The power of Chi

As you could read in my previous post, life in this academy can be quite confronting. You get confronted with your limits, your incapabilities, your doubts and your fears. But the thing I’ve been experiencing most problems with. Is how confronting my age has suddenly become.

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A lot of these kids here are around 21, there are even some 17-18-19 year olds of which I thought they were actually my age.

When I was that age, enrolling in a martial arts school in a far away country to train 40 hours a week was the furthest thing on my mind. I was too busy being a book worm, studying and providing for my future. I was very career minded. Very serious, actually. And very insecure. I was always worried about what other people would think of me. I was always trying to fit in and if somebody would say a mean thing about me, that would bother me for days.

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With age, I learned not to care about that anymore. That’s one of the few positive sides of aging.

However. Some comments do still affect me. They don’t hurt me. They just fucking piss me off. For instance, when my article on HLN.be got published about traveling without a plan and living life to the fullest, I couldn’t help but check how people were reacting to it. Most of the comments were good. But, of course, there were also some bad comments. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. And you don’t have to agree with me and my way of living. Different people, different ideas. It’s just the way some people pin you down instantly as a selfish brat that probably hasn’t got any sick relatives to take care of, and shouldn’t expect any help from others when she is in trouble, is just so narrow minded that it drives me claustrophobically insane. If someone would say this to my face I would fucking rip theirs off.

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First of all: No, I don’t have a sick relative to take care of. Lucky me! And lucky relatives of mine! That we’re all healthy and perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.

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Seconds: I don’t believe people should need other people or that people should put their lives on hold for others. Of course if my mother or father was sick, I would take care of them. But I wouldn’t stop living. The day before I left, someone close to me got really upset about me leaving because she needed me to be there because she was having a baby soon… I couldn’t believe anyone could demand me to stay for the sake of her choosing to reproduce. That just didn’t fit in my head. I’m sorry but I’m not gonna neglect myself because of others. This is my life and I choose how I live it.

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But then again, I’m not super human either. So I do ask myself that question occasionally:

AM I BEING SELFISH?

The way it began for me: I really needed to leave my everyday routine and live completely in the moment. I believe people who choose to do so, don’t have to feel bad about that. For example Maryam, who I met in Tasmania, her mother back in Iran was really sick but that didn’t prevent her from traveling around Australia. And her mother didn’t blame her. Is she selfish? No way. It’s not like she was getting wasted every night, partying away. She was there dealing with her own personal struggles and challenges while dealing with her mother’s sickness. People need to understand that going away to travel for longer periods of time isn’t about lying on a deck of a cruise ship, sipping frozen strawberry margaritas and doing nothing. No, that’s holidaying. Traveling is embarking on a journey to gain important life lessons from it. And that usually doesn’t always go as expected, or doesn’t necessarily have to be a better life than the one you had at home. It’s all about experiencing, learning, to seek confrontation with yourself and others. Surviving basically.

To do that on your own requires braveness, independence and creativity. People blame us travelers for taking the easy way out, running away from responsibilities, but honestly if I really wanted to have an easy life I would have just stayed at home, curled up in my comfort zone. My life isn’t easier. It has simplified, yes. Cause I took all the bad Chi out, and only keep the good Chi.

You: “Sorry Evvy, but what is Chi exact-ly?”

Me: Ahaa! Very good question, You-san!

Chi (or Qi) is the fundamental life force that flows through all and everything. It basically differentiates a living human being from a corpse.

(again)

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A strong life force makes a human being totally alive, alert and present while a weak force results in sluggishness and fatigue. You can increase and develop your Chi to overcome illness, become more vibrant and enhance mental capacity.

That’s what Taiji and Qigong are all about. If I would only find a way to shut up my mind while I stand there frozen for 40 minutes with my eyes closed and knees bent, while trying to find a magnetic sensation between my fingertips.

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Basically you should think about your body, your blood flow, … Or birds. Birds are always good. It should bring you into an elevated state of being. If you achieve in doing that, Godzilla could drop in the school yard and you wouldn’t even move a muscle.

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“Shit, they’re doing Qigong. There goes my terrifying entrance.”

Or how coach Ariel likes to put it: “No matter what happens, no matter how much it hurts, do not open your eyes, do not drop your arms, do not straighten your legs, just focus on your laogong* points.”

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That basically means if someone would stand next to you and burn your face with a Bunsen burner, or fire gun shots at you, you are not supposed to move. Yeah, it’s advanced. ***

(*** BTW coach Ariel did an awesome thing this week. He broke a brick with his bare hand while holding an egg inside his palm. Guess what?? The egg didn’t break! The egg was real alright, he showed us after. Right before his palm magically gave birth to an unidentified living sentinel thing with sharp teeth!)

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… Okay that last part I made up…

I think this whole Chinese philosophy thing is super interesting, though. But sometimes it’s a lot to process. Especially when the lessons are in Chinese, and the school translator isn’t doing a very good job getting the point across. I was following a Taoism class the other day and I just couldn’t understand everything the master was explaining us. I was #dafuq’ing all over the place.

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During that class we were supposed to learn about Feng Shui. But at the end the only thing I actually remembered was that it means Wind – Water. I decided to run over to Amanda, the weirdest of translators, always wearing the most colorful and funny outfits, and ask her the obvious question:

Me: “Amanda, what in da funk is the difference between Chi and Feng Shui?”

She stared at me with her beady eyes, not really understanding how I had just came out of a one hour Taoism class about Feng Shui still asking that question.

Amanda: “Well, Feng Shui is all about harmony around you. Your home, the trees, the buildings around you, … They have to be aligned so that the wind/water can flow without blockages. While Chi is the energy inside your body. If someone has a weak voice, for example, then that person has weak Chi. If a person has a strong voice than that person has a strong Chi. Got it?

(Mind = blown)

Wow, Amanda had just provided me with an interesting insight there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this academy so far -besides spider man crawls, walking push ups and Russian push ups- it’s definitely how to speak loudly and raise my voice.

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My whole life I’ve been too much of an introvert to do that properly. And sometimes I just swallowed words or I would begin a sentence loudly and end it softly. Mumbling. When we train I yell it out like crazy. My punch doesn’t come out without a loud and clear : TSE HA! They taught me that the first day. To scream and shout, to do your movements with power. The Shifu is always screaming: ‘Louder! More Power!’ And when we do laps around the school yard we always count as loud as we can. Like soldiers.

Leader: ‘Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi  … (group echo: Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi)
Leader: Yi Er, San Si (group echo: Yi Er, San Si)
Leader: Yi, Er, Saaaaan Si! (group echo: Yi, Er, Saaaaan Si!

I guess that means I have a strong Chi! Thanks Amanda! You made it a lot more clear! Now go back to being weird!

With her clearing up that question, I could finally answer that other question for myself.

AM I BEING SELFISH?

No! Of course not!! If this traveling and experiencing new things is doing all this good to me, then why should I be ashamed of living for me? It took me a while to come up with an antonym for selfish, until I finally got it: if I’m doing this for anything, it’s out of SELF LOVE. And subsequently the love I have for others. The most important people in my life. Cause when I am a stronger Evelien, they’ll gain from it too. If I’m not happy with the way things are going in my life, how can you expect I will be of any beneficence in your life? My Feng Shui would fuck up your Feng Shui, and then we would both end up with bad Chi, shitting that bad Chi on other people, creating a bad Chi-chaos that would eventually bring this whole world to an end.

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Now THAT! would be selfish.

There are no blockages in my system, I can love others much more than I ever could before. I can literally empower others with my Chi. And I will, once I return. You better be ready!

So bottom line:

Screw you guys, Imma do whatever the fuck I want. It’s good for you. It’s good for me. It is the power of Chi. 

Chi you later!

XO

Nourishing my Chi. Out of self love. Of course. Every Saturday I go to the bakery in Mu Ping and treat myself to a nice pineapple pie. It iz zie best! ❤

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Enter… the waterworks

Today is Saturday. That means I survived the week. The week I had been dreading, since it was my first full week of training.

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For your information we train 6 hours a day. We start at 6am with 1 hour (usually a little more) of Taiji.

You can find a video of me practicing Taiji on http://www.facebook.com/blondeclueless

Right after we have breakfast, this usually takes only 15 minutes and then everybody rushes to their rooms to get ready for the day. At 8.30 am there’s line up. We have to line up in our group and shout our number so the Shifu knows we’re all there. Then we start warm up. We run for 10-15 minutes around the court yard, then we gather to do warm up stretching. One student takes the lead and the rest follows. After that the training starts. Usually we form three lines and run back and forth doing power basics: punches, kicks, blocks, … This is a combination of cardio, technique and strength training. This takes approximately 1,5 hours. Then there’s a 30 minute break and then there’s another 1,5 hours of training.

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Rrrrreally enjoying this chicken and veggies. Two times a day. Every day.

At 12 we have lunch and then we have time to rest until 2.30 pm. Then we have to line up again, shout our number, go for a run in the street up to the big tree (this is a very tiring run) and then training starts. On Mondays we have Sanda (Chinese Kickboxing), on Tuesdays we have power training, on Wednesdays we have Sanda again, on Thursdays we have power stretch (this feels soooooooo good afterwards) and on Friday -as you know- we have the mountain run.

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Me after my first mountain run.

And of course every afternoon there is Qigong (I spelt it wrong the other time) which involves standing with your knees bent and toes pointed to the inside while keeping your elbows horizontal with the ground and slowly moving your fingers towards and away from each other for the total duration of 40 minutes. This goes on until 5.30 pm, then it’s dinner time. And at 6.30pm we have 45 minutes of Mandarin. But this is only from Monday to Wednesday and this is an optional class. You don’t have to go, you can also use that time to train your forms or just rest and unwind. It depends on what you want out of this academy but I make sure I go to Mandarin every time. The class isn’t always well structured but I bet some of the stuff we learn will stick to my memory and will be of use one day. It would feel as if I’m slacking off if I wouldn’t go, so I kind of force myself to go. By the time I leave the class room it’s about 7.30 pm, time to take a shower, make my nightly walk to the hot water tank to make sure I have cold drinking water in the morning, and go to bed.

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Usually I go to bed between 8 and 9 pm to get up at 5.20am to make it in time for Taiji and then the day starts all over again.

So this is my routine for the following month. Well, three weeks actually, since there’s already one week past.

You: “So how did it go Evvy? Are you a Shaolin master yet?”

Me: “Err… no…

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…that usually takes decades… (dumb ass…)”

But I did learn a lot this week! I already know 5 steps of Taiji. Only 19 more to go! I finished my 5 steps of Kung Fu which means I can go on to the next form. And I learned the cheer the students do at the end of each day in front of the head master. Basically we line up and scream something like Yi Ha-Ha HA-HA! I don’t think it really means something but it comes with a very energetic routine and it feels really good to do it. Like Maori… but in China…. If that makes sense….

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I’ve always wanted to be a cheerleader.

So that’s the good part.

The week also had a couple of bad turns. On Monday everything went well. As far as I can remember… On Tuesday I had a first bad day. The day before we had been kicking punching bags during Sanda. You really have to kick hard with the upper part of your foot. I put in everything I had, but the next day that inner thigh muscle felt a little sore.

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I thought a bit of stretching would help that problem right out of the way and continued training as usual. But training didn’t go well at all. We had to do a lot of high kicks while jumping in the air. Super hero kicks, we call them.

The muscle really hurt and by the second training of the morning, I was trying to make it go away by stretching it out again but I pulled the muscle even more and all of a sudden it was like somebody threw a glass of water in my eyes. My eyes started welling up. I bit my hoodie and I secretly started crying with my face half hidden in my sweater. All emotions came out: “Why the fuck did I come here? I should be making something out of my life instead of fiddling around. I should do a decent job, make money and start a family. I SHOULD PAY BILLS INSTEAD OF KILL BILLS!” I was really putting depressed thoughts in my head. One of the new students who had just arrived that day was standing beside me and noticed I was crying during stretching. I must have freaked her out on her first day already.

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Soon another person noticed and before I knew it the translator rushed in to ask what was wrong, followed by… my Shifu Gao. Damn it, the master was so proud of me last week and now he sees me crying, I could have just sunk through the training hall floor of embarrassment. He gave me a disappointed look…

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… and told me to keep the positive vibe in the group.

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“It’s not because it hurts, you’re not getting stronger. Don’t give up”, the translator translated. Of course I wasn’t planning on giving up. I love these trainings. It’s just so annoying that my mind wants to do all these stuff and my body is restricting me. Shut up legs! Let me kick ass!

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Please?

I sucked it up and after lunch I lied down on my bed with a hot water bottle wedged between my legs. I was told to keep the muscle warm. And to use tiger balm. For every injury a student encounters they advice to use tiger balm. Sprained an ankle? Use tiger balm. Pulled a neck muscle? Use tiger balm. Lost an arm? Use tiger balm.

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That afternoon on my wooden bed I was feeling low. I had let myself down and I had let the Shifu down. I didn’t want to be that person with an injury. Cause it feels like your making up excuses not to train. And I really want to train! I’m only here for a month. I don’t want to slack off. My thoughts were so tiring they had put me to sleep.

After resting, I felt a little to a lot better. I even did the run to the big tree at a proper pace so I was very pleased with myself. The afternoon training went… okay. We had power training. It was quite confronting. Turns out I cannot do decent sit ups, I do crunches. And after doing at least 50 push ups that class I didn’t have any strength left and couldn’t even bend my arms anymore. While nobody else seemed to be struggling with it… I kind of felt like the weak link. I hated it.

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But I remembered what Gao said: to keep the positive spirit. So I kept smiling and cheering other people on. And that actually made me feel good as well.

The next day I was bursting with energy. I had a great Taiji, an amazing oat meal breakfast (I provide it myself, I’m not really in the mood for rice with boiled eggs in the morning since we already have rice and eggs at lunch and rice and eggs for dinner) then we had acrobatics. I still need to work on some stuff though. I mean, how can I not be able to do a decent head roll?

It is all I ever did when I was in high school. I was really good at it. What happened??? And also my kick ups need to improve. The afternoon training was a lot of fun. We had a really intense Sanda practice. This time without too much kicks so I didn’t have to use my sore muscle that much. It was mostly punching. I really enjoyed that training and afterwards we did a full on sparring. I was sweating like crazy and felt really re-energized. Afterwards I had an amazing Qigong session and some good dinner. And after my shower I had some time to catch up with my friend Obim near the hot water tank and called it a night at 9pm.

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We took a group picture that day! That’s Obim sitting right next to me! 

The next day however…. luck turned on me again. Not only did I re-pull (if that’s even a thing) that sore muscle again, I also pulled the same muscle on the other side. We were doing kicks again and after a while I couldn’t lift my legs anymore. It was like the groin area had turned into stone and I couldn’t enable myself to do any more kicks. I tiptoed to the side of the training hall experiencing a lot of pain. I stayed there for the rest of the class, explaining myself (AGAIN) to the Shifu. After class we lined up and the Shifu reviewed the training. He congratulated the group on an excellent training. I felt bummed out. The group did so well and I wasn’t part of it. They did EXCELLENT while I had to stand on the side and watch while I so badly wanted to train. I didn’t feel part of the group at all. After class I hopped back to my room. I was only planning to rest there for 15 minutes, just in time for the next class. But when I took the first step to go up the third floor, I just realized I couldn’t. Every step I took the pain got worse and worse. One of the new students, who happened to be around, had to support me to get me up the stairs and all of a sudden I broke down in tears again. It’s really weird. I usually try not to cry in public but I just couldn’t hold it in. From the moment that pain shoots into your groin that glass of water gets thrown into your face again and your eyes automatically well up. I even made the ‘boe-hoe’ sound at one point.

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My inner voice was really telling me to shut up and be strong but it took ages for me to get up those stairs. Soon another student ran in to support me on the other side and as soon as I arrived at my level there was somebody there to give me a pain killer. When I entered my room, my room mate Gloria fixed me up with a hot water bottle and before I knew it somebody had made me an appointment with the massage master, someone brought over more pain killers and hot patches and as soon as Adaline -the nicest and cutest girl from Sweden- heard what had happened she rushed in to ask me if I was okay and gave me an egg muffin.

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I was really touched by so much kindheartedness from my team mates. There were already 3 people standing in my room but soon 3 more arrived asking how I was doing. Gloria’s son, who is staying here for two years, even went downstairs to get me lunch. I was thanking them for helping me so much.

“That’s what we do. We take care of each other. We are the only family we have here.”

Me worrying earlier I wasn’t part of the group was completely unnecessary. I am part of the group. And I looked forward to rejoining them and get back to training as soon as possible.

But first I had to face the massage master again.

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The one that almost crippled me one week earlier during massage class when I volunteered to be the test dummy. He has more power in his index finger than I have in my entire body. When he touches you a little bit you already feel it a whooooole lot! I got one of the translators to explain to him what was wrong with me and the following hour I was pinching my eyes into little horizontal stripes, grinding my teeth, enduring the pain in his chamber of torture. He rubbed my groin area (this sounds awful) for a full hour. My Shifu -who had came to visit- even curled over me at one point asking me if I was in a lot of pain. No, I believe his exact words were:

Shifu: “Really pain, Evelien? Really pain?”

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Me: “Yes Shifu. (horizontal striped eyes) Really pain.”

He looked so cute when he asked me. Like an actual 23 year old, not the tough master he can be during practice. And I was kind of flattered he knew my name.

After that I skipped afternoon training (I was allowed to), rubbed some tiger balm on my inner thighs (delicate area, watch out with that!) and typed a big chunk of this blog post.

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Afterwards I went to Qigong, since it’s got healing powers (or so I hear) and it’s really good for the blood flow. You’re not supposed to be distracted by thoughts when you do Qigong. You’re supposed to be focussed only on your body. But my mind strays away constantly.

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Me doing Qigong in the back.

That session I thought about the week. How it didn’t really go how I planned it to be, but how I still managed to experience a lot of good things and make a lot of progress. I realized how quickly you can put negative thoughts in your head once you hit a low like that. How I -at one point- asked myself why I couldn’t just settle with a normal life instead. But, honestly, I would’t wanna miss this opportunity for the world. I really enjoy being here and challenging myself like this. I’m only 27, I still have enough time to take on a serious life, if I ever end up taking on a serious life. Maybe I will keep finding new ways to improve, challenge myself, while providing an income, taking care of myself and eventually maybe a family. I don’t need a 9-5 or a solid, routine lifestyle back home just to feel like I’m living a normal life. What’s a normal life anyway? Maybe everyone is leading an abnormal life but we just figure it’s normal since everybody else is doing it. If I decide to stay in this school for months, maybe years, I could have a normal life as well. I could get a job as an English teacher during the weekends, earn money, keep training and eventually maybe move indefinitely to China to continue my life here. There is no end to the possibilities of how you can live your life. As long as you do it with passion and not just follow others because of the sake of being a sheep.

 That reminds me of our group motto the Shifu asked us to come up with:

Are we sheep??

No!!

GAO-lins, GAO-lins!!!

Up to a pain free week!

Well a little can’t hurt… No pain, no gain!

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XO

Talking of pain: I just had a Chinese massage an hour ago in Mu Ping.

After almost breaking your back and neck they lit cups on fire and place them on your back. Now my backside looks like a pepperoni pizza. But -apparently- it’s good for your body and blood flow.

On the way to Mu Ping we couldn’t fit inside the little bus so some of us had to sit in the middle on little chairs (you can literally fit one butt cheek on there) and locals were taking pictures of us.

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A big thank you to my roomie Céline for providing me with a lot of pictures that came of use in this post. And for being such an awesome room mate ❤

Kung Fu Panda

So as you may or may not know -I have been keeping this a secret for a very long time- I didn’t really go to China to explore/discover/travel like I did in Australia. I know everything’s a knock off in China, but I was not gonna copy myself just like that. No no no no, no, China had to be a chapter at it’s own. A one of a kind experience … And that’s how I got enrolled in….

KUNG FU SCHOOL !!!

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Yup you’re looking at a real life Kung Fu Panda here

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(Any relations with Kung Fu Panda 3 hitting theaters at the same time is merely a coincidence)

The panda thing isn’t even a lie. Australia made me fat and since I haven’t got a decent sleep in weeks I’m starting to get panda eyes as well!

So yes, I am currently a residing student at a Martial Arts school 5 hours away (by fast train) from Beijing. I took the train on Tuesday morning and arrived at the school in the afternoon.

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After indulging on a big Panda breakfast of course. Steamed buns at 6am in the morning with my loyal travel partner!

You: “But Evvy, how did you manage to get yourself accepted in that school? You don’t know funk about kung fu?!”

Me: Well, that is correct. My experiences in Kung Fu are very little to none*.

*  I did take a Win Chung class in Melbourne (…) and watched a lot of martial arts movies when I was little, not to forget I was very lethal at playing Street Fighter and Mortal Combat on Super Nintendo.

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Don’t be fooled by this honey badger paws. I am indeed very lethal. Especially after big breakfasts. (pic from when I was indulging (again) in LA november 2014)

Once I started looking into traveling I asked myself a lot of questions: What are your dreams? What have you always wanted to do but couldn’t because of it not being the right time or place? Or because you thought it would never be possible? While I was sitting in my apartment in Antwerp I flashbacked to a moment in time, almost two years ago, where I was lying on my couch one Saturday morning watching Kill Bill volume 2. I was having a bloody good oat meal breakfast while watching a gory massacre in a wedding chapel. When Beatrix arrived to that temple to become a lean, mean, killing machine I wondered: are there any actual schools that train chicks to become really bad ass martial arts…ies?? Eventually I never end up checking that. Until a few months ago. I suddenly realized that was something that had stuck in the back of my head somewhere. At that time I had already made up my mind about going to Australia. So it was merely out of curiosity I went to have a look on the internet. It took me less than a minute to find a martial arts school that lived up to all the expectations I had:

° It was somewhere up in the mountains, so far away from every day life/tourism;

° They had a temple;

° They had awesome monks and masters;

° They offered trainings to everybody from around the world;

° AND: the bottom of the website stated that everybody was welcome, even if you have minor background in martial arts!

At that moment my heart almost jumped right out of my chest.

I didn’t know where to go with my excitement and decided to get in touch with the school, telling them who I am, where I come from and see where it goes from there. Within a couple of hours I got an email back and before I knew it I was finding a way to fitting in a China chapter into the Australia Chapter and throwing in an extra Japan chapter since I thought: if I go to China, I might as well take an extra plane to see Japan as well since I might never get that close again.

So that my friends, is how it all started…

Of course it sounded super spectacular in my head, but when I arrived at that school ….

IT WAS EVEN MORE AWESOME!

Even though I was very doubtful that day. While I was sitting in the shuttle bus that was taking me from the station to the school I thought to myself: this is gonna be some lazy ass thing for tourists, there’s a big chance I’ve been building this up way too much in my head and it probably won’t live up to my expectations and blablabla…

When the bus rolled in to the school yard, there were twenty people sitting on the stairs in front of the main building. They were just hanging, wearing sweat pants, watching ‘the new kid’ arrive. I’m gonna be honest with you it was a little intimidating. I stepped out of the bus and then the embarrassing thing had to happen: I would have to take out all my bags out of the trunk (my very big backpack and hand luggage). These kids probably thought I was staying for at least 2 years. I said hello from a distance but was rescued by the translator -yes we have translators here- who immediately took me up to my room. It’s a very old building and in winters it gets to minus 25 degrees INSIDE. You can wear every piece of clothing you own, attach warm water bottles to your body and still be f*cking freezing. I was lucky I came in Spring. Every day it gets a little hotter than the day before and some trainings are held outside. As we were walking up the stairs (I’m on the third floor, being the highest floor in the building. I already knew then and there I would be cursing those stairs after a day full of training) The white green paint on the walls was peeling off and I suddenly felt back in high school again. Well there was a mix of things it reminded me off: prison, boarding school, a police academy or a dance school. But not the prestigious USA one we all know from FAME, more the very basic Soviet one. As we arrived up to my floor I saw some weapons lying in the hall way, posters of Kung Fu movies hanging on doors and some dry racks where people had put up their exercising gear. We paused at one door. Susan (the translator) handed me over the key and squeezed her almond shaped eyes into perfectly horizontal lines: “This is your room. I will give you a tour of the school later after you unpack your things.”

I entered a room not bigger than 4 by 2. There were three beds so I immediately figured it came with two room mates who weren’t in at the moment. There were also three wardrobes, three desks and three water containers. Since the tap water isn’t suitable for drinking, we have to tap hot water from a hot water dispenser, let it cool off during the night, to have cold drinking water in the morning to drink during the day. I cast the backpack off my back, stretched out and threw myself on the bed to relax for two minutes. Bad idea. There was no mattress in the bed. Just a wooden board with quilts on it. And a pillow. Even sleeping is to be seen as conditioning training…

I decided to go for a little stroll and explore my floor. I found out all floors were mixed as soon as I saw signs stating ‘male toilet’, ‘female toilet’ and ‘male washing room’. The female washing room is all the way down on the ground floor. Yes that means after a day of long, hard training I have to go upstairs to get my towel and toiletries, go downstairs to take a shower, and go upstairs again to close my eyes and sleep. Unless I forgot to fill up my water bottle, which means I have to go all the way back down again to fill that up (since the hot water tap is on the same floor as the female washing room, and I will regret not having water in the morning cause I have to keep hydrated during the day if I don’t want to end up on a hospital bed or worse… D-E-….hydrated. Of course.

Even though all floors are mixed, only men can cohabit with men and only females can cohabit with females. It is FORBIDDEN to sleep together or get too physical with each other. A hug during training isn’t the same as a hug after hours. Boys are not allowed to walk around bare chested and girls cannot walk around in their sports bra. We can visit each other’s rooms but not after 9.30 pm otherwise you get the staff. No I’m kidding, but people have been staffed, so I’m told…

Of course any enjoyable physical contact is forbidden. No sex. And no, anal sex is not an exception. Even though that’s not always enjoyable for some people…

After I got my things organized, Susan showed me around the school. I found out there is an old building (where I and most of the students are staying, the head office is also located here), there is a new building where optional classes such as Mandarin, massage, acupuncture and calligraphy and Taoisme is given. There is also a TV but most people just watch movies in their rooms on their laptops. The internet connection is shit. So if you want to stream a movie you must load it hours in advance. You always have to think in advance here: If you want to have drinking water, you have to take care of that at least 8 hours in advance, if you want to see a movie, same thing. I guess that’s what fighting is all about: anticipation.

But Kung Fu is not about fighting. It’s about learning to fight to learn not to fight. Kung Fu warriors are warriors of Peace. They don’t support violence, but will defend themselves fiercely to maintain the peace. That’s why I like martial arts so much. There’s a positive vibe to it, even though you are trained to be a very effective fighting machine.

The day of my arrival I just observed the classes, to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. Obim, a Swedish student, took me under his guard and gave me some insights while we were following the trainings. He was sick that day so couldn’t participate either. He was the first friend I made. After that I made another one and another one and another one, …. by the next day I almost knew everybody of my group and people were even remembering my name! I have never been accepted this easily. When I started playing basketball I had to suffer two years to be where I was now. This time, it took me half a day. I know why though: we are all outkasts here, have all been bullied or have felt unaccepted in life before, and therefor grew a love for geeky stuff like movies, comic books, and martial arts. Everybody gets along really quickly because of that, and it’s nice to meet so many people from all over the world to discover they’re just like you and share the same humor and interests. I love that.

So first day of training….

Before training I was told I had to introduce myself in front of the entire school. I hadn’t really prepared actually, I just decided to go with the flow.
Every morning there is a line up. You have to line up, stand straight and greet the master. I felt in North Korea. My Shifu is master Gao, he’s the Rufio to my Peter Pan since he’s only 23. After greeting, I had to walk forward and tell everybody who I was in 30 seconds.

I decided not to mention I was a journalist back in Belgium ’cause a) I didn’t want them to think I infiltrated the school and b) They probably don’t give a fuck.

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Since it was Wednesday the day started with acrobatics. Apparently that’s a class everybody dreads but I kind of enjoy it. As a kid I was always rolling in the grass doing cart wheels and splits but with age some things don’t go as smooth as they used to. That first training day I suffered a couple of bad landings and hurt my neck over and over again falling on my back. I thought I sucked ass. At the end of the class the Shifu called me over, said some things in Chinese I didn’t understand but luckily Susan was there to translate. That’s what she gets paid for anyway. To give bad dub jobs.

Susan: “The master says you did very well. You have very good body condition and are a very clever student. Keep up that energy for the rest of your stay and you will learn a lot.”

I was humbled by such a compliment. Especially since the Shifu is tough as nails. He’s only 23 but he’s a former Chinese kickboxing Champion and isn’t afraid of using the staff when you don’t perform the way he likes. I managed to survive a whole day of training and even did the optional Xi Quon class. You have to sit or stand 40 minutes in one position while pulling your hands away and towards each other without making your fingertips touch. You have to imagine there’s a magnetic field that is drawing them away and towards each other. After five minutes my shoulders were cramping up and my mind went bazurk*. (*Sorry if this spelling is completely wrong, I don’t have Google to check it!)

My mind going bazurk: “No fucking way I’m holding this up for 40 minutes. This isn’t fucking possible, this is torture! What the hell was I thinking coming to this class after 6 hours of training, … (and so I raged on for a few minutes)”

After ten minutes the pain got even worse.

After 15 minutes I was crying on the inside and telling myself to think only happy thoughts.

I'm okay

But after twenty minutes it started getting a little better. I couldn’t even feel the pain anymore.

Me: “Okay another 20 minutes left, you’re half way there. Don’t give up. You will deserve your shower and sleep later!”

Five minutes before ending time I was opening my eyes, looking at the coach, wondering when he would tell us to relax our arms, when he finally did I felt like I had just delivered a baby. Body parts felt like they were about to fall off, falling asleep, waking up and hurting even more. I was broken. That night at dinner I couldn’t even hold my chop sticks. I had to use a spoon to scoop my food up. I could comfort myself with the outlook of a 10 hour night’s sleep. On a wooden plank. But I would even have settled with a bed of nails.

When I woke up I felt battered and bruised. My muscles were all cramped up into one giant dumpling. I almost couldn’t get up. Luckily after breakfast I started to feel a little bit more relax. That day of training I kicked some serious ass during sanda, Chinese kickboxing. After that we had massage class and I volunteered to be the test dummy. The massage master (I forgot his name) laid his healing hands on me…. AND HURT ME EVEN MORE. I should have learned my lesson after getting a sports massage back at the Tour De France in 2014. But here I was stepping back into the chamber of torture again. But: it got better after. That’s seems to be an important lesson here: no matter how much you hurt, keep suffering and eventually you won’t even feel it anymore. Better: you will learn to enjoy it! And that’s exactly why I came here. To empower my mind and body. It’s amazing what a little willpower can make you do. Apparently with me: it was taking on another Xi Quon class the next day. And another the day after. Now I can’t live without it. I’m doing a Xi Quon class every day and every day my chi is getting stronger. It feels grrrrreat!

On the third day of training we got ‘Mountain Training’. People had been warning me for this. It is the last suffer point before weekend. I figured I would like it since I walked up so many mountains back in Oz. But this one was a little different… We hiked up to the base of that mountain for a firm 30 minutes to arrive at a beautiful temple.

temple

We walked up the stairs to discover 400 more steps that would lead to the actual temple inside the mountain. These steps were our training. We were supposed to run up and down as much as we could in about 1,5 hours time. I started running up those steps but not even half way there I had to change my game plan. I decided to power walk up those steps and run down again, have a sip of water and power walk back up again, and so on and so forth until I would eventually turn into stone and wouldn’t be able to move anymore. I decided I would have been happy with 4 ups and downs, but I changed my mind and went for 5. Apparently that wasn’t bad at all. Some people only did 3 on their first time. But I didn’t feel great either. Next time I need to be faster, better stronger, harder.

That night people were hitting the town (we are free to go out of school on weekends) to party but I decided to call it an early night. The next day I went to Mu Ping, a little town a 40 minute bus drive away, took a bunch of my new friends with me and indulged on some fried scorpions. It doesn’t taste that bad. It’s like fried chicken skin.

marketmuping

Mu Ping market, where I ate a scorpion. I will try to upload the movie I made on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/blondeclueless as soon as possible!

Today, Sunday, I did a little bit of training. I have to nail those 5 steps!! And tomorrow a whole new week of training commences. I will be in a tremendous amount of pain since it will be my first full week of training. But like I said: things will get much better from there.

mondays

Or at least, I hope.

XO

PS: I noticed some people are getting a little worried since they don’t hear as much from me as they used to when I was in Australia and posted 5 Instagram pictures a day. It’s not from a lack of trying, I can tell you. I am just incommunicado here due to the Chinese blocking me from everything social. So for now: I’m doing really good, don’t be worried, I will try to keep in touch and keep putting stuff out there as much as I can.

Lucky Karma

So as you know (drum roll) I arrived in (cymbal stroke) CHINAAAA!

More specifically in Beijing! I arrived on Wednesday night. Well, my body arrived on Wednesday. My mind didn’t arrive until Thursday morning when I was queuing a local breakfast corner in the sleazy hotel I was staying at. The lady behind the counter -I estimate her to have been 22 at the most- started shouting at me like a wild goose. I didn’t know what the fudge she was saying but I reckon she was angry because I wasn’t supposed to be there.

You-cant-sit-m8feak

I knew I wasn’t, but I was hungry and I wanted food. I waved a stack of tens (RMB) in her pretty face and two good things came out of that.

1) It made her shut up instantly and

2) filled my belly up in no time.

I was only in Beijing for 6 hours and already had someone yelled at me and did I have a legendary breakfast in a cinematographically very interesting setting.

(***This is where I would have pasted a pic of a chinese mob restaurant. IF I ONLY HAD GOOGLE!***)

Of course that sleazy hotel wouldn’t be the place where I would spend the rest of my time in Beijing. It was just convenient since I had a very late arrival at the airport the night before. When I checked in and entered my room I found some hooker cards under my door with pictures of half naked girls. They must have heard about my lesbian fling in Australia…

The next day I was off to the Lucky Family Hostel -as the name already gives away- a hostel. It is wedged right in the middle of the Hutongs. A famous maze of little shabby streets and basically the ‘Chinese hood’. The hostel is great. It’s located partially below street level and the people who work there are incredibly helpful. And the food is sooooo gooood.

Mmm

I immediately booked the five days with them -my entire stay in Beijing- since it’s close to some very good places from where I was free to explore as much as I want. I also bought a tourist map from the front desk. Oh no wait. I tried to steal it since I walked away with it without paying. But 50 meters down the street, I felt bad and ran back telling them I ‘forgot’ to pay. I just couldn’t cheat on my family like that. When I opened the map I saw it was a little useless. None of the big sightseeing things were actually pointed out in there. It was just a maze of streets with names I couldn’t even pronounce in a million years.

The first day I didn’t do a lot. I almost lost an entire afternoon getting a Chinese sim card. In Australia -or any other country- you just enter a local supermarket, pay two dollars and you’re good to go. Here everything takes AGES! China is such a bureaucratic country. You need a red stamp for everything. I even had to show my passport to get the sim card.

Me: “Password??”

Lady behind the counter: “No, passport!!”

(Their pronunciation isn’t everything and yes a lot of Chinese women appear to have an anger management issue)

Apparently I couldn’t get 4G internet because of my phone ‘being too old’. They said “it wouldn’t support the Chinese 4G”. Weird, since it supported the Australian 4G just fine…. They even tried to talk me into buying a new phone! Of course I wasn’t interested so now I’m stuck with 2G. Not that it matters. I can’t access any of the stuff I would need internet for anyway. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Google! The only thing I can do is send and receive emails and use WhatsApp. Which is already something. Everything else is blocked by the Chinese government. Only locals with a VPN connection can get around it. Including the common computer at the hostel. That’s how I could got some of my stuff out there these past few days. And I worked with a Belgian admin to take care of my Instagram posts! Thanks Cedric! 😉 You are my Great Wall in life!

wall

So the first day I wasn’t up to much. But the second day was double the fun! I went to the Great Wall, a very good part of the wall where I walked for hours, and in the evening I went to the theater. It was an amazing day. Fortunately, since the next day I was back to dealing with Chinese bureaucracy again. I really needed to get US Dollars. A significant amount of USD since I have to give them to someone somewhere next week….

You: ‘Djeez Ev, why so mysterious?”

(shouting like Chinese woman) :”THAT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS! Yet (…)”

The only thing that matters for this post now (you always want to jump ahead of my stories!!) is that I needed those bucks asap. It took me an entire morning to find a bank that would give them to me. The Bank of China was the only place they could help me. When I arrived the lady was happy to tell me she could provide me with the dollars but only up to a limited amount, which was about half of what I needed. She advised me to come back on Monday (since the next day was Sunday and they would be closed) or go to another Bank of China the same day. That was easy: another Bank of China it is! I remembered seeing one the other day, even though it was quite far away from this one. I just figured the walk would do my body good! I walked for almost two hours to discover the bloody BANK WAS CLOSED!! I got past the glass sliding doors and from there the red thread had stopped.

glasscage

I had just spilled my entire day looking for this money and I only ended up with half.

You: “Couldn’t you just have checked the opening hours before you went there?”

Me: “Well yeah, If I would have had Google, I would have checked it. Trying to organize yourself without is hard! It’s not like you can randomly ask someone either, nobody understands what funk your saying.

I can get used to the spitting and throat scraping, I can get used to the dirty toilets that don’t flush toilet paper, I can get used to the rudeness of some Chinese people, … But the internet thing is a big challenge for me. Mostly because I depend on it since I’m an organic traveler and I didn’t prepare this trip too well.

Great was my joy when I ran into an English speaking Chinese guy at the Tian’anmen Palace on Sunday. I had just spent an entire day visiting parks and monuments around the city and my last stop was the Tian’anmen Square. Only, I couldn’t find it right away. Even though it’s huge! I got lost in translation again and I guess he must have noticed.

“Where are you from?” a voice from behind me asked.

I made a little pirouette to see who was asking and replied enthusiastically: “Belgium!”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh Brussels. Chocolate! French fries!”

This guy was already my mate. He was the first foreigner I walked into that was smart enough to know that French fries aren’t French.

Me: “Say you’re probably gonna think I’m a stupid tourist, and maybe I am, but do you know where the square is?”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh yeah, it is that way. You can walk with me, I was going that way myself. There is a ceremony planned today. But it’s not supposed to start in two hours or so.”

Me: “Aw, okay cool. A ceremony, nice surprise!”

English speaking Chinese guy: “What’s your name?”

Me: “Evelien”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh nice to meet you Evelien, my name is Collin. And this is my sister Lily.”

All of a sudden a girl pops up, I hadn’t noticed her standing behind him.

Lily: “Nice to meet you. Wow that’s a pretty scarf. Very Chinese style. I like”

Me: “Thank you I bought it in Australia actually.”

Lily: “Oh, when were you in Australia?”

….

You get it, we got to talking very easily. As we made our way to the Tian’anmen Square and squeezed ourselves between the people, Collin suggested we had more than enough time to grab a cup of coffee first.

Me: “So Collin and Lily, those are very English names.”

Collin: “Yes, we’re English students and this is our English name. You didn’t struck me as Belgian, Evelien. I thought you were from Italy since you’re so pretty! So do you have a boyfriend?”

I lied and told him I did. Things are just much easier when you mention you have a boyfriend. It eliminates the pathetic attempt of being picked up. I already had a Chinese guy serenade me the first day I arrived at the hostel.

Picture 2015-07-10 om 14.09.20

After a walk through little streets, dodging the busy Beijing traffic, we went inside a little coffee shop. The waitress directed us to a cute corner in the back. It was kind of special since it had a sliding door and everything and looked completely separate from the rest of the bar. The waitress was also very hands on. She immediately wanted to take our order and cater to us. As if we were here prior guests.

Lily: “So Evelien, do you want coffee or tea?”

I stared at her face for the whole two seconds…

Me: “Sorry (faint laugh)… What did you say?”

Lily: “Do you want to drink coffee or tea?”

Me: “…Tea?”

I looked at my reflection in Lily’s pitch black fake Dior sunglasses that were still sitting on her nose and all of a sudden it was as if lightening struck in my head and Frankenstein was brought to life. My mind flashbacked to a pamflet hanging on the wall in the hostel:

teascam

FUCK A BEIJING DUCK!

This is textbook tea house scam! How could I have not see this coming?!

Lloydcoming

While all alarms were going off in my head, the threesome was gazing at me, wondering why I looked like I had just suffered a stroke.

Me: “Err, actually… I really need to go to the toilet first.” (This came out surprisingly sincere and calm, there was no breach in the way I had been talking to these people for the past 22 minutes. I don’t want to brag but this was proper Oscar winning acting.)

Lily: “O-okay (…) (addresses herself to the waitress who then takes me outside where the toilet seemed to be.)

This was my cue to run for it. I went into the little premise to make sure the waitress would go back inside. When I checked she was gone, I pauzed for 15 seconds. “Wait, just take a deep breath for a second. Am I really going to be this paranoid bitch that ditches on two people that could potentially be filled with good intentions??”

(….)

“Fuck it. Imma be this bitch!”

I ran out of there Kung Fu style.

I was stuck in a maze of little streets. Proper scam streets. I was worried I would run right into another gang. When I turned a couple of corners I just decided to stop running and go for confident walking instead. You know, act cool and try to blend in. As far as that’s even possible with a bright blond bun on the top of my head. Collin and Lily would recognize me out of a thousand people. When I finally got back on the big streets I tried to hail a cab but they were all taken. I decided to save myself the cab fare and keep walking. I was probably in the clear now, anyway.

While I was walking I pressed the replay button in my head and started going through the chronology of events. How the first thing Collin had said was already kinda ‘off’. “Where are you from?” Usually the Chinese are too shy to be this straight forward. And if they aren’t it is likely the only sentence they know and won’t bother to continue talking to you from there. But he did. And he asked A LOT of questions. Why? To distract me from where we were going, supposedly. To be honest, my orientation isn’t everything but I kind of had the feeling we were walking away from the Tian’anmen Square instead of going right to it. But even then, I just walked with them without asking questions. Without noticing where we were actually going. I suddenly realized how much I had told this guy on the way. I even told him where I’m going right after Beijing. Fuck, I should really stop giving away valuable information to strangers. He also knew I was staying at a hostel in the Hutongs. Luckily I didn’t mention which hostel and the Hutongs are spread all over Beijing city.

It suddenly made sense why they were called Collin and Lily, they were fake names of course. And brother and sister? Please. They didn’t look anything like each other. She was half his size and double his width.

It all seemed so clear now. But at the time it went incredibly fast. Now I knew why he asked if I had a boyfriend. He was just making sure if I was by myself or not. And here I was thinking he was hitting on me since he looked like he walked straight out of a Clearasil ad -the before pictures, of course- and seemed desperate for female attention. (..)

Props to them. They really pulled their A game. Complementing me on my hair color, my ‘Italian’ looks. Then again, I practically begged them to scam me since I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation I was a stupid tourist. Not stupid enough, though. They will have to go with an even more clueless backpacker next time!

chandler.jpg

While the encounter with Lily en Collin kept rolling in front of my eyes like a loop movie, I burst out into laughs in the middle of the street. I felt freaking lucky to have gotten out of there before shit would have hit the fan.

The only obstacle right now was getting back to the hostel. Then I realized something: I have that map! THAT map I ended up paying the 5 Yen for! Maybe my lucky break was related to the Lucky Family Hostel and the fact I didn’t steal that map, but came back to pay for it fair and square. I was really glad I cashed in some karma points with that. What’s 5 Yen compared to the 5000 Yen I could have lost in that scam.

hostel

My home in the Hutongs ❤

AND! While I walked to the hostel, I came across 3 (!) Banks of China. And an Apple store. The two things I needed to go to asap. On my way back I even walked through a nice park (Ritan Park, close to the embassy) where people were exercising and enjoying their Sunday.

badminton

Locals, families and basically just good people that don’t mean any wrong with tourists like me. I refused to write off Beijing based on a bad encounter with two a-holes. In China’s defense: this could have easily happened to me in Australia as well, since there were also tourist scams circulating. I was just lucky I didn’t encounter one there. So no hard feelings Beijing. You were mostly good to me. But I am glad I can continue from here now and explore the rest China has to offer me. With an extra lesson in my pocket. And I will be (even) more careful next time.

survivor

Funny stuff: I was wearing my ‘Home Alone’ sweater Helmut gave to me back in Tasmania. Maybe some of his wisdom was still hanging in it. (See the ‘Mirrors are coming‘ blog post)

The next day I was back to enjoying wonderful Beijing. By bike this time. I figured that would give me a head start to anyone trying to scam me. Beijing traffic is craayzaay! But then again, so am I!

bike.jpg

So long gay boys!! 

XO

PS:

To all new readers I gained through the article on HLN.be : Welcome! And thank you for visiting my blog, Facebook page and following me on Instagram! I hope I can keep you guys entertained for some time to come!

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Many thanks!