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-My Travelogue in 2009

China Tai Chi & Culture Trip 2009

Participants: Tai Chi UK Group
Number of Participants: 15
Trip Date: 4th April to 19th April


Saturday 4th April 2009

We all left in Healthrow in the afternoon. The flight was smooth and uinbeventful. We arrived to bright sunlight, a slight haze and 20 degrees heat. The airport was totally changed from the one I came to about twelve years ago. It is light, bright, airy and a brilliant piece of architecture. We were met by Chen Lei, who took us to Mengxi Hotel, which is not far from the "Bird's Nest" stadium which was built for the last Olympic Games. After lunch and an initial briefing Chen Lei presented us all with a gift bag which included information, Tai Chi trousers, a T-shirt and a beautiful silk jacket. He then took us on an orientation tour to the local amenities; supermarket, bank, Internet cafe and so on. After a little free time we walked to a down the road for a "cook your own' Mongolian hotpot dinner at a local restaurant favoured by Chinese rather than Westerners. It was a great evening and everyone agreed that peanut-flavoured sauce was a winner. We were captivated by the fact that we each got our own little burner and cooking pot.

 

 

 

Departure at Heathrow Airport

Arrives in Beijing

Welcome Dinner



Sunday 5th April 2009

Today we went to Tianamen Square. There were thousands of visitors there, many Chinese, doing exactly the same thing that we were, seeing the sights and enjoying a glorious day our; the weather was even better than it had been yesterday. If we thought that the Square was busy then we were in for a shock, as the Forbidden City was even busier. Everyone was in holiday mood, although our guide (English name Jack) assured us that this was a normal state of affairs. Apparently the Chinese Government has been encouraging tourism and Chinese people have more money to spend. We walked into the City through the South Gate, also known as the Meridian Gate. This would have been were servants and lesser officials were housed and did business. We then entered a square. On either side would have been the offices were business would have been conducted. To the North was were the Emperor would have resided. Beyond would have been where the Emperor's concubines and children lived. Very few people would have managed to get very much further into the City than the Meridian Gate, let alone as far as the Emperor. To see this huge arena filled with people, and the inner courtyard further in, was quite amazing, and so very different from the formal lines of courtiers who would have lined the square, bowing low as they could never have gazed upon the face of the Emperor. A rickshaw ride around the older part of the city brought us to the home of a lady who had lived there for thirty years, She had cooked lunch for us - it was another sumptuous and tasty banquet. The ride back to the coach was a little like a surreal Chariot race as the drivers vied with each other to pass on very narrow road, while pedaling furiously. Not an easy job if the driver in front was also pedaling furiously.

 

 

 

 Visit Tian An Men Square

 Our Australian Family

 Lunch at a local family



We were going to stop in Beihai Park, but it seemed as though everyone else in town had had the same idea to go there, so we went to a Teahouse instead and had a tasting session of various teas; Oolong, Jasmine Pear, a flower tea where the flower blossomed in the glass, Pu-er tea to help you slim and lychee and rose tea which was to soothe and help you to sleep. Fascinating. We all spent too much money on buying some to bring home.  The coach took us back into a restaurant near to the place where we were to see the Peking Opera. After another superb dinner - we would get fat if we were any better at using chopsticks - we wne to the show. It involved part of the story of the Monkey King, and was excellent. They were very good actors, with a good sense of humour, and the stylised fighting was well done - some of the moves were even recognised, including 'monkey verses spear' and 'twirling', to mention a few.



Monday 6th April 2009 (cont.)

8:35am start to Ba Da Ling where we were going experience the Great Wall of China, now an Internationally recognised site of world importance. On the way there we had a brief introduction to the Chinese language and learnt how to signal numbers up to ten with just one hand. we also learnt a few important words such as "toilet" and "tea", as well as the more polite "thank you" and "hello", and we were introduced to the four tones. We visited a long established and prestigious Cloisonné factory, where were able to view stages of the whole process for making top quality cloisonné ware. As this factory made goods specially for the Imperial family they developed a very beautiful deep blue enamel. This was solely for the use of the imperial family. The highest quality ware are often coated with pure gold, in a process which is kept secret even now. Again, another opportunity for shopping.

On reaching the Great Wall we encountered thousands more visitors, again mostly Chinese. We were able to walk considerable distance along the wall - as the whim took us. The views were amazing, and we could see the Great Wall snaking off in both directions, following the highest contours of the land. It was an incredible feat of engineering and muscle power! Some of the inclines were pretty incredible as well!
After lunch, at a more touristy restaurant than we have been to up until now, we went to the Tombs of the Ming Emperors. The site chosen by them was governed by the principles of Feng Shui, at the base of mountains, so the mountain would protect them from the wind (and any bad spirits) and near a river (which would bring new life to them). Although this was previously a sparsely inhabited area the villagers living there now are thought to be descendents of the soldiers left there to guard the tombs. The area is now noted for its fruit trees, apples, cherries, peach and so on, some of which had started to blossom.

 

 

 

 

 Visit the Great Wall

 At Temple of Heaven

 Spring time in Beijing

 Mary at the Great Wall



The first Ming Emperor, Chengzu Zhu Di (1360 - 1424) and his Empress, Xushi, built the first tomb, which was started in 1409 and completed in 1427. It covers a huge area of 120,000 square metres. The other Emperor's followed Chengzu's example and about 14 of them are buried in this area. From there we went to the Sacred Way, along which the body of the Emperor was carried to its burial place. It is lined on both sides by beautifully carved paired statues of court officials, warriors, animals and mythical beasts. There are two pairs of each, one depicted standing, guarding the Emperor, the other pair kneeling, to show respect. This was a very peaceful, almost meditative walk between the delicate waving willows trees which lined the route. We appreciated the cooling temperate as we walked back to the bus.

We also appreciated the fact that the hot water was now available again, after the previous days emergency. A quick shower and we were ready for our Peking Duck banquet. We were all seated around a very large circular table and enjoyed course after course of delicious food, including authentic Peking Duck, not the crispy kind most of us have encountered before. It seemed to be enjoyed by everybody. A short walk back to the hotel to re-pack (and store) most of our luggage to travel more easily over the next few days as we move to Shaolin, Wudang and Xian.


Tuesday 7th April 2009

Our guide took the opportunity to teach us a little Chinese on the way to Temple of Heaven. He also tried to teach us a well-known Chinese song. We were not too bad with the tune, but needed to write the words down in order to have any hope of singing it with him. We did, however, learn how to say "I love you" ....you never know when that could come in handy!

As we approached the place in the park where we were to do Tai Chi Ball we saw lots and lots of people. many were doing ribbon dancing. Some were doing repetitive exercises to music that looked a little like line dancing, some were playing with a large feathered thing that looked like a shuttlecock. They were kicking it around with their feet. Between 3 to 4 people played together in a group. There were also people doing large circular movements with things that looked like plastic tennis racquets and plastic balls. There must have been hundreds of people joining in. They made neat, regular lines. Many more people were standing at the edges of the groups and watching. Some of the groups worked to music. Each group was up close to the other groups, so you could hear the music clearly. The time passed very quickly because it was such fun - and required a lot more control than you would think, but it has endless possibilities. People were so kind. They would smilingly off help, moving their hands to show what the movements should be, smiling encouragement - and taking photos. Everyone was so positive and welcoming you wanted to join in. They made you feel very welcome. It was an amazing experience, one we all thoroughly enjoyed, so much so that many of us bought racquets to bring home. On the way out of the park we passed hordes of people in groups engaging in all sorts of activities, some playing cards, some knitting, some practicing karaoke, some playing musical instruments. Everyone seemed to be engaged in some sort of activity. After lunch we visited the Temple of Heaven, built by the Emperor Chengzu. It has three distinct layers, signifying heaven, the living world and hell. It was a beautiful blue colour and we had a good view of the city from the terrace.

 

 

 

 At Temple of Heaven

 Taiji Ball Class at temple of Heaven

 Boat Tour at Summer Palace



Lunch was near the entrance to the Summer palace and so far the only one that was not superb. After lunch we went into the Summer Palace. Actually it is more like a large and very beautiful park surrounding a lake. The emperor built it for his mother, who loved to walk, even when it was raining, so he had a colovered walkway built along the side of the lake. We took a boat ride across the lake in a dragon-shaped boat and then walked back along the side of the lake, passing many magnolia trees in full bloom. They were absolutely fantastic. Near the lake at one point we passed  a row of miniature blossoms trees covered with deep pink blossoms. It seems every Chinese People are all happy, smiling and having a wonderful time waking, boating, flying kites, playing, picnicking and generally chilling out. Fantastic!!!!! We were all surprised that our Guide Jack took us to a boat tour of the Lake. It's relaxing and fun!

The acrobatic show afterwards was thoroughly enjoyable and included acts such as tap dancing (River Dance style) whilst juggling up to 9 balls, two men hand balancing to music, up to 12 girls going acrobatics involving bicycles ending with all twelve on the same bicycle, three children who did hand balancing with a crutch-type support, a slack wire balancing act, two contortionings who balanced trays of glasses whilst balancing on one hand, a group of girls using diabolos, light poi that glowed in the dark and boys in green diving through hoops.

Beijing train station is enormous, and there is a very long way to walk through marbled halls filled with people all attempting to get to their train. I am glad that Chen had advised us to travel light and leave our main luggage in the hotel we would be returning to at the end of our trip to Shaolin, Chen Village and Xian. We moved swiftly through the station and soon found ourselves in the First Class waiting room. Not long afterwards the train arrived and we got on board. We divided up into groups of four as there were four berths in each compartment; the youngest (or those who could get up there) volunteered for the top bunks. It's again a great experience of Chinese Train.

Wednesday 8th April 2009

We were met by "Rocky", who was to be our local guide. The coach took us to Fengulang hotel, a very grand and beautiful hotel with imposing buildings on three sides of a square with a magnificent fountain in front of the entrance. The rooms were fabulously spacious, the beds enormous and the bathrooms a delight. It was wonderful to indulge in a hot shower and a change of clothes.

Our paper-cutting session was held in the restaurant where we were to have lunch. A uniformed guard saluted us and rows of smiling girls wearing red uniforms all greeted us with "Ni hau", and other Chinese versions of welcome, as we were taken in and up to a private room where we were to have our paper cutting session. Apparently very few tourists come to this area, or to this hotel, so they were making sure that we were thoroughly welcomed. The local schoolchildren were coming out of school as we came past, and found us fascinating; there was much giggling and waving.

 

 

 

 Paper Cut Workshop

 Visit Professional Wushu Team

 Dumpling Making Workshop



A lady who had been doing this for over thirty years showed us how to fold and cut the red paper squares into flowers. She demonstrated wonderful patterns of birds and flowers. She worked amazingly quickly and the designs were intricate and beautiful. After another particularly wonderful lunch we set off for Nunnan Museum. Shaped like a pyramid with a little hat on, it is unique in design. Although it holds some artifacts which are exceptionally old, many over 3,000 years old. Unfortunately partially closed, so we were not able to view all the exhibits. After lunch we visited a local Martial Arts Academy to see a class in session. There was a group of about 14 - 20 children, two boys of approximately ten years old, the others were older, some looked about 16 or 17. They were practising various disciplines. Some were practicing for the National Games to be held later in the year. One of the boys is expected to win a gold medal. The enormous practice hall was divided in two by a row of freestanding mirrors. In one half there were three very large mats. The boys were working in three groups. The younger ones were practicing parts of a hand form that looked as if it came from Shaolin. The older boys were variously practicing swords, spear and saber. Their sabers were metal, flexible and made quite a rattling noise as they performed the form, which is very different from the one we learn. Each one took turns to use one of the three mats and then another would take his place to demonstrate his routine. Two coaches sat at one side. Sometimes they gave a nod, sometimes a word, sometimes an explanation quietly with a slight move of arms and body. Then, after a word from the senior coach, the boys who were to go to the competition went through their routines in full. The others stood a little way of and, at specific times during the routine, chanted loudly. There was applause if a move was correctly done. They were thoroughly self-disciplined and hard-working. The students were obviously diligent and their teachers had great reason to be proud of what they had achieved together.

After a short lesson on dumpling making - which was more about how to fill and seal dumplings - and dinner -some of us went outside to play with the Taiji balls. We found a lovely place near the fountains. The nearby buildings were floodlit and illuminated the garden where we were practicing. We even persuaded our guide to try it. 


Thursday 9th April 2009

Last night most of us had agreed to meet up for tai Chi at 7 am. We met at the fountains in front of the hotel and ran through our usual routines. There were so many other people doing exercises there already; it was almost like the middle of the day. Some were moving to music, in what looked like a cross between Tai Chi and line dancing, others were playing badminton, some were stretching, some doing Chi Gung and some doing various kinds of Tai Chi, some in groups, some on their own. There was a wonderful atmosphere; lots of positive vibes, lots of interest and quite a few smiles. We went through our routine and all agreed that they felt better for doing it.

Breakfast brought another delight as we discovered little parcels of rice and dates wrapped in leaves like parcels. We had checked put and left the hotel by about 9.15am, to be met by our new local guide, Caroline, who was to be with us for the next few days as we visited Shaolin and Chen village. Many dynasties had had their capital cities in Henan province, especially in Laoyang. Shaolin is about an hour and a quarter to the SW. It is famous for Buddhism and for Martial Arts, especially Shaolin Kung Fu. Originally most of the local people practised Daoism, but during the Wei dynasty the Emperor was impressed by a Buddhist monk, Buddidama (Putidama), who came from India. He went to the top of the mountain to meditate. He meditated for years and combined body movements with meditation. After watching the animals he created the style called animal Kung Fu.

 

 

 

 Kung Fu Show in Shaolin

 SCIC Group with the Monk Warriors

 Hard Qigon Demonstration



Arriving At Deng Feng (pronounced Dung Fung) city we parked beside a playground. Imagine our surprise to see that it was filled with students in red track suits practising in groups. Groups were practising kicks, others punches, some sword form, some pieces of form. It was amazing to watch. 80% of the curriculum is based on Fung Fu and the other 20% on ordinary schooling.  Some of the students put on a demonstration for us; Shaolin style. There was sabre, many other weapons, a man who was held up in the air balancing on the point of a broad spear and then on the points of five spears.  Another one had a tin vessel placed on his stomach. We tried to pull it off but were totally unable to move it; he was then suspended by this vessel underneath a pole held by two others. There were exercises to prolong life and improve strength - we would have said he was a contortionist as we would have had no chance to get into such positions. After lunch we went to a hotel beside  a Kung Fu school for a session led by four of the senior students. They started us off with a few moments of meditation and then moved on to show us two routines, one internal, one external. We could choose which one we wished to learn, and would be split into two groups. Some chose external and had one of the students as a teacher but most chose internal style and so the other three students worked with them. The first group did a slightly different version of Ba Duan Jin and the second group learnt a short routine called Five step boxing (tricky, but a lovely sequence). It took us an hour to try and learn or sequence - and a lot longer than that praticing it afterwards to try and make sure that we could actually remember it. There was so much to see and do and so many new things to experience that it was hard to contain it all. More fabulous food for dinner!


Friday 10th April 2009

This morning we visited one of the best Kung Fu schools in the town. There are over 6,800 students from all over China, 500 of whom were girls. The youngest of them is only two and a half. Playgrounds were full of different classes practising  a variety of skills. We were taken on a tour of the school and visited a classroom of 5 year olds who recited at poem (at full volume, with very wide open mouths) for us. Their enthusiasm and engagement was delightful.

At this point I think I have got the days muddled up - it was so full of Tai Chi and demonstrations and we so so many amazing things ( and have done so much more since) that I am going to have to admit to having not made enough notes at the time - we were far too busy!  All I can say was it was stunning to see what those students could do. Back to the hotel for dinner. In the evening we went to the local park to play Tai Chi Ball, even though the light was beginning to fade. Some of the locals came up, curious as to what we were doing. We had a few spare bats and balls so handed them out. Very soon we had quite a large group all trying to master it - and having much more success than we had been having! Although we could not speak each others language we were able to share a laugh and the joy of discovering something new. It was great fun.  We also discovered that we could get a massage at the hotel for as little as six pounds - so went to bed thoroughly relaxed.

 

 

 

 Visit Shaolin Temple

 Kung Fu Show

 Kung Fu Show



Saturday 11th April 2009

Today Chen Village, to see where Chen style Taiji started  and to discover more about Chen Wang Ping.
In hard times during the Ming Dynasty a 9th generation ancestor escaped from Shanxi province. He was good at boxing and very strong. He helped some of the local people to deal with bandits - and they helped him. We visited the Chen Library temple and then went to see the Chen family home. It was there that Yang Luchan secretly watched the Chen family practising Taiji in a courtyard beside a garden. He would go off and practice by himself.  One day he was discovered practising but was allowed to continue to learn. Eventually, after 18 years, he moved to Beijing were he taught Taiji. The centre of Government was in Beijing. He only taught the simplest of the Taiji moves, and thus created Yang style.

Lunch brought a surprise, as a special soup had been ordered for us - it was the house specialty, Taiji soup. It looks like the Taiji symbol, but with chopped green herbs on one side. After lunch we visited a Chen-style school. where were saw a display of Chen style form, ball, sword , double swords and  big pikes. Then it was our turn; one group learnt a little of the form, another part of the Ball sequence (ball being the equivalent to a basketball). Our heads are now completely overfilled with information - or at least mine is!

Back to the hotel past terraced fields with wheat growing, evidence of coal mining - large chimney stacks belching thick dark smoke. All along the roadside on the way back, at various staged on the journey home, we passed people were cutting rocks into uniform shapes by hand and stacking them into neat piles. Smaller stones were stacked up nearby in piles. It was amazing to see so many groups of people occupied in this fashion as we made our way back to our hotel.


 

 

 

 Group at Chen Village

 Demo of Tai Chi School

 Tai Chi Class with Chinese Students



Sunday 12th April 2009

Today we set off early, as we had a two hour journey to visit Longman caves. The weather was slightly cooler (although not enough for a jacket) and hazy. The sun continued to try and break through the haze until lunchtime. 

Longman caves are situated beside the River Yi, which joins up with the Yellow River, the longest river in China. This river was also really wide, and seemed very fast flowing. Hundreds and hundreds of caves had been carved out of the limestone cliffs along one side of the river. They date from 493AD, during the Sung and Tang dynasties. Over time almost 60% of the site has been destroyed. This was due to the fact that different Emperors had different views on Buddhism; some were very opposed and ordered people to destroy Buddhist architecture. As well as that, even more damage was done during the Sino-Japanese conflict between 1937 and 1945. Finally the local population discovered that there was a market in the West for statuary and removed and sold many of the Buddha heads. Today the biggest problem is dealing with erosion. Although remains were not buried at this site people were remembered by the placing or carving of a statue to Buddha. More important people tended to have larger caves - and larger statues. There is a natural cave amongst the  caves, but most are man-made. When someone died a cave would be made and a statue erected. In the three middle caves only the middle one is complete. It is in the Northern Wei style, this tended to have thinner looking Buddha. The Tang style depicted Buddha as being slightly fatter. Originally people went to the caves to honour their ancestors and to worship statues, nowadays they do not.

 

 

 

 Visit Longmen Caves

 A local Shop in Luoyang

 Chinese Practice Taiji Sword



The day we went happened to coincide with the Peony Festival, and there must have been easily 60,000 to 70,000 people visiting the site, walking along the road by the river, climbing the steps, viewing the caves, and generally enjoying a Sunday afternoon out with family or friends. Everyone was in good humour.

Next we visited an exhibition of a traditional craft - paper-cutting. Pictures are made by carefully cutting away pieces of the paper. Some of the pieces were amazingly intricate and showered birds, flowers, ladies, country scenes, dragons and mythical creatures.  After lunch we transferred to the train station to take the 15:17 train to Xiangfan, where we were to make the transfer by coach to our hotel at the bottom of Wudang Mountain. We were very glad that we had been advised to take a small piece of luggage with us, and to leave the bulk of our luggage in Beijing. We were slightly delayed, so did not reach the hotel until late, so saw the lights of the town, but were not to see the mountain until the following day.


Monday 13th April: Wudang

Mount Wudang is the home of Taoist monks. Our guide, Helen, explained the Taoism in a series of little stories:-A student asked his teacher what was the difference between jade and stone. The teacher replied that the stone has dust inside but when you hold the jade up to the light you can see that the jade is clean inside. we should aspire to be like the jade. A person should be like water. Water is soft and yielding at it can overcome stone by its gentle constant motion. We should learn from the turtle because the turtle goes slowly, without strain. It continues steadily and has great longevity.

It is now days later than this. We have been to Wudang and Xian and are now back in Beijing, on our last full day before flying home. I've run out of time to tell you about all the fantastic experiences we have had. All I can say is that they saved the best part of the trip until last. You should experience it for yourself, if you possibly can; I am not sure that my words could do it justice. So, I am signing this Travelogue off now. I hope you have enjoyed the snippets (muddled or not) of our trip to China.

 

 

 

 Purple Cloud Temple at Wudang

 Wudang Tai Chi Show

 Learning Wudang Tai Chi



It is early morning - the Internet cafe is half full of youngest people; some playing games, some working - one across the way from me is fast asleep in his chair! I need to get to breakfast and sort out packing as today is a full day: workshops this morning, the Silk Market this afternoon and a Farewell Dinner this evening, not to mention and thing else that crops up, so I bid you Farewell and see you soon.
 

If you are interested in this trip, please click here >>

 

 

 

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