Sunday, 17 January, 2016
I planned the trip to Hong Kong 香港, through Shenzhen 深圳, stopping at Yip Man’s 葉問 grave, arriving in Kowloon 九龍, walking the streets, through the pet and flower market, and, finally, arriving at the building which housed one of the schools of Yip Ching 葉正, locating the entrance and entering the building.
Hong Kong buildings are a bit confusing. I’m not sure what floor is what. Is floor one marked with “1” or “G,” and does that make floor three “2” or “3,” or maybe the numbers start from the top. I don’t know. Anyway, I wandered up and down a tight winding staircase, and though some hallways, noting posters here and there on the walls for Wing Chun and other martial arts and fitness classes. Finally, I found a school which had a large sign posted outside the entrance indicating the class times and the sifu’s. The space was apparently shared by several teachers, possibly more than ten. Having lost track of time during my long day of travelling, I did not realize that I had arrived about one hour early, and walked in absent-minded.I talked with someone inside, who informed me how early I was, but said I’m welcome to wait there. A class, under a different teacher was just getting started. I sat down on a wooden bench. The school room was square, and accessed by a diagonal hallway. The far walls from the entrance had windows looking over the busy streets. Under the windows to the left, wooden benches, and between the two windowed walls, in the far corner, was a desk and chair. The wall immediately to the left of the hallway, when entering, had all sort of posters and a large bust of Yip Man. The wall to the right had floor to ceiling mirrors and a wooden dummy. In the center of the room was a support pile. The class began with Sil Lim Tau. To my utter dismay, however, the form was practiced with extreme indifference. The teacher and students proceeded to chat carelessly, one student even playing on his phone with his free hand. Yee Gee Kim Yeung Ma was demonstrated by the teacher (or form leader) with the feet so outwardly tilted that the insteps were not touch the ground. I quickly decided this was unbearable to watch, and decided to leave and come back at the appropriate time.
I went for a walk, got my barring a little better as to my location, grabbed a bottle of water from a news stall, and sat down for a bit in a miniature park before crossing the street, back to the school. When I arrived this second time the previous class was clearing out, and one new person was there. I waited for the previous class to leave, before talking with this new person. He told me that Yip Ching’s class was about four hours long, and that Ip Ching himself probably would not arrive until much later. I could make myself comfortable and warm-up if I like.
This whole time grew very awkward, and it seemed my attempts to engage in dialogue or practice were not well received. Finally Ip Ching arrived. He is quite old, and it took him some time to cross the room to the desk in the corner. The man I had met earlier introduced me in Cantonese, but it did not feel like an introduction, but more like a telling. Ip Ching couldn’t have cared less, and did not seem to regard my presence when I said hello (in Mandarin). Students slowly populated the room, but no structured class ever began. At some point I did some warm-ups and went through my forms. I attempted to use the dummy form as an “ice breaker,” but suggesting we compare our forms. This simply led to them telling me how my form violated the principles of Wing Chun (only the parts that they didn’t practice, of course).
Eventually a student invited me to Chi Sau. He was quite tense, but I was fine with that. I was nice to train a little with anyone, and there was no significant difference that I could tell in the training method. We went for quite a while. I noticed he often preferred to apply a very forceful lop-da, which was fun to play with, but a little repetitive. Any speed or rebuttal on my part tended to lead to too much tension, so I did not do this often. We hardly spoke at all. I figured many folks may not have good English (and I can’t do much with Cantonese), so I didn’t push that. I trained with the first student I met there also, for a few minutes. I’m not sure, but he seemed to be frustrated at something. I stepped into one of the aggressive lop-da applications (which he also seemed to prefer), and then he wanted to stop. There was almost no communication, despite my trying to ask questions of a couple people.
Later an English man joined in. We eventually got to train, and this was quite fun. He was good, and had trained some time in England, under the Ip Ching lineage, before coming to live in Hong Kong. He confirmed that there is a major difference in the training atmosphere, and also that many of the students in that school preferred the very heavy lop-da. We had fun for a bit, and he had to head out.
I took a break and watched for a bit before heading out myself (it had been over two hours I think). Ip Ching got up once or twice to advise people on their wooden dummy application. This was interesting to see. He would take quite some time walking over to the dummy, but then his application on the dummy seemed full of vitality and power. Then he was suddenly slow again, in trying to explain and walk back to his desk. I also noticed another man there who was very good, such that I expected he might be a co-teacher or something. I approached him as I was leaving and it turned out he was a teacher, and taught at a different location and time.
I walked a ways down the crowded, and now lit up, city streets of Kowloon, before finding my hotel. I was staying on a bunk-bed, in a shared room. The room itself had a keypad lock, and the outer room and hallways were also accessed through another keypad. There were washers, dryers, a fridge, microwave, hot water, and everything else you might need. I wandered this city a bit looking for food before sleeping. I ended up in a McDonalds because it was the only place I could find with a wifi signal (I can’t remember the last time I ordered “normal” food at a McDonalds, but once in a while I get peanut or sesame ice cream there in China). I went back and slept.
I only had a few hours to sleep, before having to make it to my morning train, all the way back in Shenzhen. At some point in the night, when going to use the restroom, I almost walked in on a very inconspicuous pot smoker. Of all the reasons I’ve heard why people would smoke pot, I can’t imagine any of them being relevant in the early morning hours, cramped inside a tiny unlit bathroom, alone (except perhaps addictive habit). I awoke and walked through the dark and silent streets. If I lived in Hong Kong, I think I would be awake exclusively at night, when the cramped streets were quite, and the signs hung unlit over the closed stalls. I found a little dim sum place for breakfast, and made my way to the train station, mostly by way of an extensive pedestrian over pass which seemed to span several city blocks. I took the train to Shenzhen, and then another to the Shenzhen long distance train station, and then back to Guangzhou 廣州.
Hong Kong is an interesting place, to be sure. However, it seems far to cramped and busy for me, not unlike Gibson’s Sprawl, but perhaps a little more wealthy. Everything is business, buying and selling. While there is culture and civility not seen in the mainland, there also seems to be something missing – nature perhaps. Yet, I am aware that much of Hong Kong is not the dense populated central area, and that there are several beautiful wooded areas and beaches, and an abundance and variety of aquatic life. Still, it would be no doubt expensive to live in such a nice area away from the cramped cages that most of the residence seem to be kept in.
The Wing Chun also did not leave much of an impression on me. My experiences in Guangzhou and Zhuhai 珠海 were far more valuable.
P.S. The featured image at the top of the page is Shenzhen city, just outside the train station.