A week ago I returned to Kunming after two months of cycling and catching up with friends and family in Europe. I cycle back into town from the airport, exhilarated by the jetlag, the rainy season mud, the noise, the big city skyscraper vistas and the people.
I dive right back in. I make an appointment for a new series of Chinese classes with my teacher, I slurp noodles and have my usual Chinese conversation in a mi xian place around the corner from my brand new job (Where are you from? Do you like spice food? You can eat very well with chop sticks). I am in desperate need of a mindful exercise routine to clear my busy head after absorbing tons of new information at work, so I make an appointment with a renowned kung fu teacher who has been recommended to me by a Dutch friend. I need some Zen after all the initial excitement.
Searching for zen
The teacher exchanges a few messages with me on wechat before we meet. His wechat photo says he is a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and his name is something that I can not yet read and with a bear emoji in the middle. I explain to him that I have years of experience with yoga, I know a little bit about balance and about breathing, and that I am very keen to learn about Chinese culture.
I am excited to learn more about the different forms and philosophies of wushu, after my brief forays into tai chi and qing chi chuan last year. We will meet up tonight, so when I come home from work I change into loose fitting trousers and a t-shirt and tie my hair back into a pony tail, ready to go kung fu fighting and hoping to roll into bed with a sore body and an empty head.
Meeting the master
Fifteen minutes before the appointed time he starts sending me messages. Are you here yet? Where are you? I reply that I am going to be there at the appointed time, and leisurely walk the 3km from my house to his kung fu studio. First through my new neighbourhood, then along a busy four lane road lined by trees, and finally finding my way through the alleys of an older neighbourhood full of little shops and food stalls.
At the appointed time I am outside his studio. He sends me a message: wait, I am eating! No problem. It is a warm and muggy evening and I am happy to have a moment to myself to unwind from the first few hectic days in my new job.
Suddenly I get lightly punched in the shoulder. It is my teacher, who turns out to be indeed the Chinese version of a young and handsome Leo DiCaprio, and with him is a somewhat bug-eyed girl. Both are wearing sweat pants and white tank tops. Her eyes are huge dark pools and she is swaying a little bit. As she broadly smiles at me I can smell a whiff of beer coming my way. She speaks some English, my kung fu teacher doesn’t.
Together we go into the studio, where we sit down in a deep and comfortable leather and wood settee, surrounded by boxes of kung fu clothes. In front of me is the dojo, with a huge mirrored wall at the end. Beers appear on the table, and cigarettes are being handed around.
Kung fu drinking
Cheers! How do you say cheers in Dutch? What kind of kung fu do you want to learn? I had a baby 14 days ago. When can you come here? Can you come 5 days a week? Are you working? That’s too bad. What days can you come here? Your friend Bart didn’t speak Chinese when he started training here, but now he is very good. Just a little bit more beer, don’t worry. By bicycle? You are my hero! More beer, come on, we have to celebrate you came to China. You are our new friend. Proost, is that how you say it? Let’s call Bart! Bart, your Dutch friend is here! Proost! More beer, come on, it’s only a little bit. A cigarette. Why do you not smoke? Not even when you drink? Have more beer! Look, this is the video from when I was in the kung fu championships. You must come with me to my hometown and eat the food there with me. Next week I go, come with me. What do you mean you want to sleep? Have more beer. When you toast you have to hold your cup lower than the teacher. See, you are learning about Chinese culture already. Maybe you should learn boxing first. Kung fu is very difficult.