Highlights of the 2003 China Trip : Shanghai, Wuhan, Mount Wudang and Beijing
A Wonderful Journey Back to the Source, Mount Wudang
Twenty Tai Chi students and partners joined me on the trip of a lifetime to China’s sacred Mount Wudang. The journey began in Shanghai, a city of huge proportions. Buildings of eighty stories dwarf the people who swarm around them like ants. There are so many skycrapers on the mud flats of the Huangpu River that the area is sinking at about 1cm per year.
I was in Shanghai ten years ago but I can’t recognize the place anymore. The pace of change in China is mind boggling. However, the Chinese adapt remarkably well. We visited parks in the mornings and quickly became the centre of attention – many impromptu demonstrations were given. A fantastic atmosphere for the Tai Chi practitioners! Every corner and alley way in China is bustling with life and conceals many treasures. We also visited the Shanghai Museum, a building of several levels, filled with very interesting relics of the past – and a wonderful gift shop.
From Shanghai, we flew to Wuhan, the largest city in Central China with a history beginning about 3,500 years ago. Built along the shores of the great Yangtze River, the second longest river in the world, it is part of the heartland of China. Our hotel, 20 stories high, overlooked the Yangtze River. We practised Tai Chi next to the river. During our visit to Chairman Mao’s holiday house, we saw that it is now complete with a souvenir shop in its ballroom. How things have changed since Mao’s time! The overnight train to Wudang city was very comfortable: four bunks and air conditioned. We arrived in Wudang City at 5am. Doing our training there aroused a lot of interest from the martial arts school next door – young students calling out “Hello hello” and “Gooda, very gooda”. After breakfast, we had the ride of a lifetime – six mini buses raced up Mount Wudang. One Tai Chi student jokingly remarked that one normally has to pay extra for this sort of ride. Mount Wudang is breathtaking: magnificent scenery, fresh air and temples. The Nine Dragon Hotel was rated only two stars (one of the best that Mount Wudang has to offer). However, it was better than expected, quite neat, clean and of an unusual design.
We had no sooner unpacked when our trustee guide Vincent Wu said, “Up the mountain we go! By the way, the cable car is not carrying passengers today.” It was only a 12km walk, but straight up! It was a fantastic walk, hard work though. Fortunately, we had some respite! A little shed turned out to be a restaurant. The chef whipped up the most delicious banquet for the starving climbers. The Wudang style Daqu, which we all called Fire Water, 50% alcohol, gave us a much needed lift. After the little restaurant, we only had one-third of the way to go.
On the way, there were many interesting sights, such as, people being carried up by two sedar chair bearers. It looked like hard work for the bearers and a little scary for the person being carried because some parts of the mountain are very steep. Temples and hawkers dotted the filtered sunlit forest.
After what seemed a day of climbing (approximately four hours), we reached the Golden Hall, the summit. These temple buildings, listed as UNESCO heritage sites, were constructed around the same time as the Forbidden City, using the same architectural style. The breathtaking views, blue sky and being amidst the beautiful cloud formations gave one the impression of being in a Chinese celestial realm. We saw Taoists in traditional garb, floating up and down the mountain paths oblivious to the rest of the world. For a few short hours, we soaked up the heavenly atmosphere and imagined what an immortal might feel like in his paradise. All those who got to the peak spoke in glowing terms of the difficult climb and the remarkable atmosphere that awaits the pilgrims.
Then, just 12 km back down the mountain and we can relax …
About 2km from our hotel down the road is the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy which is connected with the Purple Cloud Palace. Taoist Abbot Zhong Yun Long is the president of the Academy. He explained the history of Mount Wudang and how it is the birthplace of Tai Chi and the internal styles of kung fu. After an interesting discussion at the Institute and a hearty lunch nearby, we were treated to a wonderful display of Wudang martial arts. All present were impressed by the high level of skill displayed by Abbot Zhong’s disciples and students. Besides martial arts, the Institute also teaches Taoist astronomy, calligraphy, painting and music. By the way, we were told that some martial arts students are able to climb to the top of Mount Wudang in just forty minutes!!
From Wudang city, we headed for Beijing. The capital city is large and spread out. It is a charming place, an enigmatic blend of the old and new. We stayed in the 4-star Courtyard Marriott Hotel which is attached to a large modern shopping centre. Playing Tai Chi with the Hun Yuan group at the Heavenly Temple Park was a most enjoyable experience. We quickly felt a connection with these people who are also learning the same Tai Chi system.
One day we were treated to a very special session with Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang. It was opportune for us to meet with another Hun Yuan Tai Chi group from Seattle. The location where we trained with Grandmaster Feng was very peaceful, an oasis in the heart of Beijing. Grandmaster Feng said that it was a special occasion that the Australian and American practitioners could come together in this special place to practise Hun Yuan Tai Chi. We all agreed that there was a strong presence of energy in the place.
There are many more treasured moments, far too many to mention here. The food, the atmosphere and the people all contributed to an enjoyable and memorable trip. We all appreciated having a national tour guide as competent as Vincent. When you look at the photo album in class which shows some of the spectacular sights, you will wish that you had been there. I hope you’ll all have the opportunity to visit the Land of Dragon, a unique experience which will reward you with many joys and fond memories
– Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
We thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Although one doesn’t know what to expect when visiting a country for the first time, we hadn’t realized it could be so good.
Waiters and Waitresses on Roller Skates
There were too many highlights to mention them all: the sheer number of beautiful people; the spiralling flyover roads in Shanghai to cater for the volume of motor vehicles (they seem to merge in the streets as they must have done on their bikes when there were fewer cars); the incredible lights in the cities, particularly Shanghai as we saw on the evening drive in from the airport and the evening river cruise; the parks where the Chinese people seemed to gather in the early morning to participate in some form of exercise – Tai Chi as expected, activities using bats and balls, fans, and even ballroom dancing; visiting temples and palaces of great beauty and seeing where Chairman Mao spent much of his time living comparatively simply it seems; the Great Wall and the mind boggling work it must have taken to build it
I think the experiences which always come first to mind though were the Tai Chi experiences and I wish we had been able to “play” more Tai Chi. Doing Tai Chi in Beijing in such beautiful surroundings with Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang and his daughter was a great privilege. Going to Mount Wudang was brilliant and certainly the true highlight of the trip. The mountains were breath taking in their beauty even though the haze was a little disappointing, and our visit to the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy was extra special. In our opinion the best Chinese meal of the trip was the lunch we had at a small restaurant – or was it a private home? – near the Purple Cloud Palace at Mount Wudang.
Having Chinese food every day was a little difficult at times – the dream of vegemite toast (for one of us) kept surfacing as time went by. However, we returned home on the Sunday and decided we had to have a stir-fry with rice by Tuesday!
We don’t have as many photos as we would like, particularly of people. I think there was always the temptation to try to get too much in the background.
The Chinese people with whom we came in contact were friendly and very pleasant. Tour leader, Vincent, and local guides generally did a good job to make our tour worthwhile but being with a group of people from the Tai Chi Academy made it all the better. The companionship was wonderful.
Thanks for the opportunity.
– Pat and Joe
Despite following a yellow flag like any other of the tour groups of many nations stumbling off a plane in Shanghai, the Tai Chi Academy people were a group with a difference – one with the common theme and purpose being Tai Chi. Certainly, joining in with Chinese people exercising in the Lu Xun Park in Shanghai (itself a privilege to visit and do the various forms by the statue of Lu Xun himself), along the banks of the Yangtze River at Wuhan or in the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing was a very special experience compared with a normal tourist round of buffet breakfast, traffic jams and yet more temples. (Not that we did not have our full share of all three). The early morning people exercising, “playing” Tai Chi, dancing, singing, meditating and starting their day with un-self-conscious ease is certainly a good start to the list of what happened and what we remember about it.
Possibly the most important item gleaned from the visit was a sense of perspective for the form and forms we call Tai Chi and Qigong. Just how the yellow dragon gets clear of the water is less important than being able to do it at all. We got a firm direction from Grandmaster Feng that if there is only time to do one or other of the Qigong set and the Hun Yuan Tai Chi form – do the Qigong. And this came not only from Grandmaster Feng. Brett also took us through Hun Yuan Qigong on most mornings – to cultivate the inner strength we needed to face the rest of the day …
And the day was (of course) for touring and tourism. To most of the party, all Tai Chi and no tourism would make for a very dull tour and so there was plenty of touring to liven up even the most serious foreigner and also sort out the sheep from the goats.
Nan Yan Palace, Mount Wudang
Talking about goats – Mount Wudang was big, very big. We only touched on the possibilities. How many will return to pursue the rest? High mountains, endless steps up into the clouds and mists, the heart-testing stone, temples old and new, some repaired and some just modified, the Cloud Dragon Taoist Master and his amazing Junior Demons, the Taoists from Taiwan Province (as stated on their banner and with whom we continually crossed paths) and their captivating ceremony. All these remain along with overnight trains, interesting hotels, wonderful people of the “real” China and the small Wudang City that had ten internet cafes charging one yuan for a half hour.
But what is a tour without shopping, endless rounds of banquets and one temple or two too many? By the time we had stayed in Beijing it had all happened. Shopping, the Great Wall (so what if it cannot be seen from space?), Tiananmen Square decorated for China’s National Day (or Guoqing) and the experiences of the Beijing subway. There is so much more to see in Beijing than in Shanghai – sorry Stacey (our Shanghai guide). Beijing is balancing the old and new. Shanghai seems to be becoming like something out of the “Jetsons” despite having a unique history that unfortunately just got replaced by a subway. And everywhere we went we had our due and proper dose of culture shock as well. However, the concept of having every waking minute completely organised and planned, re-organised and re-planned and disorganised and unplanned all at the same time was still only partly accepted by us westerners when we sadly said “bye bye” to China.
We had wonderful guides – both national and local. The jokes they told are even now still a bit of a mystery but punch lines that were unconsciously missed in translation were mostly compensated by those inadvertently added in translation. So it all balanced, as it should in China. Our main guide, Vincent Wu, really was one of the guys as well as Mr Fixit and became a good friend as well. We may even meet him again when he does a “dry run” for his planned tours through the Australian outback. Maybe he will need local guides? That could be an interesting opportunity to repay many debts.
The experiences, once the memory train starts, come out like an unravelling thread. Better to tie them off at some stage and leave the pattern on the jumper intact. But they are also quite different for each person who went. It is therefore better to tie them off and keep it all general as well. So finally, what kinds of things were learned for our Tai Chi journey? Maybe from Wudang I learned you should never ask a Taoist kungfu master his age, and from Grandmaster Feng that on the outside the main thing to avoid is the wind and on the inside the main thing to avoid is anger. From our friends in the Temple of Heaven Park came the insight that the Hun Yuan opening is “pung lu ji an” (ward off, roll back, press, push) in disguise. And overall? As usual for China – a one-liner will do. “What is an archer without a target?
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to China and it is difficult to single out a highlight. The whole experience was enlightening.
The day we walked up Mount Wudang will live in my memory for a long time. A steep walk of approx 25km up and down was physically demanding, although my calves didn’t really feel the challenge until a day after. The foot massages that many of the tour party underwent helped relieve the burden.
The view from the top was worth the effort and we were literally amongst the clouds. I walked around the temple at the peak of the mountain and marvelled at the industry of those who built it hundreds of years ago.
Nowadays they have a chair lift – which was not open to the public while we were there – that can bring up most of the supplies etc. but before it was done by foot. The path in some places is narrow and I fell a number of times on the slippery surfaces. It was amazing to see people carrying all their food and materials on the end of poles that they balanced on their shoulders.
The contrast between the old and new in China is stark. It was exemplified by one local walking in the middle of the jungle, where we saw exotic animals including monkeys, carrying a television on the end of a pole.
The food and the exercise made me feel I was on a health farm. However, the company and the cultural variety made it an experience I will never forget.
I think the serenity and tolerance that Tai Chi brings helped make it such a memorable and enjoyable time.
Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang (1928- )
founder of the
Hun Yuan Tai Chi system
The highlight of the trip for me was visiting His Holiness the Dali Lama’s residence in Beijing and training with Grandmaster Feng, or as they say in China “The Last of the Great Dragons”. This may not have been the best sight seeing highlight, but the vibe of the place and the training with Grandmaster Feng was something you could only feel rather than see. I also really enjoyed the company! Everyone added their own two cents to the group dynamic and David’s language assistance was always appreciated. I think we all had a great time, even on the day we spent twelve hours or more in the bus.
My training highlight was definitely at Mount Wudang where I spent a few nights doing some individual practice and made some significant personal insight into my practice, something I find difficult in group training. It’s hard to put into words what I discovered. I know I had much stronger feelings in the form so it was easy to find yet more errors in my Yang and Hun Yuan forms. The feeling of discontinuity was more evident and I could work through problem areas based on feeling rather than posture. Once I got the feeling correct, I then analysed my posture for differences. It really was a special place to train!
This was my third trip to China, the others being in 1994 and 1995. Many of the sights we visited were familiar to me so I was able to take time to soak up the atmosphere and observe change.
My first big surprise was Shanghai. The massive development in Shanghai amazed me. Gone are most of the old (although poor) homes and buildings and with that, a lot of its old character. Shanghai is now a great, wonderful, international city like Beijing. Our nighttime cruise on the river was a blaze of lights from the city buildings. However, I’ll remember Shanghai for the “Oldies” Chinese jazz band playing Waltzing Matilda at the Peace Hotel Jazz Bar!!!
In Wuhan, I was thrilled to find that our hotel window overlooked the Yangtze River itself!! Also, the coffee shop served the best cuppacino ever!!
I am not a morning person so I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed our early morning practice with Brett, especially in the parks, but even in the carparks!
Mount Wudang was all that I had hoped. I was determined to visit this mountain from the very first time our instructor put a poster on the wall at Tai Chi. Our visits to palaces and temples in the area filled me with a sense of being grounded in an ancient, gentle, natural philosophy of life. I hope it stays with me always. Our meeting with the Martial Arts Master, Taoist Abbott Zhong and his students was unforgettable – such discipline and dedication!!!
Then – off to Beijing – a massive, modern city.
Practising with Miss Feng Xiu Qian
It was here that we were fortunate enough to meet Grandmaster Feng and his daughter, Miss Feng. I will never forget the experience of meeting and working with Grandmaster Feng and his daughter. His calm, gentle, spiritual nature shone through as he led us through Qigong and talked to us about our training. He also showed us a massage technique. When he applied it to my back, I felt all the tension, heaviness and worries rush down and drain out through my feet. It left me feeling very light and carefree. We were very privileged to experience the wisdom of Grandmaster Feng’s words, his thorough commitment and complete dedication. The atmosphere at the Beijing residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama where we met Grandmaster Feng was most conducive to practising Tai Chi. I felt a great sense of warmth and energy flowing through my body which stayed throughout the entire visit, even out in the rain!
Our rickshaw ride in the Hu Tong area of Beijing was very interesting. Here we saw an older residential area that has been preserved. It consists of laneways of central courtyards with four small houses fronting each side of the courtyard – very old but very pleasant. (One of those renovation programs on television would have a ball!!!)
The Lamasery in Beijing holds special memories for me – very, very beautiful, especially the statue of the Maitreya, carved from one sandalwood tree and standing 18 metres tall.
I had visited the Great Wall on two other occasions. However, this time we travelled to Mutianyu, an area of spectacular beauty – a cable car ride up to a landscape of tall majestic mountains quite close to the Great Wall – magnificent scenery!!
As well as visiting many other tourist spots such as Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, we also shopped!!! Shopping in China is such fun – from the enormous department store (next to our hotel) to the roadside tourist stalls. Finding a bargain takes on a whole new meaning in China, when the final price at a souvenir stall can be one third of the asking price. Bargaining was fun and very much expected!!
An enormous thankyou to Fontane and Brett for making this trip possible – I know there was a great deal of time and energy put into organising it for us. I have so many wonderful memories. There are things I didn’t do and didn’t see this trip so I’m saving for the next one!!
We went on the trip primarily to see and do Tai Chi where it was developed and where it is still an important aspect of lots of people’s lives. We hadn’t previously thought about doing such a trip, but when the opportunity came up to undertake the experience with like-minded people we thought it would be a great way to travel.
Almost there … close to the Golden Hall, the Summit
Everything about the trip exceeded our expectations. The Tai Chi experience was fantastic, the grandeur and spectacular scenery around Mount Wudang was stunning, we loved the food, particularly once we started getting more local dishes (bony freshwater fish with tomato sauce was the exception), Chinese people were friendly and very interested in us all, traffic was unbelievable in both the level of congestion and absolute disregard to any semblance of road rules. Minibus drivers on Mount Wudang are obviously all frustrated rally drivers and must have a bet on who gets there first on every trip.
The highlight for me was the trek to the Golden Hall on top of the highest of the 72 peaks of Mount Wudang. The trip was originally to have been by cable car but that was not working. Our national tour guide predicted about a 3 hour walk which would have had us back at the hotel around 1:30pm for lunch. It was very steep and extremely hard going in places and it took twice as long as predicted with us eventually arriving back at 5:20pm. Fortunately, we came across a little village near the peak and had a great lunch there with a bottle of local Fire Water which I’m sure helped us to make it the last kilometre or so to the summit. Once on top, the views were spectacular and the feeling on antiquity and serenity that surrounded the Golden Hall was incredible. The Taoists were undertaking renovations and improvements to the area around the hall, carrying and carving stone in the same painstaking and labour intensive way that I imagine was used when it was originally built hundreds of years ago.
Heather particularly enjoyed the Tai Chi practice sessions in the Temple of Heaven Park and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence in Beijing. Here we were fortunate enough to go through the Fa Soong Gong and Silk Reeling exercises and then the Hun Yuan Tai Chi form with Grandmaster Feng and his daughter and other locals. The feeling of qi flowing seemed to be really intensified by doing the practice with a group of such experienced people and in such a special place.
We both also really enjoyed the Great Wall. Even though we had read about it and seen pictures, we just hadn’t appreciated the ruggedness of the land it is built on and the immensity of the job of building it until we got to see it close up and walk on it.
– Wayne and Heather
I found Shanghai quite overwhelming, with its frantic push for progress. The inner city had a strong “construction site” feeling with the old single/double storey housing being knocked down to make way for huge apartment blocks that were all built so close together. The sky rise office buildings in the new Pu Dong district were impressive but seemed unreal compared to ordinary life in the side streets. As an outsider, it seemed sad for so much of the old style housing to be lost as it has so much more character and community feeling than the new buildings. I guess it’s all part of embracing modernisation.
The time spent around the Bund was a highlight, a reminder of the influence of Shanghai as a key world port. It still captured that history from the 1800s and 1900s with the British, German, French domination. You could almost imagine the dank opium dens and dodgy dealings in some of the back streets.
The morning training in the local park was probably the most memorable of all the settings. The park had a lush tropical feel with lotus ponds, buzzing insects and filtered light from the plane trees. There seems huge numbers of people ballroom dancing, singing and training, the energy was really vibrant.
Yellow Crane Tower, Wuhan
Wuhan was a great taste for communist China and it was unbelievable to be looking out the hotel window to the Yangtze River. The city was less flashy and there was more of the military feeling in the buildings and streets that I had expected to see in China. The people were probably the most friendly of any place we went, the waitresses were chatty and food was spicy and really tasty. It was our first taste of the great sweet and sour fish that seemed to appear in every meal in the country areas from then on. Lis and I even managed to compete with the locals with our impressive display of washing hanging from every available nook in our room!
It was great to see Mao’s villa, in its 1960s style. I still can’t get my head around how we westerners were trudging through his house after so many decades when our leaders didn’t have contact and everything was secret. The villa was not foreboding at all but very peaceful and quiet.
Mount Wudang was most certainly the highlight of the trip for me (and I imagine almost everyone else has said the same thing!). I think we were all aware that it was such a privilege to be able to get to that region and the landscape was so inspiring that all our experiences were savoured that little bit more.
The epic walk to the top after our 5am train arrival was the most memorable. There were views across the misty peaks and the forest was humid initially but after a few hours the air was crisp and views more enclosed by trees. I was surprised by the number of people living and working along the track. The grunting men carrying slabs of water, people on bamboo chairs (or even a television!) would run past regularly. The steep stairs were broken by open areas with small houses, people cooking, drying onions, cutting chilies and selling water, souvenirs, a few nuts or mountain mushrooms. There were areas where filtered light streamed through the canopy and there were small shrines cut into the rock or priests at temples waiting to tell your fortune …very mystical. We managed to meet for lunch (what turned out to be a feast that barely fitted on the table) and Fire Water at the largest village near the top, perched on plastic chairs taking up the entire shop.
The buildings on the summit wrapped around the hillside and were busy with men making repairs on scary scaffolding. People had engraved their names on locks and locked them to almost every reachable railing. There were 360 degree views to misty mountains but you really had to strain your eyes to see the horizon. It was awe inspiring but almost too overwhelming to really take in – especially with a brain dizzy from climbing!
Purple Cloud Palace, Mount Wudang
Some final memories of Wudang
After the exhausting and inspiring time climbing the mountain, it was nice to discover that there were other places equally as special in Wudang. One of the most enjoyable was the Purple Cloud Palace, about 15 minutes down the mountain from our hotel. The Taoist temple was staggered up the hill side with a steep central staircase. The buildings to the side were like enclosing wings that felt protective and welcomed you to walk further in and up to the main hall. The buildings colours were beautiful dark blues, turquoise and reds that had a great faded and dusty look. The style and colours on the buildings really reminded me of images of Tibetan Buddhist buildings.
After climbing the stairs we could hear chanting coming from the main temple. Inside, the elderly Taoist group we had shared a train waiting room with in Wuhan were kneeled down facing the altar. Women in bright yellow ceremonial gowns chanted and gave readings in front of the colourful and offering-filled altar. The dark and dusty corners and edges of the hall were silent and the smell of incense combined with the dry air of the old building. Many of us stood inside the doorway for some time, feeling part of the powerful sounds, smell and spirit of the place.
It was sad to leave Mount Wudang. In such a short time there were so many varying experiences and sights. It has certainly sparked a curiosity to return with more knowledge and language under my belt in order to explore the region and culture more thoroughly.
We woke up early on the train from Wudang to Wuhan. Looking out the window in the early morning light, there were glimpses of the flat Chinese countryside. There were endless paddy and vegetable fields with occasional, lone brick or concrete houses left standing in the middle. People were already out in the fields picking crops in the hazy grey light.
As we approached Wuhan, the groupings of houses gradually got larger until we burst into the outer suburbs with their two or three storey concrete housing. By the time we were pulling into the station, we were looking straight into densely packed houses. Each house was crowned with at least one television aerial and a ton of washing hanging precariously over the balconies. Outside toilets were dotted along the tracks and people wandered along washing their faces and cleaning their teeth beside the tracks. It was an eye opener to see the reality of everyday life in these areas. It was a fascinating and important part of China to experience … a tour to Shanghai and Beijing only would have left an entirely different impression.
After the dramatic construction-fuelled modernisation of Shanghai, a week in Beijing felt much more settling. The foreign influence was still strong in Beijing but seemed more subtly engrained (as though it had already gone through most of its westernisation). In general, there were more English signs, and the sellers in shops and on the street seemed more tourist savvy. It certainly felt as if the city was preparing to open itself to the world for the 2008 Olympics.
The shopping mall our hotel was in was an eye-opener to a world of capitalism and consumerism I had expected to see more of in Japan. The fashions and variety of international food and wine were a world away from the shops we passed in Wuhan. The new China I guess!
We saw so many amazing sites in Beijing, but of all the places we stayed, I found it hardest to absorb a feeling for the culture of Beijing. Perhaps it was the volume of people at each site and the way in which our tour whizzed to and around them. I think I just found it impossible to comprehend the historical significance of the city, especially when many of the sites were already so famous in my mind.
Tiananmen Square was such a grand and monumental space that I felt like an ant running around on a table. No matter which side or higher “lookout” spot I thought I’d found, I could never really see from one end to the other and grasp how big it really was. Most of us had mixed feelings about the Square, given the events of 1989, but it was such a busy and social space filled with young families and kites that it was hard not to enjoy the lively energy.
Forbidden City (Imperial Palace)
The Imperial Palace exceeded my expectations as a window into the history of the Chinese dynasties. I had never expected the Forbidden City to contain so many buildings and to cover so much of the inner city. It took us the entire afternoon to generally walk in straight line through the centre of the complex. The ceremonial axis through the palace was very powerful. The red gateway entry from Tiananmen Square (under the site of Mao’s People’s Republic Declaration) was the first of numerous gateways that led progressively further into inner compounds and eventually out into palace gardens.
The cost and labour that went into building and maintaining the buildings must have been immense. There were so many buildings, each designated for a single particular purpose such as weddings, meetings, etc. It is hard to know whether it would have felt like a prison to the concubines and servants living there or whether it was a pleasant life, safe behind the walls from the rest of the city. It was interesting to learn that the everyday people living in the Hu Tong alleys had to have grey houses in order for the yellow/gold roofs of the palace to gleam over them. Life in the palace would have been a world away from life outside.
Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven was quite unlike any other of the other sites we visited in Beijing. The deep blue roof tiles (to reflect the heavens) were a stunning contrast to the red and gold roofs at other places.
The Temple of Heaven was probably my favourite site in Beijing. The circular and symmetrical layout was much more subtle and at a more human scale than most of the “grander” sites we visited. The feng shui, astrological and lunar principles it combined gave it a special connection with its site and an important link with nature. Despite the grandness of the Chinese Empire, it was fascinating to appreciate their reliance on the seasons and harvest. The circular altar was a powerful place to stand and it was easy to imagine the Emperor performing his agricultural prayers.
From the altar we could see back across to the park with its dark conifers and grass. In the foreground there were people kicking hackie sacks and playing badminton and in the distance was the area where we practised Tai Chi in the shade with the Hun Yuan group.
The Great Wall
The grand finale to the trip was probably the Great Wall. After all the things we had seen, I hadn’t really thought much about how I would feel about seeing the Great Wall of China. The first glimpses of the Mutianyu section we visited were from the cable car and I was surprised that they really did get my heart thumping.
The sharp ranges of hills and mountains we could see from the summit were almost as spectacular as the wall itself. It was amazing to look closely at the white stones and the style of the wall and to appreciate the epic proportions by which it was built. I hadn’t realised there would also be so many guard and sentry towers along the wall, each with special windows and fireplaces. It certainly must have been desperate times for a wall of that magnitude to even be attempted.
We wandered back down from the cable car to the bus and got our most ferocious experience of street vendors … Endless stalls of women screaming “Lady, lady, I remember you!”, “Remember me?”, “You need a t-shirt!”. At one point, I had a woman holding both my wrists and another blocking my path as I tried to leave without a purchase. It was a relief to reach the bus for our monumental six hour journey home via the Ming Tombs.
The Great Wall
Some Quiet Reflections
Basically, as someone just beginning Tai Chi and Qigong, it was an honour to just watch, listen and learn what I could from the masters and other practitioners we met. Most of the time I just felt like a sponge, trying to soak in all the new experiences and different flavors to the Tai Chi and Qigong, especially those practiced in the parks.
It sounds funny, but in terms of my own training, it has sometimes felt a little lonely and difficult to be diligent as you practise at home in a room by yourself. The trip has given me the sense now that when I train I’m connected to a much bigger and diverse network of people in China and around the world. It’s great to have those images of people training each day in the parks. My own training really isn’t lonely at all and it doesn’t seem half as funny hugging imaginary trees in the living room by myself any more!
Seriously though, it was great to discover how positive, generous and friendly the Tai Chi community generally is – and not just the people that we met in China but especially the people on our trip – I missed them all heaps during the following week when I travelled to Japan on my own.