Highlights of the 2011 China Trip : Shanghai, Yunnan, Chengdu, Xian, Mount Wudang and Beijing
During September, fifteen students and family members joined me on a memorable trip to China. The first words from our national tour guide Vincent were, “China is too big!” We soon realised just how huge China is – there are the large cities such as Shanghai, then there are the mountains. After getting some understanding of the nature of China in Shanghai, we went to the Yunnan province where we gained a whole new perspective of the vastness of this great land.
The ancient city of Li Jiang was the perfect introduction to the multicultural aspects of China. Different ethnic groups mingled everywhere creating a very colourful sight. We stayed in a beautiful old Chinese mansion on the hill in the centre of town. Looking down from the temple in the complex, we had a wonderful view of traditional tiled roofed Chinese buildings and heard the sound of music and laughter wafting up from the streets below. Its stone streets, old buildings, alley ways, quaint shops and water canals gave this place great charm.
Travelling to Shangri-La and on to Deqin soon revealed the enormity of this land with its 4,000 metre passes, glaciers and snow capped mountains. The roads were under construction and the terrain was steep and treacherous. We needed to be very careful. Travelling here revealed the rugged, spectacular beauty of China and the enormous engineering and physical effort required to link the towns in this part of the country. We were not disappointed. The majestic peaks of the Meili Snow Mountain Range outside our hotel window were spectacular. We were overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We stayed in the quaint Tina’s guest house and enjoyed the rustic atmosphere and homely cooking.
Chengdu and Xian also had their charms and famous sites. However, Wudang was one of our Tai Chi destinations and as usual, it did not disappoint. We trained with Taoist master Zhong Xue Yong who is the head coach of the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy. He taught our group a nurturing qigong which was enjoyed by everyone there. Master Zhong has been training since he was 7 years old and has become the embodiment of Taoist training principles and philosophies. He encouraged everyone to practise slowly and in a manner that allowed us to experience the feeling and meaning of the training. As Master Zhong emphasised, “If you do not practise long enough or in the wrong way, you will not get the true meaning from the training.” Unfortunately, many people only scrape the surface of Tai Chi and Qigong. If only they knew the joy and healing benefits contained within the practices, they would never stop training.
Master Zhong talked about collecting qi (energy) from the environment and about the body being a small universe. Through Qigong training, we can connect the small universe to the larger; the internal to the external. It develops the body’s three internal treasures: jing, qi and shen (essence, energy and spirit). These are important Taoist elements of training and can be roughly translated as essential energy (building blocks) converted to kinetic energy which increases vitality, intelligence and consciousness.
In the beginning, your posture might be poor and your body stiff and tense. The first requirement is to adjust your posture – stand straight and avoid leaning; relax your joints so they can open and enable blood and qi to circulate freely. Next, regulate your breathing – learn to coordinate your breath naturally with your movement. Do the practice slowly and feel the movement. Slowness helps you to regulate the mind, body and breath. As you slow down, you will begin to relax more and experience heaviness in the joints and warmth and tingling sensations in the hands. The more we train this way, the more we feel and enjoy our practice.
With consistent effort, no matter how stiff and uncoordinated the body is, it will become soft and supple. Training allows us to renew our physical and mental energy and to enjoy greater quality of life. When you practise, learn to find the right rhythm. Don’t rush. This applies to everything we do in our lives.
Training on Mount Wudang was a joy. We hope you can join us in the future and experience some of the wonders of China. I will cover the last leg of the tour in the next article and focus on the teachings of Feng Xiu Qian, daughter of the founder of our Hun Yuan Tai Chi system.
– Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
Thanks first of all to Fontane and Brett for the terrific organisation, and exciting itinerary planning for this holiday of holidays.
There were many highlights in the wonderful, varied, busy tour. For me the biggest thrill was to see the other side of the Himalayas, albeit from a distance, and compare the scenery, people, villages and towns, and especially roads and bridges(!) with those on the southern side of that mountain range, in Nepal where I have had many happy times over the years. Alike, but different — SO different.
Variety, however, seemed to be the main theme of the tour. We saw the ‘outback’, we saw the cities, villages, tourist attractions, off-the-beaten track attractions, sophisticated cities, historical cities, industrial cities, once-small towns now expanding because of better roads (and the mind tries to balance the good and the bad about these roads!), small farming settlements, and the beautiful mountain scenery, monasteries, temples and palaces of Wudang Mountain.
What was not varied was development. Someone mentioned that the national bird of China was the crane, but that the national machine was also, obviously, the crane! From the largest city to the smallest village, development of new roads, houses, factories, offices was obvious everywhere. This is a country on the move, and it was fascinating to see, and to ponder on whether China can continue in this way, to the benefit of more of its people.
The week in Yunnan was certainly my main highlight, but I was surprised to be so moved by the terracotta warriors in Xian. This archaeological site really must be one of the wonders of the world. Contrasting the modern city of Shanghai, with the fascinating Forbidden City, new buildings and historical power of Beijing also provided great interest.
Qigong with masters on Wudang Mountain, and in Beijing, added to the pleasures. But I think it was the lessons with Brett, held almost every day in beautiful settings, by lakes, temples, in parks surrounded by Chinese people doing their own relaxing, or under the impressive glaciers of a mountain range, that I enjoyed even more.
In China, all my small physical problems seemed to disappear. The meals we had were lovely, with varied dishes from various parts of China, and suited my body perfectly; and doing lots of walking, and climbing up and down stairs only improved my health, and helped me lose weight!
Good companionship went a long way in making the tour a complete pleasure, and new friends were made.
And last, but only for extra emphasis, the care, guidance, and sheer hard work put in by our national guide, Vincent Wu, was a very, very big highlight of our travels. Our local guides also were caring and careful, and my thanks especially to “Rocky” in Yunnan, and our driver Li who kept a cool head under difficult conditions.
The whole trip was one big adventure and highlight but moments of connections stand out. There were many including the two below.
Standing at a temple door watching the Buddhist monks. A mother came to the door with her baby girl in a cloth sling on her back. The mother talked to me with hands, facial expressions and smiles. The baby turned her head around and smiled at me. Then the mother signed for me to take off the baby’s hat. Mother then walked inside the temple door and prostrated right down to the floor lying flat – three times. Baby weaved up and down with her in perfect flowing arcs. I watched amazed as baby showed no fear or distress as she weaved in large arcs. In fact her little bare feet twinkled at me from the bottom of the sling. She turned her head and fixed her gaze on me and smiled again. What a special blessing. Mother and child then vanished within the temple. When they re-emerged, mother signed for me to place the bonnet on the child’s head. The child smiled again and the mother sent signals of thank-you and then they were both gone.
Some of us had a spontaneous get together with the guides, drivers and locals one evening. They poured us local homemade wine from a plastic container. We laughed and had conversations as only people can when speaking from different languages and cultures. The party ended as we all had to go and sleep and be ready for the continuation of our journey and for the joy of further connections.
For me my travel to China is a landmark or reference point in my mind of great giving and receiving. Of the many places we travelled, people we met and experiences we had, both good and bad – together they were all combined into yet another layer of understanding the Tai Chi that I have been practising and has evolved the last couple of years. It has allowed me to understand on an experiential level how that feels from the inside of where it originated, as well as a better understanding of the people who played a large part in the forming of our art. All of these experiences formulated for me a new found level of commitment and dedication of my personal Tai Chi training.
I am grateful for the group that I travelled with on this journey. They are part of my family and I see them quite intimately in my heart. I look forward travelling to China with this great reference point that Brett and Fontane have graciously shared with all of us.
As a child I got some stamps of China with drawings of tall mountains and deep valleys. I saw them on our trip and enjoyed that very much. As so often happens, though, it wasn’t the views, or the monasteries, or the spectacle of the Terracotta Warriors or even the craziness of the roads that left a lasting image. It was the life and joy in the big parks, full of people enjoying themselves doing what gives them the most fun – dancing, singing, whip cracking, sport. People looking, participating, joining in. One big, noisy, interactive community. And us in the middle of all that, doing our Tai Chi, without any feeling of self-consciousness, because everyone around watched, accepted and learned from us.
Cruise on the Huangpu river in Shanghai. Gobsmacking spectacle. After a long flight the eclectic scenes of Shanghai were amazing. Crowded streets, the people, the size of the place, the bustle, and the fact that it all worked was a revelation. The river cruise that evening was a sight to behold. The beer was excellent. The public parks were amazing. People ballroom dancing, doing Tai Chi, exercising, cracking whips, flying kites, doing martial arts, kicking bean bags, showing pet birds, meditating, community singing, orchestras, calligraphy, painting. An experience in itself.
Li Jiang. Another “not to miss” visit. Beautiful hotel, fascinating village, great shopping. The local ethnic group’s (the Naxi) culture was fascinating, their food delicious, their friendliness a comfort and their dancing entertaining. The village is a remake of the old one destroyed in an earthquake but it is so well done you can’t tell the old from the new. The creek that runs through the village is a centrepiece and strolling along the walkways, past the bars and the kiosks makes time pass quite quickly.
Breathtaking scenery at Deqin. The Snow Mountains, how beautiful. The changing face of the mountains over a 2 hour period after dawn was riveting. I saw my first glacier(s). The whole area is a picture postcard and well worth the trip on roads which will take your breath away. Brett unfortunately had his back to this panorama conducting the Tai Chi class while the group (and I) saw the whole thing!!.
Typical scenery around Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is a view from the road near the guest house where we stayed. A rural Chinese guest house with magnificent food and hospitality. I dispute the fact that it is only 2 star!!! Had a ball!
The Terracotta Warriors. Impressed by the size of the site! There are literally thousands of these warriors! The museum attached to site is definitely worth a look with artefacts thousands of years old on display. The history and the cultural significance of the site is immense and the literature and guidance provided to the traveller is excellent.
Mount Wudang. Again the history and culture of this area is fascinating! This is a photo of the Nan Yan Palace. The fact that these people actually built this palace at this site is amazing. The path to the site is a little strenuous but well worth the effort!! The scenery, unforgettable.
The Temple of Heaven constructed during the Ming dynasty. A magnificent example of Ming architecture beautifully decorated with intricate patterns. The whole structure built without a nail! This temple is situated in the Tian Tan complex which has many other historical attractions which are also unforgettable.
The Great Wall. One of the ‘must see’ historical features of mainland China. The scale of the wall is amazing. Access to the wall is easy (more stairs) or by cable car.