Monday, June 30, 2008

The Fragrant Hills of Beijing

It’s taken me four times to China to find this place, but well worth the wait. We’ve been here a week now and Rachel and I are still blown away at how beautiful, quiet, and even green our new home is. And we’re still in Beijing! I didn’t think such a place was possible…

We’re staying at Mountain Yoga a yoga retreat 20km due west of downtown Beijing and seemingly worlds away from the soot, smog, and crowds of the city.

We arrived last Sunday eve going right past the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube aquatics center on our way through town. The air in the city center seemed as bad as ever—picture a thick fog that makes your eyes burn. Still there are a lot of changes in the works that, with a little luck, should still bring things around in time for the Games. (More on that too come.)

But first, what, you ask, is a Chinese yoga retreat like?

Picture a traditional Chinese compound with an open-air courtyard in the middle and rooms off to each side. Guests stay in the smaller rooms and the largest room, an elevated studio along the courtyard’s entire north face is reserved for yoga.

A typical day starts with Rachel leading an hour-long class for a few guests and me before breakfast. A cook provides three yummy vegetarian meals a day (ironically, none of the staff are vegetarian and they sneak us all meat dishes when no guests are around). After breakfast there are calligraphy or painting classes for the guests, which Rachel has been able sit in on as well. When no guests are here, breakfast is followed by “Karma Yoga” –a fantastic euphemism for sweeping, mopping, and cleaning toilets. We like it when we have visitors☺

A few times a week Rachel and Gyan, the head of the center, teach an online yoga-English course with a live video feed that allows viewers to follow along and text in questions. Gyan, a Chinese guy who goes by an Indian name he was given by a visiting yogi, has been running the online course for a couple months now. He only has a few regular viewers at the moment--Chinese yoga teachers in Beijing who teach to foreigners—but is hopeful that it will catch on.

When it hasn’t been raining—a massive hurricane hit southeastern China last week dumping rain on us every day since we’ve arrived—we’ve been getting in some great hikes. Mountain Yoga is one of the last buildings at the base of a steep range of hills that run north to south along the city’s entire western border. The Beijing Botanical Gardens are just down the street and, as a result, much of the hillside near us has been set aside for forest conservation. The end result is some amazing birding—a rarity in a country that has caged, eaten, or, likely, poisoned most of its feathered friends.

Link of the week;

Sexy Beijing a tongue in cheek take on Sex in the City, Beijing style. The night after we watched our first episode the show’s star, Anna Sophie, was one of Rachel’s students here at the retreat.—Neither of us recognized her without the glasses.

-This is my first blog ever, please send me a comment and let me know what you think!

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