29.12.16 Jima to Yangshuo to Guilin to ……

Up in darkness and some last minute farewells to our flexible, friendly schoolmates. The mixed feeling of sadness to leave but excitment at being on the road hits. The taxi driver emerges from his house next to the school and his cab is filled with the stale, dank fug of last nights cigarette smoke. Two buses later and we pickup our online purchased train tickets from a queueless ticket counter. A first for us. To celebrate we indulge in an americano and a creme brulee latte and we idle away some of the three hours before the train is due. Next to the Taiwanese cafe is a Korean Fried Chicken restaurant which provides breakfast and train snacks are bought from the shop opposite. We have a 20 hour overnighter to Kunming in Yunnan province, our first overnight train since we arrived into Beijing in October.

The train is a T class, one of the older type with a top speed of 140kph and we have the middle and top bunks in a six birth open compartment on a carriage that sleeps 60 people. As we walk down the platform, we can read that the train originated in Shanghai and we can see that the bunks are already well populated. As we enter our carriage the air already feels tired with a stuffy, stale, claustrophobic atmosphere. Our bunks seem used but clean and unaware of bunk etiquette we climb up for a while. I eventually work out that the seats opposite our compartment are supposed to be for our use, so when they’re free, I climb down and stare out of the window.

We trundle through paddy fields where water buffalo roam and through huge cities where clusters of new high rises sprout up like mushrooms. Children run up and down the shared carriage walkway chased by shouting mothers. The middle aged man in the top bunk opposite Al climbs down and opens his case which is full of boxes of medical tablets. He rifles through a couple, reading the backs and opening packets and inspecting sachets of powders. I assume he is a travelling salesman but when he takes some tablets I realise he is ill. He spends the whole journey coughing and sneezing without covering his mouth or nose demonstrating cultural differences between us.

The afternoon dissolves into evening so its pot noodle time. A highpoint! Chicken for me and pepper beef for Al. Dessert are sweet coated peanuts.

We climb back up and read kindles as the light outside fades and the train fluorescent tubes warm up. The curtains are all drawn and then the lights are turned out and the smell of cigarette smoke wafts down the carriage.

26/27/28.12.16 Tai Chi School, Jima Village

Our last three days at the Tai Chi school have followed a routine, so we’re going to abbreviate it into one post. 

Our day would start at 7.30 with an alarm pulling us out of our comfortable slumber. Breakfast would be either plain congee (rice porridge), vegetable congee or egg noodle soup which we would savour with a view of either the sun or mist on the mountain landscape.

Our two hour morning class would start with a warm up and we would learn the movements of the initial 18 Tai Chi Forms from our teacher Ahwei. We would slowly follow his demonstration of the age old rhythmical moves, shifting our weight from one leg to the other as we twist our hips and move our hands and arms in set routines. Learning the forms was not easy as all parts of your body had to be considered in each position but it was relaxing and fun.

After class, either a bit more practice or relaxing and the drum would sound for lunch which would be freshly prepared each day by the chef, Kun. We would have around eight dishes, two or three meat, either pork, fish or chicken and the rest vegetables. Broccoli, ginger carrots, sweetcorn, garlic cabbage, aubergines, shaved cabbage stem and occasionally tofu in black bean sauce, always accompanied by steamed rice. The food was very good and I was always amazed how Kun produced so much hot food using one gas fired wok.

After lunch we would have a couple of free hours to chat or drink tea with fellow students, wander into Yangshuo or explore the local villages.

The afternoon class was led by either Master Ping or Master Kim and started with a more vigorous warm up. We would then focus on movements to help the spine and hips relax which not only helps with Tai Chi movements but can help with mobility, balance and backache. Some theory would also be explained to us. The class would end with refining the forms we had learnt so far.

At six the drum for food would bang and Kun would produce another set of delicious dishes for us, after which we would drink tea or relax and read in our room.

We both really enjoyed our first taste of Tai Chi and aim to do it again. The teachers were extremely knowledgeable and patient and our fellow students who came from the USA, Finland, Australia, Turkey, England and Russia were really welcoming. The location is beautiful, the food was great and we couldn’t recommend the school highly enough.

Click on this link for the school’s website