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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

23 April 2004

RTW 04: China

CHINA 13/04/04 –22/04/04

Great Wall – 16/04/04 (Simatai)

We experienced the not-so-ancient majesty of the great wall on the 16th April 2004. First built around 220BC by the first Qin Emperor, Shihuangdi, as a stamped earth dirt wall, its present incarnation dates from an extensive rebuilding programme during the Ming Dynasty, in which literally millions of Chinese died during the century long fortification, shoring up its decaying dirt with the battlements and paving slabs we see today. In more modern times, the Great Wall was repaired once again, as its value to the communists as a generator of tourist revenue became clear.

We visited the section at Simatai, held to be the most impressive. After taking a 1 yuan trip to the toilet-paperless toilets, the group embarked on the 1000 step climb to the section, handily marked out at various intervals, generally every 50 steps. Our first view upon climbing all those steps was suitably impressive. The undulating brickwork wound its sinuous way through the Mongolian mountains, engendering some steep inclines and pronounced dips along the way. The pounding heat of the sun, unencumbered by clouds, beat down relentlessly, and the stones were baking hot, but fortunately the cool shade of watchtowers provided a welcome respite from the temperature.

My friend and I walked up and down the section from about 11:30 until 13:30, although the final 10 to 20 minutes was spent sitting as we waited for the rest of the tour group. I managed to wield my biscuit packet in Mongolian fury, attempted to scale the walls, and haggled a 5 yuan bottle of water down to 3 from a real Mongolian. Most exciting, not to mention bizarre, as the various old Mongolian women selling water spoke excellent English, entirely learned from sweating tourists. My friend, along with most of our tour group, chose an intriguing toboggan route to return to the restaurant meeting point, while I decided to walk back down, saving the 50 yuan for my expensive, but relatively satisfying, Beijing Opera visit.

Beijing/Peking Opera (Beijing)

It cost me 300 yuan, paying my reluctant friend's ticket as well, but it proved to be an all-inclusive transport and snacks ticket, and we also got to see the actors put on their make-up. The opera was split into three separate performances (though there was no interval between them). The first two, ‘Autumn River’ and ‘Goddess Scattering Flowers’, were a comedy and a divine soliloquy respectively. The first was the least memorable, though an entertaining enough piece of light comedy as a young woman tries to reach her lover through a mischievous old boatman. The second piece centred on a bodhisattva rushing to a temple to scatter flowers in celebration of a great sermon. It appeared to mainly be an excuse for the actress to show off her skill at twirling and unfurling her long silk scarf wrapped about her shoulders and arms.

The final performance, about ‘Stealing Silver’, was where it really picked up. Described by our guide, Melody, as an ‘action movie’, it lived up to the title. A slow start then leapt into action (quite literally!) as the main character, a swordswoman, had her cohorts flip and somersault onto the stage. They duly stole the silver from the rather witless guards, whereupon the imposing painting of a fierce red-bearded gentleman sprang to life, breathed lots of fire, gathered his troops and sought revenge. This then led to a sequence of weapon encounters. The antagonist guards were armed with two spears, while the red-bearded leader himself wielded a halberd. Facing him were the multi-weaponed followers of the swordswoman, and her black-faced lieutenant who brandished two maces. The performance then shifted to circus acrobatics, with much juggling of weapons and gymnastic tumbling, martial arts inspired butterfly kicks and artful kicking back of thrown spears by the heroine. It was a bravura performance by a significantly larger cast than the far more sedate build up pieces. Worth 300 yuan? Not quite, but a fine introduction to the training Jackie Chan brought to global attention nonetheless.

Walking the Bund – 22/04/04 (Shanghai)

I left the hotel at 6:40am, ostensibly to finally try out the languid art of tai chi, but open to any offers. As I strolled swiftly thought the pedestrianised area immediately to the left of the Nanjing Hotel, I could already see the slow-motion ballet getting underway. Pausing briefly to look, I continued on to my destination, the Bund.

Emerging from the dawn quiet of the tunnel, I caught my first sight of what I thought were tai chi swordsmen. I’m still not entirely certain what they were, but when I returned to the same spot later, it was packed with ballroom dancers. My second attempt was also thwarted. The group of women began promisingly, but as the Western pop music kicked in, it was clear that what I was watching was not tai chi. It was aerobics.

The cliché proved true on my third attempt, when I came upon a group of middle-aged women going through the motions with a fan. There was definitely a stabbing thrust at one point, but generally the motions were more concerned with dramatically unfurling the fan with a studied flourish.

I then moved on to four old men practicing what I’d been expecting; slow arm motions and gradual leaning forwards and backwards. This got dull rather quickly, so I then moved to the next group, which was again tai chi, with the odd crescent kick thrown in. Finally, next to the big triangle above the Bund museum, a larger group of suitably uniformed tai chi practitioners. Far more interesting, however, were the three individuals next to them. One guy in particular was playing around with a sword, throwing in some tornado kicks and 360 sweeps on the way. After watching this for a while, I moved down to the relative seclusion of the statue, under which there was a big dip. Here I did some ZSK, with my two companions being a woman jogging on the spot, and an older gentleman walking backwards – he proved to be one of many, as I later saw sharply dressed businessmen doing the same.

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