Living in a big city can certainly take its toll on any individual. Every once in a while there is an intrinsic need to take a break from the hustle and bustle, re energize and come back refreshed. After spontaneously boarding a plane to Shanghai four months earlier, I did not anticipate the omnipresent smog that hung in the air, or incessant beeping of impatient taxis to have such a negative effect on my usual calm aura.
I decided I needed a short weekend break, and what better way to unblock my chi ( according to ancient Chinese medicine ) than to experience the real China. From the moment I arrived to the city of dreams, I had been fascinated at how fit and able the Chinese as a nation were compared to us Brits. On my 6am morning jog in the park I would find myself being lapped by 60-70 year old locals. Back home, this is certainly not the case, OAP’s are very happy to be labelled in their own category, hobbling along with their zimmer frames and complaining about the weather. I was truly amazed to see a Tai Chi master the same age as my Grandpa leading a class of 20 individuals all around the same age. I decided I wanted to get more of an insight into their way of life and began to research wellness retreats near the city where I could restore my inner calm.
Sat at work, my mind wandered; day dreaming of performing yoga and meditating whilst sipping fresh juices to the backdrop of calm running waters and beautiful nature surroundings. I came across a website called ‘six steps retreat’ which stated that individuals were invited to attend a weekend just outside of the city where:‘at the very least participants get a break away from the fast pace of city life in a relaxing, friendly, beautiful and healthy environment’. The best part of all was that it was free, how amazing is that! sweet Chinese people, I thought, wanting to aid my spiritual journey. I jumped up with excitement, this was it!! this is what I was looking for. I called my friend Marina and told her to pack her bags we were about to have a fabulous girlie weekend to rejuvenate and relax. ten minutes later Marina called me back with a query, she said ‘Georgeee, are you sure this is legit, coz I just spoke to my mum about it and there might be a catch if its free’ ‘oh marine’ I said ‘no its perfect, its for people like us who just need a break’. ‘Yeah you’re probably right’.
Friday quickly came around; both Marina and I had eagerly packed our bags the night before ready to depart straight from work, as a shuttle bus was to pick us up at the tube station. We wanted to stop off at Marks and Spencers before hand to get some snacks for the road but didn’t have time. Never mind I thought, im sure the food is wholesome and healthy, I cannot wait to come back feeling like a brand new woman. So excitedly we made our way to the tube where the bus would be waiting. As we approached the entrance to the tube, a small rusty white van was parked outside, with a strange looking short fellow wearing glasses standing infront of it. We walked up to the van (I was secretly hoping that this was not our transport) and asked if this was waiting for us. The man introduced himself as Tiger giving us a huge gapped tooth smile and invited us inside the vehicle. As we climbed in we were greeted by some other passengers also joining us for the weekend. There was only one spare seat in the back, but this being China where rules are made to be broken, no one seemed to care that Marina would have to sit on my lap for the 40 minute journey to our destination.
I suddenly started to feel slightly sceptical about this magical escape I had envisioned for us, looking to my left at the chap sat next to me my heart suddenly started to pound with nerves as we drove away from familiarity into the dark of night. His wrists and ankles were covered in beaded bracelets that kept making an infuriating jangling sound every time he flicked his wispy long hair from out of his face. Every inch of his arms and legs were covered in tattoos, and as he told us that this was not the first weekend like this that he had been to, and that he had many demons that needed letting out; I began to suspect that he was quite a complex character.
After a good half an hour of the journey; both of my legs now numb thanks to poor Marina who was sat crouched on my lap, her head hitting the roof of the car every time we hit a bump in the road,I asked how much longer we would be and Tiger said we should be arriving very soon. Suddenly the car turned off the main motorway and down an extremely dark eery track that was not a properly carved out road, this meant Marina was now holding on for dear life. As the car winded its way round the country lane I suddenly felt as if I was on the set of a horror movie. Where the hell had I brought us? how could I be so stupid we were definitely being abducted, sold off to slavery as foreigners. The car suddenly screeched to a halt Marina hitting the seat in front with force. I couldn’t even be relieved that we had finally arrived because as I hopped out the van and looked around all I could make out in the darkness were huge wooden gates guarding something that I could not see. I felt like crazy old Maurice in Beauty and the Beast when he arrives at the Beasts castle in the dead of night about to be taken in as a prisoner. What was lurking behind those gates?
The gates slowly creaked open and we began to enter into what seemed to be a courtyard. In the distance a procession of hooded figures in cloaks were slowly walking towards us, and as they got closer and took their hoods off, it became clear that we were at some sort of temple and these strange beings were nuns. Marina and I suddenly looked at each other, the same thoughts and questions reeling through our minds… …………
WHERE THE HELL ARE WE?