China is a place I’d always wanted to go. I am glad I visited, but would I want to return? Likely not, due in part to the level of pulmonary distress I experienced by the end of a month of travel there. And this was almost ten years ago. In places the coal soot covered everything and the day never really dawned. Not the best atmosphere to practice deep breathing and Qi Gong, which was part of my reason for being there.
I feel that I had the rare opportunity to view perhaps the last of the real remaining China, which required an entire two days train ride into the interior. Let me tell you, you don’t know “nasty” until you finally have to pee on a Chinese train, 17 hours in….
Traveling in the Chinese countryside was a gift and a conundrum at every turn. For instance, finally making it to the Great Wall at Badaling in the Yanqing District….and finding a brand new Starbucks right there. Then the further humiliation of making a beeline to it for a double Cappuccino because we were oh so tired of green tea. Finding out your Chinese Chi Gong master was a former Communist general and liked plum wine just a little too much! Or driving to see a Beijing Hutong district just as it was being torn down to make way for progress. The classic Peking duck dinner that followed, however, did not disappoint. Served on the traditional lazy Susan round table, it was everything I’d hoped it would be, with a million condiments and super crispy duck skin.
Sunday morning Dim Sum? Amazing. Chrysanthemums blooming in your teapot, of course! Seeing an enormous snake sunning on a rock way up in the mountains? I’ll never forget it’s majesty understanding what a rarity this was. Being in a truly remote place to forest bathe and meditate, by a waterfall? Picture perfect, unforgettable. How can I forget our stay at a Communist “Luxury” Hotel with a very funny buffet. The food in its chafing dishes had labels like, FRIES THE BEAN GREEN right next to the CHICKEN STOMACHS and STINKY TOFU.
Then there was the pearl market, where I got conned into believing river pearls were deep sea pearls (Oh, you have such good taste Mrs. Cabot!) and the apothecaries that were truly varied and impressive. Ditto the spice markets. We took tea and had lessons in tea ceremony with Monks. Viewed ancient prayer trees covered in red ribbons and tree peonies the likes which I’d never imagined. We climbed a million steps to temples in the sky. And unforgettably were allowed access to a very rare, ancient monastery where I sat in meditation. No Westerner had ever been there. I made an offering, asked for illumination and heard all the sorrows of the world. This was an experience so moving, so real and so unexpected that I sat cross-legged in that cave in silence and cried for a long, long time. I emerged a wiser and more compassionate person. China was good to me.