This week has been pure routine so I thought I would take the opportunity to describe daily life in this part of China. I say this part, because China is BIG and varied. Much like the USA only they have vastly different cultures and traditions. They even have different languages, though Mandarin is suppose to be taught everywhere, one certainly can’t get by everywhere with it.
There have been a couple of high points in training this week. Both of us have finished our fast forms, and though neither of us have them perfect, we are fairly good. Plus that crazy kicking jump we both have is coming along. Amazing! Master Lee has also started something new: Performance Wednesdays. This is the training right before break, so now the second half he has us doing everything we have learned in front of the group. At first it was embarrassing and a bit scary, but now we love it. It is wonderful to see how we all progress and all the different forms. Plus everyone is really supportive.
Alright, back to daily life on Wudang Mountain. Morning sees the Daoists rising early to open the Temple and do morning ceremony. This includes pray, chanting, music, drums and lots of incense. It is mystical to sit above the Temple, listening to the drums as the sun rises running off the last of the night mist as the day begins. Then the rest of the mountain wakes up to a breakfast of porridge (rice or corn) with pickels, bao shi (pork dumplings), spiced, hard-boiled eggs, and flat bread. I general skip this and wake up to the sounds of many little feet tramping past my room on the way to the bathroom for cold morning showers. Thank all the Gods I have hot water in my room. Morning practice runs 8/9 – 11/12, depending on the time of year, and includes: running/walking stairs, stretching, kicks (1hour+), then form training. We have a break midway. Kicks are a real adventure. Sometimes they are basic, but often Shi Fu gets crazy and we do jumping kicks, chicken walk forward and backward, spinning kicks, held kicks, etc….These days break is most welcome and we collapse into it. Also when it rains we still do all this, but we do it standing in place under the second floor eves at school. Easier? No…way harder! The good news is we are building flat abs rapidly!
Then we go to lunch. I have mentioned the food quality many times. The Chinese just have a whole different definition of hygiene and what might go into ones mouth. At school we routinely have unusual body parts like feet, and it would be more accurate to say they cook with bone, fat and sinew instead of real meat. Plus they often use veges past their prime and everything has vast amounts of oil, and MSG. There are no fruit, nuts, or raw food of any kind served.
The Temple food is vegetarian and much better, as it is mostly grown at the Temple. The gardens are spectacular. Also, medicinal herbs are incorporated into this food daily. In fact, this is a trend in all cooking in this area. The Daoists are wonderful. They are friendly and always up to something interesting. They play music, make origami pray boats (I helped with this the other day), garden, cook, dry all kinds of foods/flowers, gather herbs, they maintain the Temple, study, welcome everyone, run the onsite shop, do calligraphy/art, and are always patient. The other day the Abbess (head nun) had been digging fresh young ginseng root. She just walked up to me and gave me some. Then she insisted I eat it raw. It was wonderful; soft, sweet and tender. I’m sure it was great for me! Most of them are older and this is a form of retirement, but the young are always around training. Then they are sent out at some point to spread peace.
During lunch break all kinds of things happen, but the favorite of most students is sleeping! Kailin tends to rest and then she spends break and half of afternoon practice studying, and I do yoga with whoever wishes to join, often in the sun. I also see clients, but that happens before our day begins or after it ends. The kids (Chinese students) play games: basketball, ping pong, badminton, board games, etc. Also this is a time for study, laundry, knitting (very popular), flute playing and general cleaning. Cleaning does go on, but it is like being in another age. Our laundry facility is 2 washer/spinners, with only cold water, that each only partially work. Most people do their laundry by hand on a wash board, then spin it and hang it to dry. We take ours down the mountain to the laundry, as drying laundry on the line in a damp area is interesting at best. The kitchen floor is cleaned by pouring buckets of water on it and allowing it to drain away. Coal and tank gas are used exclusively for cooking and ovens don’t exist. The closest things are the sweet potatoes (very yummy) that are baking in giant metal barrels in rocks heated by a coal fire. Here the WOK RULES!
China is not a good idea for the squish or allergic. That said the Chinese are generally healthy and have very strong immune systems (which can’t be said for most westerners). Come here and you will toughen up or leave. Really the only reason the Chinese get sick is the influence of western culture: they now included chemical laden, packaged, junk food in their diet and they smoke constantly, esp. the men. They even smoke where it says no smoking and no one says anything. There is a definite tendency toward disregard for what the west considers basic manners. They are a culture that spits and pees anywhere, babies rule in this area and are diaper-less with crotch-less pants for easy access; often the Chinese tourists are rude and pushy for pictures, coming right into the middle of standing meditation to get their shot; and passing of gas and nose picking are dinner table acceptable. Still when you get to know them, they are warm, helpful and caring people. They love their children and lives and wish for the best just like everyone else on the planet.
Afternoon practice starts 3ish and goes till 5ish. We start with Taichi walk, then standing meditation and a rest. These sound ease, but it is challenging to stand still in horse pose for 30+ minutes with your arms up. For sure it teaches you to overcome your ego/body and find stillness…it is the only way to survive it! I have learned to love it. Then we have more form practice. The kids workouts are much like ours, only way more intense and longer. It is an amazing site to see children of all ages running around with real weapons that they know how to use ….Interestingly, there is rarely any discord with the kids and I have never seen them use their skills on each other. Also the kids often perform around the area. They are beautiful all in white, moving in unison.
Evening sees everyone eating dinner and shutting down for the night. Dinner and lunch are the same: rice/noodles, stir-fried vegetables, tofu, egg or chicken/pork. The Daoists do a closing ceremony at the Temple: more incense, drumming and chanting, the kids do their evening studies and the foreigners (like us) read, watch movies on computers, do their own studies, occasionally go out for dinner, or just collapse into bed from exhaustion! For those that manage to stay awake, the sky puts on a tremendous show on clear nights. The stars are stunning!
Five and a half days are like this. Then Wednesday finally arrives and we all have a break till Friday. During break everyone scatters all over the mountain. People go visit other temples, hike, go down the mountain to town to eat, shop, get massage or just hang out. The kids do much the same, even the little ones take off on their own. It is completely safe here for humans (maybe not so much for animals). They don’t have much common sense around the care of animals. I’ve seen some scary things. Plus extra cleaning and resting are favorite activities. Christy even cooks extra treats in her room. She is the rice cooker queen, and manages wonderful chocolate custard in it, along with the kinds of foods you would expect to come out of a rice cooker.
In general the Chinese countryside is much like the countryside anywhere in the west, 50+ years ago. At a distance it is beautiful, simple and relaxed, just like most of the people who live there. However, when you get up close you realize dirt still rules and the people are generally struggling to be happy due to poverty and ignorance. This said China is in an industrial revolution, so it won’t be long till modernization reaches everyone. I really don’t know if this will be good or not. There is so much tradition and history here, it is a shame to lose it to high rises and strip malls. I feel we could all do with a little more ignorance, relaxation and quite in our lives. Soon even the Chinese rural mind will constantly chatter! It is wonderful to be here. To see a country birthing itself to something new, while attempting to hang on to the best of its traditions.