Tai Chi teacher in China

I came to China in 2008 to study Kung Fu. I was practicing Kung Fu in Belgium and came to China for the first time in 2007 to travel through the country of this beautiful martial art! I visited tourist places, like Yangshuo, Xi’an and Beijing and also went to Shaolin to see some real Shaolin Kung Fu. When I was in Yangshuo, I met a Kung Fu teacher who had a beautiful family style, BuDiZhen, a mix of Shaolin and Wudang Kung Fu.

 

I decided to live in Yangshuo for 1 year, study Kung Fu and then I thought of moving back to Belgium. Little did I know back then that my life would never be the same again…
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I stayed in Yangshuo and learned from my Kung Fu teacher for 2 years. I had some money saved, so I was an English teacher just part-time and I focused on learning a lot of Kung Fu.

But, after 2 years, I started to hear more about Tai Chi and how it helps you to cultivate your internal energy. I was intrigued by it and finally found a good teacher to teach me Chen Tai Chi.

From 2010, I started to practice Tai Chi. I loved the slow graceful movements, but also the martial aspect of it. Every movement represents a self-defense technique and it is actually hard work. I practiced really hard and went to a couple of competitions: in 2013, I went to Henan, Jiaozuo, the birthplace of Tai Chi to participate in an International competition and I got a gold medal and silver medal. The year after, I went to the World Championship, but didn’t get a medal there.

 

In 2015, I moved to Shenzhen and I started to teach Tai Chi to expats that I met here. I never thought I could be a Tai Chi teacher in China and I didn’t profile myself like that at first. Some people wanted to know a bit more about Tai Chi and because I could speak English, they asked me to teach them. Little by little, I started to be known as the ‘Tai Chi master’ and more people were texting me to know my teaching schedule.

 

I am teaching almost every month now and am having more and more students. I am thinking of a whole project to teach Tai Chi as a whole lifestyle: the movements, the history and the philosophy.

 

When I tell Chinese people that I teach Tai Chi, the first reaction is almost always: but you are not old! Apparently, for Chinese people you have to be old to practice Tai Chi. I always answer: “it’s because I don’t want to become old that I practice.” Because Tai Chi helps to balance your body and mind, makes your body stronger, you will not become old that fast.

 

I find it a shame that Chinese people don’t want to practice Tai Chi anymore. The new generation is not putting much value on it. I heard that in my country it is becoming very popular. The West is discovering ancient Chinese philosophy: Chinese medicine, Chinese arts and Chinese martial arts are all becoming very popular. But, in China they are becoming less and less popular. Do we, Westerners, in the future will have to teach the Chinese about their traditional culture?

 

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Boating on the sea during a typhoon

Again an item I can check off my bucket list, although this one was definitely not on it in the first place. But, being married to Eric, I could have known this would end up on my list…

So, what happened? Eric got an inflatable boat and knew about an island 4km off the coast of Shenzhen. His plan was to row to the island and camp there for 1 night. We had a lot of stuff with us: tent, water and snacks, fishing net,…

After 1 hour on the sea, the weather changed and it started to rain. Not much, just a shower and so we continued, even though for the half hour it rained, we couldn’t see any land anymore. The second rain shower lasted a bit longer and we had to scoop water out of the boat. The waves got a bit higher. But again, we continued, as we were halfway and we thought we could reach it in just one more hour.

After that, 1 paddle broke and the waves started to get higher. All of a sudden, the heavens broke and it started pouring rain. The waves became scary high and it rained a lot. We had to keep on scooping more water out of the boat. The rain didn’t stop for 2 to 3 hours. We saw a container ship and started waving our paddles. Eric’s phone didn’t work because of water damage and I didn’t bring mine, just because I thought it might be damaged.

The ship was not far from us, but didn’t pick us up. After what seemed like a lifetime, the rain started to pour down less and we started to see the contours of mountains. After a while, we could see land clearly again. I started to get courage again and started paddling like crazy towards land, afraid that another shower would come and we wouldn’t see it again.

After 2 more hours, we were closer to land and it started to rain heavily again. The waves started to build up in strength and we were again at the mercy of the sea. We were being put closer and closer to land. At that point, we had to make sure that our boat wouldn’t be thrown onto rocks. We started to keep the paddle in our hand to use if a rock would be too close to us, but it was useless. We were going up and down on the waves and had no control over the direction.

In the end, we went closer and closer to land. Eric got out of the boat to try to steer it a bit, but the sea was too wild. A few minutes later, a big wave swept under the boat and I flew out of it and was thrown on the rocks. The last I saw was Eric being caught between a big rock and the boat. I started shouting as I didn’t see him the first minute. He came out of the water and I could feel my own body: my knees and hand were hurt, but not too bad.

We got all of our stuff by wonder, because the waves were smacking on the rocks. We packed everything and we had to walk another 3 km over rocks, through water, mud and a small forest back to our car.

Eric’s comment: we wanted to eat free fish, but we almost got eaten by fish!

Yeah, I guess that is going to be my life story with him. He already thinks of trying to do it by kayak next time.

My Chinese driver’s license

I have been living in China for 9 years now, but didn’t feel the need to drive a car here. I lived in Yangshuo for more than 6 years and went around by bicycle because of the beautiful environment there and because it was so small that I never had to cycle very long.

Since 2015, I live in Shenzhen. The public transportation is very convenient, so I didn’t feel like getting it there either. But, my husband has a car and he felt it would be nice that I would have my Chinese driver’s license.

I have my Belgian license and… it seemed I got very lucky. Belgians are one of the few nationalities that don’t need to do the test. I just had to get my Belgian driver’s license translated into Chinese by a recognized translation bureau and had to get all the papers of my visa etc…

Since March this year, I finally got my Chinese driver’s license and my husband immediately got me into the traffic. There was no first trying to get used to the car. The next day I got my license, he told me to drive and I had to take place behind the wheel and drive into the hectic Shenzhen traffic. It went much better than I thought. But, I had to have eyes everywhere. Cars are coming from all directions, changing lanes all the time and buses or trucks don’t care, they just drive into your lane, so I have to stop and let them go through first.

After a couple of weeks of me driving (my husband is taking it easy, he doesn’t want to drive anymore), he told me I had to use the speaker more often. He didn’t know the English word, so after a while, I understood what he wanted to say: I had to honk more.

Slowly, I am learning to get my way through the traffic. I honk, I change lanes many times, I go from the outmost left lane all over the other lanes to take an exit. I am starting to become a real Chinese person in traffic and I must say it, I enjoy it. There is a flow to it. Once I understand the rules of: buses and trucks have the most power and I can’t hesitate, I just have to keep moving, everything goes well.

I now realize how much I have missed driving a car. And it must be said: most drivers are honest. Just a couple of days ago, we had parked our car in a small parking lot. And someone hit our car from behind. We didn’t put our phone number visible at the windshield. We didn’t see the dent in our car. When we wanted to leave the parking lot, the guard told us that someone hit our car and they had the phone number of that person. We could phone him to get this settled in the best terms. This is also the honor code that people have in China, which I admire very much.

Married to a Chinese

A lot of people are surprised when they hear that I am married to a Chinese man. It is sometimes difficult, because of cultural and language differences, but any relationship is hard at times.

IMG_20150329_160215The main cultural difference we had before was privacy. I noticed and was surprised to see that Chinese don’t have a sense of privacy like we have. I sometimes like to be by myself, sit in the bedroom with a good book, not wanting to be disturbed by anyone, but my husband was surprised that I wanted to be in another room and thought I was angry. I didn’t understand how he doesn’t like personal space and that sometimes he left the door of the apartment open.

We had many small differences, but the best part is that we learn from each other! To be together with someone from another culture enriches life in many ways.

I already learned to live outside my comfort zone because I already lived in China for already 7 years before I met my husband, but he had to adapt to me too and he learned to go out of his comfort zone too. This is the most important in a relationship: to learn and adapt to each other. If you don’t do that, the relationship will fail.

At the beginning of our relationship, my husband resumed his life and did everything he did before, without asking me if I liked it. He just thought I was ok with it. We were arguing a lot and he learned that we can’t just keep on living our life like we are single. We need to learn what the other person likes and we need to learn how to live and do things together.

Communication is the most important. After each argument, we talked a lot on how we see life and how we feel. This brought us closer and closer and now, our relationship is stronger than ever. I can’t imagine my life without him anymore. Sometimes, I go back to Belgium without him, because he needs to stay in China for work and we miss each other immensely.

The other strong part in our relationship is that we share a lot of the same interests. We both like sports and love the outdoors. He also challenges me in ways I didn’t think I could do. I have started to run marathons and climb mountains because of him. These activities, especially trekking in the mountains with no one else to rely on but ourselves, have brought a bond that can’t be broken!

So, no matter if you have a relationship with someone from the same culture or from a different culture. The main things in any relationship around the world are trust, communication and similar interests.

 

Day 6: Thokla to Gorak Shep

I set off again at 6am. I didn’t have breakfast in Thokla, because I wanted to stop at Lobuche for a severest_trekking_map 5th dayhort break and thought of having breakfast there. Lobuche is at 4920m. I arrived there after 2 hours of trekking and didn’t feel good. I had a headache, felt tired and my stomach was upset. I still forced myself to eat breakfast, because I wanted to keep on trekking to Gorak Shep, at 5164m. I had a nice breakfast: Tibethan bread with honey! Really enjoyed it. I stayed there 1 hour and continued to Gorak Shep. It turned out to be a big mistake!

The trekking was much longer than I thought, also probably partly caused of feeling really tired. I was just shuffling my feet along. Every step felt heavy. I could feel every kilo of my backpack more… Luckily, halfway the trekking I met a Moldovan guy, Andre. He was staying Gorak Shep, but felt bad too, and was on his way to Lobuche to recuperate. When you have AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), the only thing you can do is go back down, let your body get used to the altitude and try to climb up again. We talked for a while and he said he was feeling better and wanted to climb up together with me again.
It was meant I would meet him, because talking to him, made me feel better as well. We talked all the way. He was a very interesting guy: he lives in Norway and is a guide for the Northern Light.

When I finally arrived in Gorak Shep, 3 hours later, I felt bad again and just collapsed on my bed. I was so tired that I thought I would never be able to move again. I rested for 3 hours and went downstairs. I drank some soup and bought some cookies of which I ate a few in my room while lying down and reading my book. I really didn’t feel well.
The whole night I felt uncomfortable in my back, I had a major headache and I was vomiting bile. That was definitely not good! In the morning, I forced myself to get up with, what felt, the last strength I had and went downstairs to get a mint tea. I thought this would help with my stomach.

I really didn’t know what to do: in this state, I couldn’t possibly trek any further, but I had to go to Base Camp, because Eric would come back in a couple of days. I didn’t have time to go back down and climb back up again.
When I was in the dining room, trying to ease my stomach with tea, Joe walked in, a Canadian I met briefly in Thokla. I told him about my condition and he told me he had mountain sickness pills, which he didn’t have to use. He gave me 8 pills, enough for 4 days. I immediately took 1 and went back to my room to rest. A true miracle happened! After 1 hour, I felt much better and felt something like hunger again. Amazing!

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Sometimes the trail could be really steep. 

Day 5: From Pangboche to Thokla

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I started trekking again at 6am. I started from Pangboche, where I stayed another night after my trek to Ama Dablam Basecamp. I stayed in another lodge, which was popular. Yesterday afternoon, I sat in the dining room with my book. Around 5pm, an Australian couple came in. They were in their early 40s, I guessed. We started talking and we talked for the whole evening (well, until 7.30pm, which is the time we retreated to our room to sleep). The woman was really exhausted. At one point she was even crying, because she felt so tired. The guy told me that his heart monitor indicated that he was burning 3000cals a day, without heavy backpack, because they had a porter. So, he told me that I must burn more, which shocked me a bit. That’s a lot of calories!

I started trekking today without breakfast, because I didn’t feel hungry (I ate more than I wanted to yesterday). I arrived in Periche (altitude: 4240m) around 8.30am and had breakfast there. I almost immediately continued the rest of my trek to Thokla (4670m). It was a bit of a tough climb, especially because I went a bit off track. The route was not that clear and I didn’t know where to go. So, I started to climb up, but all of a sudden I saw porters down and knew the trail must be there. Even with this little hiccup, I still arrived around 10.30am. So, again, quite early.

It seemed there was only 1 lodge in Thokla. It’s really just a couple of houses, not much of a town. I met a nice American couple in the dining room: Mary and Justin. They had already ordered food and the dish Justin ordered looked so delicious I immediately ordered the same. It was a big plate of mixed noodles with egg, tuna, veggies,… I devoured it and enjoyed every bite!
The rest of the day, was again waiting to go trekking again the next day.

The view during each trek is amazing. I am thankful every day, every minute that I have this experience and am surrounded by such a beautiful environment. At moments, it feels surreal, like I entered another world.

I will also mention here that it is aIMG_20160516_115518lmost necessary to have purification tablets with you, so you can take water from any source and purify it with a tablet. I take water from little pools, small streams,… put a tablet in it and wait one hour to drink. Although, I don’t drink as much as I should. I know, I should drink IMG_20160516_115428enough to not get sick, but every time I want to drink, it feels like choking as my body just wants to breathe. I am quite out of breath all the time from walking and I don’t think to drink.

Day 4: To Ama Dablam Base Camp

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Yesterday afternoon, I again had nothing to do, so I was reading and went to bed around 8pm again. I woke up around 12am and dozed on and off till 6am. I had breakfast and immediately set off to Ama Dablam Base Camp. It was a relief not to trek with my big backpack! I felt so much lighter… Just outside of Pangboche , I had to choose between 2 trails: one was a big wider than the other. I asked a Nepalese and he pointed at the wider one. I walked and walked and met many others. Ama Dablam was constantly at my right side, but there was no trail leading down. I had to go down and cross a river to go to Ama Dablam. After more than 1 hour, I came to a sign in stone to point to Periche and Dingboche, no Ama Dablam. At that moment, some porters passed by with yaks and I asked them. They told me I had to go all the way back to Pangboche. So, I thought it was the smaller trail that I had to follow, not the wider one. Fortunately, the trail was not that hard and I went back. I took a rest at a bakery in Pangboche. I thought of having a nice snack there, but the cinnamon roll I had was at least 1 week old! I asked the manager the way to Base Camp and my feeling was right: I had to take the s20160517_125411maller one.

I went down to the river, crossed it and the hike was amazing. It was quite steep all the way up, but I didn’t find it that hard (again, the smaller backpack helped a lot!). I think my body is getting trained. I can definitely feel that my clothes are starting to be baggy, even after only 4 days! The view up there was amazing, but the wind was really strong. It was much colder. Ama Dablam Base Camp is at 4600m, so I climbed more than 600m in altitude. I could definitely feel it in my breathing: every step, I was out of breath and my heart was pounding in my chest. I had my lunch up there: a chapati, with yak cheese and… chocolate! I love it that I can eat, and even have to eat chocolate, because it gives you instant energy. So, when you are trekking and you feel tired, you have an energy dip, chocolate is the best snack. I stacked up on Bounty, Twix, Mars, Kitkat,… You can buy these things in every village.

I loved being there all by myself, surrounded on all sides by mountains. I was in awe to be closer to Ama Dablam, 6812m. I will definitely try to summit this mountain! The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew I would climb this one. Every time I looked at the summit, I could picture myself climbing it. It was really calling me. I had a strange feeling the whole time I was there. I knew I will come back here. This is my next goal!