The following members have graciously taken the time to send these wonderful stories of their experiences during our Tai Chi Adventure in China.
In China, what works is considered right and true, what doesn't work is wrong and false. According to this standard, our trip, seminar or whatever adventure we call it that took place in China, starting July 10th and coming to an end Aug. 2nd 2005 came very near to truth and righteousness. This happened this past summer, a moment we usually call holiday or vacation : when most of us took a break from our jobs, dedicating these 22 days to renewing ourselves and trying to find the best way to do so in order that, in the end, one feels re-nourished, re-unified and essentially reconciled with the universe. Starting in Shanghai, through Huangshan, Chengdu, Emeishan, Chongking, the Three Gorges and Taiyuan to reach the pinnacle in Wutaishan and the Thousand Temples, thanks to the Yang family we have experienced an unforgettable collection of extraordinary moments: Tai Chi Chuan can be played anywheresurebut what about at the deep bottom of a huge lock on the Yangtze River, at 5.45 a.m. when you can't find your way or see your tiptoes in the mist? Or on the wet terrace at Yellow Mountain, between the Welcome Pine and the Farewell Pine, a few minutes after the hazy sunrise; or in the very heart of an awakening city, a few yards off from another old disciple of Yang Chengfu's. What about taking the ranking test at the bottom of a hotel swimming-pool (yes, it was empty!)? Being nourished, raised: that is the double meaning of Yang and that is what we experienced, in circumstances forever etched in our minds and bodies, when and where the link between human beings was re-instated, between ourselves and the world. A new fresh balance creating harmony between our three components: vital, moral and cerebral. During these three weeks I let the essence of my life lead me without resistance, not asking why, where to, only being what I was, right where I was ; in China!
Françoise Desagnant, Angers, France
As we travelled through the vast expanse of China, everything we saw was a picture postcard. I have many fond memories- tai chi in the different parks, holding the red panda, feeling the sense of ancient history as you pass through the villages, temples and cave carvings that are thousands of years old. Most importantly was the spirit of the tai chi family. The bond of being closely connected to people and sharing experiences as we travelled. Doing tai chi together in the mountains, walking through the mists of Huangshan. The mists of the mountain have an ethereal effect as they ebb and flow causing the landscape to change moment by moment. The beauty of the mountain is awe-inspiring as you wander the seemingly endless carved stone steps. The cool wind blows through you, making your spirit soar freely. The pine trees beckon to you from their perches on the sides of the cliffs. We gathered in the early morning dark and howling wind to watch the sunrise and greet the day. It was inspiring to lean up against the mountain and see the world open up before you. To feel the meaning of the tai chi phrase "stand like a mountain." This is one of my favorite memories of many.
Anne Buchanan, Michigan, USA
I would love to share an experience from the last full day of our cruise on the "Yangtze Angel," a five-star boat by Chinese standards and our home for four days. The cruise itself was a well-timed change of pace in that we were able to keep our luggage in one place for a few days! Traveling through the Three Gorges was a stunning experience; we were practicing our morning taichi with Yang Jun as the announcement came over the loudspeaker that we were about to enter the first of the gorges.
It was that last day, however, that was most special for me. We disembarked from the Angel and took a ferry up a tributary of the Yangtze for almost an hour. Then our group disembarked again to fill three "pea pod" boats (about 15 people per boat) in order to journey further up the tributary. The Tujia ("earth family" literally) people live in that area.which is a.part of Hubei province. The Tujia are one of China's many national minorities and have lived in that mountainous river area for over a thousand years. Tujia men were the crew on the pea pod boats. Maybe the change in water color gives a better idea of our progression: the Yangtze is a thick opaque reddish mud; once we turned into the tributary on the ferry the water changed to a thick green color. Then, most amazingly, once we got on the small boat the water became crystal clear with beautiful multi-colored rocks on the bottom. We first went upstream and there were rapids so our crew hopped out, letting out long ropes lines and proceeded to PULL us through channels in the stream that had been made by lining up these colored rocks in straight rows. The ride back to the ferry was fast and fun!
Our beautiful guide and the rowers sang Tujia love songs to us after we ran the rapids. The crew gathered some of the colorful stones from the river bottom and passed them around the boat. I have several in a dish by my kitchen sink so that the Tujia people are never far away.
Susan Smith, Michigan, USA
We came to China from all over the world to participate in The China Adventure 2005 and the Birthday Event for Grand Master Yang Zhenduo.
We traveled by plane, bus and boat from one Chinese treasure to another.
We ate noodles where noodles are famous, dumplings where dumplings are famous, spicy food in Szechwan of course, and vegetarian on Wutai Mountain.
We renewed old friends and made new ones.
We climbed endless stairs to fantastic places and thrilled when the fog lifted on Yi Ling Peak to reveal the magnificent granite cliffs of Huang Shan and bravely awakened at 3:00 a.m. or so to watch the sun rise and then practice our Tai Chi in the mountain air.
We floated down the Yangtze River amidst the awesome gorges which will soon be inundated with water forever and listened to the songs of the Tuijia boat trackers as they pulled our peapod boats through the shallow, clear Shennong Stream.
We played Tai Chi on boats, in driveways and in parks throughout China and were honored by the instruction given us by Grandmaster Yang Zhenduo and Master Yang Jun.
We played games and danced with our Tai Chi friends and new Chinese friends aboard the good ship Yangtze Angel.
We celebrated Yang Zhenduo's 80th birthday with great joy on a day beginning with the naming of new disciples, several of which, for the first time, were non-Chinese. We were treated along with the master, to folk dances and performances from various regions. There were tai chi and martial arts demonstrations including a "knock'em dead" performance by a group of very young martial artists and ending with a social dance time initiated by the salsa and swing dance performances of Helen and Sergio, Bill and Holly.
We ended the evening with a grand banquet, fen wine, a nine layer birthday cake and more entertainment with Yang Zhenduo and his wife holding court humbly and elegantly. It was a more than well-deserved showing of respect for a real Chinese National Treasure.
We talked into nights about our love of tai chi and what we had learned and were still learning, sharing our thoughts, hopes, dreams, concerns and cares.
We laughed a lot.
We slept little.
We shopped ceaselessly.
We bargained always.
We bought many souvenirs.
We became family.
We experienced an adventure none of us will forget.
Thank you Yang Jun, Fang Hong, and all of those who helped to make it all possible.
Jo Anne Sellars, New Jersey, USA
Where was I at that moment? -- Beginning to ride the Yangtze River, a magnificent episode on the grand trip that was our China Adventure 2005. I remember that I made a toast that night for the success of Alice's birth. Maybe, some day she'll ask me why I was so far away from her: I know what I'll answer.
"Dear Alice, that journey was so rich, so full of learning and kindness. I was surrounded by very special people : Grand Master Yang Zhenduo, Yang Jun's entire family, all my fellow travellers and all the very kind Chinese people around us. Today I can say I am better than before, reflected in that company.
That journey help me to strengthen my beliefs, and my knowledge of the art. To be with all those people, visiting the historical and holy places was an unforgettable experience, renewing my best feelings. Travelling without them, would be a pity. We walked always with harmony, sometimes climbing unending steps, or waiting to take a plane, or moving in buses, or admiring paintings, sculptures, buildings, temples, talking many languages, tasting a thousand strong or delicate plates, admiring natural or handcrafted beauties, always I was in the best company, everybody smiley, joking, all the time was a good time.
So, Alice, now we can enjoy the thousand stories of that Journey to the East, and you are going to see what I believe: there are more, good people than bad people in the world. It's just that good people don't like to make publicity. Fellow Travellers, I miss you all!
Jorge Catino, Sao Paolo, Brazil
I had great time for 21 days on our trip. The group was warm and caring just like sisters and brothers. I am satisfied to have seen so many old and rich cultural places. The best part of my trip was to have Grandmaster Yang Zhenduo teach the seminar for us. He has all the energy to teach 3 hours each morning for 3 days. I was so happy that Master Yang wanted to teach the seminar for us. We are so lucky to have received his teaching on his 80th birthday.
His movements were elegant and powerful. I have listened to his lecture many times in the past. When I listened again I felt so fresh and excited. The seminar hours were past too fast, no one needed a break. Grandmaster Yang got up very early each morning and he walked to a practice group and taught a small seminar again! I was so lucky to receive corrections from him again!
Han Hoong Wang, Michigan, USA
Although this bromide could apply to any trip, it seemed especially apt to me on this one. My first trip to China was '02, so I had a limited basis on which to form expectations. But this is how it struck me.
First, one aspect that was the same: China in July is hot and humid, so be prepared (kind of like the Deep South here in the U.S.A. in July). Now, some miscellaneous contrasts: In '02 I had severe jet lag for several days after I arrived in China; this time, no jet lag at all. At our morning taiji practices we spent quite a bit of time doing push hands, which was a pleasant surprise. The beds seemed harder ("firmer" is too weak a word) than I remembered. I bought far less stuff than on my first trip. I felt that I saw much more of China this time, but I took far fewer pictures. I was less nervous about testing, though less confident I would do well. I missed the many friends who did not come on this trip, especially my big brother Paul, whose humor knows no bounds. I got to play cards on this trip (euchre, with several good players, and the excellent Phyllis), but no ping pong. Two of our local Taiyuan guides last time, Sunny and Wei, are now national guides, so for the whole three weeks we had the pleasure of their assistance (Sunny's unique blend of charm and assertiveness seemed to work magic at times). Near the end of the '02 trip I was looking forward to coming home; this time, I didn't want to leave China. And I can't wait to go back, despite the severe jet lag I had upon my return.
Shanghai: our first day trip was to Zhouzhang. We were cautioned about getting lost in this interesting labyrinth of a village, so I dutifully found my way to a meeting place from which I could follow a group back to the bus. Four of us set out, and after awhile we realized we were lost. We met Sergio wandering around, but he couldn't help us any more than we could help him. We kept asking directions, and we kept getting lost. Finally we found the exit, and were greeted by the 45 others we had kept waiting for nearly half an hour; so much for my pride in being punctual.
Even worse was the next day. I had always wanted to see the Shanghai Museum, so when we passed right by it on the way to a silk factory, I (with two friends) decided to sneak away from the tour for a few hours. Since we were flying out of Shanghai later that afternoon, we found out the name of the hotel where we had to meet up with the group at 4:30 to go to the airport. The museum lived up to its reputation, but we were disciplined (or fearful?) enough that we arrived at the rendezvous by 4. However, no one was there--not even the buses. So we walked around to try to find someone from our group, and we did, but then we left them to wander around for a few more minutes by ourselves. When we got back to the hotel at 4:30, still no one was there, still no buses. So I went back out to look around, saying to my companions, "I'll be back in a minute." After walking a block or so, I was hailed by a Chinese couple, who had earlier met our group. They said I was very late and needed to go several blocks farther on (away from the hotel) to catch up with the group. So I started running. Ten minutes later the same couple found me looking around vainly. They were almost as distraught as I was. It started to rain as I ran back to the hotel, breathless from both effort (I gave up jogging long ago) and fear (what would I do if no one was there? how would I get to the airport? what if I missed the plane?)--and was greeted by a relieved Han, Susan, and Sunny. For the second day in a row, the guy who was never late was late, holding up 50 people who had a plane to catch. Once again (and for the rest of the trip), I had to endure good-natured derision from my companions.
Huangshan: though I had heard of its beauty, it must be seen to be believed. Despite the mist/fog/clouds as we went up in the cable cars, the sun broke through near the top to reveal the stunning mountains. To find fresh ground coffee at the hotel there brought smiles to many faces. They even had Internet access; after waiting an hour, I finally paid my fee, got online--and five minutes later we had to leave, so I was able only to send a short message to my sons.
Tun Xi: I was not looking forward to visiting an ink factory, but a master ink maker (and showman) was amazing. On one bus ride we all had fun giving language lessons to our local guide.
Chengdu: two blocks from our hotel in this ancient capital I found a street mall that would rival any mall in the U.S. A bicyclist, perhaps in his teens or twenties, was stopped by a woman (an official of some kind)--no bikes allowed on the street mall--and to my amazement, rather than arguing or copping an attitude, he was obviously chagrined at his error; he hung his head, apologized, turned around, and walked his bike back to the street. The next day, rather than going to see the pandas, I chose to spend some time with my teacher, Han, and Dave B., sweating in an upstairs lobby going through the 49 form time after time.
Emeishan: only the monkeys had enough sense not to go out in the rain. By the time we walked back down the mountain, the rain was subsiding, and we could appreciate many beautiful vistas of waterfalls cascading down the mountainsides.
Chongqing: our guide informed us that this was the largest municipality in China both in area and population (32 million; Beijing has only 30 million). This was our jumping off point to the Yangtze River. I had never taken a cruise before; despite its age and belches of black smoke, our cruise ship "Yangtze Angel" was a pleasant surprise. Most pleasant was Lu Xiaofeng, a young woman whose silk embroidery was as beautiful as she.
My first time in China I escaped illness; this time for about half the trip I had what someone called "Mao's revenge." At first I was confident that the standard Western medicine would cure me; it worked well for others. But after a few days of trying that, I heard from several folks about the traditional Chinese cure--this worked for everyone, I was told. So I tried that for several days, to no avail. Then I heard that the tea lady on the boat had a concoction that worked for some with just one cup. After two days I gave up on that. A few days later I was fine. So maybe it all worked--just not in the way I expected. I also thought a massage might help, and on the boat they offered 45 minutes working the feet and 45 minutes working the rest of the body. Sounds great! But the scalding water failed to relax my feet (though the masseuse seemed to enjoy my reactions), and I spent the rest of the time hoping I'd be able to walk again.
The Yangtze was muddy, appearing narrower than I expected, perhaps because of the surrounding mountains, which are especially beautiful in the Three Gorges. I almost skipped the side trip down a tributary, past the hanging coffins, to the little river where we got into sampans for a memorable upstream journey. We sat under a canopy, sweating in the high heat and humidity, while 4-5 men strained against the current with their paddles till the water became so shallow they had to get out and pull the boat with ropes over the thousands of small rocks; then we turned around and they sang folk songs on the way back. I finally saw one drop of sweat on one of them as we neared the end.
The saddest part of the trip came as we were on the bus to the Three Gorges Dam. We got a call on Yang Jun's cell phone telling us that the rest of the Michigan group (12 people), who had booked the shorter trip, had not been allowed to board at the airport because the date on the visa was incorrect. Despite the best efforts of everyone on both ends over the next 24 hours, no one could figure a way to make all the necessary changes in travel on such short notice, so our friends ended up not being able to come at all.
Wuhan: after visiting Yellow Crane Tower, I was ready to skip the tea shop, but I saw it was air-conditioned so I went in for momentary relief. The young man who told us about tea was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic that I enjoyed his talk, whereas in the past similar talks had seemed tedious. I even bought some tea. That evening, my taiji sisters Han, Martine, and Suzanne convinced (forced) me to go shopping (for two hours) so I would look presentable for Master Yang's birthday celebration. They know how much I appreciate their patience, taste, and good humor.
Taiyuan: the birthday celebration was a day-long event; several masters were there to honor Master Yang with speeches in the morning at the disciples' ceremony, performances in the afternoon, and a banquet in the evening. At the disciples' ceremony, I was surprised to see my friend Glenda, who had been in Taiyuan for three months, running around serving as translator for whoever needed it. Of the many beautiful and entertaining performances, the group from Sweden, whose antics as beginning students, dressed in stunning attire, was a crowd favorite. And, after hours of practice in Michigan, at airports, and on the boat, the Michigan group performed a square dance, which I enjoyed despite myself.
Wutaishan: every morning Master Yang Zhenduo taught us for three hours--a real treat. I found out two days before we got there that for the Ranking examination, we would have the written test the evening of our arrival, and the forms test the next evening. Many of us decided to forgo sightseeing so we could practice. When I finally put on my silk uniform, I found that the elastic in the waistband was barely elastic, so I had to push out my stomach instead of trying to hold it in, just to keep my pants up. Again, my taiji sisters Cathy and Marion came to the rescue with safety pins. But the pins were so small (and my waist so big) that I kept popping them off. Fortunately, the pins held well enough to keep my pants up during my tests.
By the time I went for my first test (sword), it was so dark I could hardly see the judges, and I thought this might work in my favor--it meant they could hardly see me! Alas, they really couldn't see us, so we had to do the test over the next day, along with the saber, 103, and 49. To make sure that they got all the testing done, they scheduled it for the afternoon. And to ensure that none of us fainted under that hot sun, they moved it indoors--to the swimming pool (which had been empty for years, I think). Nobody drowned; though I was sweating enough I might as well have been swimming. My thanks to all the judges and the rest of the staff, who were generous and gracious under less than optimal conditions. Congratulations to all those who tested!
The next day, as we were waiting outside a temple complex, I sat down and looked off to my left, half listening to the guide and half just watching the people. I felt something on my right leg, and as I turned, I saw a monk next to me, curiously stroking the hair on my leg with his finger. Since he was interested in this modest bit of hair, I called over my friend Robert, whose bushy beard seems to fascinate many in China.
Hanging Temple: one of the most famous sites in China, and not to be missed, though the narrow walkways, with knee-high outside railings and low overhanging roofs, had me hugging the walls in a few spots.
Datong: a few of us decided to do a little shopping rather than visit another temple, but after a bus ride across town to the only bank there that could exchange money for us (which took an hour), we hardly had any time to shop. Across the street from the bank was a beautiful new hotel, which we all wished would be our hotel (we found out later that it was). We took a cab back across town, spent a few minutes in a couple of stores, then rushed back to the bus as the rain started (again). But the big red arch I so confidently used to mark the street near where the bus was parked turned out to be inflatable, and they had taken it down. So we went a few blocks too far, then finally backtracked and found the bus--we weren't even the last ones to arrive. That night a few of us ordered drinks as we sat down for our euchre game. Marion ordered "fresh lemon juice," thinking, naturally, of lemonade. When it finally arrived half an hour later, she winced as she took her first sip: it was indeed lemon juice, fresh squeezed, but just that--no water, no ice, no sugar. I couldn't believe she drank the whole thing.
The long ride back to Beijing featured a double rainbow arcing right across the road in front of us for at least half an hour. A final thanks to all my old friends and new friends who made this trip so memorable, especially to Master Yang Jun and Fang Hong, who did so much every day for all of us, and to Han Hoong Wang, without whom I would not have been there.
Gary Lee, Grand Rapids, MI
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