After training in Tai Chi in Yangshuo, I took a couple of days to rest from my intensive training in Kunming, also known as the city of Eternal Spring. The weather was beautiful, and it was dry, which was a beautiful change from Yangshuo.
I moved on to Dali, a pretty old town, loaded with tourists. I was expecting to only stay a night or two, enough time to see the historic temples and the wonderful mountain scenery… except I got bad food poisoning and stayed in bed for four days. The manager of the hostel was great: I was upgraded to a great room with a TV! I guess he felt bad that I got ill from the food from his kitchen… I caught up on world news thanks to BBC world, and am now up to scratch with so-called “new” American foreign policy and floods in Indonesia.
Once I got better, I traveled to Lijiang, in province of Yunnan, despite what other had told me about the over-touristification. Indeed, the historical old town has been taken over by tourist stalls and swarms of Chinese “foreigners” invade the city every morning. I did get up early for my morning jog and Tai Chi, and loved the cobbled stones, the crazy streams that run throughout the town, and the maze of streets. I found the park, and pretended to be a local so as not to pay the 80RMB fee (about 8 Euros). Unfortunately, there were no old ladies practicing Tai Chi, so had to find a deserted back alley to go through the moves without herds of photographers crowding me.
In China, people love to stare, especially at white people. I regularly get photographed or filmed when I am walking about town and doing random things, such as eating or doing Tai Chi.
It took me an hour to find my way back from the park to the guesthouse.
Later that day, I visited the “blue papaya”, a restaurant in the Old town, which advertises its links to the so-called “Lijiang Cultural Exchange Centre” boasting courses in Chinese medical massage, Tai Chi and calligraphy. But as I tried to mime to the waitresses about this, they tried to kick me out. I persisted and it paid, as a phone was handed to me, and a very kind English speaker explained that indeed there was such a place, and if I wanted, I could be escorted to the premises immediately.
And so I was. The puzzled waitress asked me to follow her, and took me through the cobbled labyrinth of the old town. I tried to memorise the way, but lost count after we turned a dozen time. We walked into a shop, and she invited me to sit down. The television was showing a soap opera no-one was watching, the radio screaming a random Chinese pop tune, and the kettle was boiling. My attention turned to a man standing up, biting on a paintbrush.
When one travels, one is bewildered at the amount of utter random events that may occur. This man was completely armless! He was writing some Chinese characters, and he did so by holding the brush with his teeth, moving his whole body the way a martial artist would, to paint beautiful ideograms. I got lost in his ability to move to quickly for such a podgy short man, until a handsome Chinese man tapped on my shoulder, and motioned me to follow him. The waitress, my first guide, nodded in approval and promptly left. I followed the man, who addressed me in Chinese. I apologized in English for my lack of Chinese, and it seemed he apologized in Chinese for his lack of English. We walked quickly out of the old town, and into a residential area on a nearby hill. The altitude here is around 2500m, and this fit young guy was basically running up! I struggled to keep with the pace. He later told me (via an interpretor) that it was him who was struggling, and he was just following my lead.
Shanna welcomed me into her home and school of martial arts, amongst other things. We immediately clicked, and spent the whole afternoon talking about Chinese Medicine, martial arts and Chinese culture. Fascinating.
She is Tibetan, daughter of a wealthy Doctor of Chinese Medicine, escaped Tibet and the Chinese repression. She owns the restaurant in town, and is a confirmed internal martial artist and Chinese massage therapist. She knows many doctors around the province of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet.
She invites me to stay in the school, and Adu helps to get my luggage. Adu is training in Chen-style Tai Chi in the school, he also helps running errands. We mime random things, laugh a lot and decide to become each other’s teachers. He teaches me the word for dog (go), small dog (sho-go) and big dog (da-go). There are many dogs in China, and they bark constantly. I am now used to this constant background sound, which has become the soundtrack to my life here!
Over the next few days, I spend hours discussing with Shanna and her boyfriend about the very subjects I have come to China to learn about: Tai Chi, Traditional Medicine and Xi Gong. We get on, and we exchange massages. The food here is delicious, the bed is comfortable (there is no heating, so it’s only about 10 degrees in my room, but I am starting to get used to it, and the duvet is from Tibet, so it is geared up for that kind of weather!) and I am learning lots.
My days here are divided up by practising Tai Chi, giving or receiving treatment, walking around the countryside, learning about the theory behind traditional medicine and eating delicious food! I am very much enjoying my time here. I am also learning Chinese language and calligraphy. Starting with my new Chinese name: ma-yu-lan, and going onto everyday words.
This afternoon, I am going to meet a 90-year old doctor, who is willing to treat my shoulder and teach me a thing or two about manual therapy. He is a friend of Shanna’s father, and despite being retired, is happy to give me some of his time.
Shanna also suggested I go to Chengdu’s hospital, where friends of her father work, and I could follow some classes there. She has also invited me to meet her Father and Daoist practitioners, who live in the mountains of Sichuan. I am not sure whether I will have time for this though, as I am meeting my sister in a few weeks in Shanghai, and going to these remote places would take me a lot of time.
I have published more photos, check them out on facebook (you can access them even if you are not a member by following this link) http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=106946&id=671740139&l=cd5e2d9790