Friday, April 29, 2016

Nanjing, Day 8

Day 8

Back to training. I went early to the park to practice the Chen broadsword set I knew I would be tested on later in the day, but then ran into my old teacher Gao Xiao Ming. I had brought him a gift as well, so it was an auspicious meeting. We worked through the forms he had taught me, and he gave me some very detailed corrections. Lots of good information to practice when I get home. His class began to gather just before 7:30, and I went off to practice my other forms. 

My new teacher showed up right on time, but I did get to run through the broadsword form once before he got there. We went through the form a few times, and surprisingly a lot of his students began to show up even though this is not their regular training day. One very nice older woman drove for an hour just to meet and train with the American!! 

After running through a few forms with the class, we started a new sword form, the Combined 42 straight sword form. Most of the class seemed to be working on this for the first time which was nice, everyone at the same level, not so much attention on me. They all picked up the form so fast, I was struggling to keep up. We got through almost half the form in one day!! That's a huge amount of information, but I took video, and notes….

Melody and I spent the rest of the day seeing the sights of Nanjing. A little Fu Zi Miao, shopping for gifts for family and friends, and a delicious lunch at Nanjing Impressions, a chain restaurant in which the staff wear Qin era costumes. It's a bit like Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World, but the food is surprisingly excellent. Ordering was interesting, as not one person on staff spoke English, and it was kind of the end of the lunch service, so everything was rushed and a bit hectic. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Nanjing, Day 7

Day 7

Off to Nanjing today. A peaceful ride to the airport, and then a bit of torture at the Guilin airport. For some reason, Chinese announcements are loud and constant at the airport, not one moment of peace for 2 hours. Arriving in Nanjing we took a taxi to the Sofitel right across the street from the park I meet my teachers in. We settled in and then went out into the city so I could give Melody a general idea of where I practice in the morning, and where all the coffee shops are.

We walked down to the restaurant of one of my fellow students, and he treated us to a great dinner, and a surprise visit from Shifu. Luckily I had the requisite gifts with me just in case. 

We shared lots of pictures of my last trip, and got all of our QQ and WeChat apps in sync so we could easily communicate while in China, and when I get back home to Los Angeles. 

Melody and I finished the night at Fu Zi Miao, the Confuscious Temple, and a prime shopping area in Nanjing.

Yangshuo, Day 5 and 6

Day 5

This morning we woke to another massive thunderstorm. We used a break in the rain to hike up into the valley behind our hotel where we found a beautiful citrus orchard hidden away in the flats of the valley. We also braved the rains to bike ride along the Yulong River for a bit. Soaked to the bone, but still fun!!

Day 6

Last full day in Yangshuo, and we've decided to hike up Moonhill. A relatively short but steep hike with beautiful views of the valley below. 

We then made our way to the Big Banyan Tree which was relatively disappointing after visiting the banyan tree in Guilin. First the Yangshuo tree has an entrance fee, and then it was actually a bit smaller. In typical Chinese fashion it was fenced in and surrounded by so many signs that it was difficult to get a clean picture of it. Also, it was a complete tourist trap, just a zoo. 

We walked across the street to Jianshan buddhist temple, and it also was a disappointment. There was simply no life there at all, a few monks asleep near the altars, no one praying, and awful new age chant music playing loudly throughout the temple. I haven't been to Shaolin or some of the other popular Buddhist temples in China, but the ones I have visited have been a let down. Nowhere hear as vibrant or qi filled as the Daoist temples. 

A taxi ride back to Yangshuo town to run up the shopping street, and a few cafe visits for coffee snacks, and our day was done. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Yangshuo, Day 3 and 4

Day 3

Last night there was a brutal storm. huge thunder claps, lightening, and torrential rain. I woke early again for tai ji practice, and it had just about stopped. Making my way to the park I saw how much rain had really fallen. The lake was almost running over its banks. I found a quiet spot on an ornamental dragon boat in the center of the lake, and worked through Yang and Chen forms again. I was alone in the park as there weren't many covered areas. The boat was attached to a very private rock and bamboo garden. If we were staying longer, this would be my practice spot. 

With the help of our hotel in Yangshuo, we made our way to the boat that would take us from Guilin to Yangshuo, 3 hours down river. Normally this would be a 4 hour trip, but the river was running fast due to all the extra water from the nights rain. The scenery was incredible, often appearing as if someone had painted it. The weather went from misty to sunny, couldn't have been better. 

Upon landing we made our way to the Tea Cozy resort outside of Yangshuo, and once again well-rested, we went straight out for an adventure. We walked along the Yulong River for a few kilometers until we reached Da Shi Zhai village. We found a sweet little temple up on a hill devoted to Quanyin and local deities. We said our hallelujah's and lit incense. There aren't a lot of temples here in Guilin county, but I'm hoping we can visit the largest temple, Jianshan, before we leave. 

We walked back to the hotel, took naps, and had an amazing meal at the hotel restaurant before crashed into bed. 

Day 4

I woke before the sunrise and walked down to the local basketball court to practice this morning. No one else was practicing there, and I got some strange looks, but it was fun. We decided to go to Bai Shi town today for the big farmer's market, and it was huge. All manner of food, herbs, kitchen products, and clothes were for sale. The highlight being fresh local herbs for sale. It was a bit of a struggle to identify all of them in their raw, unprocessed state, but a huge learning experience for sure. We bought some tea, and then a quick scooter ride to the Dragon Bridge, where we hopped on bamboo rafts for the ride home. It was a lazy, slow cruise with more beautiful scenery. 

The afternoon brought us to downtown Yangshuo where we shopped, drank tea and coffee, and played tourist. The coolest thing that Yangshuo has to offer, which I have rarely seen in China, are homemade jiu's, Chinese wines and liquor infused with herbs. Some are just for flavor, others for medicinal purposes. We sampled many jiu during the day, but the best jiu came after dinner. We settled on a well reviewed spot called Cloud 9, but none of the reviews we saw mentioned the homemade wines they had here, all from a family recipe, and of course made locally. Melody had a shan zha rice wine said to aid digestion, and I had a snake rice wine for bone and joint health. It had been aged for 6 years, and contained 3 snakes along with other Chinese herbs. It was insanely strong, a lot like grappa, but gave me a pretty good boost of energy. 

After some more nighttime strolling we crashed back at the hotel, and prepared for our next 2 days in Yangshuo….

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Guilin, Day 2

I woke early and struck out for Banyan Tree park where I had read people do tai ji and qigong in the mornings. As I walked the city streets I was reminded that my China is really found in the morning, before the general populace is awake. In the silence of the morning there is an undercurrent, a vibration that is easily tapped into. Walking into the park I immediately saw a few people through the mist practicing qigong amongst the trees. Banyan Tree park is home to a 1000 year old banyan tree, and encompasses three connected lakes. I walked for a bit wanting to find a peaceful spot, but also being careful not to take someone else's regular practice spot. My experience has been that general tai ji classes and dance classes seem to start around 7:30am, more experienced practitioners, and the teachers who are looking for solitude are out between 6:00 and 7:00am. 

I found a spot along the lake, looking out at the karsts shrouded in mist, and not too far away from a qigong practitioner. He appeared to be doing some sort of movement based qigong set combined with a Six Healing Sounds derivative. I began to practice Yang and Chen styles, and listened to his chanting. About halfway through my practice another guy down the way starting singing a Chinese folksong. It echoed across the water, and once again China worked its magic on me. I found my rhythm and worked through my practice sets. 

Returning to the hotel, Melody and I made our way out to find breakfast. I took her back towards the lakes I had just found, searching for some peace, and we found it - at Starbucks. Normally, in China I might run into Starbucks for a chai, or to check my email, but this morning we sat, like good Americans, had our coffee and latte's while we made a plan for the day. It was a nice reset. 

This particular Starbucks was attached to a department store, so I figured a little retail therapy couldn't hurt. We walked through the various floors amazed at how expensive American and European items are in China. As an example, a pair of New Balance sneakers are $225 here, while their fake counterparts New Bailone are $65. Same logo, probably the same factory. Melody was shocked to see that Japanese and American makeup was as expensive and even more expensive here than they are in the U.S. 

The makeup counter also had some Chinese herbs which was cool. They sell reishi spore oil for skin rejuvenation, just as our company does in the states, and it was also more expensive!!

The most fun we had was looking at, and taking pictures of all the crazy t-shirts with poor translations, and seemingly random worlds printed on them. There will be a Facebook and Instagram post as soon as we are free of the Great Firewall. 

The rest of the day was spent quietly walking around the city, eating, drinking, and remembering what it's like not to be studying for school or the state boards...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Guilin, Day 1

I'd never been to Guilin but the pictures I've seen are beautiful, so for Melody's first trip to China i figured this could be the place. After careful planning we arrived in Guilin city on the redeye from Los Angeles, and a long layover in Beijing. Travel was easy, and we were well rested so we went right out into the city after checking into our hotel. 

Heading for the main pedestrian street in Guilin I figured we could easily find food, and some light shopping to ease Melody's initiation into China and Chinese crowds. But we were met with a massive assault of the senses, some of which I had not even seen in my decade of travel to China. The standard overcrowding was present, and the general disregard for other people, but the pedestrian street in Guilin is like all of the bad habits of human race combined with all of the weird Chinese food items westerners have only heard about. 

Right outside our hotel, and all along the main thoroughfare were restaurants known as "wet restaurants." These are places that keep their menu items out front, live in buckets and cages, for you to pick out. All manner of fish, pretty much anything you could catch out of the river (snails, crawfish, clams, and eels), along with snakes, chickens, ducks, frogs, and very fat looking rodents about the size of a small dog. As we were making our way down the street we saw a woman pick out a large fish from the bucket, and slam it on the sidewalk repeatedly to kill it. Now, I eat meat, I grew up hunting, I have no delusions about how our protein gets to the table, but this was unreal. Melody is convinced she will be a vegetarian before we get home. 

Once we got to the pedestrian street we were pummeled by loud electronic music blasting from every store, only to be interrupted by Chinese women screaming on a microphone about whatever sales they were running. Oddly, most of the Chinese seem to ignore the wail of the speakers, which of course causes the salesgirls to scream louder and turn up the music. As we were walking along, the Chinese art of spitting was on fine display, again more than I had ever witnessed. At one point Melody had to jump to avoid getting hit. All manner of meat is grilled on a stick every few meters, and some of these really smell terrible. Imagine this street goes on for about one mile with several intersections also extending out about a half mile each. 

There was a bit of respite from the madness. - a few fine teashops, Chinese herbal pharmacies at each end of the street, art shops, and these homemade spicy, pickled peppers that you could purchase. And we did randomly find one of the best noodle shops in Guilin which we had two nights in a row. 

One of the herb shops had doctors on staff that would recommend herbs, and teas that they made on premises, much like the Dragon Herbs does with retort pouches. We also found Chinese patents to bring home like Yunnan Bai Yao, and Zheng Gu Shui. 

We collapsed into bed that night, exhausted, but thankfully Melody was not deterred.