Year of the Kungfu Mantis
05.01.2009 - 02.02.2009 1 °C
hope you're all well, I'm good here although the weather has been bitterly cold. It's snowed a few times and the pool at the front of the school had a layer of ice so thick you could walk across it. And it's not just the pool that's been icy, in the mornings my window looks more like a kaleidoscope than a pane of glass. Thankfully we've been training hard which keeps us warm
I finished my first month of Northern Mantis and it's been pretty good. Mantis boxing, for those of you who don't know, is a kungfu system supposedly based around the movements of the praying mantis. One of the main characteristics in mantis fist is that it utilizes many grabs to control the opponent and create openings. Like many forms of kungfu it has been influenced and absorbed techniques from other successful styles such as Wing Chun and Tai Chi.
There's much less physical conditioning than in my previous class (no more finger push ups) but there is a much greater drive to perfect the movements and techniques. That's not to say we don't work just as hard though, Qu Sifu walks around with a stick shouting at us: "More power!" "Turn waist!" "NO! I have told you this many times, do it wrong again and I will strike you!" Heheh, he certainly knows how to push his students and get the best out of them. He's only hit me with his stick once but now all it takes is a glimpse of him from the corner of my eye and I find a focus I never knew I had
Anyways, to celebrate the completion of my first month we were given a week off, which coincidentally coincided with Spring Festival and Chinese New Year. What are the chances?
Spring festival is pretty much the largest social event on the Chinese calendar. It celebrates the New Year and marks the end of Winter. We'd all been looking forwards to this holiday for various reasons. Some of us were keen to experience a Chinese festival, some people were looking forwards to some large meals, some people were hoping for the warmer weather and some people just wanted a week off.
The staff at the school had all been looking forward to the holiday too, since (with two exceptions) they were all going home to be with their families. Exception number one was Mr. Wu, the owner of the school, who instead of visiting his family had invited all of them to come here. Exception number two was Fiona our translator who was required to keep an eye on us. First Spring Festival she's not spent with her family, bless her.
The run up to the holiday was not without its difficulties though. Temporary staff had to be found to cook for those people remaining at the school and the main gates had to be cleared of rubble.
Impressive, eh? Some "gangsters" from the local village have been trying to convince the boss here to cut them in on the profits from the school. Their first visit finished with then being ignored off the premises so they decided to make a statement by dumping about 10 tonnes of dirt and concrete across the front gate of the compound, effectively barricading us in. The atmosphere here was one of disbelief and mild amusement because really, who blackmails a kungfu master? Long story short; some phone calls were made, some "friends" of the manager showed up and went into the village, next morning the gate was mysteriously clear again. Magic.
With that out of the way preparations for the festival proper could begin. The food of choice for Spring festival is dumpling and it's traditionally eaten after midnight as the first meal of the new year. We all chipped in to help make them:
Some have coins in and finding them can be considered lucky or unlucky depending upon how deep it penetrates your digestive tract.
The actual celebrations kicked off at about 7pm with a large and sumptuous meal, mostly of meat dishes. Virtually every edible animal in China was represented: Chicken, mutton, various pig dishes, fish, prawns, scallops, not to mention donkey and dog. I tried the dog meat out of curiosity and it was quite nice, couldn't bring myself to eat donkey though. Mr. Wu's family didn't waist any time getting stuck in and pretty soon the beer started to flow. It didn't take long for alcohol to overcome the language barrier and everyone had a great time.
The fireworks were meant to wait until midnight but Mr. Wu could not resist and a few got set off after the meal. Very nice they were too but I was unable to get any photos due to being somewhat drunk. At formal meals people make toasts, shout "Gambe!" and expect you to finish whatever's in your cup. And when a toast is made to someone it needs to be returned, so you can instantly double the number of drinks you intended to have. Couple this with some very generous people with bottles of 60% rice based spirit and you have almost unavoidable inebriation.
Here is the one photo of a firework I did manage to get:
Yeah, I know, looks like a sparkler. I can't actually remember what it was. Unfortunately there's not a great deal I do remember from that evening and what I do remember I almost wish I didn't. I remember Harry opening his box of 500 bangers, and I remember running to my room to get my sellotape for him. I remember him fetching his tank fireworks he'd bought but unfortunately don't remember them going off
It's about the size of a matchbox car, has little wheels underneath and when you light it it scoots along the ground before the three fireworks mounted in the body go off. It's like irresponsibility personified
I remember crawling into the common room and falling asleep on the sofa and I vaguely remember Hilary waking me up and making me drink water before I went to bed. What I don't remember is this:
And somehow I managed to sleep through all these going off during the night:
Some of those tubes are so big I can fit my arm inside and not touch the bottom, and I missed it all. Needless to say the first day of the New Year was a little painful for me, particularly since the fireworks continued all morning and my head felt like it was ready to explode itself. A day in bed did me a world of good however, and by the following day I was back on form.
I'm happy to say the weather has warmed up somewhat too, we had three beautiful days of sunshine last week, I've stopped wearing my gloves to bed and I'm actually able to see out of my window in the mornings. I even managed to put in some outdoor practice. Hopefully the weather will hold and we'll see a gradual improvement over the next few weeks. Fingers crossed
Anyways, happy New Year everybody, it's the Year of the Ox, enjoy it whilst it lasts
All the best,