Highlights of the 2006 China Trip : Shanghai, Mount Wudang, Xian, Louguan Terrace, Hua Shan and Beijing
The Joys and Thrills of Travelling in China
September 15 marked the beginning of our fourth trip to China. St udents joined me on a 18 day tour of some of China’s famous mountains, great cities and incredible sights. It is difficult to describe China. It is a land of many contrasts – the largest and most modern cities on the planet surrounded by some of the oldest monuments in the world.
Nan Yan Palace, Mount Wudang
While we were driving from Wuhan to Mount Wudang, our guide, Vincent, told us about the philosopher, Lao Tzu, who rode a blue green water buffalo across China. We all wondered whether it was just a story – a blue green water buffalo? Then, out of the window, we saw a farmer ploughing his fields with a blue green water buffalo! Driving from Wuhan to Wudang gives you a sense of how China feeds its billions. Eight to ten hours driving and all you see are farms. They grow wheat, corn and just about everything else!
Once we reached Mount Wudang, we all knew the reason that the Taoists had chosen this mountain paradise to cultivate their mind, body and spirit. Its beauty and energy brought peace and happiness to everyone in the group. Our teacher on Mount Wudang was the current Head Coach of the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy, Master Zhong. He was a very energetic and enthusiastic teacher. He lectured on Taoist history and principles for health, and taught us some methods for strengthening our legs and cultivating our inner essence.
Photo taken with Master Zhong,
Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy
Master Zhong explained many aspects of the Taoist culture. He spoke about the legendary Chang San Feng, a retired magistrate who studied the ways of immortality. Chang’s teacher, Fire Dragon, taught him methods of self cultivation which enabled him to live for hundreds of years. Chang San Feng journeyed throughout China, learning the secrets of Shaolin and many other methods of training the mind and body. He retired to Mount Wudang to perfect his training. It was during the later stages of his training that he developed the internal martial and healing art of Tai Chi.
Master Zhong also talked about adjusting our diet and lifestyle according to the seasons. In winter, eat food that has a warming effect on the body. Make soup with chicken and herbs such as ginseng to strengthen the internal energy. Rest more. Don’t overwork or you will suffer during the following year. In summer, eat light, go to bed later and wake earlier. The more you follow nature, the healthier and happier you will be.
Master Zhong also expounded upon the pitfalls of over-indulging in desires. Trying to be rich or successful without balance can cause health problems. Always scheming and over-working can damage the mind, body and spirit. Try to know when to work and when to rest. Learn to create balance among body, mind, emotions and spirit. Practising Tai Chi is a very beneficial way to nourish oneself. It keeps the body supple, refreshes the mind, circulates the internal energy and raises the spirit.
We all felt that we had learnt some valuable lessons from Taoist Master Zhong. The food, people and sights in China all added up to an unforgettable adventure. All of the students said, “Why didn’t you tell us how wonderful China is?!” It is impossible to put it into words. You will just have to come and experience it for yourself!
– Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
Fontane, firstly thank you so much for all your organisation for the China trip – it was brilliant. You covered everything. The accommodation and food was all first class.
China was AMAZING - everything is SO BIG. And so many people.
The Temple of Heaven complex (Tian Tan), Beijing
The highlights for me were:
- actually seeing the Great Wall and the Terracota Warriors and Horses – things I've always wanted to do. The Chinese culture and their construction skills are mind blowing and to think they have been doing this for more than 6000 years!!!,
- Mount Wudang - the mountains in China are huge and beautiful,
- our visits to various Tai Chi Masters and finding out some of their life philosophy enriched the Tai Chi experience for me, and
- the opportunity to do Tai Chi in the parks so that the trip was not purely sight-seeing.
I had a wonderful fun time with the group – such a small diverse group that became a kind of family for 18 days. Our guide, Vincent, was also wonderful. We did and saw so much and experienced so much of another culture. I personally had lots of experiences I will never forget and will tell my friends about.
And, yes, Fontane was right – when you get back to Australia, you think WOW, we are SO LUCKY. I thank God every day for blue skies – something we didn't see much of in China due to pollution and the weather.
So if you get the chance to go to China – DO IT!
Musical Fountain Display, Xian
My first visit but definitely not my last to China was an eye opener for me. There were ten of us and we departed mid September. The few things that I knew about China were the usual information that you get from watching TV or reading the press. There is definitely much more than that! China is totally different from what I was expecting. It is vibrant with life and activity. Wherever you look, there is something to look at. The people are very friendly and I always felt safe, even in the most crowded situation. We experienced many unusual things while over there: the traffic, the crowd, the temples everywhere, the water concert with drizzle and all, the journey by train, meeting the head of the Taoists, the food, the parks where people are doing their own things with absolutely no self-consciousness, and of course not to forget the toilets. The people in our group were excellent and we all got on very well. It was a great experience for me and I know that sooner or later I will do it again.
In a little over two weeks, we had so many experiences, and so many adventures, and covered much ground in China. I would like to give special thanks to Mr Vincent Wu, who was our guide in China, from the time we landed in Shanghai until we departed Beijing airport. He ensured all our needs and wants were met, imparted much interesting information about his country and shared with us his great sense of humour. And all the while Brett was quietly guiding us, and leading us in our Tai Chi journey. And the trip would not have happened without Fontane's constant work and organisational skills.
Chang Feng Park, Shanghai
No, these old cars have not fallen into the lake!!!! They are car bodies that are now used as pleasure craft on a lake in Chang Feng Park in north west Shanghai. We went there on our first day in Shanghai to do some Tai Chi training. It was cool, slightly drizzly and peaceful. The sky was always overcast wherever we went in China – a combination of smoke from farmers' fires in the countryside, industry and vehicle pollution. This view across the lake shows the mix of modern and traditional that you see almost everywhere in China, especially in urban areas.
Next door to our Hotel Tian Lu in Wudang Shan was the Wudang Taoists Kung Fu Academy which is run by Master Zhong Yun Long. We visited the school several times. Master Zhong talked to us about the school and the history of Taoism and Tai Chi in Wudang Shan. Some of his first year students gave us an amazing demonstration of various forms, including the fan and weapons (which were huge, heavy, old and rusty but wielded by the students as if they were as light as bamboo). We had two lessons from Master Zhong; one of these lessons was at the nearby Zi Xiao Gong (Purple Cloud Palace). Master Zhong told us that some Taoists live to 115 and some know when they are going to die, and even choose the time. Nutrition is very important to Taoists and some have very restricted diets. Master Zhong does not, but has chosen not to eat beef, turtle or snake, as these 3 animals are related to the Eight Immortals.
The centre of the city of Xian has some very imposing structures, such as the Bell Tower, the nearby Drum Tower, and old city walls. In front of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, we saw a wonderful musical fountain display (scores of water jets operating in time to music – quite beautiful). Some 30k east of the city are the three pits of unearthed Terracotta Warriors, some still being excavated, and now covered and protected by enormous buildings. This huge area is a major tourist site and, in my view, is as impressive as Angkor Wat. As well as Pits 1, 2 and 3, there is an exhibition hall, a tea house and a circular theatre to view a film depicting the making and burying of the warriors.
the place where Lao Tzu, lectured on his book, “Tao Te Ching”
(the Classic of the Way and its Virtue or Power), written about
2,500 years ago. This collection of aphorisms extolling
the virtues of simplicity, with its obscure meaning, is the most
translated book in the world with the possible exception of the Bible.
Some 20k west of Xian is the quiet area of Louguan Tai (Terrace) where there are many temple buildings, some old and some new in various stages of construction. The building is being financed by Abbott Ren Fa Rong, head of the Taoist Association of China, a very respected Taoist leader and writer. We were fortunate that he was able to spare half an hour or so to meet with us and explain some aspects of Taoism. We then went to a nearby part of the temple compound and did some very satisfying training under a colourful portico with the sound of light rain and wind in the surrounding trees. And that was topped off by a very tasty local meal in a restaurant down the hill.
In Ditan Park in Beijing on two mornings, we met Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang, founder of the Hun Yuan system of Tai Chi. Grandmaster Feng is almost 80 years old, jovial and looks very healthy. He gave us some excellent advice on our form. We also had a lesson in the Temple of Heaven Park, with his daughter, Feng Xiu Qian, who is extraordinarily supple and strong. She travels the world teaching Tai Chi and had just returned from Spain.
Even though I had visited China several times, this trip with the Tai Chi group was very different. The small group made it very easy to get to know everyone and made moving around uncomplicated. We landed a bit late at Pudong International airport on a wet runway, but were in the hotel by 10pm.
Light drizzle the following day made finding a dry spot to practise Tai Chi a little more difficult as the park we went to was frequented by locals who also wanted to keep out of the rain. We were driven over the Huang Pu River after lunch to visit the new Pudong area which is on the opposite side of the river to the historic Bund area. The new development in this part of Shanghai is quite amazing compared with last year. Two new very tall buildings are in progress and one of them is to be taller than the Hilton which is currently the tallest hotel building in China. Instead of taking the bus back across the river, we took the tourist train which passes underneath the river through an illuminated tunnel and ended up at an escalator going up to the Bund. From here, we started our customary walk down Nanjing Road to shop or just look at all the sights.
Nanjing Road was very busy, partly due to the approaching Moon Festival and a rock group half way along the road. A saxophonist on a second floor balcony further along added to the cacophony of sounds. Back at the start of Nanjing Road at the Peace Hotel, we regrouped for dinner and a night river cruise on the Huang Pu. The cruise was more spectacular than in previous years as the city waterfront illuminations were much more impressive with moving light displays and ever changing colours. The new building near the Pearl Tower had changing colour patterns on its entire front wall, like a giant TV. This was the end of what seemed a very long day but was an exciting start to our trip to China.
The next day saw us back in the same park in brilliant sunshine. The park was a hive of activity. Lots of people with children were walking around and there were many boats on the lake. Finding a quiet spot for Tai Chi was more difficult. However, we found a spot at the top of a small hill. From this place a man practising an erhu (two stringed bowed instrument) could be heard adding to the magic of the place. After our practice session, we visited the Jade Buddha which I had not seen previously. The Buddha which is a few meters tall looks rather effeminate, is carved out of a single piece of highly polished white jade. Dinner at a minority restaurant (Dai from south China) and some folk dancing on the stage followed by a visit to the Shanghai Museum the following day ended our stay in Shanghai.
Shanghai once again lived up to its reputation of being a rapidly changing, vibrant, modern city with more than a hint of antiquity. On leaving the museum, we headed directly to the airport. As the traffic was quiet for a city of 17 million, we ended up 1 1/2 hours early for our flight to Wuhan.
The flight to Wuhan was uneventful and we arrived in the evening at 8.30. However, the excitement started when our bus driver missed the hotel turnoff along a one way street, promptly turned the bus around and drove back into the oncoming traffic. Surprisingly, the oncoming trucks and other vehicles simply moved out of the way with no horns or fuss. I can't imagine this happening in any other place than China. Wuhan is the major staging point for our trip to Wudang Shan, one of the most memorable places I have visited in China.
The China trip 2006 was a fantastic experience. My overall impression of China is a country of friendly people (and lots of them!), immense contrasts, huge cities and traffic that seems crazy but really operates with an amazing amount of precision! Here are a few of my favourite things:
Place : Mount Wudang – because it was beautiful and peaceful. It definitely had a special feel to it. I was particularly proud to reach the “Golden Summit” after 2 hours of walking up literally thousands of steps! Learning some Qigong movements from Master Zhong at the Wudang Taoists Kung Fu Academy was also memorable.
Historical thing : The Terracotta Warriors – I had seen photos, but to find out more about the history of them and to see the painstaking work being put into restoring them gave me a greater appreciation of the hardworking nature of this culture.
City : I can’t choose a favourite city because they were all so different. The lights and the skyscrapers of Shanghai were amazing and the night cruise was fantastic. Driving through Shanghai that first night felt like driving into a scene of Star Wars, with all the tall buildings lit up, the flyovers and the traffic whizzing past.
Beijing felt quite different – the streets seemed more orderly and planned and I didn’t see any washing hanging outside apartment windows. Shopping and bargaining was lots of fun in Beijing. The Hong Qiao Market was great – pearl heaven. The lunch we had at a local residence in Beijing was delicious and the entertainment was provided by a bilingual bird who after a while decided we had been there long enough and started to say “bye bye”!
Thing to do after shopping : indulge in a Chinese massage for less than $30.
Chinese phrase : Vincent taught us how to say “no money” in Mandarin. I found this very handy for all the streetside sellers who can be very persistent. My Mandarin vocabulary increased dramatically and I can now say all the important words: beer, lemonade, let’s have lunch, no money, and thanks. A pretty useful string of words really!!
Day : Well I have to say that having a birthday on this trip was pretty good timing, and ensured that it will be a day to remember! After visiting the Ming Tombs, doing a spot of shopping at the jade factory and climbing the Great Wall, what better than to be involved in a traffic accident in the middle of Beijing, and then head off to a scrumptious Peking Duck dinner, complete with surprise birthday cake!
Tai Chi : it was fantastic to be able to do Tai Chi most days and to meet people like Grandmaster Feng with his immensely calm presence.
Thanks to Brett and Fontane for the organisation of this trip and for providing such a wonderful opportunity to experience the Chinese culture. Congratulations and appreciation also should go to Vincent for all his efforts to make the trip run smoothly and for packing so many different experiences into the time that we had.
The trip was good value for money. The hotels we stayed in were conveniently located and the amount of places we visited was amazing!
Abbott Ren Fa Rong,
I would just like to thank you, Fontane, for the great behind-the-scenes organising you did to make our trip so special. It was interesting and eventful from the time we stepped off the plane. Always full of surprises, China is certainly a land of contradictions. Vincent was a delight, helpful, full of information and always the diplomat. It was extra special because we had the opportunity to practise Tai Chi most days in so many different places and to get off the beaten track away from the tourist route. It was a treat to spend time training at the Wudang Taoists Martial Arts Institute and to have spent brief as it was time with Abbott Ren Fa Rong at the Louguan Terrace. All an insight into a multi-faceted country. It was fun to be in the park in Beijing with Grandmaster Feng and his daughter who took the time to be with us. I also had my own personal insights into myself and my practice and feel encouraged. I specially enjoyed being up in the mountains at Wudang and would maybe one day like to spend more time there. Thank you both again it was special.
For me the trip was a wonderful combination of the spiritual (Tai Chi and Taoism), sightseeing and shopping, not to mention the food. Chinese at the local takeaway will never quite hit the spot again.
Mount Wudang and in particular the Purple Cloud Palace and its music will always stay with me, and to see the Terracotta Warriors in situ was something that I had wanted to do for many years. But Beijing was the place that most surprised and enchanted me, despite the pollution and traffic, and the sometimes annoying persistence of street and market vendors. To see and walk on the Great Wall, majestic and yet closely linked with human history; to wander the Forbidden City (far larger than I had imagined); to gaze at the beauty of the Temple of Heaven complex, and most especially the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, which must be one of the world's most perfectly proportioned buildings: these were peak experiences, always set in context by the daily Tai Chi practice, and by the constant presence of modern Beijing and its inexorable engagement with the forces of Westernisation.
I would recommend this trip to anyone with who enjoys travel, history and engaging with other cultures.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the Temple of Heaven complex (Tian Tan), Beijing