FTCCG 2003

In March this year Bob Lowey and I travelled to Paris as guests of the French Taijiquan Federation to participate in their annual Internal Arts Festival. Bob was invited as the special European guest, which is something they do every year having previously invited people from Italy, Russia and the UK, among others.

The event drew over 1,500 visitors and for the first time included external as well as internal styles. The doors opened at 10.00am with two areas being allocated for Tui Shou and Qigong workshops. We went to the Tui Shou workshops where a variety of teachers were presenting short seminars of 15 minutes on different aspects of the arts. There were approximately 200 participants of varying ability that made it difficult to focus on the deeper aspects but everyone seemed open to the new experiences. What was particularly unusual was to see external styles like Wing Chun and Jeet Kun Do presented in this environment.

In the main foyer a selection of stands were set up selling books, magazines, videos alongside a Chinese man who was offering some nice calligraphy, done to order. A local Chinese restaurant also provided some tasty meals.

The ‘main event’ of the demonstrations kicked off at around 12 noon when neatly attired schools and individuals from the many regions of France took to the floor to display their skills. Whilst there were many evidently proficient performances, one of the supportive aspects of the show was that those with less experience were obviously encouraged to participate. This aspect helps to focus the student and ultimately improves their overall standard.

Throughout the five hours of display interest was held offering presentations of tai chi hand and weapon forms, tui shou, pa kua, qigong and yiquan alongside simultaneous external forms which provided an interesting contrast.

Because of the political situation anyone teaching martial arts in France must be registered. This means that there is in the main, a more serious commitment to the arts. The professional organisation and presentations serves the arts well and will surely ensure longevity and development.

Bob, in his customary manner, provided further contrast with his fast-paced cane form accompanied to the sound of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues which prompted the 1000+ audience to exuberantly clap their hands and stomp their feet!

Aside from the formal occasion, we spent a very pleasant evening in the stimulating presence of our good lady friends from the French Wudang contingency, at a delicious Vietnamese restaurant followed on our final evening to visit an elegant, traditional French restaurant where we enjoyed the much lauded delights of local cuisine and wines. The late hours of night and the early hours of morning saw us walking off our wonderful meal with a delightful promenade through the enchanting St Germain district where bars were buzzing at 1.30 early Monday morning.

As guests we were treated extremely well by our hosts who considerately took great care to ensure our stay was every enjoyable. Many thanks to Anya Meot, Rhosamie Rodsphon, Marianne Plouvier, and the many others who extended to us impeccable courtesy.

Ronnie Robinson Editor of the Tai Chi and Internal Arts Journal for the TCUGB

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france2005

As we drove around the town for the third time it seemed like we were destined to stay in La Chaux-de-Fonds for a while longer than we had expected. Eventually though we found the right road and our two car convoy set off on its two hour journey to Mullhouse in Eastern France. We were off to do a series of workshops for Elizabeth Saetia, a good friend and fellow teacher, at her school in the aforementioned town. Bob had done something similar last year after Tai Ji Rhénan and had decided to repeat it again this year but this time to extend the workshops over a week.
We were fortunate enough to be able to see some of the stunning scenery on our journey as we wound our way up and down hilly, tree lined roads and past lakes with water as calm and reflective as glass before first the mist and then darkness eventually fell and obscured our views. Our journey took us leisurely first through the small French villages on the B roads and then onto the motorways and it seemed to take no time at all, but then I fell asleep for a while, and I’m sure the rest of us did once or twice too, which always helps to speed travelling up. Luckily Elizabeth didn’t as she was driving.
With the journey over we deposited our stuff in the various rooms Eli had allocated us and went out for a meal at the local Chinese restaurant followed by a wee dram back at the house. I was sharing a room with Bob but his bed was in easy reach of my foot and on past experience I know a swift kick (of the bed not him) can often stop the snoring.
We had the following day off and spent it doing very little, resting up after the Switzerland weekend and preparing ourselves for the workshops ahead. The week was set out as follows: Tuesday and Wednesday 20 step san shou; Thursday Daoyin, muscle and Bone set; Friday and Saturday Daoyin poem; Sunday fly back home.

It was a small class for the San shou which meant that we could go into quite a bit of detail and the participants picked it up quite quickly. The two solo forms were taught back to back then on the second day it was down to revision and putting them together. The weather had been perfect since we had arrived and remained so for the entire week and blue skies and sunshine allowed us to practice in one of the near by parks rather than sweltering in the studio.

On Thursday we ran through the Muscle and Bone Daoyin set. It was a good crowd of mixed abilities who were eager to learn the exercises. Some of the students were from Eli’s school and others had travelled from further afield to attend and all seemed to enjoy not only the physicality of the workshop but also the anatomy and acupoints lectures Bob usually adds to the proceedings. We had a few translators which also helped to make the process slightly easier, many thanks to them.

Friday and Saturday were devoted to the learning of the Daoyin Poem. Some of the participants had already attended the previous day whilst others that came were new to daoyin – and the poem is a great but tough introduction to Daoyinyangshengong! Marie and Monique had done the san-shou as well that week so well done to them for sticking it out. Their heads must have been spinning with trying to remember everything they had learnt over the week.
For lunch on the Saturday we and most of the participants from the workshop visited the Chinese restaurant for a slap up meal. The movements of the form in the afternoon session were a bit slower I thought as we all trundled around with full bellies…or was that just me?

Our evenings were spent eating, drinking, reading, socialising and playing guitars. Not a bad way to spend the time. A leisurely stroll to one of the bars for a beer or two followed by a hefty excellent meal cooked up by Eli, Marie or Monique (we were indeed spoiled and well looked after), or a visit to a restaurant to taste some of the regions specialities was the norm.
There were two guitars in the house and Bob and I both made good use of them. Our audience seemed appreciative but then they were constrained by the size of the house and could not escape so easily.
We even managed a fair bit of sightseeing. There are some beautiful old traditional villages and towns in the area full of squinty houses painted in pastel colours that contrast with the dark visible beams, narrow streets and sidewalks that contain all manors of shops and patisseries and massive ornate catholic churches and cathedrals.
We spent a few hours at an open air museum that has acres of buildings from many past ages including working farms (complete with authentic scruffy labourers) and livestock, castle turrets, train stations and houses of all shapes and sizes.

Soon enough, though, our time was up and we were being driven back to the airport to make our way home. Again we had another stop off in London during which we indulged in another English breakfast – even though it was 1 in the afternoon. It seemed fitting to finish the journey as we had started it 11 days ago.
Again I would like to express my thanks to Eli for being the perfect host for the entirety of our stay and to Monique and Marie for the language lessons, laughs and wonderful meals.

Robbie

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Crief 2004

2nd Annual Residential Weekend

Following from the first highly successful residential weekend in May of last year, Bob Lowey played host to Gordon and Maria Faulkner of Chanquanshu School in the beautiful countryside of Creiff in the Scottish Highlands.

These weekends are structured to explore the intricacies involved in the practice of the Taiji Zhang (Daoyin Taiji Palm Forms), where Traditional Chinese Medical Principles play an integral role to the teaching and learning of these highly evolved Forms.

Bob provided the Western view of the Human body by providing lectures on Anatomy and Physiology, where Gordon complimented this with his in depth knowledge of Acupuncture Points, Meri dian Theory and 5 Element Theory.

Besides learning the spiralling and low postures, coordination of movement and focus or intent, participants also had to cope with the terminology sometimes English, sometimes Chinese, sometimes in Latin when discourse revolved around specific organs, tissues and musculature.

Lectures were kept in a light tone especially with the inane antics of Bob acting as assistant to Gordon’s presentation! There was however good deliberations at all levels of understanding and much note taking.

All participants are requested to take part in the chores such as cooking and tidying up and there were many gastronomic surprises cooked up!

The weather was excellent – warm and sunny during the day and wonderful lightning storms in the evening.

With so much physical and mental activity during the day, relaxation was supplied by the 7 Stars All Eclectic Band on the Saturday evening and people danced the night away into the wee small hours (Sunday morning – 4:00 am to be precise!).

This was the 2nd of 3 annual weekend residential workshops that explored Taiji Zhang II. There are 3 Taiji Zhang’s and each offers a rich understanding of the all the organs, musculature, Acupuncture points and Meridian Systems of the body.

Almost everyone that attended agreed the event is quite unique in it’s approach to understanding Taijiquan, Chinese Culture and it’s opulent heritage.

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China visit 2003

7 Stars & Chanquanshu go to China – Again!

For some of us, April the 4th 2003 couldn’t come quick enough! This was the date we left to go off to China. Joining with the rest of the party at different airports as we travelled, the group comprised of 22 individuals from Scotland, England, Switzerland and France. The whole operation was smoothly coordinated, as was the entire trip, by our organiser Maria Faulkner (Melita Tours). Arriving in Beijing was like coming back to a second home, which was the sentiments of Gordon Faulkner (President of the Scottish Daoyin Yangsheng Gong Association (DYYSGA), Maria Faulkner, and Bob Lowey (Vice President of the Scottish Daoyin Yangsheng Gong Association). Some had arrived the day earlier including Francois Henry who has his own School in France and an old friend of Bob’s. Gordon Maria, Bob, Francois, and Peter Ooosterveer combined to form the main Instructors of the group, with Mark Atkinson (President DYYSGA, England) joining us for our training sessions while in Beijing. Another familiar friend met us and was to join us for the whole trip acting as interpreter and guide, Madam Zhou Jin.Originally from Shanghai, Zhou Jin has travelled extensively living in Hong Kong where she studied, Germany and eventually settled in Beijing working in the Sports University’s Library from 1983 – 88, which complimented her interests of literature, Music and Philosophy. With a command of Mandarin, Cantonese, German and English languages, Jin began studying Daoyin Yangsheng Gong with Professor Zhang Guangde that led to further travels to France and Austria.As Associate Professor trained in T.C.M. and Daoyin Yangsheng Gong, Jin has succeeded in her post as International Programme Coordinator for Beijing University of Sports Education, interpreter to the Professor and a very dear friend of ours. From the moment of our arrival, the clock started ticking and like all good things, passed too quickly. Six days of wonderful Chinese cuisine, fantastic sight seeing tours and ultimately, training with our Teacher, Professor Zhang Guangde. The Professor was in great spirits during our time spent with him.We trained every morning with the Professor from Sunday until Friday learning the 3rd of the Taiji Zhang’s (Palm Forms), that is not only beautiful to practice, but as with all Daoyin Forms, subtly nourishes every organism in your body as well as concealing martial intent. The group was in general agreement, even those who were experiencing the Professor’s teachings for the first time, that he was highly proficient and instructed in an easily understanding manner, even if you had no idea of mandarin!Sight seeing during this first week included: The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, Drum and Clock Tower, Yonghe (Lama) Temple, The Forbidden City, White Cloud Temple, lectures at the Yanhuang Meridian Research Institute, and an acrobatic show to “chill out”.

Having did most of the sight seeing trips time and time before, Gordon, Maria, Lynn and Bob managed to take time out to visit other distinguished establishments of Beijing – KFC and the Coffee Shop at the Novatel Hotel!Prior to our leave of Beijing onto the second leg of our China training trip, we were honoured by a lavish meal by our hosts: Vice-President of Beijing University of Sports Education, Tian Yi and Professor Zhang Guangde. Our guests to presented a magnificent crystal globe to Gordon in recognition of the collaboration between the University and Chanquanshu. The banquet included our Daoyin colleagues who travelled from Mexico and joined us for the week, and who trained with Master Wang. Greetings Marriana and Antonio!The 11th of April saw us boarding a “sleeper” train to Wudang Shan in a state of enthusiasm! Strangely, auspicious signs were manifest within the first hour of departure. Namely: the coach number was 7, our compartment bed numbers were 7, 8, 9, and 10, which combine to total 7, and, the number of bags in our compartment also added to 7 – such is the 7 Stars (Qixing) !Reminiscent of Sunday school outings, perhaps with a dash of alcoholic delinquents, many of the group were rather excited and turned to inebriation as a sedative to help them sleep on the rather long 22-hour journey to Wudang. The Chinese security guards and train conductors were exceedingly polite in the way they requested our party be removed from the train’s corridor to allow them to sleep! On arrival at Wudang train station, we were huddled into our awaiting coach that sped us up the mountain (understatement) to our hotel – Tian Lu. This hotel is nestled into the mountainside along with its neighbouring building, the Wudang School of Wushu and Taoist Arts, one of the five Martial Arts Schools in Wudang. From the town of Shiyan, a short drive leads to Xuanye Gate – the opening to Wudang Mountain. Wudang Mountain is in the North West of Hubei and is also known as Taihe and Xianshi. To the North runs the Hanshui River and the South, the Yangtze. With a height of some 1,612 Metres above sea level, 72 Peaks, 36 Main Temples and 72 smaller temples, the scenery around this area is quite breath taking and the sweet mountain air vitalising.

The topmost Temple, The Golden Palace Temple situated on Tianzhu or Heavenly Pillar looks down to “The Cliff for Ascending to Heaven”. This has a little platform positioned on it that has since become famous from the last scene in “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” where the wee wifey throws herself to her death. Like all other Temples on Wudang Shan, statues of Emperor Zhenwu occupies prime place next to the Jade Emperor of course. However, here in Nanyan Hall, the magnificent Dragonhead Incense Burner, the White Tiger God and Black Dragon God statues also reside with an ominous presence.

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China visit 2000

The essentials for staying in Beijing.
Hotel should have:

  • 4 stars Fitness room, sauna, spa pool, business centre and access to swimming pool and bowling alley in sister hotel next door.
  • Bar (although cheaper beer would have been nicer).
    Huge breakfast buffet.
  • Staff with thigh high splits in their frocks. (Unfortunate for the poor lassie given the English name – Fanny). Surprisingly this choice was very popular with the men.
  • Meeting area for going to the park and discussing evening’s adventure.
  • Rooms to have: En-suite bathroom with real toilet. A must, especially for the ladies – squatting may be good for the ankle tendons, but it’s nice to know that upon returning to your room, there’s a nice seat waiting for you.
  • Bathroom to be well equipped with all sorts of toiletry goodies so you don’t need to take these things with you, hence leaving more space in the luggage for the shopping.
  • Fridge and bottle opener (on the wall in the bathroom for those of you who missed it). Essential for beer drinking.
  • All rooms should be located on the same floor to allow fashion shows of new silk / cotton / Daoyin suits recently purchased.
  • Alarm clock – very important to ensure occupant is awake and in reception by 5.45am to go to the park.

I know one that fits the bill completely – Trader’s Hotel, Beijing.

Ritan Park – My Park.

I’m a morning person, but I don’t do 5.30am normally. However in Beijing, getting up at 5.30am isn’t a problem, it’s a must, even after just 21/2 hours sleep.

I meet my fellow early risers at 5.45am and off to the park. Crossing roads is easy when the traffic is almost non-existent. I walk beneath the now green Willows, just brown twigs when I first walked this way last week, passing the many Embassies each with their own “eyes and ears of China” (Chinese Army Cadets), towards Ritan Park – my park.

The old men swinging their bird cages, some with 2 in each hand, are just in front as the gate nears. Not a sound from these covered cages until they reach the park. Once uncovered and hung on a branch, only then do the occupants start to sing.

Shouting Qigong, 24-step music and the occasional spit, as the dry dust is cleared, add to the morning chorus. The park is full of classes learning 24 step, long form and sword form with many smaller groups and individuals all practising some form of Taiji or Qigong. Onto our spot. Here the faces are becoming familiar – the old man practising Shinji behind us, the two classes by the trees, the lady in the red tracksuit who always arrives just as I have to leave. To practise Taiji and Daoyin, outside, in the early morning sun, in a park in China.

This is what I came here for. For this time in the park I am not a tourist.

Shopping in Beijing

Whatever your taste in shopping you’ll find it in Beijing.

You may not even want to shop but you will have no choice in the matter – from the moment that you decide to leave the hotel your fate is sealed – you are beyond the point of no return. Now this may be difficult to comprehend but even grown men, who never shop at home have gone shopping in Beijing, and dare I say it – gone back for another trip to try to “ get a better bargain”. You may not believe it but they actually enjoyed it – now that I never thought I would see.

The shopping experience ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. From the swanky designer shops under the hotel to the silk market a mere 5 minutes walk away. From ordinary shops to street hustlers

But the silk market …………..that was an adventure! It was like a typical Saturday market, but with high-class tat – sorry I meant to say designer copies – as well as some real designer stuff too. But the best part was the haggling. Some of us were better that others but no matter how you felt about it when you first entered the market you soon got into the swing of it. Back at the hotel you compared your “bargains” and then went back the next day to try to get an even better deal.

We also visited a couple of the Friendship Stores. Now they had a different angle. They seemed to assign each customer their own personal sales attendant who followed you around the shop like a puppy – but always 2 steps behind. If you made the mistake of glancing at something, they had every colour pulled out in your size telling you how beautiful it was quicker than warding off a kick!

We went on several sightseeing trips to some of the places in and around Beijing and here the street hustler reigned supreme, but no matter where you went you were accosted in the street to buy something. It could have been anything but the favourites seemed to be Postcards, CD music, silk scarves, or Chairman Mao lighters. When it got a bit much for us, we would to say “bu neow” (get lost in polite Chinese) but perhaps our pronunciation was not what it should have been – they only laughed very loudly and kept trying

Some of the hustlers in Liulichang Street were really sneaky. They wander about the shops posing as poor students to lure unsuspecting tourists into their teacher’s studio to see their paintings. Before anyone has any ideas to the contrary, this is not a variation on “come up and see my etchings”. When you get there you find half of your party has already been captured and are trying to get out without buying anything. These people are very very good at this particular ploy and I think most of us got caught at some point.

I wont try to describe shopping in the martial arts shop – to say it was like “flies around a proverbial dog turd” is perhaps the best and most accurate description I can think of. On our first visit, the poor wee lassie in the shop nearly suffered apoplexy from the sheer delight in seeing Yuan from Heaven descending into her till!.

The people of Beijing make shopping the most wonderful and enjoyable experience and one certainly not to be missed. Not once did we have anything but fun and friendship with traders who expect you to haggle – it is their way of life so don’t be afraid of it embrace it and enjoy it.

The Great Wall

The Great Wall of China has to be seen to be believed. Stretching across the mountaintops in all directions, it’s a fascinating site to behold while sitting on the steps gasping your last few breaths and spitting up phlegm realising why the Chinese of this area gob so much.

At the top (well one of the high points of the many junctions of the Wall), traders sell T – shirts and other objet d’art and Wall memorabilia. Having scaled upwards for a height of goodness knows on uneven steps for a length of time of goodness knows, nature eventually calls. There are no toilets on the Wall! Neither did the traders have a “I peed on the Great Wall” T – Shirt. A fabulous and memorable experience all the same.

The Forbidden City

Definitely the windy city the cold day we visited. Some tumbleweed would not have been out of place to complete the desolate atmosphere of this vast emporium, with its stone clad courtyards that are big enough to house 2 Hampden parks between the groups of buildings. These buildings, as with the many palaces and temples in the region, are colourful and impressive with a stark austerity about them

It’s ironic and paradoxical that these beautiful buildings are called the Forbidden City where the resident emperor could avail himself of any one of his 8000 concubines! No forbidden fruit here, and not an apple or any other tree allowed within the city walls. The reason being that nothing was allowed to tower above the temple including trees that could offer cover for any would be assassins.

One consolation that the Emperor had after a hard day of judgements or “servicing”, was to relax in his private garden, which by contrast to the rest of the palace had an aura of peace and tranquillity. In the midst of this place was an ornate pagoda, the marble floor of which had been carved into a meandering river that was often filled with wine – more than enough to quench any Emperor sized thirst. After drinking his fill he could then retire to one of the 9999 ½ rooms wherein his wives were accommodated. To have more than 10000 rooms, as there is in the temple of heaven, just would not have been etiquette.

Another bright aspect of this visit was a display of ancient jewellery and artefacts of life at court housed in yet more marble floored rooms. A one – size designer foot ware was supplied for a small fee to help to maintain the highly polished surface of the floors. Once inside all variations of the skaters, waltz and moon – walking could be seen trying out their foot ware.

On escaping from the final display a rumour quickly spread that there were heated shops serving FREE green tea. Those surviving the stampede sought solace sipping this welcome hot beverage with cupped hands, and on thawing out we did what we from the West do best, SHOP.

The Opera

So Maria said: “How about a little Chinese culture, some Chinese Opera, juggling and acrobatics?” So we all said, “Yes”, being the good, obedient souls that we are. And so, the adventure began, with Mr Pang (our tour driver) at the wheel guiding us skilfully through the meandering traffic of Beijing.

We were placed at tables next to the stage; “Great” we thought. The food arrived, and the beer flowed, more food arrived and the beer flowed, more food arr….. I¹m still wondering, if this was a form of Chinese anaesthetic; for the opera, though obviously very good, intense and loud; was definitely not based on any culture most us had ever experienced. In fear of a diplomatic incident, we did not make a formal complaint to the management about the lack of provision of ear – plugs. As a mere male, I thought the juggler – esses were something else; bits seemed to fly in all directions defying gravity and natural laws of flexibility. I was prepared to be bored out of my skull by the onset of the comedians, but laughter proved to be an international language transcending all boundaries.

The Summer Palace (or How to Move Mountains)

The back of Mr Pang¹s head featured large, (this is not quite the right description, as it was actually quite normal) throughout the visit. On this occasion, he was taking us to The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan), One of China¹s largest parks dating from the Qing Dynasty. Its main features are the man-made Kumming Lake that covers 200 hectares, and Longevity Hill that was created using the earth from the lake. As we strolled along the The Long Corridor, a covered walkway some 728 metres long (+/- 2.3 cms) that is decorated on every surface with classical paintings, the wind off the Gobi Desert brought a swirling dense yellowy dust cloud causing us to don glasses, scarves, hoods, etc. for protection. We intrepid explorers then fought our way past the many pavilions up to the summit from where we were able to imagine the stunning view.

The Ming Tombs

Some cemetery! – 40 square kilometres of it, but only 13 tombs. The sheer size of the site comes home to you as you look across the countryside and see the pavilions dotted about in the distance. We were able to walk through the chambers of the Dingling tomb to get some idea of the grandeur and significance of the place. Of course, the Ming Emperors were VIPs, and this is the Chinese equivalent of the pyramids in that the underground palaces were filled with treasures.
Again, this is a treat for the eyes and ears. The pathway to the tombs, and the pavilions were decked with colourful silk flags rippling in the breeze. We had to step over a foot -high lintel at the entry gate especially designed to prevent ghosts from entering, as they can’t bend their legs. (Obviously Chinese ghosts don¹t float through the air or vanish through walls or go round the open sides!)

Guang An Men Hospital

One of the largest Hospitals in Beijing was founded in 1955 as an affiliated Hospital of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This was the first time since our arrival in China that I witnessed Gordon, Maria & Bob pretty well gob smacked. We were treated with every cord

iality and respect from our hosts: Miss Shen Qin, Chief of the Hospital and Mr Huang Lin, Director. Having assigned us a Doctor to ourselves, we visited the Neurology and Orthopaedic Out Patient Departments where we were presented with case histories as patients were being treated with Acupuncture, Moxa, and Tuina. Then we were whisked up to the Pharmacy Department where we witnessed the many ingredients of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The day concluded with the Chief and Director providing a lecture on the Hospital and the new phase that will be opened sometime around August 2000. This Hospital also caters for foreign students and provides a learning syllabus.

The Medical Lunch

There is a Chinese Proverb that says ‘Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook’. As we found out during the Medical Lunch, the second part of the proverb goes something like ‘Fried scorpion is a delicacy best left to those that do not wish to retain their breakfasts’.

I’ll come to the scorpions in a minute, but suffice to say that this was a meal to be experienced rather than enjoyed.

The concept is sound – for each part of the human body there is a corresponding foodstuff that complements and enriches the appropriate body part beyond mere nourishment. As I say, the concept is good; unfortunately, where it all falls down is in the implementation. You would think that with hundreds of years of practice, the culinary sages of Beijing would have come up with medical foods that were at least edible, never mind having even a hint of doing you good. But no.

Maybe I just have an overly delicate palate. But when someone tells me that I’m about to have a healthy meal, I don’t expect to be subjected to a menu that seems to be a cross between a wild life outing and some imaginatively presented road kill. Fish – I like.

Fish, complete with scales, fins, tail and head, it’s back opened up to reveal the ribbed fleshy interior suddenly seems less appealing. As it lay there, the poor creature seemed to have a surprised look in its eyes – maybe it was just appalled that some folk deemed it worthy of consumption. I, however, passed in the hope of more esculent fair still to come.

Unfortunately, my wait proved mainly to be in vain. Apart from a few bites of the ‘safer’ looking chicken-esque meats, I refrained in the hope of preserving what little I had consumed and thus not present my tablemates with a more colourful display of regurgitated matter. Not that they would have noticed – merely believing that the next course had arrived.

Finally, I come to the piece-de-resistance. Fried whole scorpion served without relish and regarded with even less relish by myself and other sane diners. The animals were a couple of inches long, but some foolhardy souls determined that this arachnid played some deranged part of a wholesome meal. These said colleagues must also have missed the food that enriched the brain. I cannot recall which part of the body benefited from the scorpion. Maybe there was none. Maybe it was there purely to fight with all the other strange creatures that now resided in the stomachs of my fellow eaters. I, however, had had my fill – so to speak – and took my leave, staggering into the hazy sunlight where the lure of the unhealthy McDonalds beckoned.

White Cloud Temple

We were strangers, in a strange land, but our few days of visiting the sights of Beijing had convinced us of one thing: We were not tourists. We had seen them at the main tourist hotspots; snakes of baseball hatted clones following a flag, afraid of leaving the group lest they get swallowed up in the faceless mass that was the imperial capital. This was not us, and it was with great relief that we arrived at the entrance gate to The White Cloud Temple, the primary Taoist temple in China. Yes, there was an entrance fee, but no coaches, no tourists, just ordinary people going about their religious observances.

Like most of the temples and palaces visited, White Cloud was the usual structure out courtyards leading to temples, leading to courtyards and so on. Here, however, was a welcoming feeling of calm, of vitality. The first place of interest was a bell suspended under a bridge. Our new friend and guide to our trip, Michael explained that it was good luck to be able to hit this bell with a coin. Within seconds, fellow student Mike had appeared with what seemed like a hundred coins from a nearby kiosk. Imagine a sacred place with 20 people cascading coins towards a bell, each hit reverberating around the temple, the giggles and shouts. And yet this was no silent guilt-inducing cathedral, but a living Taoist temple. The sounds of the bell repeatedly struck was as much a part of this place as the monks wandering around in their habits that were straight from the ancient tai-chi textbooks.

True to form, our group started to splinter into smaller and smaller units, each of us wanting to explore this fascinating place, and to find something special. We all did.

In one of the smaller courtyards, a life size brass sculpture of a horse, its nose polished to a shine by hundreds of years of affection. In the central temple a ceremony was taking place, with singing and music. Strange foreign voices, unusual rhythms breaking up and coming together into new, exhilarating, chants, before breaking down into the component parts again.

At the entrance gate, a carving of a dragon, no different from the rest that surrounds the passageway, and yet rubbed to a smooth darkness by each of the visitors. We never did find out about that one.

Then there was that moment. We had got talking with one of the monks about some carvings, through Michael, when Gordon asked about martial arts. Did they do their own Taijiquan forms? Why yes. Was it unique to the temple? Oh yes. Could we, maybe see it? “Absolutely not. Taijiquan is a special thing within the temple; it was not to be performed to entertain tourists”. Fair enough. “Ah but wait”, said Michael, taking the monk aside, “These are not tourists, they are different” He had noticed this too. On discovering the Taiji connection, all the barriers were dropped, and the next thing – there he was showing parts of the temples Taiji type form and the Wushu form.

Why describe it to those who have not seen it. Watch the video. Suffice it to say that the ward off starts from a gusset-on-the-ground snake stance. But there was more. Enter Mister Wong, the possessor of the happiest, most open and expressive face in the world. With apologies to us all he explained that he would show us some of the sword form, but we must understand that he was a painter, really, and calligraphy was his thing, not swordsmanship. It was blistering. We felt honoured by this display, feeling that we had seen something that few in the west had seen. It was a few days later, when we described the events to a friend who we knew was a Taoist, that we discovered that having gone to the White Cloud Temple most of her adult life, she had not seen these things, and did not know anyone who had. We had witnessed something very, very special.

Before leaving this place that had become so special to us all, we wanted to buy something to remind us of all that had happened here. Incense was purchased, most of which was burnt in the braziers as a thank you, and the shop was visited. Amongst the trinkets and Taoist talismans, there was a small selection of Monks’ tunics. We too could dress like these men who had impressed us so. And so, after an almost embarrassing frenzy of purchasing, we had our souvenirs, and incidentally had solved the long-standing issue of club wear for the Chanquanshu School.

Beijing University of Physical Education, 2000

The University is set in the north west of Beijing and is the centre of excellence for all forms of physical education. It is from there that the fabulous Chinese gymnasts are trained, as well as all the Chinese martial art forms. It is also the home of Daoyin Yangshen Gong, under Professor Zhang Guande.

We were there to train with the Professor each morning. This was a special event for all of us as we had all been studying various parts of the Daoyin Yangshen Gong system, and this was the man responsible for creating it.

What would he be like? We knew that he was quite old, and had been recovering from a nasty accident, and there had been some doubts beforehand whether he would be well enough. During the classes, students of Daoyin from the university were joining us, and we couldn’t understand why they would wish to join us, being a group of rather mixed experience. We found out later that they were wishing to work with the professor, as this was a rare event that he actually taught students that were not his own disciples. They were, at this point more aware of how privileged were this group than we were ourselves. It is evident that this training week was very much a personal favour for Gordon. A further sign of the regard in which the professor holds Gordon was the ceremony held during the week where Gordon was initiated as the 34th disciple of the professor. As there will only ever be 35 disciples, this was one for the history books.

The professor was teaching us the second Taiji palm exercise, a Daoyin form that rather than being a series of repeated exercises, was a sequence of movements similar to a Taiji form. While we had a translator present at all times she was mostly redundant. The professor is one of those teachers that command your respect and attention at all times, and also has an amazing ability to communicate a great deal of knowledge despite the language barrier. Somehow you always knew what he meant.

The professor is an incredibly supple man with the most expressive fingers that I have seen.

Within five short mornings, the professor had us all going through this form as if we actually knew what we were doing. This was a great achievement considering the range of previous experience we had brought to the class. After the classes there were opportunities to investigate other goings-on on campus. We had the pleasure of watching classes taking place in the main auditorium, where the young gymnasts were going through their paces. This was a fine display of suppleness and skill from girls that must have been under 12.

We had a chance to watch the Wushu class warming up. Time constraints meant that we could not watch the whole class (6 hours), but what we saw was awe-inspiring. These young people, slipping into the most difficult of moves with perfect timing were destined to become an elite within China and throughout the world.

Contributors:

  • Anne Gierthy
  • Peter Christy
  • Hilary Christy
  • Rena O’Brien
  • Brian Lewis
  • Dubh Hardie
  • Mhairi MacKenzie

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Cathy House Blend 2006

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Cathy House Blend was the conception of Synergy Director William Wong and Artistic Director and Composer Kimho Ip. Over a period of a few months, the idea formulated and took the shape of a Tea House in Shanghai of the 1930’s.

Included in this depiction is a former Dancing Queen of the East – who is ignored by the patrons of the Tea House; a ghost Dancer; Mahjong Players, a Children’s orchestra, Taiji performers and beautiful Chinese Dancers.

The performance lasted approximately 30 minutes and at the beginning, during rehearsals, no one was quite sure what was going on although William had the images clearly seen in his own mind.

On the day however, the feeling in the Hawthornden Court of the Museum was extraordinary.

Matt Brown of Blimey Productions and his crew filmed the whole event that will be shown at the International Chinese Film Festival in Edinburgh sometime in March 2007.

Cameras flashed as the beautiful dancers, Chang Zhang and Anne Marie Culhane took to the floor and created sculptures from dance, with haunting music that was provided from Shi Yan and Kimho Ip on Erhu and Yang Chin respectively.

An estimated 300 people attended to observe the spectacle that if not the most attended, definitely one of the most popular public events in the Museum.

Congratulations to everyone that participated and to William and Kimho, well done for a successful and entertaining day.

more coverage:

http://www.melange.org.uk/pages/CathayHouseBlend.htm

http://www.nationphotos.co.uk/extranet/job.aspx?hash=gmhpiryjjwnxbxynvjri

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