On Friday, it got cold again! And windy! The temperature dropped at least ten degrees Fahrenheit throughout the work day. it was refreshing. Kites are very popular here. I imagine there were a lot of people in Ji Hua Park (the one across from the Walmart that I took pics of) with kites in hand. Even on still days they try to fly them.
My co-worker Michael decided to pursue gongfu (that’s kung fu to you) while living in Foshan. Foshan is famous in China for its martial arts and gongfu in particular. Both Yip Man and his student Bruce Lee were from Foshan, as well as countless other masters and grandmasters. It took him almost eight months to muster up the courage, but Michael’s finally going for it because he realizes that he’ll be leaving before long (the other teachers started in the beginning of September when the school year started) and doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn from the experts. Another co-worker of mine named BJ actually met a grandmaster of gongfu his first day in Foshan at a famous Daoist temple in town. BJ’s been seeing this guy–Liang is his name, by the way–several times a week since then for physical therapy and to hang out (even though neither one of them speaks a lick of each other’s language). With the help of one of the Chinese teachers, BJ set up a date for Michael to meet Liang at the temple where he teaches gongfu for an introductory lesson. The agreed upon time was Friday night at 8pm. I don’t know how it happened, but almost everyone in the office ended up accompanying Michael to his first lesson. That made an entourage of six people: Five girls and BJ.
I didn’t go with any expectations, but I wasn’t prepared for what I ultimately experienced. We took a couple taxis to a drop-off point where a van from the gongfu school was waiting for us. The van took us on a short trip behind some buildings and down a few alleyways and then…I heard drums. And then…I saw two rows of kids in the street practicing basics, shouting and punching and squatting and kicking. THEN, I saw the temple. I didn’t know beforehand that the lessons would be in a temple. I must have missed that detail in the office conversations. I would never have known it was there, tucked away in an alley.
The temple was divided into several different rooms on different levels that are all open to each other. The sky could be seen in the gaps between the roofs of different heights. Each room was filled with focused and busy students. Most of them were practicing on their own accord. Liang met us at the door and led us into a small room on the side of the temple, the only one that wasn’t open to the rest. This room had been turned into a small museum. A teacher of the school told us an extensive history of the temple, its founders, and gongfu, and showed us weapons behind glass that had been donated to the school by the families of late gongfu grandmasters. The temple is over 300 years old!
After almost a half hour, the history lesson ended and we were escorted to the middle of the temple to witness many demonstrations of skill by the school’s best students and in-house masters of the art. Liang’s son has taken over the main teaching duties of the school now and is a gongfu master himself, of course. (He’s also a dragon dance champion, I was told. I hope to see him perform sometime in the future.) He started off the series of demonstrations. After him came long swords, short swords, staffs, spears, and shields. It was remarkable. What a welcome!
Finally, Michael’s lesson began and the rest of us hung out and spoke with some of the other students.
After gongfu, Michael, Renae, and I went in search of some grub. First, we picked up some Chinese waffles on the street (I got a coconut flavored one). They were basically what you’re imagining, but with a different design imprinted on them. Imagine bubble wrap with bubbles and inch in diameter. That was it. For the real meal, we went to a family-owned restaurant that serves this beer-duck dish that Michael and Renae love. It’s called beer-duck because the duck is chopped up with vegetables and served on a plate with an upside-down glass of beer in the middle of it. You’re supposed to lift the glass slowly to let the beer seep into the duck and vegetable mix. They were out of beer at that time (they stayed open late just for us) so we didn’t get the fancy beer glass in the middle of the dish, but they went next door and bought us bottles of beer instead. We also ordered a dish of noodles and a dish of soybeans. All three were delicious. We had plenty of left-overs.
I learned that night that the Cantonese traditionally wash their utensils and bowls in green tea. Our bowls and utensils were presented to us in plastic wrap as proof of their cleanliness, but nobody trusts the dishwashers here, so it’s custom to wash in addition. Sure enough, there was a large bowl and a pot of tea on our table for washing. That delighted me so.
Everyone, I’m so sorry, but I did not take pictures.