Tag Archives: Tai Chi

Training with Tibetans in Lijiang, Yunnan

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

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Tai Chi School – Yangshuo

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

The view from the training space

The view from the training space

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!

One of the training areas

One of the training areas

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!

Training...

Training...

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!

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Guangzhou – old Canton

Settling in to China and its hussle-bussle. My new adventure started as early as Singapore, when I was the only white person in the Airport: it was 4am in the budget terminal. I boarded the plane, and already got stared at by the flying attendants, the passengers, the children… “I am going to have to get used to that again” I thought as I sat down on an empty row of 3 seats. I was able to sleep in a fully horizontal position through the four hours of my flight, which I considered as a good omen for my on-coming travels.

Guangzhou security made my going through customs the most painless process ever, and happily wondered to the luggage collection area. Police, security, armed guards are everywhere. Not only in the airport, but on the bus, on the street, in shops… Not sure whether that makes me feel safe, or quite the opposite!

The only review for the hostel I booked online was that it was “clean” and it sure is! I even booked myself the luxury of a single room en-suite, as I figured I would want some peace and quiet. And my first night – and its 15 hours of sleep – justified my need for my own space!
I have been out and about to explore the city, before making my way to Yuangsho, where I will be studying Tai Chi and Chinese Massage.

Everything in China is huge! Here a minor road...

Everything in China is huge! Here a minor road...

In the mean time, I am getting used to Chinese food… Yum. After three days, have only gone to Chinese-only, no white-faces or English menus type places, with much miming and pointing involved, and have tasted delicious noodle soups, wonderful shellfish (that I actually later threw up, but they were tasty nonetheless), and incredible dumplings. Also fresh pineapple, lychees, rambutans, and funny looking fruit I had never seen before. And not a single meal for more than a Euro.

Delicious Chinese Food

Delicious Chinese Food

It is incredibly cold – I was told it would be between 20 and 30 degrees, but a very cold front has settled in, and at night it gets to nearly freezing temperature. Shame I don’t have any heating (but I got some extra blankets) I have had to buy a big wolly hat, wear all my clothes at once, and have to keep walking to get warm! What a change from Australia and its soaring temperatures. Glad I made the most of the beach when I had the chance!

Spring... but really cold!

Spring... but really cold!

I have spent quite a lot of time resting, either in bed or in the lounge in the hostel. The rest of my days have been largely occupied by wondering aimlessly in the streets, going from markets to malls, giant supermarkets to McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks. From small, flowery back alleys to giant highways and crazy traffic.
Oh and giant parks!!! What a wonderful feeling to be walking through green spaces, where music blares from every direction, and people share simple things. Couple dance to Chinese salsa in one place, other to ballroom dances in another corner… Terrible singers join efforts to form a choir and sing at the top of their lungs, before youngsters playing Chinese keepy-uppies (with a small weights feathers, resembling a badminton ball) or grumpy old men and their board games.
Young women chase me to clean my hiking boots, whilst others stare blankly at me. My new hat helps to stay more discrete, but my blue eyes are a give away… I sit down to take it in, breathe in the mixed smells of freshly cooked food and ripe pineapple, the distorted songs and mixed music, the laughs all around me… And somehow, just for a few minutes, I feel part of it. The ambiance gets to me, a smile creeps onto my face. Deep breaths help to get this feeling of peacefulness run through me. It follows me around wherever I go, I feel good here.

Park entrance

Park entrance

Today, I went to get myself a new simcard from a Chinese network: China Mobile. It apparently has good reception and very competitive prices. I went to the shop, and showed my old simcard and some miming to get my point across. Sure enough, a list of phone numbers were shoved in my face, with a price next to each one of them. I had heard of this before: because numbers have such an importance in Chinese culture, the price of the simcard depends on what digits are in the phone number. Typically, 6 and 9 are very lucky, therefore are very expensive. Some number with 6-6-6 and 9-9-9 were five to ten times more expensive than the one I chose, a modest 136 222 01 446. Since 4 is the number associated with death, and I chose a number with double four (to the amazement of the shopping assistant, who kept pointing to the many 6 or 9 numbers) I got a pretty sweet deal…
Actually, if you had +86 (code for China) to that, you get the full deal (+86 136 222 01 446), and I can receive text messages from abroad… hint hint….

I also met some cool people in the hostel, who are traveling West also, so we may share a bit of our journey together.
So far, China has felt safe, with most of the people encountered generally helpful and kind. I am looking forward to more amazing food, and tomorrow will go for my first real Chinese massage – performed by a blind practitioner.

Street of Guangzhou

Street of Guangzhou

ps: as predicted, I cannot log in to my blog from China, so thank you Alice for putting this online for me!

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Preparing to leave Australia

Today, Friday 13th 2009, has been a particularly productive day, starting around midnight, as I was giving Qantas a call (really badly managed call centre, basically impossible to get through during the day, but 24/7 service so I call them at night). I have decided to forget all the negatives from this call and retain only the most important: I now have a ticket from Sydney to Singapour, at the end of February, in exactly two weeks.
After a short week-end stopover, I will be heading to Guangzhou, China. This morning, I went to the Chinese consulate to get my visa!! It is so beautiful! It is as if I have passed some kind of exam, and I am now allowed to enter Chinese territory (thank you Mastercard, for paying for it!)

Landing in Guangzhou, formally known as Canton, on March 2nd. It is in the South East of China, a stone’s throw away from Hong-Kong. The sub-tropical climates are not dissimilar to Thailand, and the north of Australia.

Guangzhou, Province of Guangdong

Guangzhou, Province of Guangdong

From there, I will travel to Yang Shuo, in the Guangxi Province, to get to a school of Chinese martial arts. Google tells me it is just over 500 km North West, on what seems like a very windy road indeed. LongTouShan Martial Arts School was recommended to me by a fellow Thai massage therapist I met on a course in Chiang Mai. The school is set up in a small town (rare occurence in China, where any town is a super metropolis) in the middle of the countryside: lush forests, beautiful mountain ranges and lots of outdoor activities available. “Spring in Yangshuo is a good time of the year to visit. Spring last from March to May. In March the day temperature can be chilly but as soon as April comes, the temperature goes up to a pleasant 20°C (70°F). Typically it is dry and although there’s occasionally a shower, this is the time of the year when Yangshuo’s limestone mountains show some of it’s real beauty. Clear skies and sunshine, now the mountains look like paradise.” Yanghsuo travel guide.
There is unfortunately/fortunately a heavily developed expat community and many travelers come through here on the Li River. This is good, as it is easier to get around (the locals are used to the White Giants who can’t speak the language) and many courses (martial arts, massage, cooking…) and activities (hiking, rafting, rock climbing, kayaking…) are available, but not so good as it is not so authentic. (Check out this expat website for more local info)

All in all, it will be a great place to start my Chinese adventures. I will start with Tai Chi and Chinese massage, and see how I get on from there. Depending on how I like the place, the people I meet and the teachers, I will decide how long I stay. The great news is that at the end of April, my sister is coming over to visit and I am delighted to start planning our trip!


This should be my Tai Chi instructor!

I have been reading about Chinese Medicine, and Oriental philosophy; as well as current affairs on China. Another wordpress blogger says that most blogging websites are not available from China, so if I am to continue blogging, I will need to email my stories to someone outside of China, and they can publish them online.
The Chinese Government has put into place what has become known as “The Great Firewall of China” and stops the Chinese people from accessing certain websites. I understand that the Firewall is constantly changing, so during the campaigning for the Olympics for example, there was a certain laxity, but all websites concerning the Tienanmen massacre of 1989, democracy and freedom of speech in general, or anything relating to Tibet are completely banned(and now that I have mentioned these, my blog is definitely banned in China). Other websites are partially banned, as I read on someone’s blog: they could access the sports and entertainement pages on the BBC website, but not the news part.
Certain foreign companies, such as Google decided to create government friendly search engines and programmes, to avoid being completely banned. This has created major protests in the West, as it is seen as a form of encouragement and therefore collaboration. There was an interesting article published in the New-York Times a couple of years ago, for those who have time (it’s 10 pages long) and want more background information.

I am looking forward to China immensely, to see for myself the effect of such a violent, so-called communist dictatorship and the contrast with the peaceful, awe-inspiring four-thousand year-old medicine.

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Wat Po… Final days and plans

Tomorrow is my last day and also my exam at Wat Po. Hopefully this time tomorrow I will be a qualified Thai Massage Therapist. We have learned the “basic” routine which is a two-hour massage which comprises acupressure, stretches and yoga-type positions. It’s great for general suppleness, so I can now bend in many more directions than before. It also really is energising, and since I’m spending 6 hours a day being massaged (yes! yes!) I’m really energised!!! but it also means I can harldy get to sleep at night…

Wat Po - the temple of the reclining Buddha and my massage school

Wat Po - the temple of the reclining Buddha and my massage school

My routine is pretty settled. I get up around 6.30am to have fruit , yoghurt and nut for breakfast, followed by a cold shower before getting the boat to Tai Chi. After an hour of stretching I head to school until 4pm, with a break for soup and noodles. At this point I treat myself to a fresh coconut, go swimming with my new friend for about an hour (Camille mon colloc – tu serais fier de moi, je krolle mieux que tous les Thailandais dans la piscine reunis), take the boat home, have a soup and some fresh fish, meat or veggies… and then Marie-Pierre and I practise massage together before I get to bed.

It’s exhausting! Massaging is very physical, and I spend most of time kneeling, which I am not super comfortable with. It’s crazy how fast my body adapted to it though, because I can now stay in that position for a couple of hours before my feet and legs start complaining. Also being massaged, especially the Thai way (I get walked on a lot, and poked constantly) makes the muscles specifically and the body in general react pretty strongly. I have aches and pains constantly… But swimming and walking around helps.

So I’m in bed by 10pm. It’s not very sexy but I don’t really mind… What is glamour though is that MP and myself are preparing a holiday! Some might say that I’m already on holiday, but my tight schedule would convince anyone that I’m working hard (right?) Anyway, we’re heading to Koh Phi Phi tomorrow after my exam or the next day. We’ll stay for a few days for sure, and then I’ll travel back to Bangkok or straight to Chang Mai on the plane.

What I’ve found out is that in Wat Po there is a therapy course, which is basically how to treat specific conditions (like tension headaches, period pain, low back pains, etc) with Thai massage, i.e. manual therapy. The course is intensive: 60 hours in 10 days and pretty expensive (250 Euros) but I think it would be worth it.
Also, I have learned the South Thailand massage, which is different to the Northern one. I won’t go into the usual North/South debate (even though North London is better than the South) but the Northern one was developped for the popular classes working the land, who spent their days bent over in the rice paddies. It focuses on the lower limbs and is mainly stretch based. It is easily usable on sportspeople who also tend to have tightened, shortened muscles.

Kneeling on someones ankles, not as easy as it looks (does it look easy?)

Kneeling on someone's ankles, not as easy as it looks (does it look easy?)

So tomorrow is Thai Massage Exam (a grilling done by 3 Thai teachers, and a 2 hour massage done on one of them), more swimming and then going to the beach. After that, probably heading to Chiang Mai to learn Northern style massage and/or heading to Bangkok to learn therapeutic use of Thai massage. There is a national holiday on November 5th, where a candle is lit into a lotus flower which is then delicately put on the water/river… If it floats, it brings lots of luck, and the best thing is you can put as many lotuses as you like! Lucky me 🙂

Anyway, everyone will be glad to know my intestines are in perfect working order, that it is raining like pissing cows this evening (another amazing thunderstorm, and a great French expression purposefully literraly translated) and that my mosquitoe repellent is very effective. Also, I am eating like a sumo. Tonight we went to a very Thai 99-Baht all you can eat fest, complete with cross-dresser singer, who treated us to at least 6 out of tune “happy birthday” tunes, thankfully with a selection of delicious meat, seafood and vegetables to grill on a table barbecue, cook in a hot soup or on a proper barbecue. I even got to see Brazil kick some Venezualian ass (4-0 when we left the place)
I have taken some photographs but don’t have my cable with me, so it will be for next time.

Life is good.

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