Highlights of the 2004 China Trip : Shanghai, Mount Wudang, Xian, Hua Shan, Luoyang, Shaolin Temple and Beijing
Yu Garden, Shanghai
Twenty-nine students and family members joined the Tai Chi Academy tour this year. Ou r journey commenced in Shanghai, one of the largest cities in the world. It is a city with many faces; it combines the old with the new. Places such as the Peace Hotel reflect the rich colonial architecture of its time. The beautiful Yu Garden, built between 1559 and 1577, preserves the traditional Chinese culture of days gone by. The striking TV tower shines like a monument to modern architecture. We also visited the Shanghai Museum and saw Shanghai in all its glorious neon lights on our night cruise. And, of course, there was the shopping which everyone enjoyed – great bargains and never-ending stories.
After Shanghai, we went to Mount Wudang, a legendary place where Taoist Master Chang San Feng developled Tai Chi Chuan (generally known as Tai Chi for short). Tai Chi was unlike any other martial arts in China at that time. Chang successfully combined the internal Taoist practices of healing and strengthening one’s vitality, energy and spirit into one dynamic form of training, which also served as a form of self defence. Mount Wudang is the perfect place for training. It is peaceful, majestic and full of qi and vitality. You can literally feel the energy of this sacred mountain. Training at our hotel every morning gave us a beautiful view of mountains and trees and a sense of another world. We had our training sessions with Taoist Master Yuan from the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy. Master Yuan talked for an hour about various aspects of Taoism first before he taught us some of the Wudang Tai Chi form – a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
From our peaceful mountain abode, it was on to Xian to see the magnificent terra cotta warriors. Xian is a very interesting city, oozing with history. In recent times, it has been developed into a major tourist attraction. Its modern buildings and shining night lights are testament to a place of fun and leisure.
Yin Yang Stone Carving, Hua Shan
After a short but interesting stay at Xian, we headed for Hua Shan, a mountain which is famous for its near-vertical cliffs and plunging ravines. The name “hua” means flower. The mountains in this range are shaped in the form of five petals of a flower. The fame of Hua Shan derives from its natural beauty which takes the form of huge granite peaks towering over the plains of the Shaanxi province. Throughout its many peaks and valleys are Taoist monasteries. During the Song Dynasty, the fate of Hua Shan was played over a game of chess between Taoist sage Chen Tuan (c871-989 A.D.) on Hua Shan and Emperor Zhao Kuang Yi. Emperor Zhao wanted to use Hua Shan for a military garrison. Chen wanted Hua Shan to remain as a sacred mountain. Although the Emperor was famous for his expertise at chess, yet Chen was skilled in the art of divination, so he predicted the Emperor’s every move. The Taoist sage won the game and the Emperor kept his word and left Hua Shan alone. The Chess Game Pavilion, a monument to the contest, still stands today on the top of the central peak of Hua Shan. Hua Shan is filled with many such legends. The more you know about Chinese history, the more interesting travel in China becomes.
From Hua Shan, we travelled through China’s vast agricultural interior – farms and produce as far as the eye can see. Five hours later, we arrived in Luoyang, one of China's seven ancient capitals. Luoyang was the beginning of the famous ancient trade route, The Silk Road, linking China with the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, most of its history was destroyed during the Japanese occupation. We visited the Longmen Grottoes, caves which have over 10,000 Buddhist statues of all different sizes carved into the walls. These grottoes are built along the edge of a river, a truly beautiful setting.
Shaolin Monks performing at the Shaolin Temple
From Luoyang, we went to the famous Shaolin Temple. We had training sessions on Yi Jin Jing, Muscle Tendon Changing Qigong, with a monk who is one of the coaches. This is an ancient set of exercises passed down from the Buddhist Monk Damo (born around 440 A.D.) who had a great influence on the direction of the Shaolin Temple. Damo spent many years meditating in cave. He had many realizations. One was the use of various movements and breathing to influence the body’s internal organs and meridians. The Yi Jin Jing set is an important part of the monks’ training, enabling them to develop flexibility, internal strength and healing capabilities.
Our final destination was Beijing. Apart from the many historical sites such as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Ming Tomb and the Great Wall, we were very fortunate to train with Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang, founder of the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system. Grandmaster Feng guided us through the Hun Yuan Qigong and the Hun Yuan Tai Chi 24 form on the lovely grounds of the Temple of Heaven Park – one of the highlights of our trip.
I hope that this brief description of the tour has given you a glimpse of our experience of travelling in China. There are many fascinating stories about people, places and food. I hope you can join us on our next tour and experience the places, people and culture that is China.
– Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
It was an incredible, eye-opening experience for Tash and myself. Twenty-nine Tai Chi students and partners plus Brett left for China on 13 September and returned to Australia on 1 October. In between was an amazing journey. The observations of participants in the China tour last year were all reinforced.
Our impression was of a country undergoing rapid change. There is a huge investment in infrastructure, particularly the road network and in new buildings, both commercial and residential. There is a big emphasis on the beautification of public places, with instant, Floriade-style, plantings of flowers and shrubs along nature strips, parks and public places. It also appears that the Chinese have a tradition of tree planting in urban areas, with all roadsides, central nature strips and even the narrow alleys of the Hu Tong, growing significant numbers of mature trees. In all, the Chinese appear to be making a great effort to present their country to visitors to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Our tour started in Shanghai, a most dynamic city. Most impressive was the innovative architecture of the new buildings. High rise office buildings with walls of waving glass, crowned by roof features, or a tubular space needle structure supported by angled columns. It made even the most modern Australian buildings look rather pedestrian by comparison.
We could spend only limited time at the Shanghai Museum where there are excellent collections of artefacts from all eras of China’s cultural history. We particularly enjoyed the exhibition of ceramics and calligraphy. Other highlights were the Yu Garden, an excellent combination of water features, architecture, sculpture and garden, and the Bund along the river where older Soviet style architecture contrasted with modern Shanghai.
Nan Yan Palace, Mount Wudang
And so to Wudang, centre for Taoist martial arts and Taoist philosophy. The journey required a bus trip from Wuhan to Wudang. What a journey! The road winds through rural China. As the harvest had started, the road was also used for drying corn, threshing grain, stacking produce to be transported as well as transporting rural workers in overloaded trailers drawn by single cylinder diesel engines travelling at about 6km/hour, while through traffic attempted to travel at more than 10 times that speed. With road rules apparently regarded only as guidelines, it made for an interesting trip. It was particularly interesting to see how the Chinese lived in the villages, even if only viewed from the bus.
Wudang Shan (Mountain) is magic. I had seen the depictions of Chinese scenery of high, steep sided mountains with temples impossibly clinging to the top and sides and thought of them as being caricatures, but it is all true. Nan Yan Palace clinging high up on the side of a mountain and overlooking the steep slopes to the valley floor, was breath taking. The effort involved for the ancient Chinese to build these temples and shrines must have been enormous.
Our hotel was adjacent to the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy where we were introduced to Master Yuan. For the next three days, the Master would give a dissertation on the development of Taoism and Taoist history, then would lead us in Tai Chi practice. What an experience for us! We were also treated to a demonstration by the students. A star was a lad of about 10 whose enthusiasm and precision in the movements was astounding.
Terracotta Warriors, Xian
Next to Xian, an ancient yet modern, pleasant city, close the the vault of the terracotta warriors and the site of the Banpo Neolithic Village. Alas, the actual site of the village was closed for conservation and related works, but there was an extensive interpretive display of the many artefacts from the village which was particularly interesting.
Hua Shan, with its very steep granitic mountains was the next destination. A spectacular cable car ride followed by steep walks to the peaks, including, at one section, steps cut into a near vertical rock face with a hanging chain as a hand rail. Even though, at this stage we reckoned on developing some strength in our legs from the climbing, spare a thought for the porters. All supplies for the restaurants and shops in the mountains were brought in by porters in the classical tradition of a pole over the shoulder with a balanced load on the ends. One of our number calculated the load at up to 60kg. If ever I feel like complaining of being tired or sore from hard work or walking, I shall just remember those porters.
Shaolin was another highlight. Deng Feng city is a modern centre of 300,000, with some 300,000 Wushu (kung fu) students at the many schools. We visited one of the schools where the 5,000 students receive both academic and Wushu lessons. It is quite an exercise in logistics as students live in the schools, thus requiring living and academic accommodation. The city was preparing to host its First International Wushu Festival, a major event given China’s reputation and status in kung fu. There was a lot of building activity and preparation of public places with sculptures, street plantings, etc. At the Shaolin Temple, we were led by the Master in Muscle and Tendon Changing Qigong (Yi Jin Jing), exercises that really tested our body flexibility and strength.
Practising with Grandmaster Feng,
founder of the Hun Yuan Tai Chi system
We arrived in Beijing after an overnight train trip (sleeper cars). Our stay was to be the climax of the tour with Tai Chi practice conducted by Grandmaster Feng, along with Miss Feng and other instructors from the Hun Yuan Academy. What an experience! Much emphasis was placed on the Qigong exercises, leading to the practice of the Hun Yuan form of Tai Chi. Grandmaster Feng, Miss Feng and the instructors demonstrated the subtle energy generated in their practice of the form and how to truly relax through the movements. It was very powerful stuff. For myself, I realised that how much I still had to learn and how much my enthusiasm was revived.
Otherwise in Beijing, the major historic and cultural attractions were covered in our tour itinerary. For first time visitors it was an excellent program. Of course, there was not enough time to do all that we would have liked. But then, that gives us a reason (if one was needed) to come back.
The tour was great value for money. To do all that travel with accommodation and meals included at that price was amazing.
Conditions in China for travelling tourists are better than we had been led to believe. China is putting in a huge effort to present itself to the world it seems. Attendants and cleaners are present at all major venues to keep the places clean and there are street cleaners everywhere, so the cities are kept spotless.
Chinese people are very friendly. A smile and a “hello” to them always produced a warm response. Apart from obvious risk places, it seems to be a very safe place to travel and walk in the cities. We did quite a bit of walking in the cities (time permitting) and really enjoyed it. Travel by taxi is no problem if you have the destinations written down for the driver to read.
Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang
Shopping was something else! It was hard to get used to just how much bargaining was involved and the adjusting to the difference between the first price asked and the final price set.
Tour guide Vincent was great, his hard work ensured that there were no problems on the tour.
I haven’t reported on great character moments, such as the meal at the Old Beijing Noodle House, more a Mongolian feast, bringing out the primeval in people such as John, or the refined bargaining skills developed by Wendy and Patsy, or the keen navigation skills shown by Angela or the all night “500” card tournament held in one sleeper compartment by the younger set, led on by Carla or the armful of watches proudly displayed by Ray, and ask Alex how to carve Peking duck.
Nor have I reported the numbers of citizens in the cities where we stayed, practising Tai Chi and Qigong in groups in public places in the morning. When the group practised in unusual places (airports, hotels) we were often joined by strangers.
Finally having an experienced tour guide in Vincent Wu with us was invaluable. The tour went so smoothly largely due to his efforts.
And a big thanks too to Fontane and Brett for the organisation of the tour. They must have made a big effort and it showed.
Would I go again, - yes in a heartbeat.
The trip to China was a great way to get an insight into modern China, and to gain an appreciation of some of its long history. The visits to Wudang and Huashan were very interesting for the mountain scenery, the history of the places and to gain some understanding of how these places remain important in China today. The instruction that the group was given in Wudang, Shaolin and Beijing was great – with the time in Beijing being particularly memorable. Some insight into the commercial aspects of martial arts around Shaolin was very interesting - some 90 schools operate in the area. We visited one large boarding school with over 6,000 students, where students undertake 4 hours of martial arts training daily, as well as the standard school curriculum.
The day-to-day sights, together with the big tourist attractions (Warriors, Great Wall etc.) and the guides' insights into Chinese history and life today, all made the trip very rewarding.
Golden Hall at the Summit of Mount Wudang
Although we were concerned about traveling in China with a 7 year old, we need not have worried. Tim had a great time. All of us on the tour became used to being looked at but Tim attracted the most attention. At one point he was surrounded by school kids wanting to know things about him and where he was from.
The food was fantastic and we would travel there again, just to eat the food. With the price of beer being the same as water, we tried the different local beers at each of provinces that we travelled through.
The highlight of the trip was the time spent at Wudang Shan, visiting the temples around and the training at the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy. The first temple we visited was the Nan Yan Palace, which must have been truly magnificent in its day. The buildings and paths (mostly steps!) are built not only on the few flat spaces, but are also carved into or hanging off the mountain face. The second temple we visited was the Golden Hall, which is located at the top of the highest peak in Wudang Shan, and is reached by cable car. Our final visit was to the Purple Cloud Palace, a functioning Taoist temple.
Marble Boat, Summer Palace
The 2004 trip to China was great. Things started with a rush when we landed in Shanghai during the middle of a typhoon. Did you know that a Boeing 777 can still land when it approaches the runway sideways? On our way from the hustle and unexplained smells of Shanghai to the quiet misty peaks of Wudang, we experienced some of the most creative high-speed bus driving I've ever seen. It seems that three large trucks and a bus full of Australian tourists can all pass each other simultaneously on a two lane road providing all drivers use their horns excessively.
Wudang was definitely a highlight of the trip. From the impossibly steep limestone cliffs with ancient temples perched at the top to daily Tai Chi training with Master Yuan, Wudang is certainly worth a visit. From here we travelled up through much of central China, visiting various places to see the sights, and punch Shaolin monks as hard as possible (without any discernable effect). Tai Chi training with Grandmaster Feng, walking along the Great Wall and fabulous shopping made the conclusion of the trip in Beijing another one of the highlights. From the people, sights, sounds and smells, China is a land of contrasts and well worth a visit.
When I first started writing about my experiences in China, several highlights came to mind. There was the beautiful Mount Wudang, a place that I’m sure everyone found to be a highlight of their trip. There was the Great Wall, which was also very special. It was amazing to walk on a structure which was so old and had so much history.
But when I think back to which parts of the trip had the most impact on me, I would have to say that the first walk through Shanghai was one of them.
We were delivered by coach from our hotel to a large car park the morning after we touched down in Shanghai. The moment our group got off the bus, we were assailed by street hawkers, all trying desperately to sell us postcards or fake Rolexes. Although I was very much used to it by the end of the trip, it was very alien for me to see people so determined to sell you anything that they could. After fighting our way past the four or five hawkers, we made our way down through an opening in the fence to the street which would lead us to our destination, the Yu Garden. The walk to the Garden was quite amazing. We went past many small stalls selling a variety of things from food to fireworks to Gameboy games (all very cheap). As we walked past each stall, the vendors would call out, “Hello, hello” trying to get us to stop and buy something.
Although it was a Tuesday, the place was full of people doing all manner of things like playing checkers or ma jong or just hitting a shuttlecock to each other.
The Yu Garden was a very nice place. As with most places in China, it was a fairly ancient structure and just about every part we went to had a five-minute story attached by our very knowledgeable tour guide. Although it wasn’t as crowded as some of the pictures you would see on the postcards, it was still full of people everywhere you went. The rest of our day consisted of lots of walking and visits to the silk factory, Shanghai Museum and a very nice night cruise on the Huangpu River.
I think the reason that this was one of the highlights of my trip was that it was the first time I had been in a completely different culture and it really stuck with me.
It is not easy to verbalise the many images and experiences this trip has given us. Although we read up a little on Chinese current affairs and history, China was a new country for Heidi and me.
The most striking discovery about China today was that much of what we heard about the place was wrong or at least no longer true. We never felt we were in a communist or military dominated country as we never saw obvious propaganda, military hardware or any guns, like we had experienced in Russia in the mid-90s. We saw people trying to make a buck, people enjoying their cities and parks, lots of labour intensive hard work and busy big city life. You feel the place humming along and you know that the rate of change in this society is moving at a break-neck speed.
Contact with people was limited to the usual tourist exchanges with restaurant/hotel staff, sales people or cabbies, but a smile was met with a smile and people were helpful. If you could speak a few words, people were interested to hear we were from Australia. Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution are non-topics. People prefer to remember 1980 and “the open door” policy as the time when their lives started to change for the better. Occasionally, you hear stories illustrating there is still a fair bit of central decision making. Like the one about how now that dogs in Beijing have moved from being food items to pets, a local ordinance has been enacted stipulating that they “shall not be taller than 35cm above the ground” (try that in Canberra!).
The accommodation was much better than our expectations. Toilets too, did not match their reputation. Our 2 imported toilet rolls and thick soled “shower slippers” were soon ditched to make room in the suitcases for goodies, which seemed to accumulate at an alarming rate. The sooner you get into the routine of buying bottled water or tea every time you see it the better, then you can just forget about the tap water issue. Most meals were good, although dishes would improve significantly if Chinese cooks used a lot less salt. Sometimes we felt we were eating at certain places solely because our guide thought the toilets were acceptable. These were in areas with lots of tourists and the food was catering more for Western palates – more like Australian Chinese meals. The best lunch was at an old couple’s place in a Hu Tong courtyard house. A couple of times Heidi and I ate extremely well in-house with a couple of beers and a glass of wine thrown in for under AUD$40. Talking of beers, drink lots of it – it’s cheap, low alcohol and very tasty (you get tired of bottled water).
Pagoda Forest, Shaolin Temple
Scenically, the highlights were the mountains, both Wudang Shan and Hua Shan. These mountains are different to those of Europe, USA and New Zealand. They are spectacular in their own right and even more so with the temples on top – truly inspiring. The temples were calming, peaceful and located in the most wonderful settings of parks or forests. I also liked the Pagoda Forest at the Shaolin Temple for its history and tranquillity, in spite of its many visitors. The Forbidden City in Beijing did not give me the same lift; it is so large, so stark and there is a lot of renovation going on. Perhaps it just doesn’t match “the temple on the mountain top” imagery. Not so the Great Wall, it was even better than all the docos and photos we had seen. It really is an amazing sight and leaves you overawed by its magnitude and beauty.
The very long bus trip to Wudang took us through the plains of the Hanshui river, a tributary of the big Yangtze river, where the various grains and corn were being harvested. Again, most was done by hand by many people. It was hilarious to see the locals use every flat space, including the highway at times, to dry the harvest. Roofs and balconies were adorned with yellow corn, and whole families from old granddad to small toddlers were involved in the husking or turning over of the grain.
We were impressed with the cities. Lots of parks, wide streets often with trees and while the traffic looked like a continuous game of dare or chicken, there seemed to be some give and take in the end that made things flow. Shanghai had an amazingly refreshing skyline with buildings with interesting architectural features. Xian has a lovely old centre which is protected from new high rise development. A future trip could possibly spend a couple of days there. Beijing has a nice mixture of old and new, although the old seemed to be disappearing at an alarming rate. The parks were charming and were especially colourful with pot plants, in preparation for the Moon Harvest Festival and the National Day on October 1st.
Grandmaster Feng showing an
Acupuncture Point for Self Massage
The Tai Chi and Qigong training we received in Wudang, Shaolin and Beijing was really outstanding and made lasting impressions on me. This is something you need to experience for yourself, but the learning, the enjoyment, fun and sense of presence of the masters is wonderful. And I can’t begin to tell you how funny it was to see our very likeable tour guide, Vincent, turn into a Tai Chi practitioner overnight. We saw locals do their morning practice, but somehow never managed to join them, my one disappointment of the whole trip.
All up, it is a must do trip, no matter from which angle you look at it. The experiences, the training, the sights, the value for money, a group with at least one common interest and no worries about where you are going to eat or sleep (too much of the first, not enough of the second) all make it something you’ll never forget. Be fit and well though, the mountains are testing, the pace is hectic, with new and wonderful experiences coming at you thick and fast. We loved it.
Thank you for your organisation of the trip, Vincent the tour guide was great, the Tai Chi crowd wonderful to be around and China was a brilliant destination with kind people.
Notes at first lesson at the Wudang Taoist Martial Arts Institute 16 Sept 2004
A concrete room
An oval table with an oval hole
Mahogany look, but chipped and worn.
Deep red velvet
Pennants with gold
What does it mean?
A dragon, a tiger, a horse,
A serpent, a deer,
A buffalo, donkey,
(That’s what they look like to me.)
The Taoist master appears,
Slim and fit,
Top knot bound in black,
Navy robe wrapped neatly.
In strong tones, with conviction of ages,
He explains the wisdom of Tai Chi learning.
It is, he says, based on your qi
Which takes time to learn, till one day you feel it.
The young do best here.
No social distraction to take their thoughts
Away from the contemplation of their qi
Dropping a Coin into the Frog's Mouth for
Good Luck, Mount Wudang
In winter, we hibernate to exercise
All in the search of the elusive qi.
Tired from our work, we lose our qi.
Exercise, says the master, is the key
Everyday – but concentrate
To hear your heart and your deepest self.
Relaxed, your blood flows freely.
Tense, it stops, and problems come.
Qi in the Dan Tian –
A feeling to aspire to,
Feeling it running through your body,
Taking the time to feel and listen.
A “hot” Dan Tian
Means good results.
Means good health
In a self-healing body.
Yin from the kidneys,
Yang from the heart –
The two parts
Make the body whole.
The first aim - control yourself.
No movement needed.
This is Wu Ji .
Taoist Master Yuan with the Tai Chi Group,
Movement is added
To this potent art
And Tai Chi emerges.
And good health as one.
So good is such control
Martial arts can follow
With this as a base.
Outside we go
Into the sun,
Odours wafting near.
Our master leads us
We learn new movements
And marvel at his grace,
His strength, his calm.
The secrets of his art