One Foot In Front Of The Other

By Stephen Ewashkiw | October 12, 2013

Tonight I teach yoga at Fine Yoga’s Blue Castle studio, so I had to spend some time this morning preparing for class. Our theme is based on this quote:

Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs. ― Václav Havel

It fits so perfectly with our trip. Sure, we could have had the vision, dreamt about how great such a bike trip would be, and left it there. Instead, one step after another, we turned our vision into a venture. And here we are in Beijing, preparing for my first yoga class in China.

Communists Rule, OK

We walked from the hostel to Tiananmen Square this morning.

workers on a break in beijing china

Workers horsing around for the camera.

green beans with chilis chinese style

We weren’t sure if this was green beans with chillis or chillis with green beans.

On the way passed by Zhongnanhai, the Chinese answer to the White House. Instead of being boring and white it has an incredible multi-coloured gate (complete with a sign declaring “Mao is awesome and will be with us forever!”

Unlike the openness of the White House however, Zhongnanhai is surrounded by a massive red wall, so the gate is the only thing you can see.

The red wall of Zhongnanhai.

The red wall of Zhongnanhai.

Even when Chinese TV crews cover meetings there, they only show the inside of meeting rooms. Talk about venture though: the Communist Party Headquarters is on a man-made lake complete with its own island, and the complex is so large that not only do the government officials work here, but many of them also live here with their families. The walled area is on a scale so big, it is barely human. It definitely took Mao’s incredible vision and power to bring it to life.

One of the benefits of Communist rule (at least for the rulers) is that the risk involved in a project usually doesn’t stop the vision attempted. When you have no committee or electorate to answer to, you are free to attempt larger-than-life feats. The buildings in Beijing are a testament to this.

We next passed the National Center For The Performing Arts, a beautiful, but controversially modern building just east of Tiananmen Square.

National Centre for the Performing Arts.

National Centre for the Performing Arts.

It is so huge it houses three concert halls and is surrounded by another man-made body of water.

Everything Is Really Really Big

Tiananmen Square was next. It is most famous in the West for being the centre of modern China’s almost-revolution in the late 80s. It is the largest public square in the world. We had to go through metal detectors and put our bags through Xray machines to get in, and there were uniformed and plain clothes police all around.

south gate of tianemen square beijing

South Gate of Tiananmen Square.

The square was filled with Chinese tourists taking pictures of the Tianamen Gate with its portrait of Mao hanging from the balcony where he declared the formation of the Peoples Republic of China, the Peoples Congress (parliament), Mao’s mausoleum, the Zhengyang Gate, and the National Museum Of China. All of these structures are ginormous – again, so large as to be beyond a comfortably human scale.

Communists are not known for their subtlety.

The square is currently also home to a giant bouquet of flowers, perfect for posing in front of.

Everyone wants a picture with the weird-looking pale guy.

Everyone wants a picture with the weird-looking pale guy.

The flowers might be an attempt to infuse some colour into the thick grey smog that fills the sky. If so, it has failed.

Jane’s note: I am particularly frustrated with the smog, not because it is no doubt killing us, nor that it is making me feel headachy and tired. These things would be allowable if only it wasn’t ruining our photos. Grey sky means drab, flat photos. Yuck.

Fine Food And Great Yoga

This was our only tourist destination today, as soon after we visited the square it was time to head over to Fine Yoga, where we had arranged to meet Andy, Sherri, and their daughter Mathilda, for pre-yoga dinner.

To our surprise they took us to Din Tai Fung, which has an extremely popular branch in LA. Jane was hoping to be able to eat there before leaving Beijing, so this was perfect. Sherri had even pre-ordered a delicious vegetarian meal.

In LA, the restaurant, like many great LA eateries, is in a strip mall, is small, and always packed with people. This location is in the fanciest mall in Beijing, was packed with the fanciest people in Beijing, and was massive. According to a sign out front it spanned four floors! Just like LA though, the food was delicious.

Dumpling scientists at Din Tai Fung.

Dumpling scientists at Din Tai Fung.

It was wonderful to be able to get to know Sherry and Andy and the history of their yoga studios before class. They began with a small space out by the airport many years ago and have moved a few times, always getting bigger, building their student base, and building a community. Yoga is fairly new in China and they have been at the forefront. At the beginning they had a vision, but the venture was proving extremely difficult. Fortunately, they met the challenges, forged ahead, and today there are two Fine Yoga studios in Beijing, and a gorgeous mountain retreat space in a bamboo forest in central China. We hope to get there a little later on in our trip.

The studio is on the 16th floor of an office building across from the mall and it is beautiful. They have three rooms and teach many different styles of yoga. They are currently leading two yoga intensives with 100 students from all over the country learning the history of yoga, about different styles of yoga, and the asanas. Many of these students came to my class with their notebooks and recorders to hand, ready to absorb, practice, and expand.

The class was hot, intense, and playful. Soon you will be able to watch it if you wish, as they filmed it and will host it on their website. We will share a link when we get it.

Jane’s note: Afterwards, we had a photo session in which Stephen posed with every conceivable combination of the 60-some students who attended. It was quite a scene!

yoga students in beijing

Stephen with students at Fine Yoga.

We took steps towards Pincha Mayurasana, a very difficult forearm balance. I really love working on poses without doing the pose, and this was one of those classes. We came very close to Pincha, without actually taking our feet off the ground.

Partly this was because there just wasn’t enough space in the room and partly it was a time constraint. But mostly it was because, just like in life, we take the first steps to climbing the hill long before we reach the summit.  

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  1. Comment by Michael Moldofsky

    Michael Moldofsky October 14, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Rockstar status. Don’t leave. Start a biz there!!!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen October 15, 2013 at 7:58 pm

      Who knows, we just might. Yoga sure has taken off here after all…

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