One of the great ironies of living in the international melting pot of Hong Kong is that it’s all too easy to stick to your little expat enclave and never experience the local culture (Wan Chai on a Saturday night does not really count as culture, nor does supermarket shopping at Jason’s or Fusion!).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the stereotypical expat existence is not totally fabulous and fun, but surely the expat experience is made all the richer when you step outside of your usual bubble and try something that can serve as a reminder that you are actually in the Far East.
And so it is with this spirit of wanting to “get amongst it” that I attended my first ever Tai Chi class at the Langham Hotel in Mong Kok; I’d often admired the many elderly people practicing Tai Chi in Shanghai’s parks and gardens when I was an expat there, but despite my Chinese friends suggesting I try, I’d never been game enough to join in.
As such, a class with Master Cheung was an excellent way to ease myself into it.
And when I say ease myself into it, it was certainly a nice, comfortable introduction – “getting amongst it” with the sharp edges sawn off! The idea of practicing Tai Chi on the deck next to the pool on Level 41 of the Langham Place Hotel did not sound too bad.
Nonetheless, despite the setting, I must admit, I was a little skeptical about it being a workout. I mean, it just looks too easy! I’m the type of person that likes to sweat when I workout – for example, in Shanghai I taught spin classes and took great pleasure in yelling at my students to “suck it up!” when they’d hauled out of bed in sub-zero temperatures at 6am. Would I be wasting my time?
From the outset, Master Cheung’s enthusiasm and obvious knowledge was engaging and he also made sure that I was not bored. Quite the opposite; I had to concentrate hard to keep up. Each small detail – from how I positioned my thumb, to the meaning behind each pose, kept both my mind and body engaged. It was certainly not easy, and I can see that with practice and greater understanding, Tai Chi would be incredibly meditative and calming. It’s not the kind of workout that I’m used to, but perhaps it is exactly the type of workout someone like me needs – a meditative form of exercise that nonetheless does not require me to sit still. Furthermore, the focus on breathing, strength and balance certainly left me feeling calm, and somewhat refreshed. Master Cheung is a true master and it was a privilege to have my first class taught by him.
Still, old habits die hard, and I must admit that one of the things that I enjoyed most about the practice was that the majority of sequences I learnt were designed to both repel and defend against an attacker. Yes, Master Cheung was using this graceful, seemingly peaceful practice to show me how to fight! As I moved through the poses in sequence, he explained how in doing so, I should make my hand like a claw in order to go for my attackers’ throat. Awesome! It was quite empowering to learn that some of the slow and studied movements would be the ones that would help me to remain safe, if I were in danger.
A real highlight was to leave a new exercise class having learnt more than just a few new skills. Because Master Chueng took the time to explain the meaning behind each sequence, I felt that I gained a little understanding not only of Tai Chi, but also in a small way, some small part of ancient Chinese culture.
If you wanted to make a day of it once you’ve finished your class, there is the option of paying to use Chuan Spa’s facilities – including pool, gym and spa (see our recent review here.) The gym was certainly one of the better-looking hotel gyms I’ve been to in Hong Kong, as was the pool with its pretty amazing location.
After all this, if you’re still in a “get amongst it” frame of mind, you are right in the middle of Mong Kok. Take a wander around the markets, see some fresh meat hanging in the sunshine next to cages of toads, and be glad for the contrasts and diversity that makes Hong Kong such a great place to live.
Then, I’d suggest you return to the pool at Langham Place and regain some of that of tranquility.
Cost: $80 per class – a bargain to try out Tai Chi in such an amazing setting!
Optional Chuan Spa Day Pass: $360
Spa Treatments: starting at around $500 – see here for full spa menu
Tai Chi Chuan Exercise class with Master Cheung
41/F, Langham Place Hotel, 555 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +(852) 3552 3510
Ironman, multiple marathoner, corporate lawyer, and mum of one, Jane grew up in a small coastal town in Australia. Not ever wanting to be too far from a beach, she recently moved south to Hong Kong after a 2-year stint in Shanghai. When she’s not running – either round and round a track or after a toddler – Jane studies Chinese, cooks for friends, and does crafts. This year she plans to break 3 hours in the marathon, and to finally finish the quilt that she started for her son’s first Christmas…