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Week of August 30th: We have Arrived in the Sky

On Monday I repacked…again…as we are now taking all our luggage with us on the plane. Kailin did her job. It was good experience. She and a little girl, maybe 7, were flower girls.  They did the shot with 3 older girls…2 were bridesmaids and one was the bride. It was a throwing flowers scene. They were very good. She worked for about 4 hours. You can see a snapshot I took below.  Also Remy came from Vegas into Shanghai this night. It was so great to see her and hang out. We went with her to a local Chinese restaurant….the kind we can’t read the menu in….she order tomato and eggs soup. We thought how odd, but it was great….It is a new favorite. It has been really great to be able to stay and Cortney and Remy’s Shanghai apartment while we have been here and we have had a great time.

KK on film set

Tuesday was the BIG DAY!!!! We flew to Xiangfan, were the school picked us up and we drove the 2 hours on up to Wudang Mountain. The flight was great and short, about 2 hours. The drive from Xiangfan to the town at the bottom of the mountain was interesting. There are signs of the big industrial boom China is experiencing everywhere. Also this is corn country. It reminded me a lot of the Midwest where I grew up; Except for the water buffaloes and lotus fields.

Luggage was a major pain and all the way I was thinking, “what was I thinking!”, but when we arrived it became clear the hassle was all worth it and that I have under packed for how long we intend to be here. Our hotel/dormitory sits at the bottom of a small valley and the only way in is down 200+ steps. Everything is brought in on a pulley system. It was a really interesting show watching them get our luggage in.

Before I get into all the details of our adventure thus far, I just have to say WOW! It is so beautiful here. All those Chinese paintings you see of gorgeous, misty countryside, well we are living in one of those paintings. Basically, we are living in a cloud…sometimes a thin cloud, sometimes a thick cloud, and when the sun comes out everything shines.

This said there are pros and cons to living in a cloud. For example when we arrived at our rooms, mine was covered in mold. Apparently, this is an ongoing problem everywhere here. Kailin’s was fine. Also, the Chinese idea of 3 star hotel and the rest of the worlds are fairly different. The first thing Coco (not her real name, but you can’t pronounce that) did was take us shopping, for “things” we will need in our room. This is before we even drove up the mountain…things like: fruit, toilet paper, tissues, towels, a mess kit, dish soap, actual all kinds of soap/cleaners, etc. This did not bode well. Our rooms had not even been cleaned from the last occupants….Let’s just say Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were dedicated to cleaning, acquiring the basics, figuring out how to get food, unpacking and few emotional breakdowns. We are now settled in and the staff has been very helpful by Chinese standards, esp. considering the language/cultural barriers. If this was any developed nation the health and safety inspectors would drop over from shock. It should be noted that perceptions is definitely based in experience, as another couple that arrived after us found everything fantastic….they had just come from Botswana!!!

It is amazing what a little elbow grease and persistence can accomplish. Our rooms are quite nice now and as soon as I can get dehumidifiers in we will be all set. At the moment, open windows are helping a lot, but come winter (which is according to other students: Brutal!) we will be in trouble without the dehumidifiers. Not only is it massively humid (90+% all year round), but we will be drying our clothes in our room. There is good news about winter; it will knock back the mosquito population. We are both covered in spots at the moment, even with our great repellant…Thank God for essential oils. They have cleaned up the mold, healed our mosquito bites, freshened our rooms, and soothed our sore muscles. Our rooms do have some really cool things like universal plugs, individual hot water heaters that work great, and bathrooms like you find on a ship. Also we have western toilets, which Kailin was very happy about.

Our arrival timing was great, as the weekend here is half of Wednesday and all of Thursday, so we began our training on Friday. Master Guan is wonderful. He is really just a kid, maybe 25, but a master none the less. The children’s program that the school runs starts the kids at 10. Their day starts at 5am with a run up the mountain and ends at around 7pm. They are here 9 months of the year, with 3 months break to go home and visit family. This is why a 25 year old is a master!!! There are several master here, and one grand master. The grand master that started this school is also around, but is taking a hermitage. Being a hermit is really “COOL” in Taoism. Rumor is there are many living in these mountains.

We train from 8:30-11:00 and 3:00-6:00 each day. Master Guan manages the class just like a Montessori school. Everybody shows up and runs and stretches a bit on their own. Then he gathers us up and we all stretch together. Next is kicks…there are a lot of those…about an hour!!!! Then he breaks us up in groups and gives us things to be getting on with. Currently we are learning 5-element Chi Gong and the 8 Brochades (Mom, you know these. They are exercise you do. A bit different, but the same set). Everyone is doing their own thing either individually or in a group and he comes around and corrects you or occasionally gives you new things to try. At some point we stop and do standing meditation. This is way harder than it sounds. We stand for 20-30 minutes, and your arms are “suppose” to be up the whole time….I might be able to do this in few months!!! I might also be able to climb the 324 steps from our dorm all the way to the Purple Temple without my heart trying to escape my chest. One thing is for sure….We will leave here fit! Training daily, steps everywhere, and minimal food.

The food is good, but they don’t seem to believe in raw food (Hilda you would die here). We are supplementing with fruit, raw nuts, and cucumber. We will definitely be tired of Chinese food by the time we leave. The nearest western food of any kind is hours away in Shiyan. We mainly eat rice and veges that have been wok cooked in one way or another. Taoist are vegetarians but since westerners come here, they add meat to some dishes….Thing is they are big fans of pork and there idea of adding meat is closer to bone and sinew stir-fried for flavor.

Overall we love it. When you watch the masters perform the various disciplines and you see what other students have accomplished that have been here for awhile it is amazing and beautiful. I am anxious to see what the kids can do. They are all away at the moment performing in Shanghai at the Expo.

We are sore after 3 days but that is to be expected. We know it will get better. When you are just too tired to carry on you can stop and listen to the sounds of nature or the lovely girl that plays the flute at the temple while we work out. If you really need a distraction you can always watch the tourists that visit the temple….they are funny! It totally throws them to see westerns practicing kungfu.

We are getting to know the other people here. There is a group from Hungary, but none of them speak English. We have Austria, Australia, America, China, Spain, Norway all represented, and soon a group from Germany arrives. At the moment the group is mainly foreigners. I guess it was mainly Chinese until the end of August when the “summer only” students went back to school.

Saturday during our daily break as small group of us went on up the mountain one more stop. The last stop…..there is a small town here, Nan Yin. More a tourist trap: lots of souvenir shops and hotels, but the good news is you can by fruit, nuts and herbs here without needing to go all the way down the mountain, which will be impossible some of the winter. Also they have a proper restaurant here, so we can have different meal occasionally. Also some of the temples have food for the Taoist that maintain them and practice here. We found out we can eat there too for a small fee.

From this last stop are the trails that lead to many of the other temples on this side of the mountain. There are many and each very beautiful. We will be photographing things the whole time we are here. On Saturday we choose to walk to Lao Tzu’s cave. This is the place his disciples would stay and he would come there to train them. It’s not very big, so there couldn’t have been many at once. We got there after the tourist had gone, so we were able to go in and meditate for awhile. The energy was amazing. There is a very strong vortex inside.

We also meant Muriel, a Scot, who has been coming to this mountain for years. She was a wealth of knowledge. She is currently helping Master Hu, translate his book into English. I hope to see a lot more of her. She has pointed me toward a woman, Elizabeth, who will help me learn about local herbs.

It is Sunday night now and it has gone from 90% humidity to 100% humidity. It has been raining all day. The rain is different when you are in the cloud that is raining. Stiller…I guess the rain doesn’t have as far to fall. Check back on next Sunday/Monday for more.

One more thing….I did standing meditation today with my arms up the whole time and almost no pain….Wahoo!