From the Other Side of the World

On the 2009 Chinese Middle Kingdom Tour my respected colleagues Helen and James Jay, experts on Feng Shui, escorted me. They have traveled extensively throughout many countries including China for many years, so this trip was referred to as “20- something,” although they admitted each experience is unique. China offers much to the Feng Shui student who, with the turn of a head in any direction, can observe exquisitely detailed designs created in the architecture, buildings and gardens. Using the 5 Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water through color, shape, smell and taste is to understand this ancient concept. Mountains, rivers, walkways and temples reflect Heaven and Earth. I had originally planned to take some of my students to this land of mystery, but opted out when I found the Jays where taking a group a few months later. I decided to shift my plans and travel with them. That way, they had to handle all the hard stuff and I could relax and enjoy the trip. This was a perfect decision on my part, as I watched them do what they do best. We benefited by their knowledge of the country, introducing us to “out-of-the-way” mystical places which tourists rarely find. Enjoy this quick debriefing about my latest journey to Asia…


I’m just home from China tired but happy. This was my third trip to Asia. It was a luscious three weeks, and I have lots of stories to share and some to save and keep close to my heart. We went back to some of the temples I had visited before and burned incense at the Yong He Gong (Lama Temple) in Beijing and the Medicine Buddha Temple (Lin Ying) near Hangzhou, acknowledging my return to this country and having the ability to be one with the people during this visit. Many visitors now flock to China, isolated in huge buses, stopping only where their travel agents want them to spend money. The tourist traps are many, going from one location to another, people filing in and out like cattle on a truck. I find humbling yourself to the rules of a foreign country and blending in as much as possible works best for me. I learn a few words and lots of sign language, and we both get a good laugh from my antics! People are people most anywhere, and when you find that connection, the rest comes easily. I tend to wander off from the group to find China, and get lost on mountains and in cities. Bowing is a good thing when all else fails, so I found myself bowing a lot!

There were many new experiences this trip, some surreal, while others gave the sense that all humans are related and the world is not that big. Families are families with the same wants and desires. The devotion to children is global, and the quickest way to warm the hearts of strangers is to smile at their children and wave a lot. Wide-eyed babies stared at our Western eyes and curly hair. Cute split pants with little pink bottoms peeking out, as natural as sunshine, continue to be used instead of diapers, a quick solution to baby’s potty break and help with the world’s land fills. Chinese families on National Holiday requested photographs with us, positioning their one and only child prominently “center stage” with the strange-looking foreigners. Bonding was instant when children smiled and pointed at our strange skin, overly tall women, blonde hair, blue eyes and strange clothing.

Just as the mountain peaks held mystic magic, cities swarmed with new construction and modern technology to the max. Old neighborhoods were being torn down at a rapid rate, guaranteeing three or four living generations a new sky-high-rise apartment and running water, as generations leave the old way of life behind. In Beijing, the Hutong District is next in line to be removed. We were told, “If you want to visit this unique Chinese way of living, you must plan to come soon, because it will be torn down. It is too hard and not sanitary to live in this place.” Mixed feelings come to the surface. “Who will question and protect young girls from strange boyfriends coming down the dusty road but our neighbors?” the old people ask when strangers come into their streets. “What is your name, who are your people, your clothes are not nice enough, you should be ashamed to come into our place to find a girlfriend. Get out!” they may say. Protecting their families from strangers and expecting only the best, they guard each other in the district. Many who live here have rarely traveled a mile or two from home.

Shanghai (pronounced Shonghai) and Beijing are huge cities, but are as different as night and day. Beijing feels like the earth itself, while Shanghai bubbles and blinks day and night. The Fire of lights and nightly fireworks is exciting, but after four days in this city, I was glad to find rest at the hotel. I dined at the top of the revolving sky dome and stood in line at a Hagen Daws for 20 minutes to sample a scoop of mango delight, and had noodle soup in the slums with a friend all in one day. Not one word of English was understood. Pointing or walking across a crowed room to show what is needed is the best way. We certainly entertained the locals, made memories and lived to tell about it. What could be more exciting? The night markets offers everything from meat on sticks to hot boiling soups and tea, antiques and junk. Massages are gifts from the Gods, very affordable. I indulged often to sooth my swollen feet.

Swarms of bodies move through the streets in Shanghai like a never-ending huge river, weaving in, out, back and forth. The sound of voices from thousands of people resembled a loud, high pitch of a bee swarm. I continued to look upward toward the never-ending skyscrapers guiding me toward my hotel or a familiar herbal pharmacy. After getting lost and separated from my colleagues on my first China trip, I decided to carry a local cell phone, but it didn’t always work. I learned quickly to go with the flow and memorize the designs of the building tops. Each mammoth building had its own style and Feng Shui lines. Beijing’s freeways, although very exciting, gave way to mile after mile of square Earth-shaped buildings. People dressed conservatively, reflecting the seriousness of the ancient city. The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Confusion Temple, Great Wall and Summer Place brought back memories of my last trip to this place, and the many beautiful gardens held secrets from the past. I flew in a few days early before the tour began to experience Beijing’s famous subways, shopping, food and people, and to revisit favorite places.

Adventures continued as our Feng Shui group tour went south and deeper into the sacred mountains of Jiuhuashan via a flight to Nanjing. Surprises became the norm, such as being invited into the private quarters of a monastery, sitting on a monk’s bed in his very sparse room, and conversing mostly sign language with this devoted soul. While others of the group climbed to the very top of the mountain, I stayed behind with Helen and James to be part of this rare experience. A single light bulb hung from a cord in a dark small room, maybe 8′ x 12′, while little billows of clouds drifted through the ornate opened window and a laptop set on top of a dingy little table. More later.

To be flexible is to be rewarded. Each day I asked the powers that be, “Allow me to be in the right place at the right time,” and it was amazing to see what happened. Letting go of the outcome and following the Chi was golden. I was usually alone when answers to old questions paid me a visit. It seems getting away from our normal routines, and busy lives, our Chi changes with the land of sky of a place. Many spiritual doors opened while being “lost” or climbing on ancient steps to high temples in the drizzling mist. With each step, I left behind old ideas, old habits and old thinking. The layers fell away easily in the mountain air. Then stillness spoke of my new beginnings.

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