china

The Week from Hell - Kung Fu Fighting - Part Six

I am just beginning to think I can survive the school – even feeling a little wistful that I can't extend my little sojourn here to two months when Wong decides to end the week with the regime from hell. 

It all begins on Thursday afternoon session. Most of the boys have gone into town with Wong for lunch . Somehow for the three remaining (including me) we get to go for a run even though the others come back late. We all run to the bridge and back – as I pass Felix – he gestures 3 to me. I assume he means do the bridge three times so diligently do it wondering where he and Sergei have got to only to get back ad realise he meant the class won't start till 3pm. Oh well I think – no matter - i've just run 2.5k its goo to push myself. Just when I think the afternoon session is about to end – Wong decides to spring the dreaded Stairs on us. We have to bear crawl down the stairs and then do a punching circuit with a parter holding pads then run up the stairs and do it all again three times. By the third time I still don't have the techinque right – i've completley given up on tryig to do a press up and am just trying to haul my body down without scraping all the skin off my legs. 

"Put your bum in the air – like downward dog in yoga” says Eleanor – which actually really helps. I do it and it pushes my weight onto my hands – the feeling of lurching forward face first towards descending concrete is terrifying but easier than doing it in press up position. It's the first time i've done them since ruining my legs – after my initiation – and I think maybe now I have some of the technique the fear has subsided a little. We all think that is it for the day...but no... 

Wong has decided that we need a further legs circuit and so we then have to sprint up and down the legnth of a basketball court, do frog leaps and bunny hops(just try it I dare you) it feels like your quads and calves have been injected with molten lead and when that hell finishes and we think surely the class is over now -Wong makes us race to the bridge - 800m in under 4 minutes. I am absolutely shattered and can hardly move my leg muscles – however at dinner I discover that the 5.30am morning circuit is likely to be...that's right ...legs again. It is the very worst morning circuit I do there. 



We have to do laps of the school and let me remind you the school is set on a hill with 120 high flights of stone staircases around it. SO we start by sprinting the length of the basket ball court running up three flights of stairs along the top through the tai chi area and then down another flight of stairs. We have to do this ten times, the next tme instead of sprinting we have to do bunny hops along the court, then frog leaps, duck walks, milk shakes, side jumps, hops etc. After lap 1 Audrey and Alice – who have made a token appearance for their last morning session – somehow disappear with a gallic shrug. 

"Oh I can't do this"...says Alice – 

Well I can't either but i'm givin it a go . After lap 5 I notice Jasmin has disappeared as well so i'm the only girl to complete it entirely! Its horrendous. 

However if my poor legs thought that was it they were wrong – because straight after breakfast Wong has decied we can all do a nice 10k run up a mountain and then over to a local reservoir. 



I haven't even done “the mountain run” a 45 minute run up a steep hill well mountain - let alone think its possible for me to just tag on another 6 – 7k through and out the other side of Xin Qiao the nearest village and then past the temple and up another mountain. 

I get directions from different people – because I don't want to get lost ( a speciality of mine) and I know I won't be keeping up with them. 

Its already about 30 degrees outside. My aim is just not to stop and start walking. I manage the mountain run – which is across the bridge and up the mountain. My first experienceof running up hill – horrible!!! Wong passes me on his motorbike and offers to carry my water for me. Great -a lift would have more appreciated thanks! 

I know its just going to be mental effort that gets me through, I cheer myself after reaching the entrance to the village – then run past the villages and out the other side of town. The locals have been going through a bamboo phase – they have made little wicker drying racks out of twigs and have stripped and steamed various sections of bamboo that they are drying and smoking in great fires. They sit by the roadside amongst the sweet smoky scent of the drying bamboo and have a good old laugh at the us as we go running past – all red, hot and sweaty. I wonder what they think of us. the Chinese don't seem to be big on exercise. Little children run out of shop doorways to shout – HELLO aggressively at me – at which I muster a wheezy hello back. 

The village goes uphill towards the end - I note with displeasure but I manage it and keep going past the Buddhist temple which is another landark Wong likes to get us to run to. Then I keep going until the path starts going up hill again up another mountain. Oh goody. About halfway up and there is a little smoking factory which seems to be drying and burning some kind of fuel. Its possibly the worst thing you could ask for – having run almost 8k up two mountains in 30 degree heat – and now for some smoke to asphxiate you when you have no air in your lungs left already. Well – no excuses but as an asthmatic as well it does for me and shortly after my legs refuse to do any more running up hill and I have to walk the remainer of the way up the mountain. I'm disappointed because I think running is really pshychological and I think if I knew the route and how much farther I had to go I might have made myself push on but just not knowing made it more difficult somehow. I get to what I think is the reservoir – there is a dog barking outside (which James has told me about) and a big wrought iron gate that you need to climb through. I do this and am faced with an enormous gorgeous lake surrounded by trees and a stone damn with steps down it. I look down and think there is aboslutely no way i'm going all the way down there if they are not down there so I just stand around at the top for about 10 mins to take in the view until Alison passes me on her way out. 

"Hey – they are all down there- if you want a swim" 

"Er yes I really do I say!" 

"Sure i don't blame you" she says and then adds quietly

"Good job" 


She is an enigma. I was aboslutely terrified of her at first – i'd already been told about the men she'd slept with then the first thing she said to me directly when i'd complain I couldn't straighten my leg out in an exercise because of pulling my hamstring was: 

"If it aint broken you can use it..." 

Splendid. But she's very different – mildly unassuming and bookish and very gently supportive and caring. 

"Did you get lost??" asks Sergei

"Well yes kind of and obviously I was also just SLOW!" 

Sergei is 19 and about 6 ft 4" and built like a daddy long legs – he often starts running well after me and then I get to watch him bound past like Tigger. 




I keep my shorts on and strip off to my sports bra and go for a swim. Its gorgeous. 

"Where are the others?" I enquire innocently. 

"Oh they have swam to the other side."

Shaolin Stretching and Taining Times Two

 

Finally I get to experience the last of the Rising Dragon school Malevolent Myths and Looming legends. 

Shaolin Stretching. 

For the last two weeks all I have heard about is pupils who have been screaming and reduced to tears by this medieval form of muscle torture. 

There is a lot of stretching involved in Shaolin anway – every day after each run we push ourselves intoo the splits and box splits, opening our thighs, trying to bend our torsos onto our knees. 

"Does it hurt – are you ok" asks Ferdinand after he's pushed my resistant hips towards the ground in the box splits for this morning's warm up. 

"I don't really know what o.k is any more I say - everything always hurts and I'm constantly in pain but it didn't feel like you did any permanent damage if that's any good" I reply... 

Shaolin stretching is the same but it is the Master – in this case Wong – who pushes you into a position you never thought it capable your body could do and then holds you there until you cry, vomit or promise to do something else. 

"You will never know pain like it!" – Patrice has assured me. 

Brilliant. Can't wait. 


"Don't even look man – don't even look because if you see what shape your body is being contorted into...: 

Luckily I don't get Wong – although I have a feeling he'd go easy on me.

 

I have Talele and Alison. I have still pulled the tendon in my right leg so they just stretch the left leg. I lie flat on my back, Talia sits on my right leg to keep it still and Alison pulls my left leg up and starts to bend it forward towards my head. She pushes it forward until I don't think it can go any more. 

"Remember i'm OLD!" I exclaim – age really is a factor here and not just an excuse – you loose a degree of flexibility when you are no longer in your teens and early twenties. 

"Yeah – you are only a few years older than me" – says Alison. 

Oh. 

Then she pushes it down towards my head some more. It hurts - I start to whimper. 

"Breathe" – says Talele gently. 

She pushes more and I start gasping. 

" Just breathe in and breathe out" says Talia in an incredibly soothing voice. I do and she pushes a little more – my knee is i'm sure perilously close to my face – and then she stops. 

Well I don't think I've done too badly – we've helped each other. The women's corner is so gentle, hushed and supportive. 

Unlike I hasten to add the excruciating screams of agony coming from the boys. Anyone would think they were being racked! 

It is a well known fact that women have a higher threshold for tolerating pain than men and if ever I needed proof this was it. Our female corner is a gentle soothing mix of hushes, whispers and the odd "well done, good job." 

The end of the week comes and on Thursday it is sparring day again. In the morning we practise take downs and for a laugh Ferdinand (nickname “the Juggernaut”) says "Come on Dominique practise on me " 

Which I do for the amusement of all. In the afternoon I spar with Camille but its somehow more difficult than trying to beat up her brother Felix. I don't want to hurt her and she me. Everytime one of us throws a punch we follow it by stopping and going

“oh i'm sorry are you ok?” 

"Yes i'm ok are you ok?" 

“everyone sorry -everyone ok now fight!” says Wong. 

Camille gets a few good take downs on me and wins which is fine in my book. 



It's been a tough week – in a perverse kind of way I find myself looking foward to doing the Tianing run again tomorrow as a bit of light relief. 

What kind of universe do I live in when I now look forward to attempting to run a half marathon as a bit of light relief. 

Everyone always prays for rain on the day of the Taining Run -but somehow I know i'm not going to get lucky twice in a row and sure enough when I awake the sky is pearly and clear. Scott is doing a morning circuit and has been known to make students go for a run and do a legs circuit even when they then have to run another 23k but luckily today he's feeling magnanimous and asks us which we'd prefer – so we all opt for plank exercises. 


Just before 9am and the sky is bright blue, the sun is shining, it must be at least 35 degrees and we are ready to start. Its a scorcher. I get Blackeyed Peas on the ipod – thank goodness for Will.I.Am if only i'd known in Vegas how important his music was going to become to me I coud have thanked him personally. This time I know the way – I get going and I have a target to keep running until the shop at the halfway point – which I succeed in. So now i've run 13k without stopping. I then push myself to walk and run the rest and get to the meeting point in just over 3 hours! The boys – Sergei and Don have managed it in just under 2 hours -but hey i'm still pleased with my personal achievement – and I haven't got lost! 

I can hardy walk – the meeting place is Dicos - China's answer to KFC – I am famished – my body wants everything! I have some chicken nuggets and a coke follwed by a orange juice an ice cream and then some teriyaki chicken and rice. 

This afternoon I have to do a visa run to a little island off Taiwan. To cut a long and complicated story short – I only have 2 x 30 day entries on my visa so must leave the country and come back in this weekend to stay at the school. I'm going to Xiamen with another English girl called Emily and James and Luke who have decided to just visit the seaside harbour town of Xiamen for a little holiday whilst at the school. 

So after run/walking for 23k I take my poor hobbled body and put it on another chinese bus to cramp up in a sedentary position for a 10 hour journey..

Shanghai - the Whore of the Orient, China.

Shanghai's nickname is the “Whore of the Orient” and perhaps more kindly – the Paris of the East. And you can see why – its all shiny scrapers and neon lights – a little bit of an Asian Vegas show girl. The hostel is in the Pudong area – the new bit but relatively close to a subway station and as with Beijing - its very cheap and easy to use. 

I want to get a closer look at The Oriental Pearl Tower – the most iconic scraper on the skyline that looks like a needle with a big bulbous pearly red middle – or a space ship docking station for The Jetsons. I take Lonely Planet's advie (for once on this trip!) and instead of paying to view it from an Observation deck – go and have a nice cold drink in the restaurant / bar on the 55th floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel. Of course the drink comes in at just under a tenner but its a very civilised way to stare at something when its 40 degrees outside. 



The next day I don't have enough time to do the French Concession area – plus the hostel are woefuly inadeqate at providing directions I trust – which is a shame because this part of town with its crumbling colonial facades and up market cafes and bars is supposed to be one of the nicest. 

Instead I take a walk around the markets and gardens leading up to the Bund across the water -and then as night falls walk up onto The Bund itself (the river bank area) to get a view of Shanghai's glitzy skyline from the opposite angle. Its absolutely packed with Chinese tourists and a very bored policeman telling people to stop climbing to take a photo. I ignore him to try and get the best shot possible. I love the Oriental Pearl tower which is changing colour at a rapid rate. 

I say goodnight to Shanghai – its hot and sweaty, smoky and cramed full of people but the skyline is alluring – another city I notch up to come back and do 5 star...maybe i'll stay at the Grand Hyatt... 



The next morning I leave my bag outside reception and check out – getting them to write down the Chinese script for me to show taxi drivers and ticket staff. When I come out I think one of the owner's little dogs has done a pee against my rucksack. Gross. Luckily The Bastard is wearing his new bright orange waterproof protection that i've bought him (I heard that sometimes when bags are put in the hold under buses they come out wet because the overflow from the toilet on the bus has leaked onto them) the dog pee rolls of it and I let the cab driver pick it up to take me to Shanghia station. 

God its a glamorous life. 



I have decided to go ahead with my month of Martial arts training at Rising Dragon school in Fuian province near the coast. I want to improve my self discipline and mental focus as well as my fitness levels – having not been to the gym for over a year that won't be hard. 


I arrive in good time and get the 11hour 11 am bus from Shanghai to Taining – a small town nearest the school. Time for me to get me some discipline....