Dylan will be writing about his solo trip to China through a series of articles titled “Journey to Wudang Mountain: The Home of Taoist Gung Fu.” This is Part 3 of the series. Follow along to see how he got there, what his Gung Fu training is like, and how he deals with international travel alone. Read Part 3 here.
Saturday morning, I woke up with an entire day of training until we headed off to Xi’an. Vincent, my traveling partner hailing from France, had come to the school for one month to learn Tai chi. He is on a four-month journey through East Asia.
The heat rose with the sun and we all poured sweat during training. The trip to Xi’an was the carrot to pull me through a hard day’s training. It got to 102 degrees and we didn’t even need training to sweat — just being alive was enough.
Eight hours and a cold shower later, we were off to get a bus to Wudang. When we arrived, we found a familiar hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The jovial owner greeted us. He was happy to see us again, I hoped. “Yi Ge Jiao Zi, Yi Ge Chow Mian, and uhhh, Yi Ge,” I said as I pointed at the pot of stewing chicken thighs. I had asked for dumplings, noodles, and one piece of chicken. We filled our bellies with noodles, dumplings, and chicken for our up coming journey. That night we would wait until 11 pm to catch a taxi to Shiyan and from there we would take a 7-hour train ride to Xi’an. Vincent and I headed down to the river and were surprised by a beautiful sun setting in the distance. Thank God that thing was finally going down.
The walkway and river, or what was left of it, was filled with people. Kids playing in the water, older folks had chairs set up chatting and laughing as they fanned themselves with real Chinese fans! Some farmers were still out trying to sell a few more watermelons before day’s end and some men sucked down cigarettes while playing a Chinese board game similar to chess. It was nice to see people out and about enjoying life. All coming together at the end of the day, it felt very homey. Community. The community was strong in Wudang and you could just feel it in the spirit of the people. I think it is something we miss in the west. We are so scared of each other, so much fear, and we are forced to be independent as a sign of strength. I think it leaves us with a lot of problems with depression and anxiety. But hey, I ain’t no psychologist!
Getting a taxi was always somewhat of a game and you had to bargain. The driver would always give us a really expensive price at first, but we were ferocious. We wanted the price they gave to Chinese people. So we approached the first taxi in a line of three and told him where we wanted to go. He put 235 on his phone calculator. We laughed and told him sixty. He scoffed and punched in 180 and at that point, we just walked to the next taxi. We told him the second driver where we wanted to go and he started with 160 on his phone calculator. Better but not good enough. We told him sixty and his eyes almost popped out of his head. He started saying something in Chinese and then the first taxi driver approached. They started talking amongst each other and Vincent and I started laughing. “Come on, come on!” We said. The two drivers started laughing at us. The second driver pointed to the moon and said something; I heard the word “wanshang” which means nighttime. Okay, so it was a higher price because it was nighttime. Understandable but we weren’t going to stop. The second driver punched in 140 on his phone calculator. We considered it and then put 80 in on his phone. He shook his head in defeat. Just then, a third driver walked up asking “Na Li Na Li?” (Where, where?) I told him Shiyan Train Station and said “Yi Bai.” (100). He said, “Okay, okay!” The second driver turned to us frustrated, as we were about to walk away, revealed his phone calculator to us in crumbling defeat: 80. We hopped in his cab and got our fair ride to Shiyan. I had spoken with Tang earlier that day and he said the price should be around 80-100. Bargaining can be tense but it is worth it.
We pushed through the masses of people at the old, poorly-lit train station in Shiyan and luckily found two seats. There we waited for about an hour for our train to begin boarding. At this point, I was completely exhausted and just wanted a bed to sleep in. But we would not get a bed. We had booked our train late so we did not have the luxury of even a hard sleeper, we were bound for hard seats. A seven-hour train ride in hard seats. The station stunk of cigarette smoke despite the numerous no smoking signs and loads of talking people. It was not a pleasant place to be and I am not a princess — well, not always. Our train eventually boarded and we were headed for Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors, the Muslim quarter, and the famous Xi’an City Wall.
After arriving in Xi’an we walked over to our hostel and passed out for several hours because we got virtually no sleep on the train. Vincent contacted two fellow students who happened to be in Xi’an that weekend, so it was a weekend with the French in China. The first adventure we enjoyed was the Xi’an City Wall. It was built by the first Emperor of China and remains completely intact today. It wraps around the core of the city and is surrounded by tall buildings on the outside. To walk the entire wall would take few hours as it is about 14 kilometers so we only walked one corner, which took about an hour. It was really a historical experience.
I could imagine soldiers patrolling the wall throughout the day and sentries looking out into the darkness at night. I imagined what it would be like to be a soldier in an advancing army and being a citizen protected by the behemoth. As we walked along, many bricks had Chinese characters etched into them. I wondered if it was century old soldiers carving the names of their lovers into the brick. After our epic walk through time on one of China’s great walls, we headed for the Muslim Quarter.
The city of Xi’an was the beginning of the Silk Road roughly 1,000 years ago. Many overseas merchants came, including people from Arabic countries — some settled in this area. It became known as the Muslim Quarter, now with tens of thousands of practicing Muslims and about 10 Mosques including the Great Mosque, which we were able to visit. The Great Mosque was the oldest and largest built in the area. It was a peaceful place with a large courtyard where you could hear prayers in the distant. Much of the stone architecture has not been restored which left it looking old and beautiful, but still intact.
The Muslim quarter was a great place to cruise through in the evening. I really felt like I was in China. The streets are filled with food vendors selling freshly baked bread, grilled kebabs, octopus legs on skewers, roasted nuts, small restaurants selling noodles, fruit stands packed with fresh fruits and the occasional convenience store. People swarmed through the streets as cars tried to push through the masses. I kept my eyes peeled over my shoulders to watch out for incoming motorbikes and scooters. But I didn’t worry; the incessant beeping always warned of their approach. We walked through the tightly packed streets trying to take it all in through our eyes and our cameras.
We came upon a covered area with winding alleyways that housed the curiosity shops and tourist gift shops! We bought several little bracelets, fans, silks (fake?), and coins to take home as souvenirs. We made out pretty well with our superior bargaining skills.
The last thing we saw before leaving Xi’an was the Terracotta Warriors. This site is actually the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. He had his entire army replicated out of stone to guard his burial mound. Each soldier’s face is carved differently and come complete with weapons, horses, and carriages. It was truly fantastic because of the amazing human ingenuity and insanity dedicated to something so massive. Warehouses have been built over the excavation sites themselves so people can view the sites while in air conditioning. You can’t get really close to them but they have a few soldiers in glass cases for closer inspection. This is a really touristy place to go to but it is the thing that drew us to Xi’an in the first place.
The trip to Xi’an was a wonderful getaway from our intense Gung Fu training. We got off the bus at our stop in Wudang and trudged up the hill back to school. As we entered the grounds we were met with a warm welcome of smiles and waves from the other students and coaches—we were home. Even though the next week of training would be just as hard as the previous, I was happy to be home at Wudang Dragongate Gung Fu School.
Look out for my next delicious post on some great local eats in Wudang. HI-YAH!!