China Trip 2017
For the past decade or so I have had the opportunity on multiple occasions to travel to both China and Hong Kong for numerous reasons. This time however was particularly special in that I was able to share the experience with my members of my martial arts family. Our purpose was to travel to Emeishan city in the Sichuan province of China. There, two students who have trained diligently over the past year were to compete for the first time in an international competition outside of the United States. The tournament, The 7th World Kungfu Championships brought together some of the most talented martial artists from around the globe for a four day tournament filled with an incredible variety of both traditional and modern kungfu. Not only was it inspiring to see both students give outstanding performances placing third in each of their two events, it was also a true privilege to experience the heartwarming international community of martial artists from all corners of the world who not only came together to compete against one another but to celebrate their love and passion for Chinese martial arts. The United States team was extremely well represented (some 300 plus members with approximately 100 competitors) and gave performances that surely made everyone proud. To speak only of the tournament is to give a small glimpse into what was an exhilarating trip full of wonderful moments seeing historical sights from the famous Nathan Road of Hong Kong to climbing the thousands of steps up Mount Emei.
The first stop of our trip was into Hong Kong for what would be three days full of wonderful food, massive modern architecture, beautiful temples, quiet parks and countless historic sites. To visit Hong Kong is to experience a city so rich in living history that it is impossible to grasp it all in such a short time. Our trip included seeing the famous Kowloon peninsula, Nathan Road, Chungking Mansions, Chilin Nunnery, taking the Star Ferry, Hong Kong Central, the PMQ, Man Mo Temple, Mong Kok and the overwhelming "sneaker street", and traveling out to the New Territories to see the more quiet side of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is not only known as a city rich in history, but home to some of the finest food on the planet. To say we ate well during this portion of our trip in understatement to say the least. From the wonderful breakfast at our hotel, the Michelin star world famous Din Tai Fung, the outstanding vegetarian cuisine of the Nanlian gardens, to the Hawaiian poke and some of the best Chinese BBQ on the face of the earth, we were certainly well fed. So much so that the joke after each meal would be to ask, " so what are we having for lunch/dinner?".
During our time in Hong Kong, those of us who had traveled there previously got the opportunity to visit with friends. I consider myself extremely lucky in this instance because I was able to spend some time with my guqin teacher, Yao Gongbai, a man who is considered a living national treasure for his phenomenal talent and contribution to the field of traditional Chinese music. Any time spent in his company is a gift, even though a music lesson feels oddly like getting beat up by a Kungfu master for three hours. The similarities of both disciplines does not go unnoticed and is something that I have great appreciation for.
Emei Shan/ World Kungfu Championships
From Hong Kong we made our way to Emei Shan for some historic site seeing and to participate in the Kungfu championships. We made our way there via plane to Chengdu city and high speed train to Emei. Once in Emei Shan city we were brought to our hostel for the evening to rest have some food and gear up for hiking the mountain the next morning. The following morning we made our way to the base of the mountain and began the long walk up wards. Just to note, by "hiking the mountain" what is meant is, hiking the first third of the mountain. Emei is home to numerous Buddhist temples and other natural sites, it would be impossible to see them all in just one day. Our day was filled with beautiful scenery and natural landscapes as well as visiting some of these gorgeous historic temple sites. It can't go unsaid however, that with all this wonderful site seeing came some definite hiking, the likes of which could be considered good training for any martial artist. We made our way down late in the afternoon, checked out of our hostel, and were brought over to the hotel venue that housed some of the international teams for the tournament.
The following day we were treated to some rest as the athletes were given time to train at the competition venue to help familiarize themselves with the space and the overall atmosphere; which is important to note, like any tournament, could be considered electric. That evening we joined every participant in the tournament, spectators and athletes alike for a wonderful opening ceremony filled with performances that celebrated the rich history of Chinese martial/cultural of Emei mountain and Sichuan province alike. The festivities were a wonderful way to kick off the tournament ensuring that all present were officially ecstatic for the next three days events.
The tournament itself was extremely well run and showcased wonderful performances from all across the globe. Notably, USA, Russia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Central Asia and South America. Each nation put forth some of its best competitors yielding numerous medals across a wide variety of categories. The camaraderie among martial artists from across the globe was one of the highlights of the tournament and showed just how truly influential and unifying Chinese martial arts has been and continues to be world-wide.
The last leg of our trip to China brought us to the capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu City. Although only a brief stay of two days, we were able to take in many sites. Not least of all was a visit to the Chengdu Sports University, a place of particular importance as it hosts one of China's top university teams as well as many of the provincial team members who will go on to achieve their college degrees in the fields of Wushu sport and theory. It was also a sentimental moment for myself as this was the particular sports university at which I had the opportunity to train in modern wushu almost a decade ago. That night we toured the famous shrine site commemorating the three famous heroes of the Three kingdoms period, Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei and Guan Yu. The adjoining park has been transformed and contains a vibrant mix of old Chinese architecture and modern day shopping center. This was a nice way to unwind, by some gifts for those at home, and try the wide array of street food that Chengdu has to offer (the silkworms were unfortunately, a disappointment). The following morning, we were met by our fantastic tour guide who brought us to a handful of different wonderful sites. The day started with a drive north of Chengdu city to visit the Giant Panda research center, home to a breeding program meant to revitalize the dwindling wild Giant panda population. It was a treat to see these mythical cuddle monsters up close and watch them do everything from sleeping to eating, to sleeping. From here we went to a wonderful lunch followed by a walk through the old town of Chengdu. After a brief visit here we left and made our way to the famous Qing Yang Gong Daoist temple seeing the many beautiful paintings and statues within the temple as well as learning some of the fascinating history of this particular historic site. The grand finale of our trip was to take in a traditional Sichuanese opera filled with a variety of talents from traditional Chinese music and opera singing, to amazing shadow puppets, comedy acts and the absolute highlight of the evening, the famous art of Bian Lian or Face changing. This fascinating skill is shrouded in secrecy and very carefully handed down through family lineages. The art itself is the ability of the performer to captivate an audience by changing multiple masks in plane sight without revealing where the masks are concealed are how they are changed.
After our last day in China we made the long trek home to restart our daily lives and continue diligently training. To reflect on this trip and its meaning brings to mind many things, not least of all are the importance of friendship and in this case the families that we create through our shared passions; this is truly something to be thankful for. All of the individuals in our group and those that traveled from all over the globe to attend such a wonderful tournament share this common passion which has connected us and brought many from vastly different walks of life together out of the pure enjoyment for Chinese martial arts. I myself am truly thankful that I was able to take part in such a global event.