Training Day 1 – 27th Oct
A repeat of yesterday’s breakfast to start off the day of our second day’s stay at the Yong Chun hotel. Boiled eggs, selection of vegetables, boiled nuts, man tao buns, soya milk and congee (going down faster now due to last nights lesson of the correct slurping technique). Special thanks to The Italiana for providing the coffee once again. With our energy restored after the birthday celebrations of the previous day we left for our first training session with Mr Su.
It was the first time training with Mr Su for some while the others practiced previously learnt patterns. As we trained under a fairly strong sun protected by a shade from the trees that ran alongside the small courtyard on the riverside, Mr Su looked on and corrected, throwing in the occasional references to Woody and Pinnocchio and ballet dancers rather than expressive kung fu stylists.
Mr Su’s daughter helped with correcting those learning their first Yong Chun pattern while Mrs Su brought welcome tea and oranges for training support.
12 noon called for lunch at the hotel.
Plum soaked chick peas and tiny dried shrimps to start. Pigs trotters followed, alongside two dumpling soups including one with melon, thinly sliced potato with vegetables, dried fish and tomato omelette to name but a few.
To finish, a refreshing fruit platter was served. Meanwhile discussions about post- pregnancy recovery and nutrition, and stories from historical warlords accompanied our munching (nothing too heavy then) as well as an impromptu Chinese lesson featuring such favourites as how to say ‘execute’ and ‘no substance, no flavour’ much to the delight of the waitress standing in the corner. With the latter referring to our patterns rather than the food! An afternoon rest filled the time between lunch and our next session with Mr Su.
At 3pm we were back in the courtyard with tea and special snacks mid training. Special snacks of the hardened-garlic-bread-coated-in-sugar kind. Who knew garlic and sugar went so well together? They provided a tasty distraction, however the training must continue and as the sun began to fade at 5pm, a solitary bat briefly made it’s appearance – perhaps wondering what a group of stiff westerners were doing dancing around in a courtyard.
The dried shrimps and peanuts started off the meal, soon to be followed by veal skin, pork with vegetables, noodles, marinated fried chicken, crab, fried dumplings (similar to gyoza), fish in a spicy white sauce, more delicious greens and chicken and sweet corn soup, all finished off with watermelon and grapes.
Discussion varied from the reflective, to the informative and finishing with light hearted banter once again. Perfect end to another hearty meal. With an evening to spare, some accepted the invite of tea at Su’s place while others decided to retire for the evening. Let’s see what a second day’s training will bring!
Training Day 2 – 28th Oct
Breakfast was pretty much the same as before, with the addition of soft cake-like slices that went well with coffee. So not much more to report! Once all fed and watered we made our way to Mr Su’s.
Thankfully there was a gentle cool breeze today which made the unexpected heat at this time of year more pleasant. After warm ups it was straight into the Yong Chun staff for some, and for the first timers, the continuation of first pattern, which Mr Su declared was to be learnt by the end of the day!
This news would surely keep the ones asking ‘can we learn the next bit’ at various intervals happy for a while. It’s interesting to note that the phrase ‘lower, lower!’ is also popular with Mr Su, what a coincidence! Mr Su very kindly provided us with tea once again and soon the morning slipped away and it was time for lunchtime.
Apparently the meals at the hotel have been very ‘safe’, and not quite yet pushing the palate boundaries of our group. A request was put in for ‘the weird and wonderful’ so it will be interesting to see how dinner turns out this evening! So back to lunch, this time featuring belt fish which is slightly challenging to be eaten gracefully (or so I found), pigs trotters, sweet pork with mangetout, seaweed and oysters minced together in a ball, fish balls, and spicy pork.
To the sounds of traditional Chinese drums coming from a parade across the river we carried on with our training. Not only did we have the teaching of Mr Su and his daughter, but two of Mr Su’s students came to help out, so there was a lot more correcting to go round and as we got more confident, there was more shouting in patterns this afternoon too!
Perhaps our vocal chords had been soothed by the cold wheat tea and brown sugar bread that was served during a break. As the afternoon drew to a close it was time to finish up and head back to the hotel for an expected weird and wonderful dinner.
Weird and wonderful you could say, depending on what you are used to…anyway it was certainly different. First dish out was jellyfish served within a wall of cucumber set out in the shape of a heart, tender lamb thinly sliced and served with a bone (not one The Boy Wonder had gotten his hands on mind you), mushrooms, steamed buns with pork on the side (sort of like a reverse char siu bao), rabbit with tofu cooked in dried oysters, spicy fried fish served with bean sprouts, duck in blood soup and noodles as a side dish. Stories of parenting were exchanged and a confession of watching kung fu movies for their ornate Chinese furniture was made by one. The end to another day in Yong Chun.
Training Day 3 – 29th Oct
Having bid a fond farewell to Instructor Danil the previous night, the following morning started unremarkably. A light breakfast led into the the morning’s training, and as ever we arrived at the training yard to find Mr Su ready and waiting.
No weapons practice today, but new patterns! And a new snack: “savoury eccles cakes with oil and chilli”. Tasty.
Further progress on mastering the Chinese language continues for some of the group, with a new phrase entering the collective consciousness – “it’s hot”. 31 degrees and humid since you ask.
Training has taken on a more intensive edge with a few of Mr Su’s students helping out. This was briefly interrupted by the local photographer who yet again has lost his negatives from our previous trip. Much posing and impressively synchronised shouting ensued, some even from us.
New audience members today, of particular note was the small child in traditional dress and most excellent squeaky shoes.
Something of a first for this trip was late night training. An excellent dinner first (egg custard with abalone, rice cakes and nugget things – all tasty naturally), then an extra intense hour under the neon lighting of Yongchun. This drew a sizeable audience, including a small but well armed child. He seemed impressed, so no injuries to report.
Training Day 4 – 30th Oct
Yongchun day 3. Breakfast as usual.
Training! The traditional warm up routine was enlivened by comparison amongst some members of the group as to who’s lens had the biggest extension. More staff and patterns training, people seem to be getting the hang of things now.
Snacks today consisted of a garlic/vinegar/mud worm dish, best described as “good for your healthy”, cake and sweet potato.
Mr Su was unimpressed with certain group members thrusting abilities, so an animated discussion on penetration techniques ensued. A brief sojourn into a parallel universe occurred in the afternoon when a member of the group was told their stance was too low! Reality was restored soon after however and training continued on.
Food highlights (apart from the mud worms) included: tasty liver and green beans, tasty pink soup and tasty goat. The Cookie Monster was unleashed to appease the cook, otherwise we risked her disapproval for not finishing all of the food. That crisis averted, we should be all fine for tomorrow.
A post-prandial trip to the local tea shops met with mild disapproval, clearly our palates have been spoilt by Mr Su’s fine training tea.
Our last day tomorrow, but it promises to be a long one.
The Final Day – 31st Oct
As you’ll know if you’ve travelled on a long trip there comes a certain point when thoughts turn increasingly to the things that you are missing about home. After three casual references to bacon over this morning’s bowls of congee — one included a bap, another sausages, eggs and beans, and the third went the whole hog and added black pudding — I knew that on this trip, that time had arrived.
It wasn’t that anyone was homesick or desperate to leave China; we still had a full day of training ahead of us, some last minute shopping to do, and two more of the incredible meals that we’d started to take for granted at our regular restaurant. But there was definitely an ‘end of term’ atmosphere about breakfast, and during the usual stroll to Mr Su’s training area.
As usual Mr Su was already in his yard, with tea ready, and waiting for us. And as usual, after a very brief warm-up everyone was soon engrossed in practising whatever patterns they had been taught by the Su family and their senior students. On the surface the whole atmosphere of training in Yongchun is very casual: in one corner a couple of students might work together to perfect a certain move; in another area a larger group might take it in turns to perform their pattern whilst the others watch and comment; and all the time Mr Su will point here, comment there — whilst his son, daughter or senior students move our feet, align our hips, and adjust our hands.
But whilst it is certainly an informal way to train, there is no mistaking the level of concentration and effort going into the practice around the Su’s yard. There is probably nothing quite as challenging as trying to learn a pattern that is very close to patterns you already know, from a style that is almost — but not quite — the same as the one you have trained in for years. But here is the thing; somehow your brain thinks about both the new style you are learning, and the style you already know, and compares them as you work.
There is no doubt that this kind of training stretches you and benefits your ‘primary’ style, and it’s an experience I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t yet been to China to train.
Pringles, chocolate and roast dinners
But although work levels were high, this was, as I said, our last day — and of course thoughts now and again stray to ‘home’. Which meant for example, that a simple trip to the supermarket to buy a specific local vinegar (not dissimilar to Balsamic, and a feature of many local dishes) somehow also yielded Pringles and chocolate bars, items that really had not been mentioned up until this final day.
Lunch yielded more of the same; amongst the many and varied dishes a particular bowl containing roast potatoes, small pieces of beef, and a thick, unctuous gravy was quickly devoured after being likened to ‘a roast dinner in a bowl’.
None of which was enough to distract from the afternoon’s training which featured an afternoon snack of pomelo and chestnut dumplings, and an excellent display of a two-person staff pattern by two of Mr Su’s senior students. Which brings us to our final dinner.
The Last Dinner
The food on this trip has genuinely been incredible. During the week, the restaurant next to our hotel has gone out of its way to provide new and tasty examples of local cuisine. The flavours in these dishes tend to be fairly clean and distinct, and will be much more varied than you are used to from your local takeaway. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that out of 6 lunches and 6 dinners, each of which had at least 7 or 8 main dishes, there was only a couple that would have been recognisable and on your local takeaway’s menu.
One more for the camera
You’ll no doubt now be expecting that with dinner out of the way the last day is over; our cases are surely packed and now we’re just waiting for our bus to the airport. But this is China, and the one thing that you can count on is that anything can happen (and at any time).
So within 15 minutes of finishing dinner our entire group were squeezing into Mr Su’s living room so that the photographer from the local newspaper could snap one more picture of the group, Dennis Ngo, Mr Su, and the plaque that Dennis had presented to Mr Su for his 70th birthday. But whilst this time-consuming trip raised a few groans — after all we’d posed only yesterday for the same photographer, on the bridge and in the square — there was an unexpected bonus as we discovered 20 or so kids training with Mr Su’s daughter in the yard that we’d been in, only a few hours earlier.
After half an hour of watching the enthusiastic youngsters train their patterns, snapping a few photographs, and saying our goodbyes once again, it really was finally time to go.
Now all that was left was to work out how to fit vinegar, baiju, and tea into our suitcases; after all, once you’re home and had that bacon sandwich, your thoughts will soon turn back to China.