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In Yangshuo for 4 years

By Kathy De Leye | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2013-03-08 13:28

China Daily website is inviting foreigner readers to share your China Story! and here are some points that we hope will help contributors.

My whole life I've been interested in martial arts. I studied judo as a child, then karate. But it was only when I moved to another city in Belgium where there was a kungfu club, that I really enjoyed it and fully understood why they call it an art. It is fighting and defending yourself, but it's also understanding your body more, making it stronger and healthier. Kungfu is a whole philosophy and is a big part of Chinese culture. I have always watched kungfu movies (who doesn't know Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Jet Li?), because I loved their movements. When I started to practice kungfu, I realized how difficult it was and a simple kick or punch demanded months of practice. But I loved it! A whole new world was opening to me.

The author does tai chi in Yangshuo in undated photo.

The author does tai chi in Yangshuo in undated photo. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn/

After I practiced 4 years of kungfu in Belgium, I wanted to go to the country where this martial art originated from. I went to China with a travel organization. It was a trip that included some kungfu and taichi lessons. It was an international group, so there were people from all over the world. We went from Hong Kong to Guilin, Yangshuo, Xi'an, Luoyang and Shaolin and finally Beijing. We did 2 kungfu lessons in Yangshuo with the brothers Gao, who had a family style called BuDiZhen. We did 1 taichi lesson in Xi'an and 2 more kungfu lessons in Shaolin. I was impressed by Yangshuo and the Gao brothers. Yangshuo is a beautiful little town in the middle of karst mountains and near the Li river. The Gao brothers' family style was close to the style I was practicing in Belgium. I could only dream of my next trip to China.

The next year, my dream became true: I went to China again, together with some friends of my kungfu club. We stayed 1 month in Yangshuo, just to practice kungfu. I didn't do anything of the touristic attractions that Yangshuo has (and Yangshuo has much to offer), but did more than 4 hours of kungfu every day, the rest of the time, I rested or spent in the bar. I met a lot of people, foreigners, that stayed in Yangshuo for a long time, several months to several years and they all told me that it's easy to live here as a foreigner.

Back in Belgium, the only thing I could think about was: what's the fastest way to go back to Yangshuo and live there for a longer period? I was working in a bank and in Belgium you have the possibility to take a sabbatical year. After that, you can just return to your job again. After all the formalities, I returned back to Yangshuo at the end of that year. That was in december 2008.

It felt like living in a dream: although it was really cold at that time in Yangshuo, I didn't care. I practiced kungfu for more than 6 hours a day, went to the bar to keep warm (there is no proper heating, so in winter we have to wear more than 5 layers of clothes and keep next to a small electric heater or some heated coals to stay warm). After 3 months of intense training, I decided to teach English as well. Yangshuo has a lot of English schools where Chinese adults want to improve their English. I made a lot of friends from all different countries and we had a lot of fun!! I decided not to go back to Belgium. After my sabbatical, I just sent an email to my former employer that I stayed in China and that was it. Life here was too relaxing and too beautiful to give it up.

In the summer of 2010, CCTV4 came here to film for a travel program and they wanted to follow a foreigner for 1 day to see the life of a foreigner in Yangshuo. They chose me and filmed me while practicing kungfu and asked me about my life here.

In autumn of that same year, my life changed for the better. I was still teaching English and 1 day I went to school and everyone was telling me that there was a taichi master in the school, who wanted to learn English. He had won a lot of gold medals already and was teaching Chinese, but he wanted to learn English to teach foreigners as well. His name is Wu YuPing and he was a student in my class. I immediately became his tai chi student as well. We became good friends, went to the bar together, but even though we went out till 3am, we got up at 6am again to practice tai chi in the park. I loved it, practicing in the park that early has something magical. After a few weeks, we couldn't hide our feelings anymore: we were in love with each other. There was only 1 problem: Students and teachers couldn't have a relationship with each other, so we had to keep it a secret. But Yangshuo is such a small town, so people knew very quickly that something was going on. I didn't want to get fired, so I quit my job and went teaching in another school. Then, we didn't have to hide anything anymore and could tell all our friends. With Ping, my life in China has finally more meaning and is full. He can teach me so much about the rich culture of this country and make me understand more of it.

We are more than 2 years later and our relationship is still strong. We already live together for more than 1 year. Ping has his own tai chi school here in Yangshuo and is teaching foreigners, his dream, and I have a coffeeshop and chocolateshop now. I am selling Belgian chocolate and beer, together with good coffee and breakfast. We keep on practicing tai chi together, although not at 6am anymore.

I must say that I never experienced a culture shock here. My life is going really well and yes, I can get annoyed by Chinese people that stare at me or take pictures, but I try not to think too much of it. I sometimes get annoyed by people's behavior in my country as well. My life is in China. Every 2 years I go back to Belgium to visit my family and I encounter a bigger culture shock there, because I stepped out of that life and I am not familiar anymore with the stressy, rushing lifestyle there.


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