Today we have a guest post by returning a Northern Shaolin Kung Fu at PATHS Atlanta Kung FuNorthern Shaolin Kung Fu student, Justin Ford. Passionate and determined, Justin is not just a great student, but an outstanding young man all-around. Meet Justin, through this post, and get a feeling of why we love him and the Kung Fu we do.
Oh! And check out his previous post, Training in China – Part 1: The Beginning.
Ready or Not!
The travel to China involved a car ride to the airport, a long plane ride (about 14 hours in the air), and lots of disbelief. I was still having a tough time believing it was actually happening.
I spent most of the flight peering out the window, rarely reading the four books I brought or playing with the in-flight video monitor. I was mesmerized by the view!
This was my first international flight. The feeling of being over thirty thousand feet in the air with various cities, clouds, and miles of water and ice underneath you was like a candy apple to a sweet toothed southerner at a festival. I was enraptured by it all.
Every second took my family and I closer to the country of Kung Fu!
One of the few times my connection with the scenic view wavered was when the airline stewardesses brought out our lunch meals. They would give us the choice between two dishes: usually chicken with stir fried noodles or fish with white rice, both served on gray platters topped with a side salad and fruit, maybe a brownie or ice cream.
We would all drop our fold-out table trays, choose a beverage from their selection (everything from tomato juice to wine and everything in between), and decide on an in-flight movie from their TV screen monitors. Not too shabby of a flight. I suddenly felt myself easing into eastern territory when I realized I was watching SpongeBob in Chinese (I couldn’t resist) while eating fish and rice however.
China, I’m ready!
We finally touched down in Beijing around 7pm. Because of our eastward travels, we had been chasing the sun like a crazed rock star fan, stalking it and never letting it go. As we took a taxi to our hotel, we were just beginning to get our first glimpse of night time in twenty four hours.
When we opened the door to the hotel room the three of us – my mom, sister, and I – were going to be sharing, we were a little confused. The lights wouldn’t turn on. We couldn’t see anything.
On closer inspection and a little experimentation, we found that the hotel key card had a slot in the wall where it had to be inserted for power to work in the room. Once we were able to turn the lights on, we found a very clean hotel room, complete with a king bed fitted with soft white sheets, two rocking chair at the foot of the bed, a flat screen TV, a window showcasing the outside street, and…a western toilet.
That last thing was something I was extremely glad to have. I dreaded having to use a squat toilet in China.
We collapsed on to the bed, absorbing every detail and experience.
If you listened, all you would hear was scattered Chinese being spoken and bicycles, mopeds, cars, and pedestrians passing by the small road in front of our hotel.
The air smelled…different. A mix of polluted smog, good food gone rancid, and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of the many people on the streets. Not exactly great.
You could taste the difference in air quality, inhaling a mix of all the aforementioned smells.
Sitting on a work desk at the entrance to the room was a tasty looking chocolate cake, plated on a porcelain platter with an orange slice twisted to rest on top and a delicious drizzle of chocolate syrup decorating the dessert and spelling out “welcome home”.
Thousands of miles away from our actual home, this was a nice surprise.
We finally made it to China!
After a night of wonderful slumber (a newborn baby only wishes it could have slept like I did!), we awoke to the city sounds. The first thing I did was open the window blinds and look outside, taking in the view I couldn’t quite see in the darkness of last night.
Contrary to the sounds, it wasn’t all chaos outside. Each morning I would look out to find a hotel staff member standing outside in the courtyard. He would use the early morning time to do Taiji and Qigong, one morning even going through the Qigong set I learned in Northern Shaolin class called Ba Duan Jin.
It acted as just another reminder that we weren’t in the ordinary USA anymore.
We explored China, using the day to do all of the tourist-type things.
Before arrival, we had arranged for a full day tour guide around China. They picked us up from the hotel and drove us around China along with three others: an elderly couple from Texas and an Indian lady who seemed to have lots of travel experience.
It was on this trip that I truly witnessed how viscerally terrifying driving in China can be for a westerner. Cars would cross into the wrong side lane, squeeze past other vehicles at seemingly impossible times and with minimal spacing, and nearly murder any bystander who dared cross a street at the wrong time.
For the Chinese, it seemed to be ordinary and just something that was a part of everyday life but for a foreigner, I was already mentally going through what I would want my tombstone to read.
We visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City first. Our tour guide, a petite Chinese lady in an emerald green dress and peach colored sunhat, handed out some ear pieces. The ear pieces projected her voice to us so we could hear the cultural background and history she gave along the walking tour.
That’s how it worked in theory at least. In reality, the loose fitting earbuds constantly fell out and lost connection, barely helping to spread her voice. Thankfully, it wasn’t exactly difficult to hear her without the technology.
After Tiananmen Square, our tour guide drove us to get some food and then we continued our journey onward towards the Great Wall of China.
All of the tourist spots were filled with lots of people flocking around trying to take pictures and see every inch of the area for good reason. They truly were stunning.
Even with all of the tourists crowding throughout, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall were very large areas, grand in many ways. Each place carried the feeling of history and cultural style with it.
Our tour at each location would begin with a walk background info and walk around the area. Our tour guide would then give us some time to explore on our own, usually about an hour and a half, and let us know where to meet up.
After our entire tour ended in the late afternoon, we took a quick nap and headed out to explore some more, completely on our own this time.
Enter our next challenge: finding food. Without much knowledge of reading Chinese characters or speaking Mandarin Chinese, our pick of restaurants and stores to pick food from were narrowed down to the ones that had menus with pictures we could point at.
A lot of guesswork and crossed fingers were involved with every meal. In retrospect, that plan could have gone horribly wrong.
We checked out of the hotel the next morning and made our way to Zhengzhou.
Off to meet up with everybody from camp!
Great Food and Greater People
With luggage in tow, we headed over to a subway station less than half a mile away from the hotel. We navigated the subway system in large part thanks to the electronic ticket booths that offered English as a language option.
We took the subway to get to the Bullet Train and the Bullet Train to get to Zhengzhou. After taking a taxi and getting dropped off at the designated meet up spot, a nice Marriott hotel we would be staying in for the first night with the group, I realized that I had no idea what to do next and had no way of asking anyone what was next.
We were the only camp attendees to have taken the bullet train in, everybody else flying in directly to the Zhengzhou airport and Philip Sahagun shuttling everybody from the airport over to the hotel.
Without a plan, we walked inside. As we were debating what our next step should be, the answer came to us. Literally, it walked right past us. Or rather he walked right past us.
Brian Le, part of the famous Martial Art based YouTube channel called Martial Club, was right next to me grabbing something to drink from the complementary drink dispenser in the hotel lobby.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I geeked out.
I stood where I was for a bit (I would like to think it wasn’t too long) and managed a shout out to him. I introduced myself, barely remembering my name and why I was here in China. As he introduced himself in return, all I could think of was “Of course I know who you are.”
He shook my hand and directed me to where I needed to go, informing me that Philip paid for everybody from camp to eat a buffet in the hotel for dinner.
As we parted ways, I continued to replay the meeting in my head, a goofy smile stuck on my face (something that didn’t go unnoticed nor ignored by my teasing big sister).
We checked in to our rooms and got ready to go down to meet the group for dinner. My mom and sister had one hotel room while I stayed in a separate room by myself. All of those waves of excitement I had experienced on this entire journey began to crash into pure nervousness.
I used the solitary time to in my hotel room to simply breathe, relax, and to do some Qigong to refocus.
We headed to the third floor for the buffet and was met with much more than we imagined. For starters, the buffet wasn’t a cheap plaza-type buffet.
It was filled to the brim with high quality food: steamed dumpling, bowls of perfectly seasoned vegetables, fresh crab legs and shrimp, sashimi cut before your eyes by a chef, meats grilled in front of you however you wished, fresh fruits such as dragonfruit and watermelon, ice creams flavors ranging from green tea to tiramisu, and so much more.
That wasn’t the best part, however.
I was star struck by the people. I had met very impressive people before, but this was the most overwhelmed I had felt. A big part of it was the sheer amount of skilled Martial Artist I looked up to around me; Andy Le, Brian Le, Henny Eleonora, Wes Scarpias, Sebastian Castellanos, and Philip Sahagun himself.
I grabbed a plate and loaded up on some of the amazing food offered. A full plate in hand, I headed to the seating area to find somewhere to sit. Most of the camp attendees seemed to already be gathered together and were all eating next to each other, laughing and talking about their favorite Martial Art concepts and movies.
I put my plate down and sat by myself, later joined by my family. I looked over to the table with everybody else and got a serious dose a Imposter Syndrome.
Did I really belong here?
Simply by listening to the conversations, there sounded like plenty of high quality Martial Artists were in the group.
Somehow, all of the delicious food suddenly seemed like a struggle to eat. I grew conscious of how young I was and how long I had trained. I set my chopsticks down.
I guess we’ll find out whether I belong when we started training tomorrow.