March 24 & 25. I know I could stay here for 30 years and still not know everything about Kong Fu, the monk lifestyle, and the monastery itself. There is a plethora of knowledge to be gained here. It is so vast that sometimes I need to stop and calm the violent currents of information buzzing in my head. Learning Kong Fu is more about increasing and maintaining your balance than increasing your fighting skills. Although I’m sure it does help in self-defense, I doubt that if you displayed the different forms of Kong Fu in front of an opponent that he would be running away in fear by the end of the routine. During my last full day of lessons I gave it my all and pushed my muscles and strength to the limit, which seemed to impress the master, but it also made me thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day. I fell asleep at 7:30 that night, intending to take a well-earned nap, but instead I slipped into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next day I was forced to take Tylenol in order to cope with the pain of walking. I had never felt more worn out in my life. I started the morning run early, intent on regaining some of the energy needed to get me through the half-day of Kong Fu. I chose a smaller rock than I ever had, now trying to preserve the energy I had just gained. When I arrived back at the temple I practiced every position I had been taught so far. By the time I had finished my routines, Master had come back from his run and he was ready to teach me additional steps in Kong Fu.
Then came the blissful sound of our cook banging on the breakfast bell. I was delighted to see the layout of the enormous sweet dumplings when I walked through the dining room door. I concentrated on nothing but eating my way through 5 of the heavenly treats. Afterwards, I slumped back upstairs and massaged my legs before the next round of exercise.
The next 2 hours of stretching went by in a hazy blur. I only remember following exactly what everyone else was doing. Wasting energy to even think would have been detrimental to my stretching, and Master must have guessed as much because he ended today’s session earlier. We had an hour to spare before lunch. I amused myself by playing with the kids on the outside exercise ground. There, we climbed trees and hung upside down from their pull-up bars. At one point they made a small ramp, where they would launch themselves off the ground and perform flips and kicks in the air. They tried every variation of their flips they could think of; they once wore pink glasses pretending to be airplane pilots, another time they held a stick and tried to draw a circle in the ground while doing a no handed cartwheel, and they even made me sit near the ramp before flipping clear over my head.
During lunch I was able to converse with everybody more than I had done during breakfast. This was our last meal before leaving the monastery, so I hungrily gobbled up every scrumptious morsel I could reach. Immediately after lunch Leung and Erik arrived in the taxi to pick us up. We were just about to say goodbye to Master when he stopped us and said “We must take pictures!” Leading us off to the outside terrace, he made us perform several poses in Kong Fu while he snapped away happily. Erik and Leung watched with grins on their faces, obviously amused to see Master so enthusiastic. Then we were allowed one picture with Master, the only picture we were ever able to get of him because he never allowed us before. It is strictly enforced to make sure the foreigners take one picture with Master and none of any other monks. It is also customary to not smile during these photos, but I couldn’t resist. While Christen and David stood beside him unsmiling, I stood in the back of the photo and grinned broadly as I put up surfer signs.
We said our goodbyes to Master and were just about to enter the van when I remembered something and ran back to the temple. I wanted to say one last goodbye to the monk children. I entered their room and narrowly missed a ninja star that was thrown towards the wall. They all laughed and yelled “Mi Ji!!!” (they flip the two words in my Chinese name sometimes). I said goodbye to each of them, but then one kid (who I nicknamed Godzilla) pulled out my camera and said “Picture!” I was stunned by his proposal, but nevertheless took the opportunity. I snagged a quick picture with them, although they barely cracked a smile during the photo, and ran back to the van.
We arrived back at the Sunny Lodge in Old Dali to spend the night there. I have already bought souvenirs and I have wandered almost every street in the town, so I doubt I will be going out anytime soon. I plan on relaxing in the sun and reading for most of the afternoon and maybe taking a shower (after not being able to take one after nearly 5 days). One thing is for certain, however. I am indefinitely inhaling a beef steak tonight.