Imagine a giant courtyard. The ground is lined with stone and above a mountain thick with trees looms. The courtyard is filled with nearly a hundred women dancing with brightly coloured fans in their hands that twirl and spin as if guided by an energy to which the women are just a catalyst. In the distance you hear a strange BUZzzz buzzzz buzzzz BUZzzz buzzzz buzzzz. You walk towards the sound. A wide set of stairs leads you out of the courtyard, the dancing women are at your back. You pass a group of old men, one with crazed eyes and a wispy beard is talking passionately and all of those around him are drawn into the conversation. You turn left and leave their excited voices behind, all the time in pursuit of that strange rhythmic BUZzzz buzzzz buzzzz. You pass the entrance to the morning market, now strangely silent and empty, you’ve overslept and missed the commotion and sales of clothes, odds and ends, song birds, and fighting cicadas. To your right is a long set of stone steps. You know they lead to the top of the mountain. You turn up them, the BUZzzz buzzzz buzzzz closer now. A wide stone railing runs up both sides of the path, but only the one on the left is smooth and polished. This is because the locals use it as a slide.
Instead of taking the stairs up the mountain you turn left and pass a man in perhaps his late forties who is punching a tree. On your right is a set of brightly painted exercise equipment. A seventy year old man is working out. You are impressed with his strength. He doesn’t even break a sweat. Ahead of you you can see a gathering of locals, mostly men, but with a few women among them. They are wielding strings with red plastic objects on them. They spin them around, throw them in the air, catch them back on the strings, and continue the momentum. As they spin around on the strings the red instruments buzz an hum. Two women are spinning a colourful dragon kite over their heads, the swirling motion bringing it to life. The one is teaching the other. This is not a holiday or a special event. This is just an ordinary day with ordinary people doing their daily routine.
Our Tai Chi laoshi (teacher) was not there when we arrived, so instead we climbed the mountain to see what else was going on. There was a large group of dancers at the one peak, but Nate wasn’t so keen on joining them, although I would have been all for it.
The construction had progressed a lot since our last visit but there were still workers laying paths and chipping away at the mortar holding the rock together on the old pathway. We were rebels and climbed the rock instead of the stairs. There was a man doing Tai Chi beside the first building. We wanted to join him but he looked so focused we weren’t sure if we should. We watched him for a bit. There were some construction workers next to where he was practicing and they talked to us (or at least tried). Eventually we asked the man if we could join. He didn’t respond, but nodded. We stood behind him copying his movements.
The style he was doing was much easier to follow as he repeated each move over and over again. We could hear music from the dancing ladies in the background, and with the three of us moving in rhythm I could feel the energy warping and moving with our bodies as though we were making waves. When the dance was done the man broke from his mask of focus. He laughed at us as he tried to correct our form and movement. He pointed at his legs, speaking in Chinese, trying to get Nate (who wasn’t to keen on feeling up a strange Chinese man) to feel his muscles. His quads were like steel!
At the next building we found a group of people playing hacky sack with a large shuttle cock. We put our bags down and joined their circle, they hit the birdie towards us and laughed when I struggled to hit it back to them.
On our way back down the mountain we stopped to watch a praying mantis style kung fu lesson. The movements were very quick and snappy as if the teacher and his student were pouncing on a fast and flighty insect.
We were ready to head to work, but when we got to the bottom of the mountain our Tai Chi laoshi was there! We checked our phones and determined we would be ok to stay for another 30 minutes. “Nihao!” we waved at him. He grinned.
This time we got a video tape of our laoshi doing the routine so we can practice at home.
We went to Jenny’s cafe, a western food restaurant that came with high recommendation from Katrina, after work. We were getting our pay checks the next day and were preemptively celebrating no longer being poor. Sonya and Rose came along to try out western food. Nate and I both ordered burgers. The paddy was so thick I could barely bight into it. A huge treat after eating Chinese food for so long.