Last Hurrah, Homeward Bound

My final day dawns. I have two things to do today. The forbidden city and a Tibetan Buddhist temple. To complicate matters I have a cope. It’s been creeping up on me but at first I thought it might be the pollution, its not. I know that the forbidden city gets crazy fast so I walk straight there. I want to go to tianamen Square first. The walk starts getting a bit weird. Security everywhere, plain cloths men who are clearly soldiers hanging around. One I get there and go through a large number of security checks I realise I can’t get to the square. The same committee talks that scuttled my sword transportation has also scuppered my plan to reach the square. It looks like its being used as a coach park for the top members of the communist party. I head to the Forbidden City. As I enter it opens. Its still packed. I grab a ticket. About a fiver and immediately veer off the beaten track to escape the hordes. I explore with a friendly Chinese lady in my ear telling me a bit more about the places I visit. 8 buy some last minute probably overpriced souvenirs and my 3 and a half hours in yje Forbidden City is over. I see pretty much all there is to offer. I walk on for a while and find a spot to sit and have a snack. Then I move on to my next task. The temple. Although I had visited a Chan temple in Wuhan. One simply wouldn’t be enough. In a relatively short amount of time I find it and get in. I pay my respects and enjoy soaking up the atmosphere. Afterwards, I explore the near vicinity and make a special purchase. I thenk strike off in a random direction that eventually leads me straight back to my hotel. I kill time eating a macaron and coffee at a Mcdonalds with free WiFi. I head back to my hotel to grab my luggage and see if my sword has arrived. It has not. I am saddened but not surprised. I catch my airport transfer. A princely sum of 3 pounds is paid for the hour plus journey. Beijing Airport is entirely underwhelming. Few departure boards, shops and life, especially at this late hour. I find a corner entirely uninhabited and proceed to go through Xinjia. I may as well and I wouldn’t want to forget what I’ve learnt in China. Soon it’s time to fly and as I write this, about to take off on my second flight from Amsterdam back to London. There’s much to reflect on. The most important being, Beijing was interesting and so was Wuhan, but really, its my time in the village that I’ll stay with me for the rest of my life. I hope I will get to train there again under a sublime exponent such as Chen Xiaoxing. But for now, there’s so much training to do and life to live. I’m not sad that this adventure has come to a close, I’m excited at the one I’m building for myself at home and on the floor.As Kim likes to say so well. Xie Xie Laoshi! 

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Day tripping

I need to be up early today. I’m being picked up for what may be the most excitng day of my time in Beijing. Before I get dressed. I bid my wife good night. This is the furthest East I’ve been and getting up when she goes to bed is a tad strange. I take a little too long on the phone and rush to get ready. I make it down with seconds to spare. A young Chinese woman rushes in, asks me if I’m me (I am) and rushes me out the door. A bus is stopped at the traffic lights in front of us and she’s trying to get us on the bus before the lights change. I climb aboard and I’m greeted by the now unusual sight of a large number of Europeans. I grab a seat and we head off. Today, I’m going to hike a portion of the Great Wall of China! The problem with the wall is that it’s a bit of a tourist trap. Obviously, part of its fame is how long it is. So there should be enough for everyone, but the sections close to Beijing obviously get the most attention and they are also the most restored and accessible. I reason by going a little further away and walking a roughly 5km section, it will be quieter. The greats hordes (which, ironically, is what the wall was built to stop) probably don’t want to exert themselves too greatly. We reach Jinshanling in good time and get off at the coach parking. There are no other vehicles in sight. We walk to what appears to be a brand new visiter centre and get on little golf buggies that take us up the road. We reach a little shopping precinct. With a little super market, coffee shop and the like. The toilets are not completely finished and the super market has a tiny selection. I realised this complex is not fully complete and has probably not l officially opened. A hotel has also been built but that looks like it had the cellophane taken off the day before. Our guide is very friendly and funny. She makes fun or her short legs as we hike up a steep path to the wall. So far we have encountered no other people. We make it to the wall. It’s certainly a site. All the better for having no-one else on it. Our guide asks if we would like any pictures taken. I bite the bullet and get her to take a pic of me in a taiji pose. Single whip of course. “it’s kung fu!”, she exclaims. I just agree, I don’t want this to be any more embarrassing. Standing on the great wall of China in front of a group of strangers holding a pose. She takes a few pics as I realise that I’m rushing and my posture is terrible. I lower my arm to a more acceptable hight.She encourage me to do a different pose, which is nice. That done. I can get on with taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere. The day is lovely, it’s a little crisp and the sky is very blue, not a single cloud. There’s some haze but the colours of the mountains as they dissappear into it are lovely. I take a lot of photos. We walk along the wall, reaching watch towers which often offer better views. In the nearly 3 hours I’m on the wall, I encounter 6 people not with our group. We are all spread out quite thinly and the opportunity to take photos with nobody else in them abound. Most watch towers have a little old lady seeking trinkets, Coke and cold beer. Our guide advised us to maybe have the beer after the trip. Its sensible but since I don’t drink the stuff, it makes no difference to me. They aren’t pushy and that’s nice, nothing like turkey or Morocco. The stairs can be extremely high. I wonder how the Chinese soldiers, probably much shorter than their modern descendents, would have managed them. The wall undulates and wends its way, as dictated by the landscape it resides upon. It follows ridge lines, making the most of the natural terrain to make it even more impregnable. Not that it was. Still, given that it was meant to stop horsemen from the steppes, I wonder how they would have got horses over such a rugged landscape. They managed it though.I discuss with the only other solo westerner on our tour. A German gent who is a VP for T mobile. We have a long chat and he mentions us meeting up for a drink if his initial plans fall through. Sadly, I know his not propositioning me as we have both mentioned our wives. Still, he was a good looking guy.
At times the wall is very difficult to walk on, the path is smooth and steep. My shoes are already a cause for concern. I bought a new pair of trainers just before leaving for China but decided to wear my old shoes and then chuck them after the holiday. They are worn smooth on the bottom, have a hole where my little toe pokes out and the front rubber is coming apart from the rubber. I was half worried they’d fall apart during the holiday. Compared with the other people on the trip, I look a little like a hobo. Doesn’t help I haven’t shaved in over two weeks. Soon we reach our destination, the five window watch tower. Its the highest watchtower along the entire Great Wall. Sadly we can’t get to the top. After this there is a section of unrestored wall. The difference is stark. We sit in the sun and chat amongst ourselves but soon it’s time to go. We head five minutes down the road and eat a farmer’s meal. I’m seated with a group of Brazilians and French. They mostly talk amongst themselves. All the aussies are on a different table. I eat my food and head 9it to do the Viki thing of finding things to put my leg on and stretch. I’ve decided it’s a cunning method to staging limber and getting as much stretching in during the day. That is, if you’re not  too self conscious to do it. Most of the by fall’s asleep. Myself included. Soon we’re pulling up to my hotel and my only group tour experience in China is over. I find some food to scoff later in the hotel room and go back for a long soak in a bath much too small for me.
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Down and out in Beijing Hills

I don’t want to get up today, the bed is too nice and I did enough walking the day before and didn’t get to bed soon enough. But I must persist! I’m here to make the most of my time in Beijing. There are two parks directly north of the forbidden city, one is known for having the traditional highest point in Beijing with good views over the forbidden city. I get up and behing my meander first I need breakfast. In my search for food I accidentally reach my destination. Directly opposite is a hutong that I go down. I almost immediately stumble across a little cafe hidden in a courtyard. The Alley Café. I head in and order a coffee and eggs on toast. They don’t have Chinese breakfast. It’s fine as the food is delicious. 9 have another coffee and some cake. It’s nearly lunch time….
I head into the park. Its costs 25p to enter. It barely seems worth the bother charging. A large group of people are singing. I guess they’re a full blown choir I guess. I climb to the top of the hill and get a good look at the forbidden city. There are a lot of people here. But almost all Chinese. Unlike most tourist destinations I’ve been to. China seems to cater for its own populace. Especially around the forbidden city and the parks adjoining it. I’m periodically swamped by groups of pensioners seeing their capital. I have no idea how far they’ve come, what small provincial city they hail from. They all have small folders with what seem to be pictures they’ve had taken in the last few hours. They periodically stop and have a look at them. From the highest point in Beijing I spot a Tibetan style stupa in the next park over. I make my way there. Its set on a little island on top of a hill. I reach it and read abut it. Its about 400 years old and is Tibetan. Which is unusual but I spotted something similar in Wuhan. I do a circambulation and continue on my way. A gradual malaise settles upon me. The excitement of Beijing has worn enough for me to start thinking more about going home and missing my wife. Where the day before I was walking almost non stop, now I stop and sit for long periods and think about home. Its unusual for my as I don’t normally get home sick or lonely. I guess married life has had an affect on me. I decide to head back to my room, I need a rest before my evening entertainment. Just before leaving my room in the morning. I booked a ticket to see a shaolin Monk performance as well as my activity for the next day. The performance is at 7:30 but I need to leave at 6. It gives me enough time to get back and have a nap. I enjoy the nap immensely. I then hop on the metro and head to the Red Theatre. The show is about to begin when I’m called by my guide for the next day. I apologise and say I can’t talk. The show begins. It’s very cheesy. The monks (or performers, I’m not sure what they are) are impressive. The demonstrate some impressive physical skills. Breaking things over the heads. Smashing wooden poles to pieces on the their legs and so on. At one point. During the most “spiritual scene” they clearly perform some very stylised Taiji moves. The opening posture, single whip and Buddhas warrior pounds mortar. I’m vaguely pleased by this. I also realise they’re all wearing feiyue shoes. Which I have a pair of at home in my cupboard. Of course, they’re not a patch on my new warriors! Once the show ends I head back to then hotel. Stopping to have some beef noodles in a little restaurant nearby. I resolve to make the most of my time left here. I have a chat with my wife and send her my love. 20190310_10511920190310_03293620190310_03545520190310_05505820190310_03393820190310_021225

Park life

20190309_04134720190309_06021320190309_05132320190309_05172820190309_052130I wake up extra early. Partly to say good night to my wife and partly to get on with things. I suspect the real reason may have been the early starts I had been getting in the village. The bed is certainly comfortable enough to tempt me to stay but the prospect of seeing the city gets me up and out. I take a short metro ride (cost: 40p) to the temple. Of heaven park and get a ticket. I immediately go off from the main drag looking for Taiji. The first thing I come across is a very lage group of pensioners exercising like their lives depend on it (which in a very real sense, it does) their on excercise equipment, stretching (most way more flexible than I am) and utilising gymnastic equipment in a manner that almost left me speechless (it was hard to tell as I had no one to talk to) a man probably in his 60s hanging from a bar lifting his ankles to his head was what did it for me. I stopped to marvel at a piece of equipment I had to fake a picture of. A bar for the express peruse for putting your foot on and stretching. It’s practically made for Viki. I take a picture of the instructions and foot as I stretch it. I note how my shoes are about to fall apart. I will be leaving them in China as a momento and gift to this fine country. It will compliment the two pairs of taiji shoes I ditched in the ditch. 
I move on, my search for taiji in the park continues. I come across people dancing, playing musical instruments, a game called Jianzi which is basically keepy uppies with a shuttlecock and badminton. Eventually I see some Taiji. It’s being done to music and a voice names the moves of the form along with the music. It helps me to compare and contrast the moves in Chen style. I move a little way off and do some xinjia. I continue to wander. All around me, older people are enjoying life, socialising and most importantly, exercising. A woman on a bench holds her walking stick above her head and stretches as she sits on a bench. A zimmer frame is cast aside while its owner does qigong. A wheelchair is pushed around by its owner. They all seem healthy and happy. I’m the only person under 60 in the park it seems. Later, as the day progresses, families and younger people venture in. They stick to the temples and tourist attractions in the park (which is huge) a few meters away from the tourist traps are smaller sights that to me, today, seen more interesting. I visit a fasting Palace. Where the emperor would spend 3 days abstaining from meat, nookie and other indulgences before the ritual for a plentiful harvest was performed. There are maybe 5 other people in this section. I’m caught completely off guard when I stumble upon one of the big attractions of the park. Suddenly there are hoards of tourists where before there were none. I feel obliged to see what all the fuss is about and I have paid the 50p extra to see it. The buildings are beautiful and the history of their purpose is fascinating. I decide to read up a bit more when I can. I eventually retreat back to the quieter parts of the park and in the distance see a man doing what very much seems like the final moves of xinjia, unfortunately since it is the final bit, neither he nor his students repeat it. The go back to what seems to be the beginning of whatever form their doing and go over it. It’s not a style I’m familiar with. I watch the teacher and his 2 students from a nearby bench. I can tell he’s giving similar advice that Viki often gives her students. He tells the man to step out with the two at the beginning of the form and for other moves, clearly the heel. He gets a student to widen their stance to ass stability. He demonstrates the relationship between an arm movement and the hip and waist movements it should be connected to. Finally he shows how the students should move with their shoulder, then elbow and then wrist. I’m impressed with his instruction. Some young men go past, the make fun of the Taiji, pretending to do the opening move, raising and lowering their arms. They think they’re hilarious. I sit there for about twenty minutes, a little further away a young man practices a different more obvious form of kung-fu. On my other side, further away, through some trees I can see a group of men doing push hands. Not drills, but the type that involves sticking and following and then pushing and shoving and maybe some leg sweeps for good measure. I’m interested and I walk close by to get a better look as I go by. I’m asked by one if I’m interested. Thinking of the man who had been knocked to the dirt a few minutes before, I venture a hesitant yes. The man is pleased. I ask if the play taiji. He confirms they do. I ask what style. A different ones, yang, Wu, Chen (I think) and another Im not familiar with, also a Yiquan guy. I tell them I do Chen village style. They are interested. They put me straight into the thick of it. I go up against a man in pink who is the most senior one. We stick and follow, arms circling. The man who speaks English insists I can push as hard as i want, I can’t do any damage. I’m well aware of that! I’m just trying to get a feel for it, feeling my partner and getting used to it. He begins to push me. He’s quite good, I slide back in the dirt a few times, we continue. It gets a bit rougher once or twice, nothing too bad, it’s good natured. On one occasion he pushes I put my head down and he pushes again and in the heat of it smacks me in the jaw by mistake. I cut the inside of my lip on my teeth and my jaw hurts for the rest of the day. There’s no clicking or anything so no harm done. We continue, later we watch and I push with an older man. They tell me not to be rough with him. Then I’m told that no matter how much i push him, he can absorb my push, it’s true. In this dynamic and still new excercise, I don’t have the muscle memory or perhaps even the technique yet for the whole body movement required to push correctly. Nor to accept or deflect incoming energy. It’s a lesson that perfectly illustrates a point viki has made to me only 2 days before. Push hands won’t improve my push hands. Basics will. I know she’s right, but I’m sure she’ll be overjoyed to hear I had physical confirmation of it so soon after the point was made. I can also see the benefit of being pushed around, if having someone trying to sweep my feet from under me or throw me to the ground. But it all means squat if I can emit, deflect or accept energy. I enjoy the experience immensely. The men meet every weekend and I’m told to come back when I’m next in Beijing. I hope the opportunity arises again. Hopefully when I’ve learnt a bit more. I ask to take a photo of them and instead I have a photo with them. I’m pleased. I head off. I watch children with spears, young woman with swords and old men with sticks. A father and his son play with remore control  cars, a woman stands with her eyes closed wailing as some form of excercise. A group of older women practice taiji, they’re flexibility and leg strength 8s impressive. Two older women, apparently dressed like burlesque dancers, sing a song through a microphone and don’t come off. Much better than the wailing woman. A very camp man teaches a class of women to dance. Another, dressed in a full traditional getup has music playing and leads a different group through some traditional dance form, people place cards in a Chinese version of a bandstand. Everywhere there are people living their lives in the park and enjoying themselves. They’re not on their phones like their children and grand children are, they’re present. As the day progresses the age demographics shifts. But only in the main parts. 90% of the park is for pensioners. After about 5 hours I finally leave. Deciding to walk back to my hotel room. Along the way I cross over a huge intersection, a 3 lane road lined with office blocks meets another, except that one just ends and a quiet residential area appears, its a hutong, with some landscaped gardens mixed in, little bridges with babbling brooks. It’s a marked change. I walk aimlessly. Cross a road to take a pic of what turns out to be the restaurant where peking duck was invented and accidently find myself in a recreated or at least heavily restored traditional shopping precinct. This leads me on to another and another. I stop for lunch. Eating rice dumplings and a weird fried potato skewer. I walk on and on and on. I visit many hutongs. Its nice to see they are still here, but they are quiet, deserted. I wonder how different they must be to the past. I imagine there would have been children playing. Old men sitting outside playing mahjong, small shops selling food and more. Now they are just quiet little back alleys off a main road. I walk on and on and on. Past Mao’s mausoleum, the train museum and the Chinese national museum. I walk past a group of small children sitting in a circle on a wide pedestrian walkway between two roads, they wear high visibility jackets and are all clasping their hands. A man with a number of pieces of ribbon looks like he’s about to bind their hands together. I’m curious but I leave them and their watching parents alone. I eventually make it back to my room. A good 15 miles walking under my belt. I’m a bit pooped. I lie and read and later talk to my wife. I’m beginning to struggle a lot from being apart from her. She is too. As much as I’d like to visit Beijing while I’m here, it’s taking its toll.
Still, I’ve had an interesting day.

Epilogue day One: Beijing bound

Epilogue day One: Beijing bound
My last experience of the bed of doom is shorter than usual. I go to bed relatively late and I wake up before 5 to see most of the crew off. Kim, Yvonne, Kathy, Dave and my roommate Richard are heading off for an early morning flight to Beijing. I take their survivor phot in front in the headlights of their taxi and they’re off, I grab the frankly awesome sword that I bought from the friendliest man in the village and go through the sword form in the dark. The air is clear for once and the stars shine above me, the big dipper is bright and it matches the stars engraved on my sword. The tassle is a bit of a faff though. David and Davidine head off at 7. I wish them goodbye and watch them trundle off the street. I have an hour before we have to go so I grab my camera and visit the parts of the school I haven’t seen before. The kids sleeping area is particularly messy. I head to the new block under construction. It’s a shell of a building. I take some pictures and head up to the roof and try to get some shots of the family shrine next door.
Soon it’s time to go. I have a collection of things I’ve had to leave. Viki had asked the Spanish guy training at the school to be there and talk to the driver to be sure he takes us to the right place. She sweetened the deal with a promise of protein powder and other left over food, dish soap, toilet paper. He didn’t show up. The journey to Zhengzhou is fortunately mostly uneventful. We watch in slight awe at the construction of the high speed rail line from Zhengzhou to Wenxian. A raised line being built metres above farmland. Each section has a crane on it. There or dozens of the sections. We cross the yellow river on a pontoon bridge and continue on our way. Viki and I talk about the village, training, martial arts and more. Soon we arrive at the monolithic zhengzhou East train station. A edifice so large that Viki is half certain we’re actually at an airport. Fortunately we’re at the right place. We find somewhere to have a coffee and end up having a burger and chips. It’s a big change from the rice we’re so used to getting. We talk about the usual stuff,Taiji and Brexit.
Soon Viki’s train is ready to go. I slip a tracker bar into a side pocket of her bag while she’s not looking and wish her a safe journey. As soon as she goes I have a strange feeling that I’m completely alone and the only westerner I’ve spotted in a busy train station has just left. It only lasts a minute and then in focused on a bigger issue. I’m carrying a sword in my back and I have to go through another set of security scans to take a Beijing train. In Wuhan Viki was stopped for a pen knife, I suspect that a sword may elicit a stronger response. As expected after x-raying my luggage I’m requested to open it up and they inspect it and ask for my passport. They call over someone who can speak English and eventually tell me I can’t travel to Beijing due to important meetings. I have a momentary pang of concern at this revalation. They ask if I know anyone in Zhengzhou I can call. I tell the I don’t. They seem a little exasperated. I ask if I can leave the sword behind and travel on. They agree to this. The lady asks about my travel plans. I give her my booking information and she looks it over but still says I can’t take sword. I just stand there with a sad face. She says if i tell her my room number I can keep it. I explain i won’t known until I’m there. She thinks and asks to add me on we chat. I explain I don’t have we chat. She then asks for my phone number. I give it to her and she dials it. It doesn’t work. I try adding 00 to the number and it still doesn’t work. I’m getting a little frustrated, a solution of some sort seems to be within my reach. I tell her to let me dial her number and then she’ll have mine. It works but when she calls me back it doesn’t work yet again. Credit to this lady, she’s persistant. She says to phone her when I get to my hotel and she’ll send it to me. I’m relieved but partly still don’t believe that it’ll work but there’s at least a glimmer of hope.
I get on my train and head to beijing. The train is as fast and efficient as last time but there’s a different selection of complimentary snacks. Some nicer then others. I read a book since I’ve got an aisle seat and the lady has lowered the blind. Soon we pull into Beijing and I make my way to my hotel.
I see one westerner on my way to the hotel. Once I make it there though the number ramps up significantly. It just seems to be the case that westerners don’t use the metro system. Slackers. My room is very plush. There’s a minibar, suit hanging device and even an emergency breathing mask in case of fire. Moreover, I have a lovely marble bathroom with bath and separate shower. The hotel itself is way fancier than expected, indoor pool, sauna, spa and gym. All for roughly the same as a travelodge. I also seem to be a shortish walk to the forbidden city and on Beijing’s equivalent of Regent Street. Later I head out to explore and find myself surrounded by a very modern shopping precinct. Including a giant Apple store and A 6 floor shopping centre with  bewildering set of escalators, criss crossing space and connecting random floors together with no discernable pattern. It boasts that it filters the air within to remove particulate matter. A truly novel selling point for a shopping centre. I’m offered an array of eateries but none seem to have rice in the menu,it’s all noodles. Although I’ve been fed rice three times a day for pretty much all of the last 10 days. I still want more. I give in and go to mcdonalds. The novelty of western food hasn’t worn off just yet. I end up having a German sausage and beef burger. Its a burger with a some sausages on top. It’s strange. I eat it. There a few major differences from a British shopping centre, in particular the groups of people having dancing classes in front of the shops. It’s a bit like seeing people regularly congregate in front of Harrods to take line dancing classes.
I head back to my room and enjoy a video chat with my wife. It’s the first I’ve been able to have with her and it eases the uneasy  feeling of bieng in a nice hotel room without her that’s lurking at the back of my head. Soon I succumb to the amazing bed I’m so privileged to call my own for the next few days. Tomorrow will hopefully involve oaks and people doing Taiji in them. Fingers crossed.
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Standing down

Standing down.
Dawn heralds our final day and I’m awake to experience it. I continue to sleep like a rottisery chicken, continuously rotating. I am at lest strangely well rested. The benefit of trying to get nine hours sleep is that you’ll hopefully get the numbers in just through brute force. Breakfast involves egg fried rice so I’m pleased. Soon I’m back in the training room ready for my second last standing. It’s a killer. I’ve learnt some of this things that he corrects. The biggest is always taking me lower which I try to let him do. As I’m taken down all the other self corrections go, so he has to relax my chest, tuck my chin in, correct my forward tilt and straighten my back. He surprises me by giving me the second correction before anyone else, he cranks me down so low I think I might unbalance and fall over. I manage but can’t keep it up as long as I’d like. Third correction comes and goes and he drags things out a bit longer, giving a couple of individuals some extra little adjustments. Soon it’s over and after we massage life back into our legs he shows us the final part of the form. We go over it together and then we perform the whole form. This is the first time I’ve executed the whole thing and my overriding feeling is that’s it’s terrible. There are many areas that can be improved and every time I make a particularly egregious mistake I imagine Viki is watching from behind and making note. I don’t think she is. She’s focusing on her own performance and on Xiaoxing. We have our break and I chomp down on a protein bar. We resume with questions and then solo practice. I struggle a little with the last section Xiaoxing’s wife demonstrates for me and it’s very helpful. Soon we execute the whole form again. I am corrected immediately to relax my chest. We continue, Viki and I regularly ducking to the side to wet our feet. Marble can be a difficult surface to train on. The end of the morning session includes a group photo. One of the Chinese students takes control and corals the students very effectively. Photos are taken. We get ready for lunch. A big bowl of chicken and potatoes as well as egg and tomato makes it bumper lunch. Viki, Kathy and I walk back to our rooms. I have a short nap and do a little packing, soon our final session begins. We stretch on a wooden weapon rack before training and some of the not too numerous Chinese tourists give it a try. They can be quite brazen. It seems anyone can wander into the school and have a look around. On weekends they charge tourists to get in. At least, I think that’s what the sign they stuck up said. Often while training in the hall people will gather outside and watch us. Some will come into the building and watch through the glass door. And then a few will come in. This particularly piss Xiaoxing off and he will wave them off and tell them to get out. Our session starts a little early, three more corrections as Richard counts it.
I try to muster all my self discipline and knowledge gained from the 53 previous corrections but he still finds much to corrext, he puts me right on the edge, I struggle to maintain the posture and come up a little. I try. To periodically go back down. Each correction is the same. I’m almost caught by surprise when he claps his hands to end the standing, our half hour is up. I have brought my duan book, which has a section to record training. Xiaoxing signs it. As well as David and Davidine’s book, which features him executing a move from xinjia on the cover. The authors also sign it for me later. We go over the form, executing it, practicing it and asking questions. In the final break. I take Viki’s photo with an old lady, I think she’s about 85 who trains in the village. She is inspirational, we tell her we’re training Xinjia with Xiaoxing and she nods. We’ve seen her doing a pretty good job executing it herself. At first she thought we wanted her to take our photo. We thank her and leave her to it. Our final session to focus on. We continue to practice and move through the form. We have another question session and I ask about a particularly complicated bit in the third section. He demonstrates and asks me to do it with him. We do it twice and he asks if I have have it. I think I do but say I need to practice it. I puzzle it out for a bit. His wife demonstrates for me five or six times. His movements are sometimes too subtle. She is a little easier to understand. I am able to recognise more of the movements as fitting into my knowledge of the language of Taiji. Masters and grandmasters being to move away from the simple building blocks of moves that I recognise as they move towards the center. The squares become rounder, the lines become curves. It can be difficult to learn from the outward form of a high level practitioner. They embody the principles more and so the movements happen within the body, the become internal, submerged . They become like icebergs. Soon as near the end of the session he asks for final questions. Can we come again? Yes. Well that’s a relief.
We thank him for his teaching and we also thank David and Davidine for organising the trip. We head to our rooms for a special dinner.
Ninja Dave purchased some pork from a vendor (hopefully a hygienic one) and gave it to the cook for our dinner. We all look forward to what’s produced and she doesn’t disappoint. Egg fried rice, eggs and tomato as well as some dessert tidbits provided by myself and Davidine. It’s delicious and I avail myself heartily. We talk about Chinese Culture and understanding it on its own terms. Soon we all head back. Most of the group are leaving at 5am. Viki and I are leaving at a far more respectable 8 am. We’ll be heading off to different train stations so we’ll be saying our goodbyes at Zhengzhou. Richard does the last of his packing and heads to sleep early. I’ve promised to get up early to see them off at 5. My legs ache but I’ve checked and my hotel room in Beijing has a bath. I can’t wait to use it!
For now I am still thinking of Taiji  I call my wife and do a round of Laojia in front of the main school building. I have to resist switching back into Xinjia a lot. But it’s good to be doing what feels like a far more straightforward form. I look forward to seeing what changes this trip will have brought to my Taiji. I’ve learnt a lot and drunk from the waters of Chenjiagou, my legs shake and I want to come back.

Ditching Class

20190306_13075520190306_080527Second last day…terrible night’s sleep. Mainly because I miss my wife and also the matress is solid. Richard is awake before me as usual. The thing about a bad night’s sleep if you spend the majority feeling like you’re wide awake and then when you actually have to get up all you want to do is keep on sleeping. 
Richard decides to ditch breakfast. I head over. I eat quickly and walk back with Viki. She usually has some nuggets of wisdom to impart on me. Whether it’s traditional life in mid Wales or the rise of consumer culture in the West. Mainly it’s the recent Welsh defeat of England in the Six Nations. We head over to training and not there’s a lot of students in white silks. We wonder if it’ll be something to do with the film crew, which haven’t quite left yet. We don’t really care. We have more important things to worry about, standing. Once again we’re cranked down by Xiaoxing. The same corrections every time. At least I’m consistently crap. Later we go through the form and he corrects my posture by doing the same thing he does when I’m standing. We continue. There’s a large repeated section in part 3 of the form and we go over this large chunk in the morning. Even though we’ve gone over it. We still receive new tidbits from the Grandmaster. Soon it’s lunch time and we head over for grub. More excitement as we have some chicken and potatoes again. The cook rushes off as we arrive, apparently the rice cooker broke and she’s headed back to the school to get us some rice. Phew! I take my customary nap and as I come down for the afternoon session all the kids march out the school. Ziqiang informs us that they are filming in the ditch and Xiaoxing will be going down and we can come too. This is fantastic news as we had been prevented from entering the ditch. Training starts as usual with standing. We look at the next part of the form and do some solo work. Soon though, we are told it’s time to go. Although there’s an entrance to the ditch a minute’s walk from the school, we have to enter at the bottom. So we take a leisurely stroll through the village. Xiaoxing greets people at we go. Like a king walking through his kingdom. Just outside the village, on the main road, we find a huge market has been set up. Seeking foods of all sorts, bread made in an oven on the back of a pickup, spices, sweets and more, as well as any product you might feasibly want. Chairs, bras, shoes, light bulbs…the list goes on. We walk a short way to the entrance of the gou and are eventually let in. The old timers remark at all the changes that have taken place. New buildings, extensive landscaping and more has taken place here. We wander though the place where so many taiji videos have been filmed and take in the atmosphere of what has become a very tranquil place. We spend a lot of time taking pictures on various platforms in various poses. Soon though we are told we need to get out. I think the gatekeeper wanted to enjoy the market. We have time before dinner so we walk on and enjoy a different sort of atmosphere. We buy some fresh pastrys and Viki buys some rose tea. Soon we need to head back. We decide to drop off out stuff before dinner and returning to the school we are told it’s donkey night in Wenxian (the County Town pop 130 000)
Kim has been banging on about the delicious donkey hotpot spot in wenxian and how we have to go. It seems Ziqiang has noted this desire and wants to please. We mill about got a bit and then a little electric tourist bus appears. Ziqiang is going to drive us there himself. We all pile in and take a very leisurely pace into wenxian. A far more representative example of provincial China than the beautified village we’ve been staying in. Its a bit more run down but also a much much bigger place. We eventually stop outside a small establishment and are ushered into the back. Some starters are brought out and we enjoy cold donkey, pickled lotus root and brined(maybe) peanuts. Soon the star of the show comes out and its a big old bowl of noodles with a little bit of donkey meat in. Ifs ok, I wouldn’t be ordering it again. The donkey meat is nice but not to die for (unless you’re a donkey) Viki has some mysterious cake like substance she bought in the street market that she gets cut up. Very few take it up. I have some but it’s not particularly amazing. It’s edible though. We hop back in and slowly head back to the village. We take a shortcut and bump into a student of the village. A. Long dark walk away from the school. He jumps in. I ask Davidine to ask him what he was doing way out here. He says he was jogging. We don’t believe him. Davidine whispers something to him. But I wouldn’t lnk what she said even if I could have heard.
We make it back in once piece and Richard and I head to our room to pack. He leaves very early after our last day and probably won’t have a lot of time to pack tomorrow. I made some bulky present purchases today which may cause problems when trying to fit it into my suitcase. I may have to leave a few more things behind than intended. I already have an item of additional luggage that I have to take with me that will cause enough problems for me. One more day of training. 2 more standings and 6 more standing corrections to go…..