Sunday 17 February 2008

We had our last lesson with Master Lin, the Shaking Crane Master today. It was asking a lot to master the pattern in 5 days – and, of course, no one expected us to master it, only learn the basic movements. That has been difficult enough but we have done it and the session was spent showing Master Lin how far we have got. He has wanted us to learn to perform it together, the four of us, so that we help each other on and learn from each other – mostly by our mistakes. Sometimes I’m pleased it all takes place behind closed doors because when it goes wrong one of us, usually me, is left looking like the one in the chorus line that’s forgotten their words. We had to go through the complete pattern several times before doing it solo.

Oddly, I was less nervous doing it on my own than in a group. It was more relaxed and I got do it in my own time. It is great that I have at least got all the moves but as I am the most uncoordinated person that I’ve ever met I have to really drum things in before I stop repeating stupid mistakes. Our instructor knows the pattern and will be able to work with is on it when we are back in England. In a year or so, it will be much more internalised and I shall always be pleased that I crossed the world to learn it from one of its leading practitioners.

The end of the session marked the trip’s halfway mark. We took some time out but had an excellent practice session in the park by our hotel in the afternoon. It brought home how important it is to do your own practice after what was in many ways a master class. Whilst the ideas were fresh in our heads we were able to go through the stuff without the nerves of performing before critical eyes…except our instructor of course who never misses a thing…he’ll keep us at it when we get back – no question. Master Lin reckons we should repeat it ten times a day for the rest of our lives…. he certainly does and more. He practises for two hours every morning from 5.00 before going to work and then one hour when he gets back in the evening.

Two park gardeners watched us with unblinking concentration…it was probably that staring at Westerners was more interesting than getting on with their work but it may have been that we were foreigners doing a traditional Eastern tradition by a pagoda on the lakeside with bamboos rustling in the wind and the magnolias now fully in bloom.

Like so many people out here, martial arts seems to be a part of their lives and they probably wanted to join in. Certainly you see people practising Kungfu, Taichi and other martial styles in most available open spaces. Apparently, the government has announced that the country cannot afford to look after billions of unfit people so it is running a campaign to get people to take care of their own fitness. They have recruited instructors to teach Taichi in the parks and to show people techniques like the bizarre and very commonly seen activity of walking backwards whilst clapping hands. Clapping is good for your circulation and walking backwards is kinder to your knees and relaxes the lower back muscles. This is mostly done by very fit but elderly women with all the intensity of marathon runners. It is amazing that they can do it without wearing real-view mirrors. Still looks really silly though.

There is no question that we have all got really fit keeping up with this schedule…we trained before coming out here and have been doing about 4 hours a day since. We have eaten really healthily as well – with a welcome absence of dairy products. We have only had one casualty so far when a mysterious stomach bug got Pete – he is on the mend now thankfully but not before having a pretty unpleasant night in his bathroom.

We went into town again tonight and clubbed together to buy Master Lin and his family a farewell dinner. We went to a large restaurant where the downstairs had been taken over by a Birthday Party – everyone was dressed up and a woman in an evening dress stood in front of a band of guitars, drums and piano, to lead a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday To You…first in English and then in Chinese. As we walked through, we were given a number of giggly greetings from some of the girls…. as the only Westerners around, people seem to get a kick of shouting out “Hello” – it’s usually their only word of English. I suppose He Lo does sound quite Chinese.

We had one of the private upstairs rooms after choosing dinner from the usual array of aquariums that are so popular out here in superior restaurants even though there were some awkward moments when the language barrier slowed things up. Things took a bizarre turn when Master Lin’s daughter who speaks some English asked how we said “tomato”…inevitably it fell to yours truly to make his impromptu Chinese singing debut with the inevitable song: You say Tom(ah)to and I say Tom(ay)to…” I still can’t believe I did it. The incredulous Chen asked if it was a children’s rhyme. No, I told him, it’s a great American song. He looked unconvinced.

We all managed to communicate well enough, to express thanks and friendship by drinking many toasts in beer from small quarter pint glasses before the evening drew to a close.

We have now all gone to our rooms feeling pretty much as tired as any one would after all this exercise. Sleep will not be far away.

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