One late August evening, lured by the thought of another trip to China I joined Master Han Jin Song and 17 other expectant travellers at Melbourne Airport. We came from far and wide and from all walks of life. Our ages varied from the early twenties to eighty plus. We were all students of Tai Chi Australia ranging from beginners to advanced, instructors to the Master himself. Some of us had visited China several times for others it was their first journey.
This was my sixth trip with Song. I’m so lucky. He’s a wonderful Tour Leader. He generously shares every adventure. Nothing is ever too much trouble for him. I have journeyed along the Silk Road, been to Shangri La and Tibet, down the Yangtze to experience the Three Gorges development, visited the Warriors in Xian and explored Beijing and Shanghai.
This trip however, promised something different. We were to join Grand Master Chen Xiaowang who is the 19th generation successor of Chen Style tai chi and custodian of the Chen Style. Training with Grand Master Chen is by invitation only and is rarely offered to foreign students. Song is one of Master Chen’s disciples. The invitation was issued to him personally. The chance of visiting the remote regional town of Anda in northeast China and to train with Grand Master Chen was something that all of us could not resist.
It proved to be a highlight of my traveling life. My trips to China had always been sight seeing and cultural rather than tai chi oriented. Grand Master Chen is a gifted practitioner and teacher and has surrounded himself with disciples who are friendly and willing to help in anyway they could.
We travelled to Anda via Harbin. Our first morning started at 6am with a visit to the local People’s Park where over 400 local tai chi practitioners demonstrated the Chen 19 form and Grand Master Chen was officially introduced. Impressive as this event was, nothing prepared us for when we entered the training stadium at 9 am. We received a standing ovation from all the other participants and were each presented with a gift from the City of Anda: a great honour. After demonstrations by Grand Master Chen and his disciples over 100 students eagerly took to the floor. We were hyped and ready to learn. We hung on every word and movement Grand Master Chen offered. It was truly an incredible experience.
The training was extensive and we should have been mentally and physically exhausted but it was like a drug, the more we did the more we wanted. We learned the condensed Chen 19 form from the creator himself. Each training session began with warm-up exercises and Quiet Standing. With practice our bodies and minds adapted to and gained strength from these. In fact, the Quiet Standing brought me to a state of bliss. I was ready to follow Grand Master Chen anywhere. The Silk Reeling exercises helped us to better understand the principles behind the practice of tai chi and how to connect to and smooth our Chi. The explanation of the martial application helped us to understand the movements and to perform them accurately. Grand Master Chen patiently answered and demonstrated any questions we had. How fortunate we were to have our own Master Song to translate for us.
It was a privilege to train side by side with the local friendly Anda Chinese and other students from Switzerland, USA. and Russia. Without any language we managed to train and laugh together. Our common denominator was Chen Style tai chi.
Although our training was the focus of our trip we shared other memorable moments. A highlight of our stay in Anda was the food. Fresh and beautifully presented it was consistently the most delicious I have eaten in China. Some of us ventured to the local marketplace and sampled grubs and grasshoppers. Although not appetizing to the eyes they were crunchy little morsels high in protein.
Each morning some of us arose at 5.30 am and either walked or went by motorised rickshaw to the People’s Park to join the locals for daily exercise to Techno music. We loved every moment of it. The park was alive with people of all ages all actively exercising. We returned to the hotel via the local market.
Evenings were spent practicing and treating our weary bodies to a foot or full body massage. There is no doubt that the massage helped us with our training the next day and the fun with the Anda masseurs enriched our souls.
Anda has a population of 500,000 and is famous for its cattle industry. Proudly known as the City of Cows many roads have the word ‘cow’ in it and throughout the city’s centre is a collection of whimsical cow sculptures depicting cows proudly posing, cows in compromising positions, even a cow sitting on a park bench watching the world go by. This surreal Chinese humour captivated us all.
Anda has had little tourist exposure and has not experienced the changes tourism brings, the people were friendly and welcoming. At times we felt like rock stars.
The last day we spent sight seeing. We visited Daqing, a new rising industrial city of 2,500,000 people rich in natural resources, the beautiful Daqing Lotus Lake and the scenic Dangnai Wetlands. For lunch, we dined with Mongolian herdsmen: experienced their customs; sampled their wines and food; were entertained by singers and musicians. Afterwards we enjoyed swimming in the hot springs and pool in Lindian, Zhalong Nature Preservation Zone. Those without bathers are now sporting the nostalgic swimming costumes of the 40’s and 50’s. A rare treat for Aussie eyes this summer.
Our tour started and ended in Harbin, the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang Province. With a population of nearly 10 million it has an intriguing mix of western and Chinese cultures. Before travelling to Anda we had free time to explore. Harbin has many fine examples of early Victorian Russian architecture. The city centre has a sophisticated blend of top-end western and Asian designer fashion and home wares shops and young street fashion boutiques. These are located in chic shopping malls, department shops and along Central Street. Below the streets are extensive lanes of crisscrossing market stalls.
Central Street is a pedestrian strip of historic European architecture. Cobble stoned it is popular with locals and tourists. Numerous hotels, bars and restaurants serving food from around the world are ideal meeting places. Foreign shops selling Russian goods, artifacts and medicines are also popular. The Chinese-Russian Market is nearby.
Located on the edge of a large square, St Sophia Orthodox Cathedral was built in 1907. A perfect example of Neo-Byzantine architecture, it was once an imposing spiritual symbol. Today it is an Art Museum showcasing the multi-cultural architectural developments of Harbin throughout the ages.We enjoyed our last evening celebrating at a Noodle Restaurant. Every dumpling flavour combination imaginable was washed down with the local beers. Afterwards, some of us visited a Tea House for a traditional tea ceremony. Others continued drinking beers on offer at Russian styled bars.It’s over a month since we returned and I can’t get China and Chen Style tai chi out of my mind. As a travelling group we really clicked. The dynamics were great. I’ve made many new friends. Thank you Song for making China so special. Next year Tai Chi Australia will be travelling to southwest China and Tibet. Grab this opportunity to experience China with Song who loves to show it off and share it with others. Don’t miss it!
by Judy Paynter
Next year Tai Chi Australia will be travelling to southwest China and Tibet.
Qigong increases vitality, impacts positively to improve medical conditions and in this way will improve and prolong the quality of life. Health Qigong is taught at Tai Chi Australia and you can read more about it here or contact Tai Chi Australia.