There was a drawback training in Beijing at the time I was there. Since the men's and women's teams were preparing for competition they were working out extra hard and weren't allowed to go out much in the evening. But one really cool thing is that I was able to witness was the athletes pushing themselves to the fullest and really polishing their forms up. The second day I was there the men's team was about to leave for their competition so they and the women's team did a "dry run" to make sure they were ready to compete.

Qiu Dong Xing and Liu Yang relax while watching the women run through their competition forms. Han Jing is taking a breather, she was competing in like 6 events.

They were wearing their silks, they had some judges/coaches come in and sit at a table and they came up and did their full set in a competition like atmosphere. The judges took detailed notes and shared their reports with the athletes afterwards, noting exactly what might have messed up on, or could have improved on. To complete the scene the non-competiting people sat around the ring and cheered in a tournament like way. (you know like one guy yells "Beijing Dui!" and everyone else yells "Jia You!") Actually it wasn't even just the Beijing Team. The Guangdong men's team was there when I got there. They were going with the Beijing Team together to the competition and had spend a few days in Beijing training with the team. Let me just say that the Guangdong team's Nanquan is pretty damn awesome.

[Chillin' some more]
Even they get tired of watching Wushu, thats Kong Xiangdong in the freaky long shorts.

Two weeks later, the women did another "dry run" to prepare for their competition. By this time the Guangdong women's team had arrived to train for a few days before heading out to Anhui where the competition was to be held. It was interesting to compare the two teams head to head. Guangdong had a lot more Nanquan specialists than Beijing, thats for sure. There were two types of NQ women... the "powerhouses" - big, buff, powerful and really fast and the "speed freaks" - smaller, leaner, still powerful but lightning fast! They also had really huge air. Their Changquan specialists weren't nearly as impressive, but still very talented (plenty good compared to us Americans).

[Please don't climb the rocketry?]
One of the things I never got tired of in Beijing was seeing incorrect English, especially stuff like this. I think they wanted to say "rockery" (as in rock formations) if that is even a real word.
After practices I took the opportunity to hit some of Beijing's parks. Beihai park is right across the street from the sports school, and it was definitely worth the 25 cent admission price. I went in the late summer afternoon and enjoyed the view of Beijing at sunset from the top of the White Pagoda (I got all excited because on some of the maps it was mislabelled as "Dagoba," but Yoda was nowhere to be seen) I also enjoyed a nice meal of KFC at the South entrance before heading out.

The next day at practice the Women's team was drilling their group set. It was a slightly modified version of the "Arnold Demo" they performed in the US and won the Arnold Schwartzenegger Fitness Weekend's Martial Arts competition with. They used the same music too. Those of you who saw the team perform when in the US know the music I'm talking about, complete with Machine Gun sound effects and that "chong-bee!" line in the beginning. While I enjoyed seeing the team drill the form (they were still tinkering with things as they went), the music got to be really distracting. Imagine trying to practice Xingyi to the soothing sounds of machine guns and heavy booming bass. As I left the wushu guan to get lunch, I observed that the music wasn't just blasting in the wushu room, it was also echoing throughout the entire sports school.I can still hear it ringing in my ears like it was just yesterday...

[Chong Bee?]
The Beijing Team women performing the openning of their group set.

[an old Bagua master busting out]
The day before they left for the competition some old internal masters were hanging around and gave the Guangdong women some help on their Bagua. This guy was like in his sixties and was kicking ass. His stances rocked for an old dude in slacks.

[Li Xiao He?]
He Jing De doing his best Bruce Lee impersonation. By the way, thats Mark in the back drilling his Nanquan.
Things were relatively relaxed for the men after their competition. They had a week off afterwards, so most of the athletes went home to relax. Some athletes don't have relatives in the area so they pretty much stayed at the school. He Jingde was one of them. He and I enjoyed a few trips to McDonalds and just hung out and watched TV and caught up on old times. One particularly fun episode I recalled was watching really old American cartoons with Xiao He and our Vietnamese friends. It was fun to watch Porky Pig translated into Chinese, I don't think they got the stuttering right though.

[Me and my coach for the month]
Me and my Xingyi Quan instructor Lou Da Cheng. We're posing in front of the old "Ku" sign, meaning "Bitter" as in the bad taste you're eating while you're practicing your ass off.

[Our first catch of the day]
I caught one. Not too big is it? If real fishing was this easy it wouldn't be much of a sport. That's Tony in the back and 'Liu Ge' between us.
One weekend I had the opportunity to visit Liu Qinghua at her home and have a real Chinese homecooked dinner. I went with my newly found friend Tony from Australia who was in Beijing studying Chinese. I like to think of him as the Australian version of me and my friends. Liu Qinghua was afraid I'd get ripped off if I tried to take a cab and I hadn't learned how to take the Beijing Subway at this point, so Tony picked me up at the school. This was one of my most memorable experiences I think. You can enjoy China on one level by just seeing the sites and travelling around, but you see a different side when you visit people's homes. It was a total eating fest. Tony and I got stuffed on snack foods, then we had a huge lunch, and then we were supposed to have dinner too.

Luckily we had a chance to go out for a walk to try and burn off some of these calories. Nearby to her apartment complex was a "fish farm" type of place. Pretty much its a man-made lake full of fish. You get a pole with a hook on a string and pretty much the second you put the hook in with a little food stuck on it you catch a fish. Or at least thats how it worked for me. I caught like 2 fish within about 30 seconds. I guess I had superior technique, in that I caught like 1/2 the fish we ended up getting. When you've caught your fill, you pay depending on the weight of your catch. We got like 8 small fish, which ultimately were going to be next week's main course at the Liu household.

After getting stuffed AGAIN, they treated Tony and I to some tickets to the Chinese Acrobatics show at one of the big tourist hotels in Beijing. It was a pretty spiffy show, with some Chinese dance, Beijing opera and yes, you guessed it Wushu! I had seen an acrobatics show by a team from Shanghai before, and even though they did some fancier moves in that show, this show was definitely more enjoyable. The acrobats did a little wushu inbetween their routines, which was kind of cool, but having been watching the Beijing team practice all day everyday, I was more entralled by the opera guys they had. There was a guy doing a little Monkey King routine that was totally awesome. One scary moment was when the leg on one of the tables being juggled broke in the middle of the show, but they were totally prepared, seconds before the leg snapped a bunch of people came out from offstage and ran up ready to catch the table the second it broke.

[We are in the home of Wushu!]
On our way to the performance Tony and I stumbled across this mural in the subway station. It was a real surprise. It stretched the whole length of the station on one side and featured pretty much every single wushu weapon.

The next day we took another group trip to the Temple of Heaven in the south of Beijing. Its the place the emperor would go every year to perform rituals asking for a good harvest. It had some pretty cool things to see, including the weirdo platform thing known as the "Round Altar" where everything was a multiple of nine: three tiers with 9 steps between tiers, 18 posts, 243 (27 x 9) stones in 9 rings... you get the idea. It was cool because He Jingde (desperate for something to do, since by this time the women's team was gone too) came with us. It was really hot that day though, and a lot of tourists were out, so I didn't enjoy this trip as much as some of my solo adventures. Afterwards I took the Wushu West people to the Silk Road market. Whereas before I went on a saturday afternoon, by the time we finished our Pizza Hut lunch it was already late afternoon on a sunday. BIG difference in the prices given out by the merchants... a lot cheaper near closing time! (I think they get fed up with barginning too). I bought another huge amount of knock off Adidas, mostly in the form of shorts. (can't go wrong with shorts right?)

[He Jingde and me]
Me and He Jingde stop to rest and enjoy the mathematical conundrum of the Round Altar.

[He Jingde and me]
He Jingde, Nguyen My Duc, Dam Thanh Xuan and I at the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

[American Bird of Prey?]
It took me a while to figure out what this was. Yes, it is the American Eagle Jet Fighter. Once I figured it out I had to try not to laugh in front of the guards and Chinese museum visitors.
Having seen most of the closer places I decided to try and find some of the other cool places listed in my travel guide. By now I had learned which bus to take to get to the subway station, so I decided to try my luck with the "Military Museum." When I got to the main entrance I was presented with a sight most surprising. Mind you this was about a month after the Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade. Outside the main entrance I was presented with what I could best describe as an "inflatible protest." Basically it was a inflated gigantic T-shirt with a target on the front with a question mark in the center. T-shirts like this were sold in Beijing right after the bombing (making someone a lot of money, I'm sure). On either side were giant peace doves, also airfilled (you know, like the moon bounce thing at the fair). And then floating behind this were two big helium filled balloons. One was supposed to be a missle and the other one was really really weird. It was sort of an Jet fighter, complete with missles under the wings, but it had an eagle's head and an Uncle Sam American hat on its head. Mind you this thing had been floating around for a while and seems like it had a slow leak... the wings weren't exactly stiff and bouyant. The missle was even more flaccid.

The scene was most bizarre so I had to take a picture to show my friends. I did feel a little uncomfortable being there too. This place wasn't exactly on most tourists' itineraries. I was the only non-Chinese person there, not only that, but I was an American, and a month before Americans weren't very popular in Beijing. But I didn't have any people giving me problems. One cab driver asked me where I was from and I told him I was American, he started laughing and said "most Americans aren't saying they're Americans right now." but he gave me the old "all people are the same and we should all be friends thing" which I thought was pretty cool. I did have the opportunity to see the damage to the American embassy that remained from the protests the days following the bombing. There were still some boarded over windows and scars on the outer walls.

[Revolutionary Art at its best]
I really like some of the revolutionary era art work I found. This statue protrays the Chinese soldiers who fought the Japanese imperialists in World War II, brandishing swords against a much better equiped enemy.
Inside the Military Museum I saw some interesting things. The first thing that struck me was the giant portraits right inside the main entrance hall. Behind a huge statue of Mao (the only one I saw in China), were giant floor to ceiling portaits of Marx, Lenin and YES Stalin! NO one still has portraits of Stalin up! I've been to the Soviet Union, you couldn't find a portrait of Stalin ANYWHERE over there, probably not even in his hometown. This museum featured a lot of old artillery pieces and guns from around the world. Like a lot of things, part of the museum was under renovation so I didn't get to see the tanks and airplanes. One cool thing was they had a section on swords. I was looking for those ancient predecessors to the swords we use today in Wushu. They actually had some Nandao like weapons and one that was the spitting image of the northern dao you see in contemporary wushu (except for the fact that it wasn't shiny and flexible). Mind you absolutely nothing in this museum was in English and there wasn't much in the way of descriptions in Chinese either (and some of the swords and pistols really needed a good polishing).

OK, thats it for now, hmm, at this rate maybe I can finish up the rest in one chapter...



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