New Year's Here and I still not Shaolin!!
22.12.2008 - 11.01.2009 -1 °C
Merry Xmas everyone and Happy New Year!
I know, I know, I'm running a bit behind schedule here but we've been without internet for a week or two as they upgrade us to an "optical fiber network." You'll be happy to hear we're back online now and the interweb is running a lot better to boot. As ever I have much to share with you lucky people, tales of adventure and daring-do the likes of which have not been told since... well, since my last blog I guess
We started the Christmas holiday with an important lesson; never volunteer for seven consecutive days of training. Due to Christmas falling mid week we were given the option of having a normal weekend and training on the Monday & Tuesday or training through the weekend and starting the holiday on the Monday. Thinking it would be better to enjoy a longer consolidated period of down-time we opted for the first choice resulting in us all being absolutely shattered by Saturday morning but still having to struggle through classes for two more days. Thankfully the masters took pity on us and our poor weak bodies and let us have Sunday afternoon off.
We had a lot of snow that weekend so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and spent the Monday building an igloo whilst clearing the snow off the car park. The first day's efforts looked pretty good but everything had to be put on hold as the next day we were scheduled for our first Holiday activity.
Tuesday 23rd we went to Horse Raising Island to visit the children of a local nursery school. A little bizarre I know but then no one here was quite sure how to celebrate Xmas so they were winging it really. Upon entering the school we were directed into a classroom where around 30 seven year old children were lined up in two neat little rows, a Santa hat on every head, and greeted with a cheery cry of "Mary Clissmas!" There was some talking in Mandarin and we came to the realization that no one here (apart from us) really spoke English. Upon turning around and looking for our translator we came to the further realization that half of our party had been split off and sent to another classroom and we were pretty much on our own.
We were waved over to some tiny chairs and sat in the middle of the lines of kids, alternating: one nursery student, one Kungfu student. The kids looked pretty stunned, particularly the ones sat between us. Despite us being issued with matching Santa hats we clearly didn't fit in and there was much staring. Class continued and we did our best to look attentive despite not really understanding much. Some songs were sung and Christmassy images displayed on a large monitor at the front of the room, it was quite sweet really, little did we know it would all soon kick-off!
After the singing had finished we were invited to play games with the children, games with a twist! In the first game I had two balloons tied round my ankle before being thrown in a ring at the front of the classroom and pitted against a merciless seven year old similarly attired. The idea was to crush the opponents balloons before they destroyed yours. As we circled each other the crowd bayed, hungry for the sight of blood! My opponent took the initiative, squeezing the life out of my first balloon between his size 3 training shoe and the cold hard floor but I was quick to strike back! BAM! And we were level pegging again! I tried to use my size as an advantage, picking him up and looking for an easy kill only to realize: as soon as his feet left the floor his balloon could not be destroyed. Dam! I put him down again, bemused. How could I win? Distracted by my musings the pint-sized devil seized his chance and moved in for the kill. Another loud "BAM" sounded my defeat. I looked to the teacher, appealing for mercy but none was to be found. The game was over and I would be returning to Yulindian in shame and defeat.
After my humiliation more was to follow, as first Mebh, then Peter and Marc fell beneath the crushing blows of these little horrors. To mark the conclusion of the games we were requested to sing an English song to appease the children, our new masters. We chose "Jingle Bells," a song which shall never pass my lips again in memory of that terrible day.
Hehe, I may have indulged in a little exaggeration but that's pretty much what happened. After waving goodbye to the children we were taken for a meal by one of their teachers as thanks for coming all this way before a quick tour of the island. Horse Raising Island (or Horse Rearing Island depending on the translator you ask) was given its name by one of the great Chinese Emperors who used the small island as a place to breed horses. These days there is a very large bridge linking the island to the main land at the end of which is a monument to celebrating the island's history.
Upon returning to the school that evening some students decided to carry on working on the igloo but most of us, exhausted by the day's activities had an early night.
Our Christmas Eve activity was a trip to Yantai. Mr. Wu (the boss of the Kungfu school) had somehow acquired a mini van (we've stopped asking) and off we went to the beach (-1 degree Celsius, the sea was slushy). Not knowing quite what else to do we took the opportunity to bust some kick ass kungfu poses on the icy beach:
After the beach we went to a Qing dynasty coastal battery that is now a museum. We took some photos of the large guns and defenses there before walking down to the sea front where they had a large number of captive seals.
I don't think the large guns and coastal defenses were related to the presence of the seals. Surely the steps would have been enough to stop their advance?
All of this was just a prequel though to Moon Beach. The story goes that if you wish to find true love then walk out along the treacherous jetty and ask the large beaten metal, moon sculpture. He will help you. :|
We were all pretty hungry now so we hopped in the bus expecting to head for a restaurant but today was to be a day of many surprises. Instead of an eatery we were driven to a university, Ludong University to be precise. Recently our school has become an associate of Ludong University and to celebrate the finalization of the union we were to enjoy a half hour meeting with the head of the foreign affairs department before being taken for one of the most incredible meals I have ever had. Wish I'd have known this was the plan, I might have put on a shirt, shaved, brushed my hair or something.
I had heard tales of Chinese feasts and hospitality but I could never have expected the banquet we received. I'd had a few meals in China so I was starting to understand that you should not stuff yourself silly at the beginning as food would continue to arrive throughout the meal but this food never stopped coming. It was very, very good and we all ate far more than we should have, but what the hell right? It's Christmas :D
After the meal we went on a tour of the University facilities and campus, all of which were very nice.
The tour finished in the University's physical education building where they train Wushu. Hmmm, I hear you say, they train Wushu? Yes, I reply, indeed they do. For those of you not in "the know," Wushu is a fairly recent development in the centuries old tradition of kungfu that stresses athleticism and acrobatics rather than effective combat skills. Basically Wushu is the flashy stuff you see in a lot of movies. The students studying at Ludong all major in Wushu and they are very good. Since we were visiting they put on a small demonstration for us that left us all feeling a little, well, inadequate.
I'm sure you've all guessed what's coming next, because we certainly had. The head of the Ludong's physical education department asked us if there was anything we would like to demonstrate for them. That's right, we've just had one of the largest meals of our lives, no warm up, no stretching, no warning and no preparation, but please show these guys who've been practicing for ten years or more what you have managed to learn in the last 4 months.
All of the students came rushing over and sat watching us fumble through our forms. It was really embarrassing. Part of the problem is that Wushu is so big and flashy that you can't really follow it with our traditional forms as they are a lot more compact. And the other part of the problem is that they've been practicing nearly all their lives and we haven't. Oh well, guess we learned something important about always being prepared to perform.
After this everyone was more than happy to squeeze back in the van and head home again. I say "home," but really I mean the kungfu school at the abandoned army base. Did I say abandoned? The final surprise of the day was arriving at the school and being stopped at the gates by armed soldiers. Mr Wu had a quick word and they waved us into the school grounds. We passed the basket ball court which was obscured by military vehicles, we passed the old office block which now appeared to be a command post and pulled up at the school building to find the army serving food from the side door. I was relieved to discover my room had not been appropriated and my Oreo stash remained undiscovered. We were informed at dinner that the military would be on maneuvers in the area for a few days and we were not to take any pictures.
Christmas day was nice and predictable by comparison. We got up late, exchanged a few gifts, had a large meal with all of the staff (they even managed to find us a turkey to eat) before spending the afternoon relaxing and watching DVDs. Probably not too different to what you all got up to, although you probably didn't have the sound of machine gun fire in the middle distance.
The final big activity of the holiday was on the Monday 29th of December. It's no big secret that Mr. Wu is a big fan of climbing: in addition to running the climbing experience days here at the school he is also head of the Yantai climbing club which has about 5000 members. As his gift to the students of the Yulindien Kungfu School he decided to take us all on an all day hike :P
None of us were really sure what to expect. The term climbing had been bandied about but we thought in this icy weather, how much climbing could they really expect us to do? It must just be a long walk right? We changed into a combination of our training gear and layers of thermals and went to the office to wait for enlightenment. For once, enlightenment didn't take long.
Mr. Wu soon arrived bearing arm-fulls of camouflage fatigues, hats, gloves and walking poles which were distributed amongst us. It appeared we were going for a walk after all. We set out around 9:30 and started hiking up the hills behind the school. The weather was cold and overcast, there was still quite a lot of snow on the ground but the exercise soon had us warmed up. We were glad of the fatigues too. We weren't really following a trail so we were having to pull ourselves through a lot of undergrowth and the coarse material helped protect our delicate legs. The going was tough, the rocks were slippery and our feet numb.
After an hour and a half of walking we reached the top of the first hill/mountain. We had had to scramble up some pretty nasty terrain to get there but we were rewarded with an impressive view. We had brought cooking implements and food with us but now was not the time to eat. To my dismay I saw the advance members of our party already attempting to scale the slope opposite us, a slope I had assumed to steep for mortal man to ascend unaided. And this was just the beginning!
We made our way over to the other slope and started to drag ourselves up between the rocks. It was slow going and more than a few times I thought I'd misjudged a hand or a foot hold. When we got to the top I had something of a nasty surprise, a saddle back ridge with sheer drops on either side. The ridge was relatively wide, around ten foot across perhaps, and quite flat but my tolerance for high, exposed places is very low. I'm glad Qu Sifu was there, he pretty much dragged me across, then he dragged me up the next slope too.
Once we were over this peak we started to descend again. I was very happy to be heading back down into the valley. We followed a stream until we found an area flat enough to set out some ground sheets and the picnic commenced! In addition to a variety of jerked meats and bread we had cocktail sausages, fruit and even some odd Chinese sweets. Whilst we were eating these a small stove was set up and the staff proceeded to make Chinese dumplings. Best dumplings I've had too
Not really the weather for a picnic though, snow on the ground, our gloves and socks soaked. It wasn't long before we were all shivering and desperate to get underway again. Thankfully, as it turned out, we were only about an hour's walk from the school where hot showers and warm food were waiting for us. Hell of a way to celebrate Xmas :P
New Years was actually quite sedate. The day of the 31st we had some experts in calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting come to the school. They did some demonstrations before quickly knocking out some souvenirs for us all. That was great fun. That evening some of the guys had wanted to go into Yantai and find some bars, stay at a hotel but it wasn't really my scene. In the end the weather decided for us as it snowed quite heavily so it wasn't safe to drive and everyone stayed in anyway.
The Monday after New Years we returned to training, but this year with a difference, for I will be training... MANTIS!! That's right folks I am no longer a Shaolin student, I have switched to studying Northern Mantis style kungfu. My original plan was to study 6 months of each style but the Mantis teacher is just so good I switched early. Mantis is an external style but Qu Sifu who teaches it is very focused on developing internal strength which I hope will make it an excellent compliment to the Taichi I am continuing to study.
When the weather warms up again in 2-3 months I will post some more videos, it's so cold at the moment that I'm always tired and it's difficult to get warm enough to practice outside of lessons. Last week it was so cold that the reservoir froze and we had no water for a few days. Crazy.
Anyways, this has been a monster blog entry and once again it seems very short on actual kungfu content, I will try to make the next one more kungfooee but no promises, it will probably be about Chinese New Year which we celebrate in two weeks time. Should be fun
All the best,
P.S. - Our school is on the edge of the Kunyu mountain range and the terrain rises rapidly to the East of us. For those of you interested the school can be found on Google Maps/Google Earth at (37°16'51.90"N, 121°37'55.34"E).