TWO AMAZING WEEKS IN CHINABy
Earlier this year myself and five of my Sanshangong (Kungfu) students returned from a fortnight in Fujian, China where we…
* participated in an international martial arts convention (organized by the “International South Shaolin Five Ancestor Fist Kung Fu Federation”)
* trained in the mountains
* then trained some more in the provincial capital.
My two senior students, Justin Rayment and Jim Clews, were two of the five whilst Tim Ford, Richard Measey and Alex Basham were the other three.
All five were very serious students who wanted to sample life in the province that provides the cultural setting fort the martial arts they studied under my leadership.
Here is my account of our adventure…
The two weeks we were away were absolutely incredible! We left the island (the Isle Of Wight in south England where we are based) on February 23rd and taxi-ed up to Heathrow where we flew, direct, with “Cathay Pacific” the 6,000 miles to Hong Kong.
For most of my students, if not all of them, this was the longest flight they had ever experienced – twelve hours of restricted movement, eating, drinking, reading, snoozing, talking and watching in-flight entertainment. All part of the adventure!
After having spent three hours in the transit lounge of Hong Kong’s international airport (Chep Lap Kok) we then boarded the 45-minute flight with “Dragon Air” which took us up the Fujian coastline and then down into Xiamen, our final destination.
We were supposed to have been met by the mayor of Quanzhou but that never happened. Instead we were met by a special bus and a couple of lovely and very friendly local girls (“volunteers”) that our host had arranged to take care of us for the evening.
Had I known that our VIP treatment was to come to nothing I would have had us all flown into Quanzhou itself, for Quanzhou airport is literally minutes away form the martial arts convention we were to attend.
It seemed so strange – having 500 visitors all fly in to a city so far from the venue when there is an airport so close by! But the girls (Yong Zhen and Xie Li) were charming and their English was good (although, at every opportunity I would practice on them my limited Chinese) – so we could live with the two-hour slog through the darkness of the late rainy evening.
During the two-hour bus-ride we spoke with the girls pretty-much the entire time.
“You can call us by our English names, Chitty and Shelley” they said to us. Yong Zhen was Chitty and Xie Li (which actually sounds like “Shelley”) was Shelley.
But I never did for I always prefer to call Chinese people by their Chinese names:
one, I think that this is more respectful
two, it shows that you are making more of an effort rather than simply (and all-too-simply) “copping-out”
and three, because it gives me a chance to improve upon my own Chinese pronunciation.
We arrived at the hotel (the Quanzhou Overseas Hotel) at around 9:30 and after having checked in we were taken to our rooms.
“There is dinner prepared for you downstairs on the second floor”, we were told by another girl volunteer. (So many young teenage college-student girls, all majoring in English, had been engaged to act as helpers for the five hundred “guests” of this international event!).
She continued: “So please hurry and come now.”
From now on, then, it was to be chopsticks all the way until we were once again back in England! This was my directive and all a part of the whole “China Adventure”.
Having got my students settled into their rooms I went in search of Master John Graham, a Five Ancestor Fist “master” based in Alabama (USA). Master Graham’s room was on a floor below us and so with much excitement I knocked on his door expecting us to engage in some form of healthy dialogue.
He and I had enjoyed regular email contact over the previous six months and with me supporting him by way of no modest financial sum it was agreed that we would join his US delegation.
But all I got was a bleary-eyed reception that was not ‘with it’ (nor with me!) at all. Very disappointing!
After our evening meal I and my students went for a walk around Quanzhou. Having been there two years earlier (at the previous International Quanzhou South Shaolin Five Ancestor Fist conference) I wanted to show my students what I knew/remembered of the city.
It was still raining. Light, fine and steady rain. With us were Yong Zhen and Xie Li. They did not mind at all walking with us as they showed us their city – in fact I think that they were both very proud!
Although it was late there were a number of shops that were still open.
“There is the martial arts shop” I said to my students a few minutes into our walk. “We can come back tomorrow and take a look.”
We walked a little further and stumbled upon a tea shop. The lady inside, Ms. Gao Miao Zhen who was also the owner, beckoned us all to take a seat whereupon eight chairs were promptly obtained for us.
Miss Gao multi-tasking before a steaming cup of Zhongguo Cha
This, then, was the highlight of our late-night walk: two hours sitting, drinking all kinds of traditional Chinese tea and talking with Miao Zhen as we all learnt about this native Chinese ‘medicine’.
Although Yong Zhen and Xie Li translated into English what Miao Zhen was saying to us, wherever and whenever possible I would try my best to converse in Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese).
Miao Zhen was very friendly and was not out to make a killing from half a dozen tourists for she very soon realized that we were a million miles away from being just that! Rather, we were welcome to stay as long as we liked and with no pressure upon us at all to buy anything from her.
l to r: Tim, Alex, Justin and Jim
I think that she just liked to share her art with those that were appreciative of her art! I know how she feels!
As it happened, though, we were to go back to her upon more than one occasion before leaving Quanzhou whilst a number of us were to buy from her a substantial amount of Chinese tea for a substantial amount of Yuan (the local currency).
Richard “at home” in the tea house
After several attempts to leave we did finally make our departure, promising to return at some point during our stay. As the rain had not yet stopped we were all given an umbrella each so that we would not get too wet walking back to the hotel.
“Now we have to go back!” said Alex…but he meant it in the best possibly way.
“We have been assigned to another group” Yong Zhen and Xie Li said to us on our way back to the hotel. “We will see you again but we cannot be with you all time. But if you need our help you can just look for us and we will help you.” The girls were sincere about this and our paths were to cross all way through the martial arts convention.
Walking back it was already the next day and what an amazing start to our two-week adventure! Although we were not really feeling tired I said that it would be best if we were to get some rest.
What’s the plan for tomorrow?” one of my students asked me.
“Breakfast at seven…” I said but before I could finish my sentence someone jumped in…
“That sounds reasonable.
“Then I finished my sentence: “Training at 5.”
One or two groans then followed – but very minor ones!
By 5 were all up and dressed. Not all awake, perhaps, but all up and dressed and ready to go out. It was still raining. We went outside in search of somewhere sheltered to practice.
“There is a pavillion on the other side of the lake where we can try”, I said.
Outside our hotel was a lovely lake and on our way to the pavillion we went to have a peak at a tiny temple right by our hotel’s front gate.
To my surprise the temple was already open and so, walking inside, we saw a caretaker and a worshipper busy doing what they do. They received us at first with care, caution and curiosity but then with warmth. We stayed for a while and then we took our leave. Upon leaving I made a donation in the temple’s donation box. Then the caretaker approached us and gave us each a piece of candy.
In search of our “wuguan” (a place in which to train) we walked towards the pavillion. The pavillion was great! Empty, sheltered and adequate. It was still dark and as we went through our forms we watched with excitement and through the low-lying mist as the sun rose over the temple and into the lake.
No words could ever describe what we saw before us and so that is why we just stood there – mute and marvelling! Richard did try to describe it but failed miserably although the attempt was noble!
After an hour or so we walked back to the hotel so that we could freshen-up before going down to breakfast. On our way back we came across a large sign saying “Kung Fu Animation”. I meant to go back there to check it out but never did.
We were one of the first groups in the restaurant. Actually it was a huge, carpeted banquet room. With the weather still being somewhat miserable (not for us, though for we were all totally ‘living in the moment’) this meant that some groups that were on their way to this event were delayed – stuck at airports or victims of diversions. For this reason the banquet hall was not so full.
With no set plan for today apart from it being the official “arrival and registration day” we had no fixed schedule to adhere to. Deciding that today would be a day of relaxing, settling in and exploring we all decided to return the umbrellas and also go back to check out the martial arts store.
On our way back to our room we were introduced to a young Chinese girl – a student and a volunteer who was to be the volunteer assigned to us. Her name, she told us, was “July” but I never called her that as I preferred to call her by her Chinese name: Yu Mei.
As her English was so good she was also the secretary/translator to the mayor of Quanzhou – himself a martial arts master and a major driving force behind this martial arts convention. Yu Mei’s duties would be divided between us and him and with him taking presidence over us.
Although my Chinese was not so good it was good for us to have to make do without (a translator) from time to time. Anyway, it would do me good!
“I am here to help you any way I can”, Yu Mei said to us, “so is there anything I can help you with today?”
For the next hour or so Yu Mei helped me to make some phone calls to Fuzhou, the provincial capital of Fujian which is some way further up the coast. We were going to Fuzhou after this convention so Yu Mei helped enormously as I prepared for this part of our venture.
At this time I managed (actually, Yu Mei managed) to organize a meeting with a man called Wei Qi Qi (the now retired president of the “Fujian Wushu Association).
The meeting was scheduled for one week later by which time we would all be in Fuzhou.
“Anything else?” Yu Mei asked.
Next on the list was to buy a dragon!
As a group we went to the martial arts store and with us came Yu Mei. The store was nothing special, but I knew that anyway. But I did want to buy a Chinese Dragon and if I could buy this anywhere in Quanzhou then this was the place where I could buy it.
I had wanted to buy a dragon for a long time now but back home in the UK they were, for my pocket, very expensive (£1500). Besides, if I were to buy one here in Quanzhou then that would be a far more thrilling experience! An adventure in itself!
Having returned the umbrellas to Miao Zhen and without staying too long we then went in search of the dragon.
The shop, it seemed, is run by a man and a woman. A couple, I sensed. Whilst the man seemed not to speak much, if any, English, the woman did speak some English. When I asked about a Chinese Dragon she immediately took me out to a storage room at the back of the shop where she showed me a lovely green and red Chinese dragon.
It came in four parts – a beautiful head, a round tinsel-covered pearl (for its mouth), a tail, and the main body which must have measured somewhere in the region of ten metres! This dragon was simply amazing!
As soon as I had agreed to buy it the lady boxed it up for me in two huge cardboard boxes. Having paid for it the fun continued in transporting it back to the hotel.
These boxes were not at all heavy but were rather awkward to carry. Richard, who was very excited indeed, offered to carry one of the boxes all by himself whilst the other box I carried along with the help of Yu Mei who insisted on not seeing me struggle.
What an amazing sight this must have been – a group of foreigners together with a local girl carrying two huge boxes through the busy streets of Quanzhou!
A typical street in Quanzhou
On each box was “Dragon” in thick, jet-black, bold-face, giant font-sized Chinese characters so everyone must have known what it was that we were carrying.
For the next two weeks this beautiful Chinese dragon lived at the hotel – in my and Jim’s room (for we were sharing) and in storage whilst we were out of town.
That morning, after our breakfast, we had been told that lunch would be served from 11:30am but come lunch-time none of us were at all hungry so we by-passed that meal altogether and went in search of some training bottoms for our forthcoming kungfu demonstration (for we had been invited to show our kungfu skills later on during this kungfu convention).
A simple task such as buying a pair of bottoms turned out to be a lengthy ordeal but…for those who persevere everything comes right in the end. And so the outcome was (after having traipsed all over town!) six pairs of decent bottoms that would go nicely with our Sanshangong tee-shirts.
Yu Mei had been with us the entire time and her help was nothing short of invaluable when it came to negotiating costs.
“It’s my pleasure” she would say whenever we would thank her for her help.
For the entire day, guests would arrive from various pockets of the Earth. Upon our return to the hotel we learned that Henry Lo of the “Kong Han” Kung Fu School in Manila, Philippines had just arrived.
Master Lo is a very good friend of mine who had first invited me to attend this annual Kung Fu conference many years ago – way back in the 1990s. At that time I had not taken him up on his invitation but two years ago he had asked me to attend the 2008 conference because he needed my support with a certain matter. I agreed to attend and, being so impressed by what I saw that year I wanted to return this year but with some of my students. So here, indeed, we were!
I found Henry in the hotel lobby and, after having greeted him, I introduced him to my students. He already knew Justin from our visit to Manila two years earlier, but this was the first time he had met with Jim, Tim, Richard and Alex.
I could see that Henry was busy organizing his students (last time he had brought just two with him but this time he had with him a good few more) and so leaving him to conduct his affairs we returned to our rooms for a while.
This evening we spent walking around this ancient and historic city. Relaxing, enjoying China, enjoying the experience.
This morning we were, once again, at our private training spot in the middle of the lake. Breakfast was very pleasant with some new faces that had arrived the previous day.
The rain had not really stopped since we had arrived in Quanzhou and so our afternoon training session on the hotel rooftop was cut short owing to a heavier-than-usual downpour. We relocated to a seemingly disused floor and continue to practice there.
On this afternoon’s agenda was a visit to a sports stadium where we would be rehearsing our demonstration-piece. Everyone was invited to perform – first by way of a 30-second demonstration and then by way of a three-minute demo. We had been asked to prepare a thirty-minute demonstration but that now seemed to have been cut short somewhat! Anyway, thirty seconds and three minutes was okay by us.
As the rehearsal got under way it was nothing short of organized chaos, but that simply added to the fun! Our first demo (if you didn’t blink) was to be a Yongchun White Crane Limbs-Knocking conditioning exercise.
Full-contact, high impact, no holding back!
As there were six of us I decided that a triangular formation was the way to go for this and so I had Justin pair-off with me, Tim pair-up with Richard and Jim pair up with Alex.
Although this was just a rehearsal there was a live audience before us that was very much alive! During our practice performance we received a huge round of applause and a lot of cheering!
I must say that during our performance we really did “go for it” and where everyone else seemed to be doing forms and weapons we were, as far as I know, the only one’s showing full and unrestrained physical contact – nothing “pulled” and nothing held back. Perhaps it was this that had enthralled the audience.
Our second demo was the Wuzuquan Samchien (the Five Ancestor Fist Sanchin) form. This also went down very well with the audience – our fans!
I am glad they all enjoyed it because we certainly did!
Having been promised that this event would be out-of-this-world it was not long before cracks began to appear in the structure that warned me otherwise. Indeed, cracks had actually appeared from the moment we had arrived at Xiamen airport although I had chosen not to see them for what they were…very obvious cracks!
This evening’s “Welcoming Party” and official opening ceremony (for which we had already paid) was cancelled at the last minute. Well, not actually cancelled…just not to include many of us! Instead it was suggested that we …go shopping! We were told this at dinner. I was not happy!
Some jokes are funny, this one was not. We did, however, have the last laugh…
We had arrived in Quanzhou just in-time for the Lantern Festival although we did not, at this time, actually know it.
This festival takes place at the end of the two-week period during which the Chinese New Year is celebrated. The street outside our hotel was closed-off to vehicles and absolutely teeming with locals parading on-foot whilst a platoon of heavily-armed police were making their presence truly felt.
Off we walked, me and my group – my party, my delegation – as we followed our big noses (the Chinese often call westerners “Big Nose” because, compared to them, we do have big noses) at a crawling pace.
Wandering down a nearby side-street it was not long before we stumbled upon a beautiful Chinese temple.
Although it was early evening Quanzhou was already dark and appeared like dead of night. The air was heavy – with sweetly-fragranced incense smoke filling one’s lungs with every turn. Then we saw a simply amazing sight!
Countless square paper lanterns dotted the sky as they floated forever upwards becoming mere specks – bright specks – for inside these squares were tiny lights. These lights were tea-light-like candles that never seemed to extinguish themselves. Incredible to watch, impossible to describe.
Forget the welcome party (in fact, we already had)…this was a real experience!
We arrived back at the hotel a couple of hours later. Stopping by our rooms momentarily we then made our way up to the top floor which was deserted. There we rehearsed our demonstration in a small area of space just by the lifts.
The next day begun with our pre-dawn pre-breakfast practice back at the mid-lake pavilion. Once again we had the place all to ourselves.
After an hour or so we returned to our rooms for a rest before, once again, getting to grips with those infectious chopsticks!
Yet breakfast was far more than just a culinary experience for it was also a chance to speak with newly-made acquaintances and to see who was “the latest” to arrive having battled all weathers and made it to Quanzhou!
At breakfast we had a table to ourselves – with an empty seat reserved for Yu Mei should she happen to turn-up. Minutes later Yu Mei ‘happened’.
“Yu Mei, zhaoshan!” I said (Good morning Yu Mei”) Then, “Qing zhuo!” (Please take a seat). She took some breakfast with us then asked, “Is there anything I can help you with today?”
Part of our reason for coming to China was to seek-out Master Su Ying Han of the Yongchun White Crane Kung Fu style. I was wanting meet with Master Su so that I could ask him if he would agree to teach us something rather special…
I was wanting to learn (or, at least, gain an insight into) the Yongchun Baihequan “sanzhan” (sanchin) form and so I asked Yu Mei if she would help me to ask him.
Having made one two enquiries we found out that Master Su was staying at a nearby hotel – the rather plush and stylish “Zaiten Hotel”. (The next time I go back to Quanzhou, this I where I will stay.)
Yu Mei phoned the hotel and spoke with Master Su directly. A meeting was arranged for lunch-time at his hotel which was not too far away. But before our meeting…
Today was the day of the Opening Ceremony and the swearing-in of the new “Quanzhou Nan Shaolin Five Ancestor Fist Federation” president – Master John Graham.
My good friend Henry Lo had asked us to give him a standing ovation as well as a huge cheer and round of applause – which we did. No-one else seemed to do as we did or as much as we did and we never did get any thanks for that but, well, you live and learn!
Then I received a message!
I was to go to a very important meeting along with a number of so-deemed senior kungfu masters. Whilst I was away a group photo was taken of all the convention participants. All my students were there but their teacher – me! I was busy trying to make sense of a wild goose chase!
The meeting I went to was a complete fiasco! First we were taken to the wrong hotel, then were all walked-in on another meeting, then our meeting was conducted in Chinese – every single word and with no interpreter – and the we were taken back to our hotel only to find that the group photos had already been taken!
I spoke with the “new president” about this and he said that he would have the group photo re-taken. Actually, he didn’t and so it wasn’t.
At the appointed hour Yu Mei and I caught a cab to the Zaiten Hotel where we would be meeting with Master Su.
* * *
I had first met Master Su Ying Han in Yongchun back in 2001 when I visited this mountain village during one of my research/training adventures to Fujian (where I used to live).
At that time I had also met with another Yongchun Baihequan group that operates just a few minutes walk from Master Su’s home. Both groups had received me with great warmth and sincerity.
My next meeting with Master Su was in Quanzhou (a couple of hours drive from Yongchun). This was in 2008 when I was asked to attend a very important Five Ancestor Fist Kung Fu meeting in Quanzhou.
I met with Master Su soon after my arrival. Rather embarrassingly I could not remember Master Su’s name. I did feel somewhat awkward about this and quite rightly so, but to make matters worse…Master Su had remembered my name! Once again he received me with much kindness and genuine friendship.
* * *
We found Master Su waiting for us in his room.
During the customary few minutes of small-talk where Yu Mei and Master Su spoke their local language, Master Su threw me regular friendly and approving glances. Then Yu Mei looked me in the eye and spoke:
“Master Su would like to invite you to his hometown (Yongchun) where he said that he would very happily to teach you what you want to learn.”
To this I responded by saying to Master Su: “I have a number of students with me (back at the hotel) and they would also like to learn from you.” Master Su listened as Yu Mei, my interpreter, translated for me.
Master Su readily agreed to my request and said that we were all very welcome to visit his hometown and, indeed, his home and his training school anytime we were ready.
He also offered to arrange a taxi for us (from Quanzhou to Yongchun) and to find us a decent hotel – for he was very good friends with one of the hotel managers in Yongchun.
Yu Mei and I thanked Master Su as so we went to tell my students the good news!
During our very short time in Quanzhou Yu Mei had become a very good friend of ours. Unpaid, helping-out purely from the bottom of her heart and well beyond her terms of agreement with the Federation, she assisted us with just about every request we made - I made.
After lunch everyone was taken out to the demonstration venue – a huge sports stadium two miles or so from the hotel. A number of coaches had been laid-on in order to transport all of us to and from the stadium and on the way there someone drew our attention to the fact that the roads we were taking had all been closed-off. Not only that but we also had our very own police escort!
Our demonstration went without a hitch. Giving an excellent account of ourselves we then sat back to watch the rest of the “show” – hand-forms, weapons-forms and two-person routines – all to the accompaniment of beautiful, exciting and very loud Chinese music. But once again our limbs-knocking demo was the only demo where there was any real show of one-on-one power and full-contact exchange.
Upon our return to the hotel that late afternoon we had a bite to eat and then went to the hotel rooftop for a work-out. There we were greeted by spectacular views of the city – but as spectacular as they were it was not long before we were immersed in some serious San Shan Gong!
Then it rained!
Not be outdone we returned to the top floor lift area and continued our practice there. The next morning Justin and Jim were attesting for their Black Sash.
“So there is no early morning pavillion training then? Jim engaged me in a few rounds of dialogue.
“No there is not.”
““A lie-in then”, he added.
“Not exactly”, I said. “The grading is going to be at 4:30am.”
“At the pavillion?”
No, outside that Chinese temple just around the corner.” (We all knew it well.)
“And if it rains?”
“Then we all get wet.”
That night was spent in the bar just by the lobby. Richard, Alex and Jim had made friends with a couple of Australian martial artists and so spoke long (and drank even longer!) into the early morning. Barely worth going to bed!
By 4am we were all up and ready.
We walked along to the ancient Buddhist/Daoist temple which was not even a few minutes walk from our hotel…and found it to be deserted. This early morning was warm, close and very muggy.
The Grading Temple
With no-one around that time of day – just the occasional dog-walker or early morning exerciser way ahead of the normal early-morning exerciser – I promptly got the grading underway.
Justin and Jim were the first two students I have ever coached from raw White Sash level through to the daunting Black Sash.
Justin and Jim both take their Sanshangong practice with the utmost seriousness and this showed not only because of where they were endurance-wise and stamina-wise in this art, but where they were right now geographically – more than 6,000 miles away from home standing outside a temple in an ancient quarter of Mainland China!
I started them both off with warm-up stretches and then punching and kicking drills before bringing in the various posture-based forms (in Chinese: xing) which are, to us, moving meditations.
Two-person work then followed where they both demonstrated upon each other the various (indeed, innumerous!) applications of the various xing we practice.
Later on I would need a third person to assist and so this was when I brought Tim, Richard and Alex in to the grading. Until now they had be watching with keen interest and fascination as they probably thought ‘rather them than me!’ But if they all stayed with me long enough then their time would come!
* * *
As it happened, Alex was to leave us soon after our return to England. No reason was given as to why, no farewell, no communication. Along with Justin and Jim, however, Richard and Tim have remained. In fact Tim has just recently achieved his Black Sash.
* * *
As I could not bring any kind of imitation knife or gun with me to China I had to forego the weapons defence part of Justin and Jim’s grading so, instead, made up for that absence by expanding upon the limbs-knocking, the self-defence and the stamina.
The grading came to an end one hour after it had begun – with 100 push-ups to be completed within a five-minute time-frame.
With the grading complete I made a short speech about the importance of gradings – at least, within Sanshangong!
Had this grading have taken place at my martial arts school – THE MARSTA back in the UK – I would have announced their result one week later. But as we were here I saw no need for the waiting period. I announced there and then their result. They had both passed!
But as I was announcing their results a very peculiar thing happened!
Overcome with emotion I spontaneously burst out crying!
Justin and Jim probably thought that it should be them, if anyone, that should be crying…not me! But I guess I was feeling their achievement and their accomplishment just as much as they were!
This afternoon we were meant to return to the stadium for performances. We were meant to show more of our art (Sanshangong) but with this entire convention proving to be somewhat shallow and below our expectations we came to the conclusion that if there was to be any form of depth here then it was going to be of our own making. Therefore, today took on a very different look than the one laid on for us!
At breakfast I spoke with two Five Ancestor masters – Master Bonifacio Lim and Master Ben Ascuncion. They were telling me about an unofficial visit to real Kung Fu temple where there would be some real Kung Fu masters.
“Can my students and I come along with you?” I asked.
“It is being organized by a Chinese man with a beard.” The told me. “Ask him.”
“Where can I find him.”
“He is here somewhere but I do not know where. But hurry! We are leaving very soon.”
A Chinaman with a beard! I thought to myself. Okay. So let’s find him!
And so off I went and on a real mission – for he could be anyone and he could be anywhere!
Down to the lobby first I went, then up to the first floor then up to the second floor – around every corner and into every room. Then I saw him. Or a man who I wanted to be him!
And so it was! And so he was!
“Are you the man organizing a visit to a mountain temple?” I asked in my best polite Chinese voice..
“Yes”, he said. “We are leaving now.”
“May I and my students come along? Masters Lim and Ascuncion asked me to ask you.”
“Yes you can so please hurry. Please bring everyone here right now.”
Thanking this man (I never did catch his name) I ran back to the restaurant, told my students, told Masters Ben and Lim, and off we all went. Minutes later we were on a minibus together with a number of locals – my students and I being just about the only non-Chinese. There were two other non-Orientals – the two Australians who were my students’ drinking buddies.
The minibus wound its way up the into the Fujian mountains providing panoramic birds-eye views of Quanzhou in all its sprawling magnificance!
Clinging to the mountain road and forever crawling its way upwards (in first-gear most of the way) it was well over an hour before it finally came to a stop…but no temple in-sight!
But in China you learn not to ask too many questions for the answers very often lie well within the wait of a not-too-distant future.
Everyone got out and so began ‘follow-the-leader’ as we climbed and descended a winding stone pathway that lead us to a number of huge grey rocks covered in bright crimson calligraphy – ancient Chinese characters saying, well…it could be anything!
As we walked, a slightly heated discussion broke-out. Two men stopped in their tracks – Master Lim was one of them. An exchange of martial arts immediately followed. Not a fight – just several demonstrations backed-up by dialogue.
Master Ascuncion joined in and after a few minutes an agreement was reached and our trek resumed.
Before long a bearded man wearing a grey robe and a big smile appeared in front of us. His smile seemed to be etched into his face full-time as he walked with us around the mountain before leading us into the grounds of a very small temple.
We were all ushered into a side building where everyone was seated around a huge piece of tree that had been made into a table. There we all took some Chinese tea and some rather interesting ‘foods’.
Then the demonstrations began…
Bonifacio Lim performed first, then we were asked, and then one of the Australian men demonstrated. Then came forward the man with the smile who had led us to this temple. Richard called him the “Laughing Buddha”.
“He is the first real live Buddha I have ever seen!” he said.
The Smiling Buddha was, in fact, an authentic and legitimate Shaolin monk and a Kung Fu master who no longer lived at the Southern Shaolin Temple (in Quanzhou) but lived at this much smaller temple. But he did still go to the ‘nanshaolinsi’(the Quanzhou Shaolin Temple) where he would teach Kung Fu to the resident monks.
Then another master took to the floor. He performed the Five Ancestor “sanzhan” form before inviting us all to follow him out to the temple grounds.
There he stopped in front of the temple wall and invited one of us to strike the wall as hard as we could. Before my hand had a chance to shoot up Richard’s hand was in the air.
So, Richard it was!
Approaching the wall he struck it several times in between wincing. Everyone applauded. Then the master had a go striking the wall a number of times in rapid succession. Slamming his arm into the wall as hard as he could we all enjoyed this ‘lesson’ in conditioning.
A video-clip of this (Richard and the master) you can watch on Facebook – just go to “isle of wight martial arts”.
A vegetarian meal awaited us at another part of the temple. This was followed by a short walk to the house of the Laughing Buddha, his house being (if I recall correctly) a rock-based dwelling hewn out of the mountain.
Bidding farewell to this temple – and to the monks and masters who had received us so graciously – we all then walked (and for quite some time) down the mountain as we headed towards what is now ‘generally accepted’ as being the official “Southern Shaolin Temple”.
Still very much a ‘bone of contention’ amongst historians who maintain that the original Southern Shaolin Temple was built elsewhere (many years ago I wrote and had published a rather long article dealing with this very topic) this modern-day building comes complete with gift shop and souvenir stalls.
Given the choice I would rather live at the other temple – the one we had just left.
As we wandered around the visually-impressive buildings that made up this temple, more and more guests were arriving every minute. These guests were from our hotel – all part of the Five Ancestor Fist convention we were supporting.
Master Lim invited me to eat with him and a number of other kungfu masters.
“How about my students”, I enquired. “Can they join us?”
“They can wait outside.”
I politely declined the invitation.
My students and I took a seat as we waited for a large group of resident Shaolin monks to begin their demonstration.
We waited a very long time and were not impressed – not by the waiting nor by what we had waited for.
The monks were unquestionably fit, strong, agile and skillful, but what we had just seen had not been what I call real kungfu.
“Of course not!” said a Five Ancestor Fist master during a discussion later on that evening. “These monks perform for the public. They entertain. They are not going to show the public real kungfu!”
“So what’s the point of dividing yourself and the art?” I argued. “Just do for real and show it the way it is – don’t fake it”.
But we were seeing a lot of fake stuff during the course of these few days and we, at Sanshangong, don’t do fake!
The most impressive part of these demonstrations was the various ‘takes’ on the Southern Chinese Lion Dance. These were visual, captivating and inspiring!
That evening was the farewell party. Now to that we were invited!
Driving straight from the Shaolin Temple we were taken to a plush hotel where the farewell banquet was to take place.
The party was…enjoyable. Good food and plenty of it but the alcohol seemed somewhat off-limits…but having found a hidden stash we promptly found a new and better hiding place for it and so commandeered that for ourselves!
As the party eventually drew to a close a number of specially-made Tai Chi swords were handed out to various members of the convention. I was officially presented with mine and before the night was over I made sure that Justin, Jim, Tim, Richard and Alex also got theirs!
This day had been awesome! A grading in the early morning, a visit to a Chinese temple, meeting Chinese masters, watching them perform, them watching us perform…it could not get much better than that!
And then it did.
Back at the hotel I caught up with my friend and senior, Master Henry Lo. Chatting together in his room for quite some time we spoke of the martial arts, its direction and other such important issues. I always enjoy speaking with Master Lo.
Going in search of my students I took an educated guess as to where they would be (in the general vicinity of the hotel bar) and found myself to be wholly correct! But I did not give myself any points for that!
Justin, Jim, Tim and Alex were talking to our Australian friends whilst Richard was talking with one of Master Graham’s students who was, himself, a master (as appointed by his teacher, Master Graham).
The conversation between Richard and the American master got heavy, the American started a fight (not a physical one I hasten to add but more like an intellectual one) and promptly lost!
He went away a broken man – physically, mentally, intellectually and spiritually. Richard felt bad. He could barely sleep that night and still felt bad in the morning.
By now most of the convention guests were leaving if, indeed, they had not already left.
Today was Richard’s last day with us as come the evening he would be making his way back to England. He had to get back for work but had been content just to enjoy what he could of the “Quanzhou Experience”.
As there was nothing officially scheduled for this day we all relaxed…but not until we had visited our regular mid-lake haunt for some more pre-dawn training. Jim did not join us for he was feeling not so good – too many very early mornings and missing his family!
At breakfast, Richard explained everything to me that had happened the night before. He was not proud. I asked him to tell Master Graham the way that it was and so this is precisely what he did. Master Graham said, “Don’t worry about it.”
As they spoke I could see the broken master at the entrance to the restaurant. He could not find it within himself to come in. He could not share floor-space – not even a huge banquet area – with Richard!
After breakfast I went out in search of some shufa (calligraphy paper) and some calligraphy brushes. Not too far away was a store selling everything I needed. Knowing that Jim wanted to purchase his own ying (chop or seal – a block of stone into which was cut his own Chinese name) I went back to get Jim and so, back at the store, he excitedly placed an order for his own personal ying.
Jim at the Shufa shop
Lunch passed without event and after a brief siesta Richard and I headed out to Xiamen airport.
Richard had very kindly offered to take back half of my Chinese Dragon with him! Artfully positioning the huge and heavily taped-up but not so heavy cardboard box into the back of the taxi, I accompanied Richard for the two-hour trek southwards to Xiamen.
Seeing him off as far as I could (the check-in desk) we said our goodbye’s before I went in search of a taxi back to Quanzhou.
Returning to Quanzhou was far more eventful that the outbound journey! Finding a taxi was not difficult because any taxi-driver would have welcomed the fat fee for a two-hour drive…but earning that fee was another matter!
Shortly after having left Xiamen it began to rain. By now it was also dark. Then the driver got lost. There then followed a number of hairy U-turns that would have put the any one of those “Wacky Races” characters to shame…then the taxi-man decided Quanzhou was “outside his boundary”.
Driving at a high speed he wound down his window and entered into a full-on conversation with another wacky taxi-driver (also driving at a very high speed) asking him if he would take me the rest of the way.
After a lengthy conversation the two drivers pulled over and out I got and transferred into the other taxi. Of course I had to pay again and then he got lost!
As you know, my Chinese is not that good – but good enough to understand that he was asking if he could set me down at a bus stop so that I could then get a bus the rest of the way.
He said that he, too, was now at his boundary’s limit. I pretended not to understand him. By now I began to feel as if I knew roughly – extremely vaguely – where I was and a few minutes later I did know exactly where I was. I asked him to stop, thanked him for his help, crossed the road and saw my hotel.
My students could not believe my story!
Since my leaving for the airport with Richard they had been out for a walk, found a “McDonald’s”, had a feast and were now drowning that food – several times over!
Today felt strange not having Richard with us. His strength of character and vibrant personality is so super-charged with energy that you truly know when he is – and is not – there!
Throughout the entire convention I had tried to pin Master Graham down for a leisurely conversation – him, my students and myself. This finally happened on this last day and over breakfast. We were meant to have been a part of his US troop but somehow that had never happened.
Indeed, a lot of things that I had been promised just never happened! I did not feel bad for myself…just for my students.
But they had all had such a good time!
After breakfast we packed our bags and checked-out at the front desk. All through this convention I had been resurrecting my Putonghua (Chinese language skills – if “skills” is not a too strong a word to use!) and so enjoyed my attempts at dialogue as I explained to the bellboy that…
“We are now checking-out and are going out of town for a few days
but will be back for one night
and so would like to leave the large cardboard box
containing the Chinese Dragon
here until we get back.”
That was so much fun and with ‘mission accomplished’ we all waited for our taxi to arrive.
As we waited Yu Mei came and spoke with us. Sadly she could not come to Yongchun with us although she had dearly wished to. Instead she was to take a 24-hour train-ride to Wuhan – for a very important English Language examination.
“I do not feel confident”, she said. Her eyes were downcast.. “I think I will fail”.
“No you won’t. Yu Mei”, I said. “You will be fine! Don’t worry.”
She smiled, appreciating my words, then said, “I am very sorry I cannot come with you. But I will be with you all in spirit.”
The taxi, as arranged by Master Su, arrived on-time and so began our two- hour drive ‘across town’ and up into the mountains.
We arrived in Yongchun around eleven o’clock and were taken directly to Master Su’s apartment which overlooks a river that seems to bisect Yongchun.
Master Su and his son greeted us and so, together, we all took some Chinese tea and nuts as we spoke about Yongchun Baihequan with the assistance of a young man named Chen Huang Bin…whose English was far superior to my Chinese!
After some time Master Su and his son (a Kung Fu master in the making) walked us to our hotel. There they left us to settle-in. Our first lesson under Master Su was due to start in a couple of hours so off we went to familiarize ourselves with this quaint little town – at the same time catching a bite to eat.
Master Su lives on the second or third floor of an apartment block where, on one side, is an arterial road of Yongchun whilst on the other is the river. Down below from his apartment is a concrete area right on the waters edge. That is where he teaches and trains.
During my previous visit to Yongchun I had observed Master Su teaching a number of Hong Kong students – all youngsters and even one youngster from Japan. Today, though, his training area was empty. Ready and waiting, so it seemed, just for us!
For the most part, Yongchun enjoys a good warm and dry climate so training outside is healthy. On cold and wet days they train in one of the rooms of a nearby temple – Yongchun’s “Confucius Temple”. This temple we were to find later as my students and I walked around Yongchun. Behind this temple is “the other” Baihequan school.
Our first lesson in the Yongchun Baihe “sanzhan” was a long and intensive three-hour session. Learning by way of physically following, replicating, body-language and Putonghua (the Chinese language) the Baihe “sanzhan” form began to take shape. Or rather, we did!
With much in common with other “sanzhan” that we practice (within the framework of our own art, “Sanshangong”) we also came to realize that the Baihe “sanzhan” has much not in common with other “sanzhan” that we practice.
Master Su taught us slowly. Slow and deep, deep and thorough. With great emphasis upon “attention to detail” we would repeat our moves and our breaths over and over and over again. Endlessly.
We trained well into the early evening. Then Master Su and his son walked us back to our hotel. Of course we knew the way already but they insisted. “Bad guys around here”, said Master Su. “You can’t be too careful,” he continued. “It is our responsibility. You are our responsibility.” Of course, we did not need bodyguards, but I did understand. It’s called Song ke!
That evening we relaxed in our hotel room.
The next day we roamed around the town again, this time looking for breakfast. We found it by way of a fast-food eating house called “Oldlon”. It looked rather like a Chinese takeaway but when the staff saw us they ran for cover so I guess you could call it a Chinese ‘runaway’!
Then one of them boldly crept back.
Her English was not so bad although my Chinese was better. We sat waiting for a while, ate, then took a leisurely stroll to Master Su’s place.
That morning the local television station came by, took some photos, shot some film of us training, interviewed me for a short while, then left. We never did see the end result if, indeed, there was one. But that was okay. It was more for Master Su’s benefit than for ours and that was fine by us.
When Master Su had said that a tv crew was stopping by I asked if we could buy some of his official school tee-shirts. It would look far better, I said, if we could be wearing his uniform when the cameramen came by. Master Su agreed but would not take any money for them. In fact he had not mentioned money at all – not in Quanzhou nor here, either, in Yongchun!
Training was superb under Master Su and his masterful son! Intensive and tiring yet stimulating at the same time. We broke for lunch around 11am. Again, we had our two-man ‘escort team’ walk us back.
Three hours off. Back again at 2pm. Meanwhile we took our mid-day meal at a roadside eating area right outside a beautiful Buddhist temple.
My choice of food for all of us was a hot and spicy ‘dish’. Noodle-based with red-hot chilli sauce and chopsticks. Delicious! Eating this way is not for the feint-hearted. I could see that my students were slightly hesitant but I reassured them that when I lived in Fuzhou this was how I ate all the time. (Not sure if my reassurance actually worked, though!)
With ample time on our hands we visited the temple across the road (which was absolutely beautiful) then walked around the town again and so ‘discovered’ the Confucius Temple. Behind it was the ‘other’ Yongchun Beihequan association.
Master Su’s afternoon training session was another hot one! The sun had no mercy upon us at all whilst Master Su, on the other hand, did break up our grueling periods of extended training now and again by having us take some sugar cane with him.
This was our first time to eat this ‘food’ and I am not altogether sure who had the most fun – us trying to tear, with our teeth, the sugar out of the bright green bark…or Master Su and his son watching us trying to eat it!
On reflection…I think we had the most fun.
But just as we thought that this whole “Yongchun Experience” could not get any better out came Master Su’s daughter – a very trendy and chic dresser with some amazing high heals – who then took to the centre of our training area and proceeded to show us the Baihe “sanzhan” whilst still in her high heals!
Amazing balance, amazing poise, amazing focus and, indeed, an amazing lady – a wushu champion gold medalist in her own right.
Even now I still kick myself for not having the presence of mind to video those amazing moments – all I can do is to replay through my mind those clear and vivid scenes of that young lady in stilettos! “Stiletto White Crane!”
After our long afternoon of training Master Su invited us to go with him and his son for a guided walking-tour of Yongchun. So surprised were they when we said that we had already been to many of the places they were showing us – but to see them again and to understand more of what we were seeing was wonderful!
On the tour was the Confucius Temple and then another temple much further out of town. Amazing places!
On our way back to Master Su’s apartment they took us to the dormitory where their overseas guests stay. At the same time we were taken to a building where they keep their wushu weapons and their Lion Dance equipment.
Much to our surprise (and delight) we then visited a restaurant where we were to take our ‘farewell’ meal together – a sumptuous table where the food and dishes just kept on coming! Then it was back to Master Su’s apartment for an evening of relaxation.
There we took some more Chinese tea and nuts whilst perusing his photograph albums that showed him and his students (including some from the UK) training together. Then the phone rang. Master Su answered it.
“Wei…wei…Saimun? Hao, hao.” Master Su passed the phone to me.
To me??? Me??? How random was that? How could it be for me? No-one even knows I’m here.
“Hello!” I said.
“Saimun, ni hao!” It was Yu Mei. (“Saimun” is my Chinese name).
Calling from Wuhan, Yu Mei had phoned just to see how we were doing.
After I handed the phone back to Master Su he spent a few minutes speaking with our friend then put down the phone.
As he and we spoke together (with Huang Bin translating for us once again) Master Su’s son was busy copying a DVD of the “sanzhan” form for us.
Master Su’s immediate family was there as we spent what was to be our last evening in Yongchun. At the crack of dawn the following morning we would be taking a local bus down the twisting and turning mountain road to Fuzhou.
Fuzhou is the city where I had learnt the “sanzhan” form of the Shrieking Crane – one of the five Baihequan spin-offs.
Our final evening together ran quite late. Pitch-black outside and with street lamps being far and few between, our hosts walked us back to the hotel where we said our final farewells.
Thanking them profusely we went up to our rooms. Packing our bags we reflected upon the incredible training regime we had just undergone – twelve hours of training over three days. May not sound so special but to have been there immersed in it…we had been so privileged!
Having gained an invaluable insight into the fascinating world of classical and traditional Yongchun White Crane Kung Fu via a classicist and a traditionalist wushu (Chinese martial arts) master had been so totally inspiring. And to have learnt it within its own natural habitat – the very place it had been created…simply awesome!
The next morning, before six, we were at the Long-Distance Bus Station (just outside our hotel) waiting for our bus.
We were, of course, very sad to leave, but the good thing about leaving is…planning one’s return.
The bus departed from Yongchun and arrived in Fuzhou on-time. Once at the Fuzhou Long Distance Bus Station Northern Branch we went in-search of a decent hotel.
My time in Fuzhou when I was living there was always spent in the southern portion of the city. Here, now, in the northern district, not only was I unfamiliar with the area but I had not been in Fuzhou for almost one decade and the face of Fuzhou had changed so dramatically!
Yet a decent hotel was not far away – less than a five-minute walk for us! We checked-in and settled in. It was now late morning and we had a meeting scheduled for the early afternoon.
Our meeting was Mr. Wei Qi Qi. He had once been a very strong influence upon the Fuzhou martial arts community and was a man who had helped me some years earlier. Now retired Mr Wei was still very much involved with the goings-on of the local kungfu masters.
Mr Wei met us at our hotel and then took us to the headquarters of the “Bird Boxing Research Society” – a good twenty-minute drive from our hotel.
I say twenty minutes…that is Fuzhou driving. Translated into UK driving standards that would have been a good hour or so on the road!
At the BBRSHQ we met with a number of dignitaries who received us with great warmth. Also present was a man who had helped me a lot in the past during my two years stay in this city…but he was also a man who had made my life tough! Now, here he was again and I had the distinct gut feeling that he was here in order to provide more proverbial spanners!
Minutes later in walked Master Lin Zai Pei (the man who had taught me the Dog Boxing “sanzhan” form many years earlier) and Master Ji Zhuo Di, the man who had taught me the Golden Lon “sanzhan”. Both men recognized me and showed me respect as I did them.
On-hand was a businessman who would help with translations so without any further ado our meeting commenced whereby I outlined my requests as well as my “wants and needs”.
Before we talked business a number of demonstrations took place.
I was asked to demonstrate the Shouting Crane sanzhan form I had learnt from the late Fuzhou master, Jin Jing Fu (which was met with great applause) and then Master Ji performed the Golden Lon sanzhan form I had learnt from him at the same time I had learnt the Shouting Crane sanzhan form.
The sanzhan form I was watching at this time, however, was not the same sanzhan form I had been taught by Master Ji all those years ago!!!
I was then asked to show one of the Traditional Okinawan Gojuryu Karate-Do forms (kata) for everyone knew that my study of this style had prompted my initial visit to Fuzhou back in 1988 and then my relocation to Fuzhou five years later where I remained for a couple of years in order to research the very roots of TOGKD.
Master Lin did not show his Dog style sanzhan.
Then the dialogue began.
Quietly listening and observing in the wings (no pun intended!) were senior members and masters of the Bird Boxing group.
When the Bird Boxers saw us being hit from a number of political and exploitative angles and when they saw me pulling away from such unsavoury behaviour they took me to one side and told me that they would happily teach us with no strings (or ropes) attached! I took them up on their very kind offer and agreed to return with my students the very next morning.
At this point I do need to say that the unsavoury behavior was not, I strongly suspect, instigated by the masters but by one or two other persons present who had their own agenda.
Quite forgetting the fact that I had already formed a friendship and a connection (guanxi) with these masters, I was being treated as if I was new to China and did not know how they so very often work.
But I did know – and I knew very well indeed just how they so very often do work!
True wushu (kungfu) masters would not behave this way.
And so began our venture into the wild and wonderful world of Fuzhou Bird Boxing – or Niaojiquan to give it its Chinese name.
We would begin the following morning at 9am at the BBRSHQ.
For the next four days we were to learn the very core of this unique kungfu style starting-out with some unique warm-up drills and then the style’s very first form – “sanzhan”. Literally, this translates to “Three Battles” or Three Struggles”.
Our teacher – the Grandmaster of this art – was patient and thorough. He was also very friendly. From the outset, he and his associates had made it very clear that they wanted no money at all from us – just for us to “repay” them with diligence and hard work!
Over those four days these training sessions provided us with twelve hours of intensive work-outs.
“What you have in three days we would normally teach over three months!” we were told by the master’s Second-In-Command.
We trained in the mornings whilst in the afternoons my students and I hung out together – relaxing and getting to grips with Fuzhou City.
In an effort to break up our intensive training regime and in order to give my students a well-earnt and well-deserved break I did suggest that we all took a train-ride into northern Fujian – to a famous resort called Wuyishan.
This would have been a complete day out and a very long day, but would have given my students the opportunity to see another aspect of Fujian province.
The downside would have been losing a day of training.
The answer I got was the one I was hoping for: “No, let’s stay here and train.”
That morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel food court, we jumped into two taxis and made our way to our first Bird Boxing lesson.
Upon our arrival we were warmly welcomed, sat down to some great Chinese tea, and spoke with the masters for a while before being invited to start our lesson.
Our lesson began with a number of warm-up exercises that could easily find their way into any form of qigong (breath-work/breath therapy) routine. Then we began to look at the actual Bird Boxing form we had come to learn – the Niaoji sanzhan.
Training was rather arduous for some of my students – as fit as they already were. Repeating the moves over and over and over again we were being taught in the traditional way that the Chinese teach.
This is what we wanted, this is what we needed, this is why we were here!
At mid-day our lesson came to an end and so after a few minutes of small talk we bade the Bird Boxers farewell and made our way back to the hotel.
The “manager” of our hotel was a young lady who cornered me at every opportunity in order to practice her English – which was already very good.
As I helped her with her English, she helped me with translations.
I had asked her to help me communicate with my late master’s senior student – a man named Meng Wei. A meeting had been set up for this very afternoon so after a short rest we flagged down two taxis (easier said than done) and off we went to Guo Village –the place where my late master used to live which is also the home of Meng Wei.
As our taxis left northern Fuzhou the heavens opened and down poured relentless rain.
Heavy and torrential!
Ninety minutes later (if not longer) we finally arrived.
Meng Wei and his family received us with great warmth. Also present was Guo Yong Ling who spoke some English but not too much. Yong Ling also taught me before although he was not so much into Chinese Martial Arts as Meng Wei.
Minutes later in walked Yong Qi (another one of my teachers under my late master) and so for the next three hours we talked about their art, our master, my art and my students.
After we had each taken a dozen or so cups of tea (Chinese tea in Chinese cups – very small and thimble-size) we were then taken out by Yong Ling for a meal – actually, a banquet! Then he took us back to our hotel.
We would all meet again the following evening – again at Guo Village.
The next day started out very much the same as the previous morning – breakfast, Niaoji training, back to the hotel then out to Guo Village. This time I was invited by Meng Wei, Yong Qi and Yong Ling to demonstrate what I had remembered of their own village style of martial arts.
I took great pride in demonstrating, together with my students, what Meng Wei, Yong Qi and our master – the late and great Guo Kong Xi - had taught me.
Meng Wei and Yong Qi were impressed by what Justin, Jim, Tim, Alex and myself had shown them.
I then I asked for a lesson from Meng Wei who, without hesitation, obliged by reviewing my practice of the Guo Family style and provided me with tweaks, improvements and memory-joggers!
Many times over I practiced various xing that belonged to unique Guo Family style of kungfu. The previous night I had been drenched by the rain, this evening I was drenched with perspiration from repetitive practice!
Meng Wei and Yong Qi seem not to be actively teaching these days. When I was learning from them and our master (back in the 1990s) I had the distinct impression that I was their only serious student.
These days, people in China seem too busy to bother with their own national treasure: wushu (kungfu).
When the time came for us to say our goodbyes their parting words to us had been: We are going to organize a huge meeting with demonstrations where all our master’s students will attend. We would like you all to come to that meeting”
We are still waiting to hear from them as to the day and date – but as modern-day as China is forever-becoming, arrangements in China still take time.
This morning at 6am Justin, Tim, Alex and I took a cab to Fuzhou’s famous “West Lake” – now a tacky theme-park whereas before, when (was I living in Fuzhou) it was a beautiful lake with a characterful humpback bridge and a plush hotel.
Jim was unwell so he was still in bed. Meanwhile, the four of us practiced our Niaoji in the rain.
Having breakfasted at 7 (this time with Jim) we all made our way to our penultimate Niaoji training session.
During our morning Niaoji training sessions a young lady by the name of Xiao Mei had been on-hand for translation purposes as her English was not so bad. On a par, in fact, with my Chinese! So, between the two of us speaking each other’s language we somehow made it work!
To show our appreciation for all her hard work we treated her to a meal at Fuzhou’s Number One shopping area – an area called Donjiekou. Our meal took the form of a Mongolian Barbecue – her choice! – where all the food was cooked right before us.
Today was our last day in Fuzhou and our last training session at the Niaoji HQ. This morning we were to get the final segment of the Niajio sanzhan!
As our final training session drew to a close we bid our teachers a very fond farewell. Before leaving, though, I had prepared a short speech thanking them for all their help, their friendship and their openness.
My speech ended with something like:
“You told us that you wanted no money for teaching us and to this we gratefully accepted your terms. But please accept this money and put it towards any costs you may have for your research and the promotion of Niaojiquan.” I then gave the master a healthy wad of Chinese “yuan” whereupon a lengthy battle ensued where I tried to make them take it and they profusely tried to refuse it.
But I won!
Yet I had not been the only one with a few words to say.
Before we left they told us that it was very important for us to understand that the Fujian martial arts were not just fighting skills, health skills or one particular aspect of Chinese culture. Rather, the Fujian martial arts is Chinese culture! To this I responded by saying,
“You know, I have been saying this very thing to the international community for the past twenty years!”
They were so overjoyed to hear me say this and for me to have already understood this.
And upon this note we took our leave.
Taxi-ing, for the final time, back to our hotel we collected our bags and walked the five-minute walk back to the Long Distance Bus Station. We were somewhat early and so grabbed a seat and watched the Fuzhou life—style take it daily course before boarding our bus.
Our four-hour bus-ride was not the most picturesque as the highways did not follow Fujian’s stunning coastline – so I sat back and watched a rather interesting DVD (courtesy of the bus company). It was called “GI Joe”.
We arrive at Quanzhou to find that my dragon had been looked after very well indeed.
Our final day in Fujian.
Having taken a last leisurely breakfast we went in search of some souvenirs (in my case it was some chopsticks) before taking our final lunch but this time not at the hotel. Instead we had a McDonald’s lunch before returning to our hotel and checking out.
Just before leaving for the airport I received a phone call from Yu Mei.
“So sorry, Saimun…I wanted to meet you all at Xiamen airport – to say goodbye – but my train has been delayed.”
Everyone we had met in China – everyone that had meant anything to us – seemed to be holding us in their hearts, thoughts and minds as they were remaining forever within ours!
Having checked ourselves in – and the remaining piece of my dragon! – we spent our last few Yuan on a drink before boarding our plane. Within the hour we would be in Hong Kong once again.
With a number of hours to kill at Chep Lap Kok my students were content just to sink a few beers at the sports cafe on one of the floors of this huge airport complex. As for myself, I went in search of a Hong Kong tee-shirt I had promised to buy a friend.
We boarded our final flight just after 1am and so sat back as we contemplated the next twelve hours of Economy Class courtesy of Cathay Pacific.
Our flight seemed to have passed sooner than it felt and so it did not seem like twelve hours before we were touching down upon Heathrow tarmac.
Our taxi was there to meet us and so for the next ninety minutes we dozed in between long periods of reflection upon a fortnight of incredible events – events that were hard enough to believe actually happened let alone trying to describe them!
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