In any given English dictionary, the word love falls pretty much in the middle. ‘L’ is the 12th letter of the English alphabet and ‘o’ the 15th; and when one factors in the regrettable paucity of ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’ words, that places love very nearly at the nucleus of the lexicon, or, if you prefer, at the center of its pulsating heart. Whether you consult Webster, the OED, or any lesser compendium, you will always locate love after locust, loop, and loser, nestled snugly between law and lye. It lingers somewhere between joy and nocturnal, and on any given day of the week it can be found minding its own business at the crossroads of abyss and zenith. Love appears after haemophilia, homewrecker, and hysteria, and before parasites, parturition, and paternity. Always. Without exception.
The Chinese word into which one translates love is 爱 (ai). In contemporary Chinese dictionaries, which happily are ordered according to pinyin (and are therefore ‘alphabetized’, though assuredly not for the convenience of the Anglophone), ai is pretty close to the front – a mere five pages into ours.
It is not the first word in the dictionary, however, and one gets to ai, first, by traveling through a number of examples regarding the proper use of 阿 (a) – a sound used as a prefix to deformalize or cozy-up a name or appellation designating a relationship. What that means is, by adding an ‘a’ (阿), your friend, Wang Mei, becomes A’Mei. An older female colleague to whom you refer to as, “elder sister,” 姐姐, jie jie), becomes A’jie, and your buddy Rodney becomes A’Rod. This convention should not be confused with privative alpha. In English, this is the use of ‘a-’ as a prefix to indicate negation, absence, or denial – viz.
• atheist: believing in the absence of gods
• atypical: not typical
• asexual: denying what one really gets up to on a third date
阿is next followed by 阿飞 (a fei), which means hooligan, and then by 啊 (a!), a character denoting the sound made to express surprise. It is here we meet the many virtual homonyms for 爱 (ai, ‘love’). The first of these is 哀 (ai), which – surprise! – means grief or sorrow. That is perhaps ironic, but there’s no changing things this late into the game. 哎呀 (ai ya!) also expresses surprise, and is generally used to impart emotive emphasis, or to exaggerate emphasis. This 哎呀is very different from 爱亚, which is also written as ‘ai ya’ in pinyin. It means nothing whatsoever, and exists here on this page simply perforce of the author’s wish to stick the characters for ‘love’ and ‘inferior’ (亚) into the same textual neighborhood. In case you didn’t recognize this ‘ya’ (亚), it is the same ‘ya’ used in yazhou (亚洲), or ‘Asia.’ Pause now, and reflect on the fact that the Chinese language refers to the very landmass upon which China dominates geographically, culturally, and economically as the “Inferior Continent.” Sad, isn’t it? But it must be difficult not to have a bit of an inferiority complex when a magnificent, sprawling, hegemon is reduced to using the alphabet of a foreign and linguistically-unrelated language in order to organize and make practical its own dictionaries. We, meanwhile, are still looking for a suitable use for 爱亚, and remain moderately confident that there is at least one.
Love’s 爱isn’t far off, but the short road there still leads one through癌 (ai, cancer), 挨 (ai, to suffer, to endure), 霭 (ai, mist, haze), 蔼 (ai, friendly, amiable), 矮 (ai, short), 隘 (ai, narrow), and 碍 (ai, hinder, impede). When one at last gets to 爱 (‘love’), one finds that it is one stop up from 暧 (ai, dim, as in 暧昧, ‘ai mei’, ambiguous) and two up from 安 (an), which is perhaps best known to non-native Sinophones as peaceful, but which as a verb can also mean to install. As of press-time we remain unsure as to whether one can speak intelligibly about 安爱 – installing love. But we like the idea, and a little campaign is getting underway.
The English word love is of course a four-letter word, about which much nonsense has been written and even more sung. We suspect things are sure to get worse before they get better. As a lyric, the word itself doesn’t have too much going for it, as it rhymes only with above, dove, glove, and shove.
This hasn’t stopped bards from composing about love, and has encouraged them to fudge sounds a bit – Jove, rove, betroth, and other long-‘o’ sounds have been jimmied into lines for centuries, but fooled no one. Not that things were much better when Old English was saddled with lufian (v.) and lufu (n.).
And it’s here the Chinese ai (爱) really shines. With the exception of the letters f, r, v, x, and y, every other consonant in (Romanized) Chinese has one or more words that rhyme with ai. There’s bai (白, white), cai (彩, color), dai (带, carry), all the way down to wai (外, outside/beyond) and zai (在, to be at/here). Multisyllabic words include anpai (安排, arrange), huilai (回来, come back/return), mingbai (明白, understand), yinggai (应该, should/ought to), and shanghai (伤害, hurt/harm). And this is just off the top of our heads. Mind you, “ni gai you ai,” could mean, “you should have love,” (你该有爱), but it could also mean, “mud-calcium-oil-cancer,” which so far as we can tell is not uplifting counsel in any language, whatever the melody. Ah, sweet homonymy.
Imagine for a moment, though, the opportunities for poets and pubescents if we could just get ai to catch-on in English. They could then rhyme ‘ai’ (love) with cry, die, fly, guy, hi, high, I, lie, my, nigh, pry, rely, sigh, tie, try, vie, and why. The implications for the pop music and greeting card industries alone are, frankly, enormous, and yet no one has sounded the horn and picked-up the banner. Baffling really, and yet, English managed to make-room for gung ho, wonton, and possibly canteen (餐厅, canting). Go figure.
Love is often regarded as the basic, germinal stuff of romance, although ‘romance’ and ‘romantic’ acquired associations with love-letters, pop ballads, boxes of chocolates, boxes of Kleenex, roses, wine, and candlelight dinners much later than you might guess. Throughout most of the life of these cognates, romance and romantic served to designate something as a verse narrative with fictional content – adventures, knights-errant, and things of that sort. Sources suggest that the extension of romantic to, “having a love affair as its theme,” was, like many regrettable social trends, a child of the 1960s.
There has never been a shortage of people keen to point out that love is in fact the very antithesis of romance, and golly, not many concepts can pull off being at once both the germinal stuff of thing and its antithesis. That makes love pretty darned special.
The special-ness of love perhaps explains why people are, or vehemently claim to be, willing to kill for it, die for it, and suffer for it. Robert Palmer was addicted to it; Bryan Ferry was a slave to it; and Pat Benatar thought it was a battlefield, but that is best understood in the light of her contemplation of sex as a weapon and o’ what a battlefield that must have been. This oddly thanatotic, masochistic, aspect of love has kept Freudians, post-Freudians, neo-Freudians, Hollywood, novelists, and the clever people down on Madison Avenue busy for quite some time. Love is nothing if it is not a gigantic, enigmatic, sacred cash cow. Choose your hemisphere and pick your cultural enclave. Everyone has an angle, everyone is cashing in. For Christmas 2013, your correspondent was given a limited edition box of Crayola Crayons. Fifty shades of grey. The built-in sharpener will blow your mind. Know-it-alls and kill-joys throughout the ages have claimed – and claimed with much more confidence than they were entitled to – that money can’t buy love. This is at least doubtful. To love one specifically on account of his or her assets and net-worth might miss in large part what love is supposed to be about, but this only begs the question of what love really is. It is perfectly intelligible that X might love Y in spite of the fact that Y is a fiscal invalid, but for X to love Y because Y is desperately insolvent would be just plain creepy. And the next time you hear someone say, “She only loves him for the money,” remember that perhaps he monies her for reasons that have nothing to do with love. True love and legal tender are not the oddest of bedfellows, as anyone who has rented untrue love with illegal tender can tell you. However well or poorly the conscience of Love slumbers while spooning recumbent snoring Money, post-coital Money pretty much remains indifferent, having already fallen deep into REM-sleep. Or so we’re told. Whether somnolent Money then dreams about Love, Romantic Love, True Love, Money, or More Money is a secret which Money isn’t sharing, though rumors abound that Money dreams most luridly about having a three-way with Untrue Love and Other People’s Money, which is wrong for being both covetous and weird.
Marriage is said to be the institution of love. It is also said that love is blind. This has led some wit (once upon a time) to conclude that marriage is an institution for the blind. We are in no position to disagree. We once heard, also, a Chinese idiom to the effect of marriage is the tomb of love. Not a very pleasant thought – the visuals it conjures are ghastly - but fortunately we have heard this idiom cited once and once only. We subsequently found that it is not a Chinese idiom at all, which was surprising – really, it seemed so very Chinese to us. It is in fact a notch on the linguistic bedpost of Giacomo Casanova (fl. 1755), better known in the West as simply Casanova and as A’Como in China. Your correspondent no longer remembers by whom or why the idiom was recklessly flung at him in the manner of a pithy line from Dream of Red Mansions, but we suspect it was exhaled as the sigh of the tortured soul of a beautiful but miserable local woman with a young child, a white BMW, and a husband in the manufacturing sector who spends rather a lot of time away from home on business trips. But perhaps not.
Love and marriage allegedly go together like a horse and carriage – love being the horse, marriage the carriage. What with this being Year of the Horse and all, we got to thinking:
• If marriage is the tomb of love, and marriage is a carriage, then, the tomb of love is a carriage.
• The modern carriage is an automobile.
• A BMW is a brand of automobile.
• A nice new BMW is therefore a modern sepulcher of love.
How very apt, all the more so, since a contemporary and indisputably Chinese idiom is I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.
Entombed alive? Perhaps A’Como and our forlorn housewife friend were onto something. And since a BMW in Chinese is a baoma (宝马, treasure-horse), and the Trojan Horse (the “gift” which lured the citizens of Ilium to their ruin and enslavement) was a kind of baoma/treasure-horse, then, would-be lovers should not only look some baoma’s in the mouth; they should give the horse’s ass a thorough inspection as well.
爱亚! Ai’ya! And that’s ai as in love,and ya as in Asia. Make of it what you will.
Inspired by the skills of martial artists Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, 18-year old Tim Vukan and his friends were intrigued by this ancient art. After seeking guidance and training from Ving Tsun Gong Fu instructor Jan Hantelman, a connection was made for life. He shared with us stumbling across a tiny Chinese bookshop and discovering hundreds of books detailing the very art he loved. Intrigued by the images he found within the pages, he often went back to look around. It was here that he found the book that would change his life: Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Being the only book he found written in German, it became a part of him, attached to him day and night. After watching a live performance from the Shaolin monks in Hamburg he knew it was time…
After six years of intensive training and teaching in Hamburg and Münster, Tim took the plunge and moved to Dengfeng, Henan to practice directly at the source. Home to many academies and thousands of students, he chose to study at Wushu College where a little girl took him by surprise: “The best teacher I had was a nine-year old girl. She taught me high kicks and how to perform very difficult techniques. She taught me to be honest and kind to people.”
What was the most difficult part of your course?
The most difficult part was we had to train very hard every day no matter what condition our bodies were in. Training started at 5:30am and continued all day until 6-7pm. After three weeks of intensive training, I couldn’t walk up the stairs and suffered from heavy muscle tension pain in my legs. Once I was lying in bed, I felt calm and peaceful until the loud Chinese march music woke me up in the morning and it started all over again. This pain is necessary to understand your body. If you want to perform Shaolin Gong Fu and to reach a high level we must go further to feel what it means to have focus.
In Chinese there is a saying 先苦后甜, which means after hard and bitter work there will be sweetness. It means that we have to work hard if we want to achieve something. Everything we do is to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and to learn how to control our body and our mind in different situations. Our body is sometimes weak. Learning Gong Fu is a way to train our minds to tell our body what to do and when to stop. I learnt jianchi 坚持 – it doesn’t matter if we fail or succeed, it is more important to go on. Our body and mind each have their own language and we are able to control our body with our mind. If there is a strong mind and a clear heart, there is a strong body. Many diseases are based on an imbalance of our body and our mind. If we stay focused in the moment, we can prevent illnesses and have a happier life! Gong Fu is a way to choose health and happiness in your life.
After Henan, Tim moved to Yangshuo, Guangxi province to continue with taiji quan classes. There he met a woman who was offering taiji sword lessons and became her student, learning taiji next to the Li river. She taught him many things like Chinese cooking and the art of bartering. He felt happiness getting to know a culture which he had always wanted to learn more about.
During his travels in 2004, he really enjoyed Hangzhou. Growing up in Hamburg, he was a part of nature. In Hangzhou, he found he could still have that in the beautiful mountains and bamboo forests surrounding the city. From the beginning of his martial arts career, he often came into contact with Chinese medicine. In 2005, he decided to start studying it. In ancient times, masters of Gong Fu were often also doctors of Chinese medicine – it was a natural progression. Zhejiang Chinese Medical University offered him a place.
We hear a lot about the pressure of education in China, did you feel a lot?
The Chinese education system can be very challenging for foreigners. First to master the language and then to get used to the way of teaching. Asking questions doesn’t have much space in classroom; it’s very different to the west. Chinese students are not used to communicating with their teachers, only listening to gain information. This caused a lot of pressure while studying. Preparing for a test required memorizing and repeating facts instead of putting the theory into our own words like back home. Every culture has its own specialties, especially when it comes to education. Now, I often meet young people in the clinic telling me about their life and study and that it made them sick. Young students are often overwhelmed with pressure. I start telling them my story, hoping to inspire them to find their own way to learn.
You’ve founded your own company, how has that been? Do you have good support?
I founded Wushan TCM, a Chinese medical network, with the goal to connect the east with the west and to offer Chinese medicine education to students and current practitioners. There are live webinars and recorded online courses about the theory and practice. I also arrange local treatments for foreigners with Chinese medicine and take care of the language translations and clinical arrangements. I work in cooperation with Chinese medical doctors whom I’ve met during my studies and practice over the past twelve years. I want to help people to come to China and to gain their individual experiences.
You’ve studied tai chi, TCM and lots of other ways of healing. What would you say is the best medicine?
In our modern times a practitioner has to have knowledge from both western and Chinese medicine to offer the patients the most accurate and suitable diagnosis and treatment. Even though western and Chinese medicine are very different from each other, they can be combined in many different ways. While western medicine is treating the illness, Chinese medicine is treating the symptoms of the patient and finding the source. An example of how they work in harmony would involve undergoing surgery for an external injury (western) followed by Chinese medicine to strengthen the patient help to recover in a more comprehensive way. Both medicines have their limitations and their benefits.
I won’t say that TCM is the best medicine. I believe Chinese medicine can help a lot of people, where western medicine cannot. Above all, the best medicine is when people take better care of themselves and gain more understanding of how we can keep healthy and prevent illness. It’s about our lifestyle, our emotions, our living and working environment, our family situation, our nutrition and so much more. I want people to gain more sensibility about their lives and what makes us ill.
What plans do you have for the future?
I would like to combine my life in China with the life in the west. At the moment, I am preparing the German natural license test to be allowed to work and to treat in Germany with Chinese medicine. In the future I want to offer more lectures, seminars and tours in Hangzhou and to give more students the great opportunity to learn from professional doctors. More and more foreigners are interested in coming to China to study TCM. I want to help them however I can. The world will become more connected. Let’s become a part of it!
Tim Vukan has been studying and practicing Chinese medicine for more than ten years at the Zhejiang Chinese Medical University in Hangzhou. He founded Wushan TCM in 2008 to connect Chinese medicine practitioners and students by offering Chinese medicine online courses and training tours to enable an authentic education in the theory and clinical field of Chinese health cultivation methods. To learn more, visit the website at www.wushantcm.com.
I first visited Georgetown, the capital city of Penang Island, Malaysia, in 2008. This was just before Georgetown gained Unesco World Heritage designation. I vividly recall the beauty of the decaying historical buildings dating back to the late 18th century British colonial rule. The multi-coloured shop houses with peeling paint stood stoically, telling countless stories of the centuries gone by.
In 1786, Britain established Georgetown to rival the Dutch trading port Malacca in a bid to gain control of the important trade routethrough the Straits of Malacca which connected Europe, the Middle East and India to the west with China, Southeast Asia and Japan to the east.Georgetown began attracting Chinese, Indian and Malaysian merchants and settlers. Each group broughtalong their language, food and religion making Georgetown a very special mix of cultures living together in harmony.
Georgetown’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a compact, easily manageable area that you can walk around in two to three hours. Start at the grand KapitanKeling mosque, built in 1801 by Indian Muslim settlers with its Mughal-style domes and Indian-Islamic minaret, from where the call to prayer can be heard five times a day.
Then wander around Little India with Bollywood music blaring from shops and colorful silk saris on display. Tantalizing skewers of tandoori meattempt you to stop and nibblewhile tables piled with samosas and Indian sweets are hard to resist.Then further to the north, near the coastline are the British colonial buildings that now house banks, western bars and restaurants.
Turn a corner and head towards the Chinese area with colourfulclan houses, temples and shops. Bustling hawker stalls line the streets, selling Penang’s famous street foods like CharKwayTeow, Chee Cheong Fun and HokkienMee. The Chinese community has roots from Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka and they here are a linguistically talented bunch who easily switch between conversations in Cantonese, Mandarin, their own Chinese dialects, English and Malay.
By the time I visited in 2008, much of the historic area had fallen into disrepair. Then came the Unesco World Heritage designation breathingrenewed life to Georgetown and historic buildings were restored and converted into cafes and boutique hotels. Previously, Georgetown mainly offered budget guesthouses and one very top end hotel. Now, there’s a growing range of boutique heritage hotels for visitors to choose from.
Campbell House was one of the first boutique hotels to open in Georgetown, and work on converting the building into a hotel began even before the Unesco World Heritage listing was announced. The owners, wife and husband team Nardya Wray and Robert Dreon, both saw the potential in Georgetown and had faith in its future. Nardya has a personal history with Penang, having been born in Malaysia before moving to UK andthen often returning to Penang to visit family.
Robert and Nardya bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, both coming from successful careers in London’s luxury hospitality industry.The couple embarked on restoring the hundred-year-old corner shophouse, completely gutting the building down to the original beams and structure.Working tirelessly over three years, they lovingly restored the building and filled their dream hotel with antique furniture sourced from around the region.
Campbell House offers eleven suites, each with an individual character representing a different element of colonial Malaysia, such as the Colonial Room with a four poster bed or the Sari Room graced with a headboard made from sari silk.
The rooms are luxuriously appointed and feature modern fixtures and technologies like flat screen TV’s, Nespresso machines, chilly central air-con, rain head showersand newplumbing. You may be staying in a heritage hotel with antique furniture, but you will not lackfor any modern comforts.
Campbell House is located on Campbell Street, right in the heart of Georgetown and makes a great base for exploring the city. The next street over is LebuhChulia, one of the main roads of Georgetown, where you’ll find many bars and street food.
Leaving behind the chaotic colourfulstreetlife and stepping into the peaceful tranquility of Campbell House, the first thing you will notice is the lovely lemongrass scent. Then the friendly receptionist will get you checked-in and pull out a map to show you where to find the best food and attractions.
Respecting the original architecture, there are no elevators in this three story house, but the hotel staff will use a clever pulley system to get your luggage to the top floor. Smoking is not permitted indoors, but you can do so on the rooftop terrace.
As is the tradition in Malaysian houses, guests have to leave their shoes in the public area before proceeding upstairs to the rooms. This ensures that the living areas are immaculately clean and you get the warm feeling that you are an honoured guest in a private house. Each guest receives personalized attention and you can even make special requests for breakfast to suit your dietary needs. The library invites guests to lounge and chat with each other and we had many lively conversations with our fellow travelers there.
Rooms are cleaned twice a day, and atnight they will leave iced tea and some sweet treats in the fridge. The soft and fluffy king-sized feather-topped bed is so comfortable, there seems to be a magic spell around it because as soon as you lay down you almost immediately fall asleep.
Breakfastis served in their Italian restaurant from 8am-12pm, so guests can leisurely sleep in or go out for an early morning walk before temperatures get too hot and still have ample time to return and enjoy breakfast.The breakfast spread includes a basket of freshly baked bread, a selection of housemade jams like coconut, orange marmalade and pineapple, a large platter of fresh fruit and a choice of entrée such as Eggs Benedict or Welsh Rarebit.
Their Italian Restaurant, Il Bacaro, draws on Robert’s Italian roots and offers an alternative to local cuisine. As much as I love curries and fried noodles, sometimes you just crave a fine Italian meal. It’s become a trendy dining destination for travelers and locals alike.
Georgetown is a city you can come back to again and again and never grow tired of.The Unesco World Heritage designation came just in time to save many heritage buildings from demolition. Though developmentis bringing about changes, its soul and authenticity still remains, just a scratch beneath the surface. The introduction of a heritage hotel like Campbell House means you can now visit Georgetown and stay in style and comfort.
Campbell House is a World Luxury Hotel Award winner and is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for B&Bs in Georgetown. Rooms range from 600-800RMB per night.Air Asia flies from Hangzhou to Penang, transferring in Kuala Lumpur.
The Hyatt Regency welcomes Raul Avendano, a 31-year-old chef from Chile, to “spice up” their restaurant and buffet. This South American hottie creates a flavor so refreshing it will whip your taste buds into shape and wake you up from a world of slumber. This talented chef started his career in the hotel business studying administration, but after one year he decided it wasn’t for him. He changed majors to be in the kitchen and everything fell into place.
“When I put on my uniform and take my knife, I feel different. I get this intense feeling, just taking the raw ingredients and transforming them to something incredible.”
Raul has been cooking in top hotels all over the world. After four years traveling in Mexico, he moved on to Macau to open a new branch of the Banyan Tree. He was also the chef in the pre-openings of Dubai’s exclusive beachfront bar and restaurant Zero Gravity and the Grand Hyatt Casino Hotel in the Bahamas.
His Mexican Flautas are a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with Latin cuisine. Succulent chicken breast cooked in a tomato base and wrapped in a crispy flour tortilla, topped with sour cream and fresh salad. Next, we tried the Pork Loin Roulade with onions, garlic, dried cranberries, nuts and apple sauce, pan seared and finished to perfection in the oven. This was served with roasted potatoes and a chorizo-like sausage. If that wasn’t tantalizing enough, the final surprise was the Green Lamb Chops marinated with lemon and served on a bed of creamy quinoa risotto that really got our tongues tingling! We managed to have a chat and find out ‘more’ about the man himself for all you readers of MORE Hangzhou.
So Raul, you have quite the resume! Can you tell us which of your experiences have been the most rewarding so far?
A great place for me to work was Dubai. It was challenging at first because of the religion and restrictions. In Chile, we like to cook with red wine and experiment with new ingredients and spices, but there I could not use alcohol or pork. But, the supply of fresh meats, vegetables and spices was endless and we had good contacts with the suppliers. In the end, I really honed in on other techniques and flavors. It was a memorable time.
We all know how difficult it is to get certain ingredients here. Why did you choose China?
The fascination came from when I was a kid, you know. Growing up, I loved the Chinese movies with Jackie Chan, and I was amazed by the different culture and, of course, the food! Then I worked Macau and I learnt so much! I thought “I’m here! I’ve done it.” China is a place that people from the west think they know until they arrive here and it all opens up. It’s a whole new world. After I left Macau and went back to South America, I thought… “Something is missing in this kitchen… the woks!” Working on a line with these tools and producing a different taste was incredible, and I am happy to be back working with a talented group of individuals.
What’s the greatest difficulty you have here?
It has to be the language. I’m learning slowly but it will take time. I always say “I have no problems, just challenges,” and because I have no problems, I have more time to find solutions. I love working in this team. To these chefs, it isn’t just a job, it’s their passion and that’s what make this food very special.
Where did your motivation come from? Did your mum cook at home?
Oh no, my love for cooking comes from my Dad’s side of the family. My aunt and my Grandmother, they have good taste. My teachers too, they really inspired me to do more. I hope the people in Hangzhou can be open to try new flavours and enjoy eating my food as much as I enjoy creating it.
If you would like to join the taste fiesta, then head down to the Hyatt Regency hotel for their Latin Festival which lasts until April 10th. The buffet, which includes the dishes we tried, will run you 348RMB from Sunday to Thursday and from Friday to Saturday 368RMB (both prices have a 15% service charge).
Raul is in the process of creating a whole new a la carte menu that will be available after the festival with other dishes of Latin taste to tease you too! For more information on this, go ahead and contact the hotel or pop by for a sneaky peak at Raul himself hard at work in Café at the Hyatt. Buen Provecho!
To be honest, this is not exactly how I saw my Saturday morning going. After a good deal of persuasion, I had given in and decided to come to CrossFit Qiantang to see what all the fuss was about. Standing in a room full of about twenty-five athletic-looking sorts limbering up, little did I know that I was about to experience what would be one of the more intense twenty minutes worth of exercise I had done in my life.
In the car on the way to the gym, after having signed up for the class, we found out what the WOD (workout of the day) was. That day it would begin with 150 Burpees, a movement which involves going from standing to lying, to standing and a jump to finish. Then, 100 Wall Balls, requiring you to throw a medicine ball to above a line high on the wall. These two exercises were to be completed as a team, shared and in rotation. The final part, 5x200 meters, would be an individual effort.
After stretching and warming up, we were put into teams of three, our team name placed on the board, thereby riling up the competitive spirit in each and every athlete present. As the countdown began from ten, the crowd erupted, and as the music got louder, the tempo in the room sky-rocketed and the anticipation became unbearable.
Then, the room exploded as the battle for supremacy began, each team pitted off against each other in an effort to achieve the best time. During the next twenty minutes, I found strength in me that I didn’t know existed as my team and trainers (and even the opposition!?) spurred me on to reach the finish line in as fast a time as possible.
So this was my experience of CrossFit, a way of working out that has taken countless countries by storm and is now rapidly spreading through the mainland of China. For a better explanation of what CrossFit actually is, I spoke with the founder of CrossFit Qiantang, The General. Summing up my experience perfectly he told me, “It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone. CrossFit is fun, but at the same time it can be brutal because it pushes you to your limits. The purpose of CrossFit is to train at your threshold area, which means you need to push your margin out.”
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit has three core fundamentals: constant variation, functional movement and high intensity. The first, constant variation, aims to improve your overall fitness, offering new and completely different workouts each time, using muscles you never knew you had, in contrast to a more focused improvement that some sports or traditional gym training offer: “We want every single one of our athletes to have a great general, broad fitness, which means they are prepared for the unknown,” said The General. In addition, you only find out the WOD after having booked the class, so if it’s something you don’t like, there’s no backing out: “You have no idea what you are going to be doing that day, just like real life. Life is unpredictable... CrossFit is the same thing.”
Functional movement involves using non-artificial movement – many gym machines promote a movement that is not entirely natural, whereas functional movements are more daily-life based and can therefore be used more in everyday situations.
High intensity is fairly self-explanatory, the benefit being you can put in less time but get more benefit. Rather than spending countless hours on a treadmill, CrossFit can condense this into around fifteen or twenty minutes of actual workout time (not including warming up or down), and yet offers results to match and even surpass longer, less intense workouts.
Why do CrossFit?
Aside from obvious health benefits, the most valuable thing CrossFit can offer is community. Looking lost on my first time in the gym, I was warmly received by trainers and members alike, as they approached me to introduce themselves and confess their great love for CF. Jenny had been CF-ing for around six months and was quick to praise the social aspect CF offers. She’d been working out in traditional gyms for years, rarely meeting anyone new: “I would be next to a guy on a treadmill every week for five or six years and have no idea about his name or who he was. Coming to CrossFit, there is a real feeling of community; everyone is very friendly and a strong bond is formed.”
This bond can only serve to improve your workout input as when you are making that final push, those around you shouting your name are sources of admiration and inspiration, team members who want nothing more than to see you do that extra rep, sprint that last 100 meters. They expect nothing less than 100%, and that is exactly what you should give them.
Furthermore, CrossFit supports and encourages its members to leave their comfort zone behind and do things they never thought they were capable of. The General explained, “The vast majority of people in this world only want to do the things they can do well… we like to give you something that you’re not good at… just use four or five hours a week to do this and your life will change completely.” So rather than doing something which comes easily to you, something you’re used to and can handle with relative ease, why not improve yourself by doing something you’re terrible at. Makes sense, right?
Some go to church, others go to CrossFit
For most, CF is more than just a workout. It’s way of life, a way of thinking that seems to make people want more from themselves. For one member, Adriana, CF was the missing piece of the puzzle, and after discovering it, her life came together, leading her to quit her job and become a shareholder in the company. Like many of the members here, you too may find yourself starting a new chapter of your life. Discover a new you, meet new friends. There’s really no excuse, so go on down and meet the CrossFit Qiantang family.
Give it a shot
For those of you thinking of joining, the first step is to sign up for one of their trial classes, either on Saturdays at 10am or Wednesdays at 8pm. The Saturday morning class will include members, so you’ll have a chance to meet the whole gang, something I strongly recommend, whereas the Wednesday evening class will include prospective members only. Also, many different membership schemes are available depending on your availability, ranging from a one-off drop in fee to a five-times-weekly membership.
Etienne Jeanne, guitarist with gypsy jazz band Three of a Kind, has been living in China for almost ten years. His Russian bandmates are based in Paris which means he mostly gets to play with them when he returns to France in the summer. This year however they are recording a new project in April and are hoping to embark on a world tour next year. I asked Etienne some questions about the band and the musical genre of gypsy jazz.
How did you meet your bandmates?
The three of us met in Paris in 2002. I had just moved to Paris when I was 18 in order to start my career as a professional musician, and met Aliocha and Vladi separately while doing gigs in Paris. It was the beginning of the "gypsy jazz revival" at the time. They were performing in an old Russian cabaret every week. I went to jam with them and found we had a strong connection right away so we decided to form a band. We've remained friends ever since.
How do you define gypsy jazz?
Gypsy jazz is a musical genre developed by the late great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in the late 30's, on the initiative of Hugues Panassié and Charles Delauney who wanted to build and promote a unique type of European jazz. That is why the Hot Club de France were the first "strings only" jazz quintet ever, innovating jazz music with a totally new sound never recorded before.
Is gypsy jazz the hardest genre to play on guitar?
It definitely requires strong guitar skills to play gypsy jazz, but not only that. A certain knowledge about jazz and gypsy culture in general, and an acuity for improvisation are also important.
Do you think there is a large audience for this type of music?
There is undoubtedly a large audience for gypsy jazz as this type of music is getting more and more popular. When I started to play this music, it was kind of a geek thing known principally in France and a few countries around (England, Germany, Holland, Italy), and now there is a Hot Club in every major city in the world, such as San Francisco, and even in Beijing! This style of music is pleasing to the ear, non-aggressive, and visually strong as you can see guitar players and violin players going crazy on their instruments! Plus it involves the guitar, which is the most popular instrument in the world, so people tend to identify themselves with it even more, especially metal guitar players.
What's the best thing about playing to a live audience?
Two things; the reward of an intense practice at home for years when people are clapping their hands, and the freedom to re-arrange our tunes, improvise, and make people surprised with a brand new show each time. To record is to leave a trace in time, to play live is to feel carefree again.
Where's your favourite place to play in Hangzhou?
I personally like to play in JZ Club because the venue is well adapted for live performances. There are many other places in Hangzhou offering the possibility to watch live bands, but not enough in my opinion. That is why I still need to work in Shanghai regularly since there are more opportunities. Fingers crossed about more musicians coming to Hangzhou in the next few years.
Has Chinese music had any influence on the music that you play?
Chinese music had an influence on the way I write originals indeed, we also cover a few songs from the early 30's Shanghai jazz repertoire.
Which bands are you following at the moment?
In the field of gypsy jazz, there are a lot of good musicians upcoming from all around the world although I think this type of music is precisely the legacy of Django Reinhardt, and hasn't really improved yet. People tend to copy the "authentic gypsy style" too much instead of working on their own interior music, which I think wouldn't have been the wish of the creators of this revolutionary musical genre.
If you would like to see Three of a Kind playing live, you can check them out at the venues below.
April 2nd @ ABC Café (Starts at 7:30pm)
1/F, Changjian Mansion, 415 Huanxing Rd, Binjiang, 滨江环兴路415号长建大厦1楼
April 8th @ Amigo (Starts at 9pm)
8 Yugu Rd, 玉古路8号
April 17th @ JZ Hangzhou (Starts at 9:30pm)
6 Liuying Rd (Nanshan Rd) , 柳营路6号（靠南山路）
April 22nd @ Reggae bar (Starts at 10:30pm)
131 Xueyuan Rd, 学院路131号
April 23rd @ Schänke (Starts at 9:30pm)
Room -3 and 2-2, Building 32, Qingchunfang, Qingchun Rd, 庆春路青春坊32幢1-3室和2-2室