I 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.