"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tai Chi

Years ago, during my 6-months-long backpacking trip throughout South East Asia, I arrived one morning at the train station in Hanoi, after an overnight journey from the northern hilly region of Pho-Lu, and Sapa. It was to be my last day in Vietnam, after almost two glorious months, and I was flying back to Bangkok, on the tail end of a trip that would still take me to the Philippines, Hong Kong, and then back home to France just on time to celebrate my 30th birthday AND my sister's wedding.

I remember vividly walking the streets of Hanoi in the first light of the day, taking in the sights and smells of the city, and feeling so sad that I had to leave. I LOVED Vietnam. Anyway, I had a few hours to kill before I could retrieve my backpack from the guest house where I'd left it in order to travel lighter for a few days, and I went to sit by the Hoan Kiem lake in the center of Hanoi, and wrote in my journal. 

All around me, Vietnamese people walked or ran, did Tai Chi or played badminton, and some came up to me to exchange a few words in French (I don't mean to diminish any of the evils of our colonialist past, there or elsewhere in the world, but neither can I lie and pretend that I was not immensely touched by the kindness and enthusiasm of people, especially old ones, whenever they found out that I came from France. The country was just opening itself to tourism, since the war, and Americans were still to lift their embargo, so it was all very new and exciting for them, I think - and even more for those traveling there at the time, as we were always welcomed with great warmth and joy, wherever we went.) 

I just found my travel journal in the pile of old diaries that I carry around, looked for the entry of that morning, and found this anecdote that I had totally forgotten. 

I was sitting by the lake, on a bench, pealing an orange, when this man with hair sticking all over his head walked by, pushing his bicycle. "You are going to eat an orange," he cried out to me, in French. "Oui," said I. "Bonne journée, chère camarade," he added, then corrected himself. "Bonne journée, chère amie. ("Have a good day, dear camarade... Have a good day, dear friend.") How could I forget? 

Anyway, I do remember looking at all the men and women in that misty morning, alone or in groups, facing the lake with its lovely Tortoise Tower, and thinking I'd love to try Tai Chi, some day. It's taken 16 years, almost to the day (this was May 1993, and I took my first Tai Chi class on May 25 !) for me to act on that wish. It's early to say, but I'm really enjoying it, so far.

I've always had some difficulty with yoga. I've tried, and tried, and felt pretty silly to be living here, in the land of yoga, and to not use that opportunity. I have taken classes. Quite a number of them, with different teachers. But more than anything else, it always felt like a chore. Once I was doing it, it was OK. And I could definitely feel the benefits. But it was never something I looked forward to.

Tai Chi, on the other hand, has a flowing, dancing quality that appeals to me. So, I'm giving it a try. And I know : who else would come to India, and end up saying : "this is where I started Tai Chi." Oh well, the people in my class seem very passionate about it, and they are all Indian, so why not?

And as writing this post has made me jump back in time, I'm going to post a few pictures I took in Hanoi. Just because. 


Uma Krishnaswami said...

Your learning tai chi in India is no more strange than my learning it in New Mexico, Katia. I used to practice yoga fairly diligently. Then a frozen shoulder leading to tendinitis leading to rotator cuff problems not only made me not unable only to do yoga but practically unable to get out of bed! Tai chi saved me from painful surgery and its repercussions, and I am so grateful. Plus I'm a sucker for the names of the steps: embrace tiger...return to mountain...part the wild horse's mane. Wow.

Uma Krishnaswami said...

a few too many nots but you know what I mean

Katia said...

Yes, Uma, I know what you mean, and I also love these names... White crane spreads its wings.. Hands strumming the lute... So poetic ! I read somewhere that Form 3 is called grasping the bird's tail, but in India, they call it grasping the peacok's tail. ;)

Marjorie said...

I've enjoyed reading about your magical morning in Hanoi... Thank you for evoking it so - those passing encounters can really make a trip, can't they?

Katia said...

Hello Marjorie, and thanks for your comment. Yes, these passing encounters are magic. I was amazed at the rush of emotions I felt, when I read these notes. I had forgotten all about it, and yet, when reminded of it, I remembered every second, as if the whole scene was just sleeping quietly in some remote corner of my memory.