial art, which originate from this sacred mountain. There are 5 main types of Kung Fu and Tai Ji, such as Shaolin, Emei mountain and ChongChing. He is the keeper of this knowledge.
I met the master, his wife and one of his students, a French Canadian fluent in the local Sichuanese dialect who was to be my translator.
After a tumultuous journey from Chengdu, the province’s capital, to the master’s home by train, bus and taxi, I was asked to show the form of Tai Chi Chuan I have learnt previously. I have learned the 24-movement form of Yang-style Tai Chi, which was derived from Chen-style and is now practised mainly by old people as a way of keeping fit.
It took me a couple of weeks to learn by heart the choreography and I have been practising everyday since. It had been less than 30 days since my introduction to this ancient martial art, and the Abbot of Daoist Tai Chi asked me to do a demonstration? Of course, I could not say no. So I started by apologising profusely!
I walked over to a small patio, sheltered by blooming lilacs, as the master, his wife, his student, the maid, the gardener and his young daughter watched me. I had just rushed from the hospital and I had not had time to change, the journey was taxing and I could hear my tummy complaining from the lack of lunch. The nearby road’s traffic sounds – car horns, loud trucks, buses stopping and starting – and my shaky legs prevented me from focusing on the task at hand. On top of that, my onlookers were commenting my every move and talking loudly.
I started my routine despite not managing to centre my wandering mind. I knew the first few steps of the demonstration and the first impression were of utmost importance and I realised I was not doing them justice. I could feel panic and worry affecting my whole body, so I forced myself to pay attention to my feet and my hands. I smelled the air and enjoyed the light fragrance of spring. I felt the warm sun filtering through the trees on my skin. I touched the air and the slight breeze. I felt the ground underneath my feet. And I continued, this time totally into what I was doing.
I found myself moving effortlessly from one position to another, despite not having warmed up and having been sat down in various transport commodities for the last few hours. I glided around, I kicked, and I punched in slow motion. My spectators finally quietened down; it seemed a few birds have replaced their incessant chatter.
I put my feet together and returned to my initial position. A few deep breaths were my vehicle back to reality. I smiled to myself, I felt relaxed and happy by my little demonstration. I turned to face my loving public who were clapping loudly, despite my lousy demonstration. As I sat down to drink my celebratory tea, I realised how deafening the traffic actually was and wandered how I could even hear any birds!
The master asked me, via the interpreter, how long I have practised for. He looked surprised by my answer and congratulated me.
I was so scared to show him what I had learned that I forgot how hard I have been working. I have been feeling very passionately about my newfound sport/hobby and have been practising daily. He was happy to see I have worked hard and enjoyed myself.
He decided to show me some basic techniques of his style of Tai Chi, which are said to mimic animal gestures.
After a few hours of practise, his face lighted up. It was time for a “Hot Pot”, a Chinese fondue. It is a very popular dish here in China. You need:
– a big round table with a hole in the middle containing a gas stove,
– a large group of enthusiastic (and preferably rowdy) eaters,
– copious amounts of beer and cigarettes for everyone to share,
– a large amount of random foods,
– and much tea.
The meal goes like this: whoever is inviting (and paying the bill) gets a menu, and chooses what the guests will eat. He (because it is generally a man!) also orders beer, spirits and cigarettes. Meanwhile, impeccably dressed young women serve tea to all those at the table. That night, it was about twenty of us; including 3 women.
Everything on the table looked tiny: plates, bowls, cups, glasses and spoons (… even the people: I am at least a foot taller than any of them!). The large hole in the middle of the table was filled by a huge hot pot of boiling broth. It was divided in two sections: in one was clear broth and in the other was red broth: the soup made with plenty of chillies!
And the party began. All the small glasses were filled with beer, and we all clunk our glasses with the master. I drank a sip before replacing my glass on the table. All my neighbours did the same, except their glasses were empty by the time they touched the table. To be polite, one must down the first glass. I quickly rectified my mistake and the content was gulped down. My glass was promptly refilled.
Another toast! To our host! Cheers all around, everyone stood up. Yep, cheers to free food! Again we all down our glasses and slammed them back on the table. Again a refill.
A toast to the white people! My translator and myself clunk our glasses with everyone, and down yet again. I noticed that the Master is downing glass after glass of soy milk. A wise man indeed.
My last meal had been breakfast, I trained for hours in the sun and I started to feel dizzy. The master noticed and ordered the others to stop refilling my glass and offered me some soy milk. I accepted gladly.
We had so many different types of food I did not recognise, including local fresh fish, bits of animals we tend to not eat in the West (including chicken feet and marinated duck head) and even fresh water “sea food”. The crowd thought I was very bravo to try the foods and downed a glass for each piece of kidney, liver or unidentified animal part I ate. I gulped it down with soy mil, tea and the occasional glass of beer when the Master got distracted.
We ate for hours, as the food just kept arriving. All the guests but the Master and myself were completely off their faces. Most were now convinced that I could understand Chinese and spoke loudly to me.
After many “doi-doi-doi” and “ah-ah-ah” (both yes-yes-yes in Chinese) we finally left all our drunk friends and got ready for our early start tomorrow. What better time to study Tai Chi than 5am the following day.
A few days later, I flew to Shanghai to meet with my sister, leaving my backpacking lifestyle behind. She is in China for three weeks, two of which are a business trip and the other a holiday in Beijing with me.
Once we part ways, I will leave China and head over to Indonesia, to discover their ancient manual therapy and over there it will be easier to keep my blog updated.