Monday 18 February 2008

We had a day off today but filled it in interesting ways.

We went off to a local park early this morning…. 6.30…. before breakfast to see all the people who gather there every day to do their exercises as discussed in an earlier posting. The park is round the corner from our hotel and backs straight on to West Lake. It was a moody grey morning but the trees which are every where in Fuzhou added a rich luxuriant green brightened up by many multi-coloured flowerbeds full of red poinsettias and salvias then orange marigolds and yellow chrysanthemums which are all grouped in separate beds crammed together in their flowerpots behind short box hedges. No boring planting then…you just replace one pot plant with another. Clever stuff.

The park was full of Taichi and morning exercise people but most memorably, remember we are talking 6.30 in the morning, old couples doing the jive and a group of women, all over 60, practising their Taichi sword routines together. They were a truly amazing, not only because of their smooth movements and impressive low stances but also their prowess with the swords which they wield with fluid grace but lethal precision. They are flexible and slim to a degree you would never see in such a large group back in the UK. This fantastic way of staying healthy would be illegal in Britain though in case old age pensioners went ballistic with their swords.

On the way back we saw the Taichi sword women doing a different exercise…this time they had what looked like badminton racquets with a soft ball on it. They were doing similar flowing movements without dropping the ball…including floating the racquets. Just when I thought the balls were stuck on, they included a movement where the tossed the balls to the woman next to them. This was all done with laughter and grace. Respect.

We found a free corner by some bamboos and over-looking the lake where we could practise our Da Mo exercises. I do these moving meditation exercises every morning at home but here, with the shared energy coming from so many Chinese participants; it was a truly powerful experience.

We then did our Taichi form, which, again, seemed to be coming home. Spookily, when we got to the move called The Golden Cockerel Stands on One Leg, a cock crowed from the other side of the lake and we were at one with our surroundings. The Taichi has really benefited too from our work with the Shaking Crane Master, I felt much looser and more flowing than I remember before. This, our temporary Taichi spot, will always be somewhere in my mind whenever I do it in the future.

After breakfast, we took a minibus, plus a driver, on an epic four-hour journey inland to the Southern Shaolin Temple, which, with its Northern twin, is the birthplace of formalised Kungfu. Here the monks are mostly all Kungfu experts specialising in a highly theatrical form of Wushu and a more traditional form of Chinese Boxing very similar to the one that we practise at home. This is very rarely seen out side the Temple walls.

The original temple was burnt down in the 18th. Century and is now being rebuilt…. only the original entrance arch exists and it is now bizarrely isolated in a field of rubble. I pocketed a small piece of brick to take home. Well it is a special place.

The new temple is very successful even though it is a new construction and a lot of building is still going on. It is in traditional style with courtyards and shrines separated by large stoned squares, which are used for Kungfu demonstrations. Sadly none were happening today but under the two giant trees in the middle of the central courtyard, any Kungfu artist wannabe like me, could only take in the heady mix of Kungfu history, Buddhist tranquillity and the all pervasive smell of incense and chrysanthemums, China’s national flower – red and orange this time and planted in ceremonial rows like soldiers.

The view only a couple of years ago was of open countryside but now the landscape is the modern architectural equivalent of seeing the whole of the City of London from the top of the Post Office Tower. An entire city has replaced the forest that had been there only really recently. It looks fine – or as fine as any city landscape can look when compared to Madam Nature but there you go…. there are billions of Chinese people who are entering the brave new world of international capitalism. It is worth seeing, maybe, from a sacred Buddhist site just to remind us that nothing should distract us from the main issues in life which are all to do with a journey in the head and should be just as vivid in the middle of the bustling modern world.

We also visited a bridge, over a thousand years old, which crosses a murky river with mud flats and white herons. An old lady with a wooden water carrier (a yoke for buckets etc.) staggered over towards us with big bags of mussels on each end. We asked if we could buy the mussels, which we did but our instructor bought the water carrier too as it is one of our traditional fighting weapons. Soon it will be in our kung fu club’s weapons collection.

After she had gone and sun darkened man came running along the bridge. He too had a water carrier with two heaven larger buckets of mussels. He was also carrying a third bucket that contained his shoes and Wellington boots. He was running barefoot to the other side of the bridge to carry on his harvest. His skin was totally bronzed and probably aged in his sixties or seventies. When he saw my camera, he put down his load and gave me his best Hollywood grin (with missing front tooth) before running off down the muddy bank into the water.

Further down stream, women were washing clothes in the river; scrubbing them and beating them on the rocks – the Middle Ages in the 21st Century.

The bus journey was vivid and massive…. in the four hours of the journey we were hardly ever in open countryside…hundreds of miles of joined villages where the old was being replaced by the new…Nissan, Mercedes and other international companies are buildings factories right through Fujian province…. sky scrapers are going up, constructed around bamboo scaffolding because the climate is too hot for metal. Just when you thought that was impressive, the van would come to a crossroads and you could see the vast townscape ran off equally far in every direction. It was a crazy, dusty and rapidly growing concrete prairie.

Lorries, cars, motorbikes and bicycles in their thousands competed chaotically on this road full of building dust. Suddenly out of the mist is an old lady with another water carrier. This time she is carrying two pales of water.

It was always the contrasts that amazed. The modern buildings were coming up next to streets of simple shops that look like domestic garages but set out with shoes, vegetables, televisions and motorbikes. Everywhere people were about their business as if they were in the deepest country. Tethered oxen grazed optimistically on the side of what in England would be a motorway. Hens strayed into the road and motorbikes with trailers carried anything from a distressingly large number of caged pigs, brand new motorbikes or piled 8 to 10 feet high bags of grain or whatever.

They were not outdone by the cyclists who were using pedal power to drag trailers piled four or five times higher than the cyclist who was steering in and out of the heavy industrial vehicles and speeding horn honking cars.

At the side of the road were mechanical diggers but also two men loading a van with large concrete blocks suspended on their shoulders by a large piece of bamboo. No wonder they have produced such fantastic martial artists.

There was much to describe about this journey but it is late and we have our first meeting with the Dog Style Master in the morning…help! Could I say that I’m not feeling very well? Maybe not.

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