|Jian Zenjiao performing Broadsword|
If you've been waiting for the pictures of the wushu, your wait is over. This is the third and final installment of my coverage of my latest trip to China. This part covers the pictures I took of the Beijing Team. You'll recall from the last chapter that I was staying in Xiamen and going up to visit them at the Jimei Sport School right outside of the city. I went up a number of times, mostly just to hang out with my friends on the team. I hadn't seen them since the previous spring (click here for pictures from that). But unfortunately only about 12 athletes made it down to Xiamen, so I'd have to wait til I got to Beijing to fly back home to see the rest of the athletes.
So first question - why Xiamen? Well, as I was soon going to find out, Beijing in the middle of december really sucks. It was below freezing, windy and just altogether not a very wushu-friendly kind of place. So the Beijing team takes any opportunity they can to find someplace else to train. The last several years this meant coming to the US and training at the National Wushu Training Center in Southern California and doing some performances in the US while they're here), But this year is a little different. This year will be the 9th All-China games (held every 4 years, basically an Olympics just for China), wushu is included as an event at the games and the medals are highly prized. So the preparation is very intense. This is another reason to get away from Beijing. No friends, no family, no boyfriends or girlfriends distracting the athletes away from their training.
So rather than come to the US, the Beijing team coaches decided to stay in China and focus solely on this tournament. Or rather, focus solely on the qualifier for this tournament. To be able to compete at the All-China Games, you need to qualify for it. For wushu, the qualifying competition was held April 24-29th in Macau, the top 12 finishers in each event qualify to compete in that event at the All-China Games. (click here to read some results from that competition). They were invited by the Xiamen Wushu Team coach to share their training facilities. Which is a good idea, inviting some of the best athletes in your sport to train with you will certainly help your own athletes push themselves harder and strive for the highest levels.
After about a week in Xiamen, Coach Wu Bin had to return to Beijing, the last day he was there, the Beijing team athletes performed a brief demo, well actually it was part demo part mini-competition and part test. It was the first time the athletes were doing full sets in a long time (before coming to Xiamen they were on a break from training), so they were a wee bit rusty, but still awesome. In addition to me and some friends, there were also a number of young athletes from the Sports School there to watch. I managed to get some really cool pictures of the demo, hope you enjoy them.
After the demo, I went back a couple more times. The last time was the day I was leaving for Beijing. I stopped by their practice really quickly to say goodbye. I snuck another photo or two and then said my goodbyes and made a run for the bus stop. I was scheduled to leave for the States the next evening so I was grabbing a flight out of Xiamen to Beijing, somehow when it came down to, I decided I'd rather spend another day in Xiamen then spend like 28 hours on the train (although I think it'd be a great way see the countryside). It was the day after christmas, but it was a good 80 degrees in Xiamen... unfortunately it was /not/ 80 degrees when I got to Beijing that evening.
Since my plans were all last minute, and most of my Beijing team buddies were in Xiamen, I really didn't tell anyone in Beijing when I was showing up (or even that I was showing up). As soon as I got off the airplane and picked up my bag, I realized I was going to be freezing my ass off, it was below freezing and pretty windy. But I was only going to be there for one day, so no sense in buying a big thick coat right? I just put on every layer I had and tried to get my qi flow going. I eventually figured my way back to good old Beihai Park's back gate, the home of Shichahai Sports Center, home of the Beijing team. This was the first time I'd been back to Beijing since my last visit a year and a half before and I hardly recognized anything. When I was there before, the streets were all torn up, as they were redoing them for the October 1999 celebration of the 50th anniversary of China. Well they were finished and I almost couldn't find the place. I got myself a room at the nearby Qilu hotel (by now I was an expert at negotiating with hotel clerks for the cheapest price - they see American and automatically think you want a good room, no matter how much you try to convince you them you want the cheapest, smallest, crappiest room...)
Then the real fun began. I walked back to the sports school to try and find some of the athletes who hadn't been in Xiamen. I went up to their dorm and just kind of walked in. I bumped into Wang Xuejin in the hallway and he was like "what the hell are you doing here?" with a look of shock on his face (about as shocked as I'd be if one of them showed up at my house out of the blue too I guess) -- The athletes had just finished up their dinner and were watching TV in one of the dorm rooms, so I got a chance to see all of them at once. Apparently Wu Bin didn't tell them I was coming... I told them about Xiamen, particularly how much warmer it was, but I didn't want to make them feel bad for missing out, so I mentioned the downsides too, particularly the fact that the other athletes were basically stuck in this dinky sports school out in the middle of nowhere. (tough call, 80 degrees and bored out of your skull training your ass off every day, or 20 degrees, not bored but still training your ass off?)
The next day was my last of my trip. I spent all morning watching the athletes train. There was a large group from Japan there training. Some were pretty high level, working on the new compulsory changquan. There were also some guys from Holland there training, and I helped them translate a little (since some of them spoke English, but not chinese). I bought a few nan daos, delivered some gifts I'd been carrying in my bag the whole 3 week trip, and immediately took a run over to the nearby CD shops to fill up the empty space in my bag. The neighborhood around the school was a lot different than my previous trip, not only because of the renovations, but also because of the change in season - the ShiChaHai lake was frozen over and being used for ice skating.
With the help of Xiao Fan, one of the Administrators at the sports school, I got a taxi to the airport, said my good byes and headed for the airport. Now the question is, was someone going to be at the airport to pick me up when I get back to SF?
CLICK HERE TO GO TO MY 2000 CHINA TRIP PAGE
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