Saturday 16 February 2008

Only one day left with Master Lin after today so we went to the Fuzhou Gym expecting to get well on our way with the Shaking Crane pattern. I had practised with the others last night and on my own back in the bedroom and again this morning before breakfast. Feeling a bit out of it after the acupressure massage, I had got really worried about the whole thing collapsing around me. Unsurprisingly, it is a big challenge not only to learn the whole pattern before the end of the session but to even begin to get body and mind round the moves, let alone to do them with any real understanding.

We arrived at the Gym to find Master Lin already there with the sword man. We all got our straight swords as expected but were then tempted into buying a broad sword each too…both ridiculously cheaply. I won’t mention Bryan buying some very silky white Kungfu pyjamas though, in case you laugh. So we are now armed to the hilt and ready to take on the world…only joking customs people, police, soldiers and any one else wanting to stop us getting our swords back to England. Here people take their weapons to the park to practise but we are not allowed even to take a wooden staff into the public places at home. The hotel does feel the need to specify though that no weapons should be used in the hotel. Imagine a sign like that at the Dorchester.

Well the session went really well…the Wolf actually got through it all with minimal embarrassment and we actually got to learn the rest of the moves in the pattern a day early. Now we have one more full three-hour session tomorrow to get better at it before moving on to the Dog Style Master.

In reality this pattern is one of the most important things I will be taking back to England because if I ever get good at it, it will improve all my other patterns but will also open some doors for my stiff English body to loosen up in true Crane style. Well, one-day maybe.

Armed with a virtual armoury, we returned to the hotel quietly chuffed by our progress.

The afternoon was spent going to the Buddhist temple on Drum Mountain, which is approached quite literally up a mountain by climbing several thousand steps. Just what your calf and thigh muscles are crying out for after a morning of lower horse stance.

I assumed that a mountain walk to a Buddhist temple in the open countryside would be an inspiring and tranquil occasion…communing with nature and higher things. Well it was certainly inspiring but it was any thing but tranquil. Thousands of people were walking up those steps…. old, young, athletes, Saturday afternoon walkers in their smartest clothes…Fuzhou people in all their variety.

By the path side were beggars enacting their disabilities with dramatic gestures. One woman had brought her nearly grown up son to near the half waypoint. He lay in her arms obviously severely brain-damaged. Without being callous, we wondered how she had got him there. The Chinese we met seemed highly critical of beggars saying that they were mostly professionals who did not need to be doing it. Well I just don’t know the answer to that one but some of them looked in a pretty bad state.

It was fantastic though joining the massive throng of weekend climbers going up the mountain quite literally cheek by jowl. We stopped for a thousand year old egg at one of the outdoor eating stations on the way. Somebody’s great idea – not mine. They look like hard boiled eggs soaked in urine but I’m told unreliably that it is really tea. Whatever it was the eggs were actually delicious just a pity that they were dyed the colour of stale urine…maybe it was urine.

Up at the temple, welcoming saffron robed monks were preparing for some kind of service in front of a gigantic golden Buddha. Incense, the surprisingly fast and rhythmical solid wooden drum and an occasionally sounding bell accompanied the chanting which was mostly divided into two lines of voices singing four notes apart with individual singers and elaborate ornamentation. It was deeply impressive and much more complex than mere generalised chanting. The courtyards were full of people lighting incense candles to departed relatives, the smoke wafted through covered walkways lined with scarlet lanterns. Everywhere you looked there were dragon ornamented pagodas and in the distance a further and higher mountain. Not a bad place then.

We came back down by cable car…elderly, rickety metal boxes that screeched and crunched over cables. Wolves don’t like cable cars but this first ride in one was
inspiring and really not worrying at all. In front was the mountain sweeping down before us and beyond that Fuzhou in its extensive valley with the massive River Min rolling to the South China Sea via a rapidly expanding harbour. The old town now emblazoned with skyscrapers is now surrounded by building works…. in every direction major construction work is taking place…. from our creaking viewpoint on Cable Car No. 259, it was the image of a new world being born.

We went to a more up market restaurant for dinner tonight and were ushered into an upper room by a young hostess in a long, slit to the thigh, scarlet dress. She put on the customary colour television in the room and tuned in to a soap opera involving two young girls sitting on a sofa and then moved on to what was obviously her favourite a quiz show before we meanly stopped her channel hopping, settling for a documentary with a pair of copulating wolves hit the screen. Perfect wolf pornography! Strange just the same to have a noisy television dominating the ambience of a supposedly sophisticated venue.

We had to go back downstairs to choose our food. We had seen a waiter fish out a large flat fish, which he left flapping around on the scales before being taken away to the kitchen. We settled to the murderous task of choosing our lobster. A rather lively creature that put up a fight as it was dumped into what looked like a small plastic laundry basket.

In our best but hugely flawed Chinese, we then had to discuss with, by now, six laughing waiters and waitresses how we wanted it cooked. It was truly odd choosing the vegetables whilst our victim scratched around next to us. Tasted great though…. sorry veggies! It was never going to get out of there alive anyway.

One of our number, Pete, a chef of course, went down with what looks like food poisoning…nothing we ate too, we thought selfishly. Hope he’s better in the morning though.

With Pete safely ensconced in his bathroom, the rest of us did some Kungfu training before unwinding at the hotel in anticipation of our last day with Master Lin.

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