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Up the Mountain

Posted by on August 11, 2012

I had a decision to make. After the small-town experiences in Henan province, was I going to travel north to sight-see the Longmen Caves? There, centuries ago, Buddhist monks decorated hundreds of caves with a museum of sculptures. Or was I to head south, into the adjacent province of Hubei? I read about a beautiful mountain there with an abundance of history itself: Wu Dang Shan (“shan” means mountain). It was the birthplace of the rhythmic martial art, tai chi, and more than stunning views and culture, I could do something else—-practice tai chi.

Between the two it was a mental coin flip. But I recall the key factor that swayed my mind: I thought, quite vividly, “Yeah, I can go see the art and caves and learn how these monks lived. Or I can go one step beyond, and actually live as they did by practicing a meditative art.””

That did it.

The train arrived at Wu Dang Shan in northwestern Hubei province.

Sorry, best map I could find. My path went from Ruzhou (right next to Luoyang) down to Wu Dang Shan (Mt. Wudang).

As the train chugged off into the horizon, never in my trip had I felt as alone as I did then—-and being an American trekking China for some days already, this is saying something. I wasn’t depressed lonely, just matter-of-factly solo. But just the same, I didn’t like it. I was the only one who got off the train! I stood there on the platform in this rural land.

I saw this:

Hello, security guard guy.

and this:

Hello, food cart lady.

I actually missed the crowds of people who usually help indicate where to go. I went down some stairs minus the urban convenience of a ramp for my luggage. So I lugged my stuffed suitcase in that funny, leaning, swaying way you gotta carry something heavy in one arm. Such a bittersweet reality is this life without modernity! Now it was bitter; later it woul’d be sweet.

I exited the station out into the town, but rather than a downtown-y kind of happening place my guidebook told be about, it was just a few stores and small eateries. And in rural China, this looks pretty drab. And where’’s the mountain!? I’’ll tell you what I began to fear: I began to wonder if I got off at the wrong station! A young man approached and aggressively offered a ride. “Wu Dang Shan”, I said, stressing the “shan”. He nodded, which I liked, but offered a price that I didn’’t—-as in an I’’m-going-to-rip-this-foreigner-off-for-whatever-I-can price. A bit turned off, I couldn’’t go with him despite his knocking the price down to less than half. Plus, I located a small bus nearby asking just a fraction of what the young man wanted.

It turned out that the train station had moved since my guidebook was written and that this little outcrop of stores and shops seemed to be here as accompaniment to the new station location. Indeed it was a good 20 minutes until I got into the real town. But once I got there, I knew I was in the right place:

The quaint little city, also called Wu Dang Shan, sitting below the mountain of Wu Dang Shan.

I walked along the sidewalks rolling my suitcase along like a pet, looking for a hostel —which I never found. Luckily, the next best thing found me. A lady excitedly approached, motioning for me to follow her. I’’ll tell ya, these Chinese are not shy about soliciting. She saw my luggage and all, I suppose. “What the heck?”, I thought, and followed her to her building just a couple blocks away. I managed my heavy suitcase up another few dusty flights, but from the plain, gray stairwell opened the door to a quaint little apartment with rooms renovated into a hotel.

My eager host on the right and a mother/daughter mountain-climbing team staying there, too.

Perfect. And now with my base needs met I was able to step upon this platform of comfort and reach for the higher needs of my time here: tai chi up the mountain. I got online and onphone, talking with a school in town. There are a couple institutions, and I found one with an English-speaking employee. The next morning, a trainer came to my hotel and took me away…:

‘Come. Tai chi with me.’ I didn’t know anything about this guy except he looked right for the part.

And before we left town, he made sure I did, too:

Feel free to judge me.

Once clothed, we were ready to ascend.

Honestly, though, I still kinda wondered where the mountain was. My limited, Minnesotan knowledge of mountainology didn’t understand the idea that a mountaintop is a long and windy road trip, and that along the way to the peak, sits several lower peaks and dipping valleys, going up and down and up like a bull stock market chart.

We arrived at the “base camp”, the area where we paid admission and hopped aboard a bus to the school:

On the way up, it started to get gorgeous.

I just had to hold on to my seat between shots. After several tight lefts and sharp rights, the bus slowed and my trainer pointed out the door. We were there:

This was my home for a short while, a modest place on the hillside. Let me give you a tour:

my room

The dining area and doorway to the bathroom and kitchen:

The kitchen:

The pets:

I named it Charcoal. But it didn’t stick.

A couple days later, we all named this one ‘dinner’.

My trainer and I arranged just a two-night/three-day stay. I know, I know, so brief. But I only had three weeks to trek China; plus he charged me more than I preferred. That being said, a day full of tai chi is a long day!

But boy, were they rich. Temples, valleys, a movie being filmed, teaching English, and a whole lot of monkeys. Oh yeah, and tai chi (and some kung fu: )

You’ll see.

have a spectacular week wherever you are,

-Brandon

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