China trip to Fuzhou 2015

Ok, so before I crack into this epic of beauty, passion, kung fu, food, more food, and more kung fu, there are some things you need to realise, oh reader

Point One: I strongly believe that everybody needs to go to China, right now, because it simply is something that you need to do for the good of your soul. I mean, maybe we should stagger it a little, people, for obvious reasons…but you get it, right?

Point Two: This has to be one of the best things I have done in my life. I mean riding in Terry Nation’s personal dalek as a six year old was pretty cool, but this…

Basically, dear reader, as Dave Etheridge Barnes was prone to saying “Every day was a wow day”.

My account shall be coloured thusly.

We started laughing as soon as we were all gathered together in Neil’s kitchen. And the laughter did not stop until we got back to that same destination. Looking around us in Heathrow I suffered that mildly smug realisation that for once I was one of the people having far too much of a good time already that you didn’t want to sit next to on a long flight. The journey names had already started….for we were Sven ( look at Neil’s passport sometime to appreciate this) The Heffner ( Liz, in an ultra lounge 70’s knitwear creation) Iggy ( Ali C, short for Iguana) Xiao Daywee(Young David) and Da Daywee( Dave)…yeah…I was yet to be christened.

Some twenty four hours later, shaking with tiredness, and still wondering what the hell had happened, I collapsed into a bed rather like a wallpaper pasting table, and became a beige thought in a beige room…in China….

I can round it up by saying that this missing time space include Neil, whose Chinese withstood the test brilliantly, taking on the combined bargaining power of an entire Chinese taxi gang, and winning, which was pretty stunning…until the two cars pulled in on a lonely strip of road to be boxed into by two other dark cars. “Get ready” said Neil, and I knew just what he meant, thinking back to a certain friend of mines stories of his time in a little place called Helmand Province…

Actually, they were giving us better cars.

Time to kick off that western paranoia, and get with the thing that you are in China, and only good things will happen from here.

Such as the fact that Master Lin and his sons were at the hotel, and he looked even younger than ever, and very, very happy to see us. Dunno what to say about the man, except that he has a very funny effect on me, I can’t speak a word to him, but I completely trust him, feel incredibly fond of him, and would do exactly what he tells me to do.

With that realisation I flat-lined into sleep.

To be woken by the city.

Pano-Fuzhou

fair climbs under the door, through the window cracks, and to bed with you. The horns of the cars, the sound of the building works, the street sellers, the whistles of the police, and the smell, the smell of Fuzhou. Later in the week I would wake at three to find the river smell thick in the room and in my lungs, bitter sweet tide like nowhere else in the world, carrying cargo of street food, rot, night jasmine, cigarettes and just a little touch of death. And that smell is in the food too, at the base of it, in the regional greens, a complex burnt umber taste, part pollution, part nourishment…but I digress. Go be there, go taste.

Every morning carries the same actions, so I’ll take you with us for a moment, if I may. We meet at Neil and Xiao Davey’s room, and go to breakfast of hot milk, vanilla sponge cake, steamed greens, meaty fish balls, lush dumplings, tofu, peanuts, eggs and congee. We stoke up on coffee,  tiger balm and chocolate in our rooms, then hit the rain wet street for the early bus, threading through the morning onslaught of rain poncho tribe, moving like a shoal of fish, resplendent on their multitude of electric mo-peds, their plastic wrappings brilliant in the diversity of “Hello Kitty” and Burberry prints. Then there are the mass of Four By Four smoked windscreens with diplomatic blue plates, sharks amongst the minnows, and the taxis weaving with slow grace of gold fish on the look out food, and the lumbering busses, packed to the gills with folk like us, wet, but cheerful. The bus journey takes us through a city that is regenerating itself from inside out. Its Neil who has coined the phrase “China, its random” and he is not wrong. The journey is the self-same every morning, but there is always something added on top of greater and greater randomness. Fairly early on we notice a bizarre human size plastic statue of a cat in a pair of dungarees, that waves at you from a garden at the centre of a roundabout. For the rest of the holiday we are doomed, like a character in a fairy tale, to try the impossible task of photographing said cat, who always eludes us. There are numerous interesting uses of English translation, such as the Wind club, that is “Only cheerful fashion trend party”. Ali and I reflect that we won’t be going there then, being neither trendy nor fashionable. We finally get off at a village square that is completely and gorgeously “Wild East”: street food under tarpaulins, people and goods on mopeds, umbrellas protecting them, and the beauty of the mountains muscling down on us at this moment mist covered and mysterious. To do this we have zig zagged three times over the same railway and apocalyptic industrial wasteland, looped that loop in endless flyovers covered in flowering rhododendrons, because in China even the motorways are beautiful, bounced over a variety of different road surfaces like a fifteen tonne truck can’t, and of course stopped for a puppy. Well of course. This is a Buddhist country, and even though there is no reincarnation in Chinese Buddhism, you can never be too sure…

Master Lin is with us for the first journey, such is the care with which he treats us. We are introduced, after a wet, but fantastic walk through the village. The Monastery is one of those found money moments. The one when you find fifty in your jeans that you were going to throw out? Like that, but better, because it’s full of beauty, peace, and star shine. You see China does detail, really really well. Everywhere you looking the Monastery there is proof of the universes ultimate goodness, should you choose to look. From gold lame covered tree trunks, to gorgeous Buddha’s smile not smile, the tiny red lanterns in the flowering rose bushes, the concentric cut of the tiles into red tessellations of dragon like scales into dragons perched on the roves. It makes you quiet by gently overwhelming you with the love that these people explore through their environment.

we run through our patterns as they stand, and Master Lin is everything I remember of him. He fair twinkles with good humour, so far removed as to be like a little old star, ageless, but full of years. He has  a way of giving the thumbs up like no other being I know, probably because that thumb could probably kill you. Ali points out that he never criticise in a negative manner. He just super enthusiastic when you get it right.

We take tea with the Abbot high up in a gorgeous reading room full of the scent of Asiatic lilies, exquisitely carved rocks, and much beautiful calligraphy. It is very very good tea. We walk out on a balcony, up in the mists, where the city falls away beneath us like a richly embroidered, if slightly dirty eiderdown.

Tea-with-the-Abbot

We have just enough energy to get home, march like zombies around the Walmart, find the best peppered prawns I have ever eaten, and then sleep falls like a well-timed sledgehammer

Day Two

Traffic and warm rain wake us as we shuffle onto the bus. Again like yesterday we cement what we have, and there’s the feeling from Master Lin that something is brewing. There’s something that we’re going to on Sunday, but we don’t quite get what it is yet, more worryingly, what we might do. We are joined today by Marina to translate, and it transpires that we are training with a monk from the monastery here. It’s a good day, we all make mistakes, appreciate each other through that icebreaker of realising that we are all only human. Dave gets told he has not aged since he started coming to china, Ali fair flits across the carpet like a wee bat, and there is the now customary hush as Neil does what he does, being the force of nature that he is. Xiao Dawee does an absolutely capitol back roll without thinking, and Liz is just Liz, because she’s so damn good at what she does.

We are fed at the canteen in the Monastery, which becomes the wonderful norm, and I find myself looking up from my bowl of soup that is called  “Flowers on the stone” wondering if life can get much more pleasurable.

But I am not greatly surprised when it does, as in the afternoon we enjoy a monsoon madness odyssey of panda park, where we all cheerfully will the performing bears to rip the trainer’s arms off, a rain drenched city park, full of beautiful water, and bridges, the local swallows obliging us with Ariel displays, and I see tropical plants that I have tried to grow in green houses fair eating up the oxygen around them like triffids from John Wyndham’s book. We end up sitting in a lake side cafe, regarding said rain, for hours, because its proper got into its stride now. We made a break for it in the end and the city rewards us by opening up its best Bladerunner impersonation, complete with scores of Chinese young ladies that seem to come in pairs and dress identically, neon signs that scream from even the most tiny backstreet shop, more mopeds than you can possibly imagine. We finish with lifesaving beef noodles in the Seven Alleys before heading home for the secret practice. We discover that in China you can tell your fortune from the streets, because there are playing cards everywhere dropped by disappointed gamblers. Xiao Dawee finds the eight of clubs, a very good omen.

Which is conducted in the lobby of Aspiration, by the be-jewelled sofa of Observation, aka the lift lobby by our rooms. There is only one problem with this. It becomes a game of musical patterns, whereby you must stop if someone comes out of their room, or opens the lift. You then have two choices. You either try to make it seem entirely natural that you might be crouched with one hand raised over your head whilst your mates on the sofa snigger, or you instantly lounge on the floor where you finish, because this is what all British people do in hotels…

Lobby-training

Day Three

The new pattern begins, and it is gorgeous. Obviously at this point, dear reader, if you are waiting for details, come to China. I think you get the point. It also becomes slightly clearer what Sunday might hold for us, as we work on timing for all of us to do a synchronised San zhan. The edge is building.

In the afternoon we walk through the city towards the White pagoda temple, through a huge square where Mao Tse Tung salutes progress from between two prancing ponies. This kind of belittles the size of the thing, and actually the terror of the Mao statue. He’s still there, in spirit.

The temple however is a welcome break. Beautifully quiet, set back from the street, it off sets the Lois Vuitton shop, and the D&G emporium by its sheer silence and class. There is everything you could want here, as you enter, the doorway guardians some fifteen foot tall snarl at you in technicolour glory, demons at their feet utterly subjugated and positioned now like bedroom slippers. The tight inter locking tiled roofs have clusters of little watch dogs perched high up on them, much to Xiao Da wee’s delight. We buy beautiful gifts there, and on the way home Ali produces a rain poncho from her bag for me, and I find it hard not to defect to my rain poncho tribe as they flock under the light encrusted banyan tree at the major intersection of the city, for I am now “Poncho”. At last, a nickname I can live with!

White-pagoda

Poncho-blending

Day Four

It’s a day full of children at the Monastery. Master Lin’s children’s class are here, and there is to be a ceremony for all of us that ritualises his acceptance of us as his students. The mood is relaxed, buoyant and full of good humour. The warm up descends into complete hilarity as the kids get excited by the final exercise, and we all gallop across the floor together like a herd of demented Shetland ponies.

Leg-lifts

There are two little girl’s there, who I refer to Buttercups One and Two as they have buttercup golden yellow kung Fu suits on. Neil surprises us all by saying that Buttercup One (the smaller, about six maybe?) is in fact probably the cutest thing ever. Yes, I am putting that in, Neil! She flops into a full splits in front of us with the calmest of regards that says “Come on you lot. What do you mean you can’t do this?”

The gang is fully formed now. Da Shir Shong (Master Lin’s eldest son) is there to illustrate his father’s teaching, Xiang Yao (youngest son) is there with his excellent English, and firm grip of the English sense of humour, much to my delight. Li Yun (Marina) is also there, and Nong Hoi, who is a Chinese police officer. I find myself reflecting that if some of the folk I teach back home could roll like Nong Hoi, then we might be better placed! We are also joined by another of Master Lin’s Chinese students. Everyone works, everyone gets the carpet burns and the electric shocks from the carpet that they have kindly put down for us, and in the ceremony, everyone receives the understanding that they must now progress the Dishu Quan cause by studying diligently.

In the afternoon we go to the Confucian temple, an altogether more stoic affair in grey granite, black, gold, red and indigo blue woodwork. It seems less used, although our interest is peeked by a rather bullish looking individual who seems to be training children in suspiciously dog like rolling. In the way that you do, I clock him, he clocks me “making him” as I enter before we see him with the kids. Neil thinks he recognises him. He definitely “makes” Neil too, and moves the kids to another part of the temple. I move to an adjacent gallery, and watch him. He is definitely a dog boxer.

We find killer beef noodles and char su buns on the way home, and a fantastic advert for underpants done by none other than Donny Yen. Oh yes. That’s right, ladies.

Day Five

When we tell Master Lin he is very happy that we did not talk to the dog boxer. We had no interest in doing so, but it turns out that he will be at the “thing” that we are attending today.

The thing, it turns out, is the five year meeting of the Fujian Martial Society. Funny how things work out. It becomes pretty evident that though this isn’t the biggest of things, anybody who mattered is here. In fact, there are twenty or so of the martial arts authorities, including Master Lin, sitting on a long table at the front, and the rest of us are in the cheaper seats. It’s when Neil identifies the area lead for Crane, sitting down with us that the calibre of those there assembled become evident. There is a long ceremony, with much applause, during which many of the finest including Master Lin and Da Shir Shong receive governmental recognitions, and then we get at it.

20-year-celebration-of-Fujian-arts-1

Zhen-Quan-Lin

 

And it is immense.

Folks, just imagine the best martial arts type stuff that you have seen on You Tube, happening live in front of you. It happened. What I really feel is important is the vibe of the thing. You see, unlike a western meeting/competition, although here obviously everybody wanted to do brilliantly, there was none of that negativity or ego. Folks did things differently, ie, made mistakes, but what is important is that they wove them back into the pattern, with a little smile maybe, or a little pause. Thus proving that this a living thing. Not some ego driven “has to be like this every time” rigid coffin. What’s important is that the principals were there, and that no one ever froze.

Folks of note then, in no particular order. The golden lion boxing man, and the crane man were excellent, their strength fair hummed and crackled out of them, their limbs so taught, then so relaxed, for men who must have been in their fifties (?) they moved better than twenty year olds. I found myself crying at the Ex-All China taichi champion, she moves like silk scarf on water, and her friend who did a horse tail whip and straight sword pattern was also gorgeous to watch.

And then there was Johnson.

He’ll tell you himself one day, what happened. Let’s just say he triumphed over the odds, poured energy into that room, and brought something wild and untameable back into it.

Then it was us, with him.

I looked up, and told myself to stop looking. Just be.

The applause started as we hit the ground for the first roll.

It did not stop.

Later became a blur that included Neil denting an iron bar, which always makes me sick to watch, vast numbers of salutations and photos, I somehow managed to get the courage to salute the Tai chi mistress, and nearly cried when she smiled and saluted back as though she should be honoured, I also manage to communicate to the crane man that he is something special, and he smiled almost shyly. In short, they loved us.

Group-San-Zhan

Bar-bent-Iron-Leg-Skill

20-Year-Mai-Hua-Celebration-of-Fujian-Arts-2015

 

Which was evident at the banquet after. Master Lin was head of table, and we were numerously visited, and saluted. You know, I just felt pleased for him.

We finished the day almost drunken on the experience, in a park in golden sunshine, almost falling asleep listening to the music of the ball room dancing class nearby, compounded with the tinkle of water, and the laughter of children and families all around us, for China does lots of things well, particularly public parks. In China you will relax, you will be active, yet relaxed.

Day Six

We train. It is known.

We get an indication of exactly what Master Lin can do as our Monk decides to push his luck, as is the business of all young things, and ends up as a charming slightly well covered human pretzel. “You are now messing with the best” is the phrase that comes to mind.

In the afternoon we go to Da Shir Shong’s surgery, as Liz’s shoulder is not really behaving. Now I know we talk about good energy, and people with million watt smiles and all, but Da Shir Shong completely rewrites the script on these issues. What a great guy to be around. What a great guy with two of the most dangerous looking daggers we have ever seen in his surgery, which is, I add now, a cave of delights. See it’s that yin and that yang that fires off all over the place. He has his daggers next to a table where miniature cat fish live in a Chrystal bowl of water topped off with peace lilies. His training equipment is next to his charts on the meridians. It’s the real deal. He has slowly glowing lotus light and golden buddhas. He serves us gorgeous tea. Such is the relaxed empowering energy of the place that I fall asleep and wake up numerously, I feel high as a kite as I leave.

For the boys then it is Electronic Land, and for the girls it is Bubble tea. Heaven for both!

Day Seven

It is unbelievably hot, and we stretch longer, the battering has begun of our bodies. And we train hard. Neil and Da Shir Shong get to practice the two person pattern, which is the most gorgeous thing, a rolling dance of dust devils, coiling and springing, totally how dogs fight.

MASTER Lin’s wife joins us, and we have dinner at the monastery, encountering a little too much boiled bamboo.

In the afternoon we go to the mother of all temples in the city. We are surrounded by beauty on a scale that is soul quietening by the volume that it speaks in, all thought of the self are drowned out, as the eye is taken out of itself and constantly made to feed. We see the two largest jade Buddha’s in china, from Burma as it happens. We see a terrapin the size and shape of a car tyre, and I muse that if this were a park in Portsmouth, that would be a car tyre shaped like a terrapin. We share a moment of sadness, lighting incense for Milad.

Dave the elder convinces Dave the Younger that the Arhats (figurines depicting mystics) is pronounced Our Hats, which leads to much singing of  “Arhats in the middle of our temple” to the tune of Our House by Madness. I can’t make up my mind about the Arhats. There are undoubtedly a lot of them. Five hundred in fact. I come to the conclusion that they kind of get me in the same way as garden gnomes but bigger?

We stand by the temple as the monks chant, and just for a moment I realise that this sound, and this movement has occurred in this place for man many years. Can you time travel along a golden thought in a red shade?

To dilute the splendour we go to Pizza Hut. It brings us home nicely, playing us Stevie Wonder’s “You are the sunshine of my life” repeatedly ALL THE TIME WE ARE THERE, messing up the order repeatedly, and then serving crab stick on the fish pizza that probably comes from Grimsby. Ironically, though this is the worst food experience, it is almost one of the best for the “experiences” of it all. Yeah. I needed sleep.

Day Eight

We train. It hurts. We’re used to it.

But I had forgotten just how Chinese China could be. And am immediately reminded as we go to the Dog Boxing Village. See, I was worried by how much it might have changed since I was last there, but no, it rolls on with its chicken in cages, its actual coolie hats still being worn, its beautiful allotments in the heart of a town, and people still use every inch of the space they have, growing spring onions even on the curb outside their house.

So we go to the hall for all the dog boxing schools. And we meet the rest of the tribal elders. They all have that look. Small, leather hard happy faces, like over wintered apples, ripe with good humour. They all seem to wear navy blue sports gear, and waist length jackets, soft soled lace up shoes ready for action. They could be anybody’s father or grandfather. Except that they are quiet, but exceptionally dangerous men living in a small town quietly. They have outrun the worst of communism, seen regimes come and go, lived steadily, trained hard. We are joined by the mayor. There is flurry of impenetrable local dialect, and many photos.

 

We do our San Zhan, and Neil solos to the applause of those assembled, and then we admire the hall. It feels like a spiritual home of sorts; the smell of incense and damp like a church, its weapons so familiar, except for one particularly spikey beauty, called the Wolf Mace, which peaks my attention, given that I have been dreaming of being a wolf since I came to china. We walk through heat, dust and local attention to go to the Daoist temple at the top of the hill, and it is beautiful. Somehow for all its gorgeousness, and its Arhats, the temple of yesterday is beaten into second place by this strange, honest, folksy place, more raw in its intent. I find a dancing figurine done in turquoise sea green, who happens to be the god knowledge. Only in China could knowledge be a dancer. We see vast figurines of papier mache that are terrifying to behold, they remind me of voodoo gods in their elemental dark power, each scream with meaning. These are carried through the village in festivals. I imagine children screaming as they run from these.

Are-hats

Later, having zombied around Walmart, and found possibly the best bowl of fish noodles ever, I realise I can’t imagine a time when this wasn’t life. England seems the edge of dream.

Day Nine

The heat is thickening, so it is a relief to train outside with the ubiquitous carpet moved into a small courtyard of the monastery. We are joined by a man in full black mandarin suit. He looks impressive, but oddly there is not the usual photos and explanations. He is a taichi man, who sometimes trains in America. We apply ourselves, and discover today that there is a back flip in the pattern, or total fly through into v sit up position. Excellent!

It is a night of massage and relaxation. The boys end up looking like inmates of an institution in pyjamas that match the floral wall paper, and the girls fall asleep. I wake briefly to see Donny Yen on the screen, never a bad thing.

One-flew-over

We make it to the Pure Drop pub and are immensely pleased when they stop singing sad ballads and put on the Chilli Peppers instead, and I am even happier when they put on some roots reggae, but need rescuing from a drunken American lass by the boys shortly after a fight breaks out. It’s all good.

Day Ten

I am awakened by Ali “being quiet” in the room, which amount to her moving around with all of the stealth of a grand piano falling out of our eleventh storey window. I roll over and ignore her, she continues to do her patterns in the dark, and then goes and buys cake for breakfast, which after nine days of fish balls and greens is the best thing ever.

And then we climb a mountain.

Yup. Great hangover cure. Actually, getting up Drum Mountain is easy, there are thousands of well-cut steps, so well cut that we meet fashionable young ladies in high heels climbing it with their canto pop slender boyfriends, a charming octogenarian hill climbing man, and everybody else in between. Dave finds his next eight, of spades..and we finally make the top and visit the temple there. You have to wash your eyes by this time, by which I mean it would be very easy to say, oh, another temple. But we should be so damn lucky. And this one is after all a little special. Dave finds what he thinks is Da Moh there, and he certainly looks the part. Gnarly, older, tough, like a senior North London Hod carrier, they golden bloke in the box looks brick hard. Kind of just how you’d want him really.

There are many beautiful temple dogs, and if luck is to be believed, then the club is lucky, for if you move the stone ball in the mouth of the dog, you will have luck. So we all did that. Until we found the one that was clogged with dust and age. But of course we have a “Tactical Johnson” in our midst, who was immediately deployed, and yup, there’s one more ball rolling on that mountain now! No match, no match at all! Good for the club anniversary year, I’d say.

So, getting up is easy, takes an hour and a half, some lychees, some eggs, some water, and some thoroughly British idiocy. Getting down is hard…if you have vertigo. It takes taking lots of photos on your phone to stop yourself from screaming, as the world falls away from your feet in glorious swathes of blue and green mountain landscape, that though beautiful will certainly kill you if the precarious two person cable car you’re in plummets you to an ill-timed death. Least that’s what I was thinking. Ok, yes, I’m typing. We survived. Hell, it’s about challenging yourself after all.

Drum-Mountain-1

Temple-entrance-path

And it was worth surviving. For the banquet that night with the Lin family and Nong Hoi was amazing. We chomped our way through whelks, prawns razor clams, local miniature horseshoe crabs, pigeon egg and pigeon, abalone, boilable stomach lining  ( spot the odd one out in the delectable parade) lobster, fish, jelly fish, pork and moochi pudding. Opulence as an idea runs a poor second to our menu. It was amazing. As was the company. Ali and I were kept laughing all night by Xang Yao, Missus Lin informed us to our great pleasure that she is now studying dog boxing, and Liz addressed master Lin as Shiefu, which I think nearly made Neil fall off his chair. A brilliant evening.

Day Eleven

We trained at the inner city dog boxing sanctum. Top of the Shopping centre in down town. It’s an amazing place, that absolute archetype of proper back street martial splendour. It’s a high flat building top straight out of “The Walking Dead”, where people have left shop mannequins, old desks, heating equipment, air con systems, somebody even lives up there. Love it.

The training hall is a lovely intense little space full of Master Lin’s life in the art. The children were with us again, and Buttercup One does her San Zhan with her mother, supporting her mum all the way with the timings. Brilliant. Helene, Xiang Yao’s teacher does a really spirited San Zhan, which for a 67 year old woman who has shifted three stone, is a truly brilliant thing.

Dishu-hall

As is the meal that Master and Misses Lin cook for us for lunch that day. Of all the food we had this was by far the best, this “little simple family meal” as it was titled. Yeah, right. It was brilliant. Their living space too is something of a testimony of intent. A beautiful quiet simple space, with a few tastefully beautiful things in it, the thirty three storey flat with its goldfish in the peace lily bowl, its carved wood furniture, and homespun tapestry wall hangings makes a mockery of western so called Martial Arts masters with their business empires, status cars, jewellery, dogs and tattoos.

The show stopper turned out to be the marinade local fish, the tarot pudding, and the banana leaf dumpling pudding, which is so good I want one now! And the warmth of that family…defies description.

Thing of the day turns out to be Master Lin’s solid steel practice balls. Yup. As it sounds. They are hugely heavy, yet he rotates them in his hand as easy as marbles. Impossible man!

Solid-steel-balls

On the way home we somehow lost four hours of our life in a tea shop, where they liked us so much they insisted we had dinner, gave us a tea service and loads of tea, and made us sample eleven teas! Fabulous, wonderful people day.

Day Twelve

It’s a quieter day at apocalypse roof of doom. We are sharpening the whole pattern now, including its hand stand and back flip. The locking in it is amazing, Master Lin once again shows what he is made of by tying up both Da Shir Shong and Neil on the floor, and I find myself giggling irreverently at the fact that this man has a bus pass. Bless him, Da Shir Shong doesn’t get an easy ride, as today’s lock mainly seems to be about putting our feet around his throat. He is the soul of patience.

The major questions for the afternoon are “How cool is very cool Kung Fu shop?” and “How hard is Neil’s head?”

Very cool. Very hard

So Master Lin and Xiang Yao walk us through a proper Chinese market, and given that Ali has been a little peaky the last day, I can’t help that worry that she might not make it. Just take it one bag of guts at a time, Al, just keep on going past the dead things.

And then we make it. The owner is a friend of Master Lin’s. He opens up for us, and it is like a fairy grotto of all things good. I buy the mother of all broad swords, we get hand practice balls of stone, no steel ones sadly and Ali gets her sword. Dave buys deer antler knives. We all go home grinning like loonies until…. Walking through the streets we encounter a house that has a jutting out corner under which somebody as small as Ali would walk under, but somebody Neil’s size would into, particularly if he was talking to his Kung Fu Master at his side..

There was a sound of two hard things hitting. Which they did.

I have an image of the house collapsing later that night, because Neil was fine.

Day Thirteen

There’s a sadness to the training today. We ignore it by training our patterns, and I think I pulled off my best yet, which is always good on a last day. We did a lot of locking practice to keep ourselves going, and Dave did his best to kill Nong Hoi to keep our minds off things. Poor bloke, he flew through the air, and went straight into the wall. Dave still maintains he was diving like a Man United player.

At the end of the session, Master Lin and his family give us beautiful miniature folding screens that depict a goodwill ceremony conducted by famous Chinese poets by a river. Being a poet, I am somewhat breath taken by this. They are lovely, touching gifts.

We have our last banquet, which turns out to be mainly Cantonese, well, actually, it turns out to be mainly beer, as the toasts start early, and hard. Not much food gets eaten, but an awful lot of sentiment gets exchanged, as everybody toasts everybody else, and the love is very definitely shared.

We get home, via the Pure Drop, eventually…

Last Day

Is a whirl of last walks, and sad good byes. Master Lin hugs us all, and I find it unutterably moving and sad, and we speed for the airport, fly to another airport, are driven to an unexpected overnight stay in a free hotel, and then flown back to the UK.

Maste-Zai-Pei-Lin

Sometime later I crawl through the door of my Southampton home. “Well,” said Bilbo Baggins “I’m back.”

By Imogen Thomas.