søndag 30. mai 2010


Hi folks!
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, but i guess you’re accustomed to that by now... I swear, I have had every intention of writing here more often, but somehow it just gets postponed till later. That might change in the future though (stay tuned and you’ll find out why). So, finally time to fill you in on my life here on Wudang Mountain.
After a two day bout with food poisoning, sustained after eating at, wait for it, McDonald’s, (really, after 9 months of living in China, eating out of kitchens with hygiene standards so appalling they would make even a downtown Oslo kebab store owner retch in disgust, I get food poisoning from McD’s?) I say goodbye to my flat and landlady, and set off towards unknown impulses and new experiences.
My exit from Beijing is being made somewhat troublesome by the fact that my suit case weighs more than 35 kilos and has a broken handle, plus I’m wearing a pregnant rucksack bulging from the pressures exerted by what’s inside, on top of that I’m carrying a guitar case which ALSO has a broken handle. Thankfully, I manage to navigate successfully into the nearest taxi and direct him to take me to the train station. I’m safely in the cab, on schedule, and am happy to be on my way. Little did I know, a trial by fire awaited me.
We’re driving along smoothly, I’m talking to the driver about where I’m going and how exited I am to be going there, to the roots of Taijiquan to study with taoist masters, when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a wall of cars big enough to rival the wall appears. We come to an almost complete stop behind the snaking line of cars that stretches into the horizon. I start to get worried as I planned some extra time, but not enough for the mother of all traffic jams. I express my concern to the taxi driver who turns around, smiles reassuringly and simply replies, “don’t worry, I know a way”. This provides me with some relief, but yet, knowing Beijing taxi drivers, I feel a nagging sense of concern.
We continue down the congested highway until we reach the next exit, the driver then suddenly veers sharply, careening down a narrow corridor on the hard shoulder. I’m hoping my pregnant bag will act as an airbag of sorts. As we get off the highway we zigzag through traffic, pedestrians are jumping out of the way as our car comes hurtling down the streets at breakneck speed, sending a barrage of honks towards anyone who is foolish enough to make an attempt at crossing the street. Now I’m clutching my bag, as if there was indeed a baby inside, tightly between my arms and chest. My driver graciously stops at the red light, although only after passing every other car in the line and positioning himself in front, ready to go! My heart is beating and my knuckles are white from clutching my bag. I contemplate telling the taxi driver that he can slow down, it’s not so important, I’ll get the train tomorrow, when the traffic lights turn green and my thought process is interrupted as we once again shoot over the intersection, facing a new onslaught of traffic as we crisscross our way across the Beijing map, moving ever closer to the train station. Dear god, why are there never seat belts in the back seat of Chinese cabs?!
We finally screech to a halt across the street from the train station with about 30 minutes to spare. I thank the driver who nearly cost me my life, pay the fee and emerge sprawling from the taxi with my three cumbersome travel companions. 
I realize I have yet more hardship to endure as I take in the scenery unfolding in front of me. It’s Chinese new year, also known as the largest mass migration of people known to man, and the area surrounding the train station looks like an anthill. After a quick survey of the area it seems I have to cross a walkway to get to the entrance of the train station. I look at the stairs leading up, literally jam packed with people, and think, “shit!”. 
28 minutes left. I push my way into the crowd, no time for courtesy, and start hauling my things up the stairs, one torturous step at a time. I arrive at the top of the stairs gasping for air, sweat already starting to soak my clothes, i think about taking off my jacket, but there’s no time and my rucksack is ready to give birth, better not test the seems. 
25 minutes. I start making my way across the walkway, flowing along with the thousands of Chinese going home for the new year. It’s a pretty awesome sight, it looks like a huge river of people streaming to and from the station, and I would no doubt be impressed and humbled by the sheer magnitude of people, if even a single fibre of me actually gave a crap amidst the increasing pain I’m experiencing in my arms as I shuffle closer to my destination. 
22 minutes. I arrive on the other side of the walkway and make my way down to ground level. I find this much more pleasant then going up. 
20 minutes. I’m shoving my way through the security check which, thank god, isn’t as tough as it is in the airports. 
15 minutes. I did it, I’m through. I’m in the pain sta... sorry, train station! I look at the boards to figure out which platform to go to, and set off on my last mad dash to get on the train before the 10 min check in limit. 
A Beijing train station during the Spring Festival

11 minutes. I’m getting close to the platform. In afterthought, I wonder what I must have looked like to the Chinese, a blond man lumbering through the station, my bulging, destroyed bags trailing me as I weave my way, as gracefully as a drunk hippo, through the masses of people, with a facial expression so twisted you wouldn’t be able to tell if I was grinning from ear to ear, or in severe pain. It was, of course, the latter.
8 minutes. I come barging into the waiting hall to the platform, and come to a stop by the entrance. I take a quick look around and realize that the people who check the tickets are nowhere to be seen. Hundreds of eyes are all staring at me, this sweaty, clumsy, foreigner who looks like he is in absolute despair. It can’t be, after all I’ve been through I get beaten on the finish line? Just as I’m coming to terms with my defeat I see a head pop around the corner. A glimmer of hope. It seems she has heard the commotion. She comes towards me, my savior, my knight in shining armor. She smiles and says “you just made it”,  I give her a big “thank you!”, and run towards the train, hopping on it with minutes to spare. I dump my stuff in the carriage, feeling like a hundred kg's had been lifted(It was pretty damn close to it) and realize how completely spent I am. I make a note to fix my guitar case before returning to Norway. I lie down on my soft-sleeper bed and think about all the cool stuff that is bound to happen over the next half-year, and doze off quietly, thinking happy thoughts.
My first class when I arrived at Wudang was... interesting. After arriving at the temple and paying our respects to the shrine there, we started running. Not just running on flat ground. No, we were running up and down the stairs of the temple. In the beginning I actually felt pretty good, but I quickly realized that I was fooling myself as I started wheezing like an old man who’d smoked a pack a day for the last 40 years. Feeling thoroughly exhausted from just the warm ups I sat down to do some stretching. I was starting to get into it when Master Li told us to line up. What now, I thought. Kicks! The students that had been here for a while started kicking across the courtyard. Rather relaxed I thought, as I joined in. But that was only the beginning. The next time they crossed the courtyard, their legs were flying up and down like crazy, and I, not wanting to be any worse, started matching their tempo, while the master was shouting “quickelly, quickelly, more powa!” from the sidelines in broken English. This went okay the first couple of passes, but as the kicks just kept getting more and more advanced, my heart started to work overtime as I was struggling to keep up with the group, completely drenched in sweat, gasping for air. There was actually one point during this hour long session, where I was afraid my heart might stop! It was fluttering like a butterfly, and I couldn’t really feel a steady rhythm. “This is it”, I thought. “Goodbye, cruel world... leaving me to die on a mountain in the middle of China”. But thankfully, as I sat down to regain my breath and composure, dizzy from the exertion, my heart regained it’s normal steady beat. The master ushered the other students on, while looking at me with what I think was a compassionate smile. Poor sod, he must have thought. He doesn’t know what he’s in for.

This is me running up the stairs at the temple. Good times.

After a short break, we get broken into groups to study our respective forms. I get placed in the basic group. Good, I thought. An easy start. I was, as you may expect, wrong. I was made to stand in mabu (horse stance) and gongbu (a stance where your back leg is fully extended and held straight with force) for the remainder of the session. Both of these low postures require your knees to be bent at a 90 degree angle. I won’t go into detail on how that felt (too painful to recall), but if you read the last post where I was standing in wuji, you probably get the gist of it. 

Me and my class, it has since more than quadrupled in size

A cheesy picture in front of the Purple Heaven Temple

After the class I was called down to Headmaster Zhong’s office for a talk, I hobbled down there not quite knowing what to expect. I remember last time I saw him on NTS’s trip to China, he seemed very strict, serious, and quite intimidating. I arrived at his office pretty nervous, ready to break out my small reservoir of Chinese. I knocked on his door. I heard him shout “come in”. When I got in he had a huge smile on his face welcoming me. It seems he had softened up a bit since last time I saw him. We spoke for almost an hour about my training, and he explained the meaning of the character 道 “Dao” (or “Tao” as it’s transliterated in the Wade-Giles system) which was quite interesting so I’ll try my best to give you a short recap.
Do you see the broken and whole line on top of the character 自 in 道? They represent yin and yang. The character 自 means “self”, or “oneself”. Put this character and yin yang together, and you get the character 首 which means “head”. The last part of the character is 之 this can both mean “to go”, and “arrive”. So, to summarize, yin and yang coupled with self, means head. Finally you add “head” (首) to “to go” (之), then you get the meaning which he explained as something like, “bringing your head along with you as you go”. There you have it, the character 道 explained and demystified... or at least explained. 
During the course of our talk I told him I wanted to strengthen my body, so he recommended I start with basic Wudang Kung Fu forms, and work my way upwards. 

This is my view as I go to class in the morning. Beautiful.
As you will already have guessed, my first few weeks here were pretty tough. There were intense kicking sessions, running up and down stairs, and fast Kung Fu forms until I was drenched in sweat, and close to passing out from exhaustion. When I got out of bed in the mornings, my body was so stiff from the training I literally had to use 15 minutes to get dressed. Thankfully, my body has gotten more used to withstanding that sort of punishment, so now I can get dressed in 10(sorry, mum’s bad jokes are rubbing off on me).

As time has progressed, so has my Kung Fu and the flow of Chinese tourists visiting the temple. Throngs of them arrive at a time in huge groups, led by a tour guide shouting loudly into the megaphone, all wearing matching hats. During the kicking sessions they’re not shy to get in your way as you’re storming forward, throwing out kicks at full speed, staring blankly at you as you maneuver around them. Most of them stand to one side though, in a big semi-circle looking at us. Some days are worse than others. If you have performed Taiji outside in a park, or a similar location, you will probably know how distracting it can be when you are being watched by someone. One day during a taiji walking session, a group of Chinese decided to join in. This wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself, but on this particular day they encircled me, imitating my moves, laughing, and chattering loudly amongst each other. They were literally moving out of my way just as I was moving into the space they occupied. GAAAH! I just wanted to scream at them, “get the hell out of my way! What do you think I am, a circus monkey?” Thankfully, I calmed myself down, and managed to meditate my way through it without embarking on a mad killing spree. But at times we have been talking about practicing our sword forms on unsuspecting tourists here. 

Part of the group doing Taiji walking on a day with relatively few and polite tourists

Nico and Jeremie practicing Pushing Hands under the not-so-silent 
scrutiny of some Chinese tourists

About a month and a half ago I received a visit from my family, and a few friends from the Taiji center. It was pretty surreal seeing them all step out of the bus in the pelting cold rain with a big smile on their faces. After exchanging some greatings they got settled into their uninsulated rooms, which were colder then outside, and had a small taste of what I had been through a month and a half earlier when I was huddled in front of my tiny heating fan with five layers of jumpers, a hat, and my duvet wrapped around me. I'm sure they still remember my sorry image from our talks on skype, shivering, and frost coming out of my mouth as I exhaled. Luckily for them the weathergods were smiling, and the sun was shining for the remainder of the trip. I showed them most of the places in the vicinity of the temple worth seeing, like the hermits cave, the graveyard of Master Zhong's master's, master, and the (r)ed army tomb. Master Zhong taught us some Qigong, and sitting meditation, as the group experienced first hand what the Chinese tourists can be like. Unfortunately they were only able to stay for a few days, but I think they all really enjoyed the teaching they received here. Later, after they had visited Anyang, and the Longmen Grottos, I met up with the group in Beijing. I was happy to be able to take them out to visit my Chen-style teacher Doctor Chen Lianyong, and give the a small tour of the hospital he's in charge of. Dr. Chen and I also gave them a demonstration of the form. I'm not going to elaborate further on this trip as I'm sure you've heard plenty already, but it was great seeing them all here, and I was very sad to see them leave.

A picture taken after meditation practice with Master Zhong, on the platform where Zhang Sanfeng supposedly created Taijiquan. In the background is the cave of the hermit.

Life here in Wudang brought loads of new challenges into my life, but I still didn’t feel 100% in touch with myself in this place. There were many distractions, everyone here was downloading movies and series, and passing them around, so it was easy to just waste my spare time away sitting in my room gazing absentmindedly at the computer screen. About a month ago I heard about this thing called the No Woman Diet. This involved no pursuing women(hardly a challenge up here in Wudang), no validation seeking(from women or anyone else), and no “feminine substitutes”, meaning distractions(this includes: movies, tv-series, fictional books, sugary food or drinks, alcohol, surfing the internet aimlessly (one can still use the internet to take care of things though, just no facebook, youtube etc.), and anything else one discovers is distracting one from being present.). As soon as I saw the program, I knew it was what I needed to bring that extra focus I was looking for. I started the NWD three weeks ago now(halfway through), and it’s bringing major results. In fact, without it you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog right now(This is why I might be posting here more often for those of you who have been waiting in suspense since the start of the blog). It hasn’t only given me extra focus for my training, it’s been quite revealing to me personally. It feels very vulnerable to be sharing this in such a public arena, but here goes. I’ve discovered that there are many areas of my life that have been ruled by fear and feelings of inadequacy. It hasn’t always been obvious, but it’s been lurking beneath the surface of almost every interaction. It’s been a fear of many things, like coming across as stupid or dimwitted, or just a feeling of being unworthy, and has caused me to hold back a lot of who I really am. Being on the diet has made me very aware of those tendencies, so I have been able to locate many of these beliefs and have started to shift them to become beliefs that are empowering for me. My life has been weighed down by them for long enough! 

These last weeks haven’t been particularly easy, stuff that I covered up years ago is rising to the surface and causing a bloody mess, but I know facing it and getting it worked out will be worth it in the end. Why am I writing something so personal here, you may ask. I think it is part of my healing process, just getting what I feel out there and not giving a crap about what anyone else thinks. And maybe someone else will relate to it too, who knows.

I'm loving pretty much every second of my stay here in Wudang, and I'm making some real progress in my personal development. Every day here is an amazing gift. It feels weird looking back at my life before I left for China last August, seeing a slightly younger and more insecure version of me not knowing exactly what is going to unfold over the course of the next year. Things have changed more then I could ever have imagined! I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Jan Andreas again here, he made this trip possible and I am eternally grateful for that.

Thanks for reading. I'll be posting another blog within the next month with a little extra... Wait and see :-)

I'll leave you with a picture of a performance by the guys who really know what they're doing.

Until next time,

Bjarte Simon Hiley

4 kommentarer:

  1. You're going to be so strong when you come back, Bjarte! The discipline, patience and endurance you must be developing now will enable you to do great things with your life. I'm proud of you, man. You're really moving into your own here.

    Big love, brother, and good luck in the time to come

  2. Thanks, Eivind! I'm struggling a lot, but at the same time feel as if something significant is happening here. Moving forwards.

    Big love right back at you man, appreciating all the advice you have given me over the past weeks!


  3. I'm truly amazed by your insights Bjarte! I was especially touched by your description of discovering the fear and how it tends to influence your life. I believe I have a lot to learn from this - as have most of us I guess.

    Take care and enjoy your remaining time in Wudang!
    Kjell :-)

  4. Thanks Kjell, it was nice to read your feedback, felt good.

    I will definitely enjoy the remainder of my time here, and I expect you to be ready to learn the new forms when I come back ;-)

    Have a great summer Kjell!