Brian in China

Brian Fennig, a senior lecturer in the Wellness Department of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, is traveling to Yangshuo, China, for spring break 2013. While his ultimate destination is a Tai Chi school in Yangshuo, his trip will take him through Hong Kong and Guilin as well.

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First day of class

Brian with rooster

Today is the first day of Tai Chi classes. I managed to get back to sleep after the rooster welcomed me to the new day, and now I am rested and looking forward to practicing the form.

One thing that made this program so inviting when I saw it online was that in addition to the hotel and classes, all meals were provided. I don’t think, however, that I was prepared for the nature of meal services here. Breakfast was available starting about 8 a.m., but the meal wasn’t at the hotel. One of my instructors, Da Zhu, told me to walk over to a little brick and tin building across the street, let them know that I was a student at the school, and they would take care of me.

My bike and breakfast place

When I reached the building, I greeted the small lady who was watching a Chinese drama on a little television. She knew why I was there, and she began to prepare the meal. I tried to introduce myself with my broken Mandarin, but we both ended up playing a bad game of charades as we gestured and pointed to each other and ourselves; so I just pointed at my meal and rubbed my stomach to let her know that I was enjoying the food.

Breakfast consisted of a large bowl of noodles with my choice of toppings. Not knowing what any of the ingredients were, I sampled each one, throwing a little from each bowl onto my noodles; that was my first mistake. When I started sweating, I realized that one of the bowls was a collection of finely chopped peppers. They looked so inviting before I had eaten them, but I struggled to finish what was in my bowl. The small slices of pork made the meal a little easier to consume.

I slurped the last noodle down and got up from a wooden table that was obviously made for children. The stool that I sat on was no taller than 12 inches. My one companion for breakfast was a little kid who was about 5 years old. His dad had dropped him off for the morning as he went to run errands. The little breakfast place was also a kind of day care center, as I then noticed the walls decorated with colorful signs and cartoon pictures of children playing. The little boy slurped his noodles and drank from a juice box with Chinese characters all over it.

Breakfast in the history books, now it was time for class. One last item: there is no coffee (or tea, for that matter) in my hotel or in the local store down the road. So to get my daily fix, I made a special trip to town to buy the instant version; best four bucks I’ve spent so far.

My instructor

Classes were held in two sessions. The morning session went from 9:30 to 12, followed by lunch and then concluded from 3 to 5:30. We began with some odd calisthenics, which included pounding on our own muscles, swinging our arms and lots of stretching. I must admit that I stretched in ways that I hadn’t in a long time, and it felt good.

Two of my teachers are masters in their art, and their knowledge of the form was evident in the way they moved and guided us. There are only two students here, including me, so the attention was great. Master Zhou Da Zhu was instructing a student from England in the Chen style, while Master Tang En Xi and instructor Li Xiao Ya helped me with the Yang style. When I first took classes in Dallas, I saw a variety of forms and styles: Wu, Chen, Yang. The graceful and meditative quality of the Yang style is what drew me to its form.

So far, the class has been everything that I was hoping for. The instructors are well experienced and friendly, and the atmosphere here makes you feel like part of the family. We practiced both inside the lobby and outside on the rock plaza in front of the hotel. During the class, children ran and played in the yard by the building and a number of chickens seemed to watch us from the bushes on the perimeter. I got my first glimpse of the rooster who so rudely interrupted my sleep this morning. He didn’t seem to be as bothered by my presence as I was by his.

Dinner with instructors

Lunch and dinner were served family style, as we all consumed tofu, veggies and lots of rice. Everyone scooped toppings into their bowl from a collection of containers just like breakfast; no peppers this time, so I enjoyed my meal. Between lunch and dinner I rode the bike into town and picked up some vital supplies; the instant coffee was one of them. I’m still waking up around 3 a.m., and it’s nice to have something familiar to sip on as the day starts. So, the first day of class is over, and I would give it two thumbs up.

Tomorrow, I’ll hit the road early. First stop is Moon Hill, a mountainous, semicircular karst that makes an already stunning landscape even more amazing. Then I’ll ride to town and explore the shops and happenings of West Street, the main tourist drag. Can’t wait to go.

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