Spring Break 2023-San Qing Shan, the Tao mountain

This was the highlight of the break and the whole reason that we came here. To visit the Tao mountain, San Qing Shan. San means three, Shan is mountain and Qing means pure or clean so the name translates to ‘3 pure peaks’.

Our group before setting off

The whole of the surrounding area was once a stronghold of Taoism with many villages and temples dotted around the mountain. Taoist philosophers came here to live and study giving the area its reputation. Even today there are many signs and symbols remaining and it is a great place for Taiji and reflection.

From the centre of the village at the foot of the mountains.
In the shopping centre
Outside the cable car station is a large replica of a ding, these are normally found outside temples where they are used to burn incense. This one has a ba Gua symbol on the side.

There are 2 cable cars going up the mountain but bad weather has closed the one we were supposed to take. It was too windy to run so we had to drive around to the other side to take the second cable car. This actually turned out to our advantage as it came out nearer to our hotel.

The bad weather didn’t deter us and we wrapped up and went for a walk. The weather made for some very dramatic and atmospheric scenery.

This feature is called a cloud ocean

We were walking above (or sometimes in) the clouds at 1800 meters above sea level. In China all mountain hiking is similar, you take a cable car up then you follow a concrete route around the tops. In many cases this involves multiple steps or stairs and this mountain is no exception.

It is no good for anyone with knee problems

It is all very safe with wide paths and strong barriers but you know that you are high with sheer drops when you are in the walkways.

We felt like the cast of Monkey King in the epic story ‘Journey to the West’

I actually felt very proud of myself. Practicing Taiji has improved my balance and reduced my vertigo. Even a year ago I wouldn’t have been happy going near the edge but here I am rocking it (& relaxed too)

I think that the dense cloud cover helped somewhat because I couldn’t see how high up we were. but even during the breaks in the cloud I was reasonably ok.

We saw many natural features that were symbolic of Taiji philosophy. For example

This rivulet looks like our meridians with the qi flowing through them from top to bottom.
This view has clouds in a zig zag pattern which is bigger at the top and gradually shrinks to small. This is like one of the moves at the end of our routine that we make with our hands
From my room I could see this rock shape which resembles a Taoist monk contemplating the moon

The path that we followed at 1800 meters was in fact the coastline not once in the history of the planet but three times. Geologists have found evidence of a shoreline millions of years old. It was humbling to feel how much the earth has changed and indeed will continue to change and to think that where we walked was once water.

We stopped to do some meditation

At the end of the trail was an ancient Taoist temple

I could just imagine the monks who climbed up the whole mountain doing their Taiji and meditation there amidst the spectacular scenery. We found lots of interesting old symbols…

And spent some time playing our Taiji routine.

Xiao P

Amazingly the qi felt very strong there and apparently it is to do with the type of granite rocks around us and the earth’s magnetic poles.

I learned such a lot. Even the bad weather showed me that things in life don’t always go to plan. I watched trees being buffeted in the gusts of wind and reflected that life can sometimes be pleasant, sunny and calm when we can blossom and bloom but sometimes life can be challenging with adversity and unexpected events, but like the tree branches in the storm we can be flexible, bend and be strong. We can flex and recover from whatever is thrown at us.

Spring Break 2023 – going potty for pottery

An early start today for a visit to Jing de Zheng, famous for its ceramics. In fact it is the only industry in town. In a secluded spot the porcelain production has survived war, conflict and revolution.

Fun fact: ceramics are called China in the west because the early traders would shout ‘China, China’ when showing off their wares, to indicate where the items came from but this was mistaken by the westerners to mean the name. So our best tea services became known as our ‘China’. It’s interesting how language develops.

Anyway, our morning was spent having fun making some pottery. It was ‘get your hands messy’ time.

I have to admit that I am not skilled at a potters wheel and my creation crashed and I had to be given more clay! Even then the teacher largely did mine.

A rare moment before the disaster happened

Leping and I did have a hilarious time though

It’ was an in joke

Shifu and Leping Re-enacted a bit of the scene from ghost

But only this

I managed to paint my vase by myself

Then it was off to hit the weekend ceramics market which was quite extensive.

Beautiful little teacups at about a pound a piece. Seconds but you have to look very hard to see the imperfection.
The design on this platter looks like qi circling in the universe

After lunch we visited China’s biggest China museum. Here we learned about the history of fine porcelains.

The earliest porcelains were all produced for the royal family and in the beginning they favored a simple plain style in a pure unadulterated color.

Later traders encountered the cultures from the Persian peninsula and were influenced by the geometric tiles in their mosques. This is the oldest Ming vase that has been found with its distinctive blue and white pattern. It is probably the most valuable item in the whole collection.

From the Forbidden City

These large pitchers were placed around the palace to collect rain water which was then kept to put out fires as all the buildings were made of wood. They all had the same dragon pattern on so this has been put together from different pitchers. Only the Emperors were allowed to use a dragon with 5 talons. These are the true dragons. Any beasts with 3 or 4 claws are only ‘bao’ or snakes

This piece has 4 animals on it representing the 4 points of the compass. It would have been placed in a tomb so that the spirit could find its way back.

A display of ancient chinese pillows. And I thought the beds here nowadays were hard!! This looks like torture.
From the Tang Dynasty

I got very excited to see this piece as it is from the Tang Dynasty, the era of my namesake Wu ZeTian. (Approx 600 AD)

Ancient room diffuser

They would burn scented oil inside the duck and the smoke would come out of the beak! Very ingenious when you remember that this was made in the 1450s!

The fish dish

There is a saying in China, ‘you are not a fish so how do you know that the fish is happy you cannot say that the fish is happy’ which I think is quite profound. We often make assumptions about others (not just fish) and treat them badly without compunction.

The stunning snow leopard

I wasn’t expected to be blown away by the items in the modern section but look carefully at this snow leopard. The spectacular finish was caused completely by accident. This piece was being fired in an electric kiln when there was a major power cut. The workers all thought that the items would be ruined. Instead the leopard emerged with this beautiful effect for his coat and has since become a prize winning piece.

Finally we went to the site of an ancient kiln and old ceramic factory which reminded me very much of the UK with the brickwork! I haven’t seen red bricks in China before.

Great for a group photos
And some contemplation

Another great day was had by all

This is our cool album cover

Spring Break 2023- HanXu caves

36 square kilometers of caves, ancient villages and ancient forests. It is filled with stone monsters, strange water and ink fragrances. This visit was an opportunity for Shifu to teach us some natural philosophy.

Notice the shape of the valley and the reflection on the water. In our life we see either the mountain or the reflection depending on your point of view. Both are beautiful.

The chambers in the cave were enormous, carved by thousands of years of cascading water. The rock walls were like the bones in our body and the spaces were like the meridians through which our energy (qi) flows. Both are essential.

In Taiji we aim to move like flowing water. The qi flows through us when we do the routine and when the energy is strong it feels as though your hand is meeting resistance, literally like moving through water. Water is essential to life. It is so innocuous in small quantities yet can be such a powerful and even destructive force in large quantities.

I wasn’t too keen on the fluorescent lighting which made it more of a theme park than a natural wonder but you have to take the rough with the smooth. It’s all part of life’s rich pattern.
The column formed when stalagmites and stalactites meet is like our spine forming the core of our body and our strength

This feature resembled a Ba Gua which is a focal point for meditation and you can see the terrace pools in the out rings which are like the flow of the energy rippling out from our meridian points

Visiting the caves made me appreciate the beauty of slowing down. Like the uneven floor from yesterday’s qi gong practice, you have a choice in life rush along and skim over the surface or slow down and appreciate the detail. It isn’t always easy but it is worth it.

At lunch we stayed in a tiny place just outside the caves where we were the second table and so we had to sit outside. The owner asked if we wanted chicken then went and killed one for us!!! I was given the opportunity to watch but didn’t fancy it. That has to be the freshest meat I have ever eaten!!!

The afternoon saw us meandering back and visiting an old covered bridge and a huge camphor tree.

This style of bridge is popular in China
Doing Taiji has improved my balance massively and I felt fine doing the stones across the river. It wasn’t that long ago when I would have given this a miss
This camphor tree is 1600 years old. An Emperor escaping his enemies hid in it and do it is seen as having special blessings.

In China if you walk under an old Camphor tree they say you will live to your 90s. If you touch one you will live to be 100.

Look at us. I reckon we will be immortal now! Lol
One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Feeling zen.
A great action picture. Good shot XiaoMa

Spring break 2023 – it’s all about the Taiji

Our accommodation on this trip has to be the most stunning place that I have ever stayed in. (Thanks go to Leping for finding it). Way off the beaten track in an old village we are staying in a 200 year old guest house.

Given that most houses in ancient China were constructed from wood very few have survived both fires and the cultural revolution. This is a real gem.

You cannot get there by car. Instead we walked over planks across a stream, down cobbled streets and over a huge threshold. Our luggage had to go separately by a little cart.

The rickety bridge

This house received a special mention from the Emperor because they had 7 generations under this roof in 1842. There were 100 people plus servants living here. This is quite an achievement.

The congratulatory plaque written by the Emperor

Littered with little alcoves that make relaxing tea ceremony places and unique outdoor courtyard spaces, this place is very calming. Just what the souls needs after a busy stressful start to the year.

The whole house is made from natural materials and there are no televisions in the rooms (wifi is slow.) This is a place to get away from the world and find some inner peace.

Immediately you come in there is a central courtyard. Open to the sky at the top cooling air circulates naturally. Birds fly in and out and it was the perfect place for our early morning Qi Gong training.

We exercised to the sound of the cock crowing and breathed air tinged with sweet scented wood smoke as the kitchens fired up.

There is so much symbolism in this house. Full of delightful books and crannies there is always something unexpected around the next corner. Every room is different just like the Tao (universe) and there are pros and cons in each space.

My room

My room for instance has no outside window, only a skylight. I got a chair and not a sofa but the woodwork is exquisite. Like life where we have to accept what we are given and make the best of it. Round the next corner of our lives unexpected surprises are waiting.

This morning I practiced Xing Yi, some walking exercises based on the 5 elements.

The stone flags of this inner courtyard are worn and uneven so sometimes when I balance on one leg I was very strong and stable but other times I wobbled and had to work hard to steady myself. Just like our journey through this life.