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Burnt Out and my New Reputation

CHINA | Thursday, 19 April 2012 | Views [632] | Comments [1]

A couple of weeks ago a lovely young German couple arrived for what is their third visit to Chen Jia Gou.  I was chatting with the guy, Robin, and he told me that on his first visit he practiced intensely for two weeks then realised he had ‘burnt out’ and needed to slow down.  I must be a very suggestible person because immediately I started thinking; I’ve been here for four months doing nothing except practice tai chi.  Am I burnt out too?  And as soon as I had that thought, I decided I was!

As much as I love tai chi, I suddenly felt that it would be nice to do something else.  I started missing my favourite EFL grammar points (yes, that is alarming!) and playing the piano.  Me and Robin had conversations about how being here actually makes your body feel stiffer, how we dislike running at 6.20am, and how nice pancakes with Nutella would be (his idea, not mine).   Running in the morning makes a surprisingly big difference to how tired I feel.  By the end of the week, my feet are tired, my legs hurt and my back has a new sore bit.  In short, by Sunday evening I’m knackered.     

Two weeks ago a group of us started learning a straight sword form. It’s a beautiful form when it’s done well and the postures have wonderfully poetic names like 'Immortal Points the Way' and 'Ancient Tree Wraps Roots'.  Sha Wei taught us, and although he is a lovely person, I find it hard to understand what he says.  We raced through the entire form of 49 postures in six days so we could finish it before two of the students left.  It was an intense experience!  Imagine learning something physically very complicated in a language where you don’t understand most of the words.  You have to listen really hard to catch a word you know while watching everything like a hawk, making your own mental commentary so that you have something to hold onto when you practice.  And Sha Wei doesn’t break things into little pieces like Yan Fei but often gives three postures at the same time, all demonstrated very quickly.  So although physically it was a bit of a rest because I spent a lot of time watching and therefore less time moving, mentally it was much harder work, and by the end of the week my brain had had enough.

And it wasn’t just tai chi that I suddenly needed a break from, it was China in general.  I am fed up with Chinese breakfasts, especially when they come after an hour’s training.  Lettuce and tofu just doesn’t do it for me.  I’ve also had enough of random strangers touching my hair and asking me if I wash or brush it, and I’m feeling frustrated by how painfully slowly I’m managing to pick up some language.  I went through a phase when it seemed to be progressing okay, now it seems to have ground to a total stop and I still feel I can’t communicate what I want.  I also started to feel trapped by the routine.  Every day is the same: get up, train, eat, train, eat, sleep, train, eat, train, watch TV, sleep.  I know this is true of life in general, but here the days are long and you only have Monday to break out of your normal existence, and even then your options are limited.  I started to miss the sea or going for walks on the Downs and being able to get away from everything for a few hours.     

On Sunday night Grandmaster Chen took us four foreign students out for dinner, though I do wonder if the dinner was an excuse for getting pissed.  His wife, son, daughter, two baby grandsons and a brother also came.  It was a very lovely thing to do, and the food was really good, there was even something similar to roast beef!  However, it seems that over New Year I acquired a reputation for being able to drink a lot of alcohol, and unfortunately on Sunday I enhanced that reputation further.  The Chinese, as you may know, are very fond of strong spirits.  There are lots of different ones in terms of taste and coloured bottles, but the common characteristic is that they’re all lethal.  It’s the kind of alcohol that catches you unawares; you feel fine for ages and then suddenly are completely and alarmingly pissed.  You go from sober straight to intoxicated completely bypassing the merry stage.  I did everything you’re supposed to when you’re drinking – lots of water, lots of food – but it wasn’t up to me how much I drank; my glass kept on being refilled and people kept saying ‘gambe!’ and as you can imagine, I was in a sorry state by the time I got back to my room.

Starting the week on a morning-after-the-night-before is never fun.  I missed the run, and after breakfast while I was attempting to stretch my stiff and exhausted body, Grandmaster Chen came up to me with a beaming smile and asked if I have a headache.  I didn’t, but only because I was very sick before falling into bed.  The Chinese-language section of my brain was especially slow that morning, but I gathered that he was extremely happy, bordering on proud, that I can drink so much.  This is a reputation I could do without as it will undoubtedly lead to another drinking session at some point, but I think it’s too late now to do anything about it.  My reputation goes before me.



Good work Sarah! Great blog!

  Sam Apr 26, 2012 5:08 PM



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