Still hanging in limbo waiting for my India visa to come through, I decided to return for a week or so of Baji Zhandao training with Master Chen near Beijing and also to celebrate the Chinese New Year (23/01/12) with him.
The air in the winter is not like the hot humidity soup we slurped in our summer hours of meditation - tongue to roof of mouth. This time the air is misty with what I think is a freezing smog. Beijing streets smell of fireworks, coal burners and Buddhist incense.
The bus to the village was packed London rush hour tube style. This is Chinese Spring Festival. Biggest festival in human history. Busiest time and place for travelling in the world. I stood for 1.5 hours on the bus and at one point I lifted my foot for a moment and then couldn’t find where to put it back down again. Holding on but standing on one foot as the bus wobbled around. But stepping on toes here and there my foot forced its way back down claiming its own ground.
I got off the bus at the village and the other passengers soon disappeared into
the smog on the dark high street. Someone squatted down tending a fire by the curb. North China felt like it had retreated back in time during the harsh winter. Everything looked different but I knew the way to Master Chen’s...
I took a wrong turn down the wrong side street. The dogs were barking at me. There were no street lamps. I followed my instinct down an alley walking at the side of the path to avoid a giant iced puddle in the middle. At the end of the alleyway a silhouette of a man stood. Was it the fluidity in the silhouette’s movement that I recognised it was Shifu? I received a very warm welcome.
My training schedule:
I would wake at 5/6am each morning. Meditate and then do some drills.
1430-1630 Conditioning & meditation
1800 Forms, drills and anything else.
Patrick was there some of the time for training which was a bonus. But it seemed like most of the time:
..here I was, on my own, outside in this concrete yard below zero temperatures training. Walking Bagua circles hundreds of times. The dust blew
around in circles too. Suns orbit the galaxy, planets orbit the sun, moons orbit the planets, seasons come around, time is circular. People are born and die. Everything moves in circles. A few snow flakes floated about. Mind empty. I could be anywhere. These surroundings are of no material significance. What is material and of (real) significance? The only important thing was that I can train myself here and every once in a while Shifu appears and gives me another small piece of guidance and then leaves me to chew over it and realise its much bigger than I initially thought. Then when I’m ready, he returns and gives me another ‘small’ piece of guidance. He teaches with very few words. He speaks in actions. Sometimes I can spot the Taoist wisdom encoded in these actions.
You can tell when someone is looking at you when you’re not looking at them. Doesn’t sound familiar? Try it. Anyways, when Shifu Chen was in the yard, it felt like his eyes were on you at all times even if he looked away or at times I’d look up expecting to meet eye contact and his eyes were closed!
taught me 48 techniques. Each one was like a point on the arc of a circumference. The more I grasped, the closer I was to being able to understanding the where the essence of the martial art lay; the centre of the circle.
I wrote the techniques down. Translating his actions and some Chinese words into English words. But even using excessive words, it was impossible to capture the essence of the martial art in words unless the reader was also a student of Baji Zhandao.
I found it to be a very strange but beneficial translation process that could be explained in four steps:
1. He spoke with his actions
2. Which I would see with my mind
3. Then I must repeat & gain a sufficient bodily comprehension to meet his approval
4. Then I must use my mind to try and translate it into words to write down.
A few drops of water drip from my washing bowl in the morning and instantly freeze upon landing in the concrete yard. There was a power cut for an hour or so. My bet is, it had something to do with fireworks. As soon as the
sun goes down it makes me wonder what the Eastern Front was like with the below zero temperatures and constant explosions (but thankfully from fireworks rather than mortars).
Its forecast -17C tonight. Tomorrow is the first new moon and thus the year of the Dragon begins in China. We stayed up for the Chinese New Year. We watched some Chinese TV and I understood about as much as the dogs.
I went to sleep at 01:30 but then Master woke us up just before 07:00. I put my boots and coat on and went out in my super thick long johns. He handed me a lighter and pointed to the fuse of a long strip of the massive Chinese bangers. They were bigger than I had seen before and as we stood back, little bits of shrapnel occasionally hitting you in the face. Find your inner peace during THIS and you’re winning! It woke me up better than any green tea or ginseng tea I had tasted. Then inside and we ate dumplings, a tradition at new year. I was far too awake to sleep after that ordeal and went to meditate instead.
I went into Beijing for a few days. I visited the Temple of Heaven and in the surrounding park I watched and fed what must have been about 70 Cyanopica cyana or Azure-winged Magpie (www.avianweb.com/azurewingedmagpies.html) and about four black and white ones. These type of magpie can only be found in Spain and East Asia.
Each day as the sun went down, all across Beijing the fireworks started up in their non-stop rumbling sound. I befriended a few people on the street who were setting off some crazy fireworks. Check out the videos I posted.
It was difficult speaking with them because they spoke such strong Beijing Chinese, which sounds more like Klingon. Whereas I think I speak one of the softest dialects of Shanghai-Suzhou Chinese, and Ive been taught it by women and children! But they still ended up giving me a small box of fireworks to take away. It was probably my Cheshire cat grin that I can’t help but wear whenever there are big fireworks.
Then I got a train towards Yangshuo, Guangxi province, South West China. It turned out to be a 26 hour train journey and no beds were available because of
the festival. But I was grateful to have a seat, rather than be sitting on a bag in the corridor, woken up by being rammed by the drinks & snacks trolley every couple of hours.
I felt sad to have left training and to have left what felt like my Chinese family. But ahead was warmer weather, trees, mountains and even a river I could swim in.
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