Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Trip to 2012 World Tai Chi Day in New York City!

It's been a few years now that I've heard about this "so called" World Tai Chi & Chi Gong Day, that takes place on the last Saturday every April.  This year (2012), my curiosity finally got the best of me, and began serious contemplation about attending this event.

One of the more popular World Tai Chi Day events takes place in Central Park in Manhattan, NYC.  I looked around on the internet to see if I could find other events that were closer, but didn't see anything other than local schools doing small events.  It's great that they are, and maybe in the future we will do the same, however I wanted to see what this well known venue had to offer.

After much deliberation, I decided that I would take the trip to New York City, and through some Chinese friends of mine, found the cheapest bus routes, and the cheapest Hotel to stay at in NYC Chinatown.  

When I told people I was going to take the Fung Wah bus from Boston to New York, they started to fear for my life, however they were quite acceptable for the most part, and I never felt they drove any worse than the busses from Nashua to Boston.  Other than trying to defend an empty seat next to me (due to cramped seats), the bus rides weren't all that terrible.

When I arrived in Chinatown, NYC on Friday afternoon, I got off the bus into the shock of my life.  I've never seen anything quite so busy.  I fortunately only had one backpack with me, but even with that strapped over my back it was hard to squeeze through the crowded streets.

So I pulled out my directions to the hotel, and couldn't figure them out to save my life, even though I knew the hotel was nearby.  I knew the hotel wasn't going to be a real nice place, but it was in Chinatown, and I wanted the experience of staying there... plus it was cheapest.  Then I saw a local Chinatown cop walking the beat, and asked him if he knew where my hotel was, and he had no clue. That's when I really knew the hotel was going to be pretty shabby! Imagine... the local police don't know where a hotel less than a thousand feet from you is?

Well I finally found the hotel, if you want to call it that, and looked up these long flights of narrow stairs, and began to ascend.  About half way up the various flights I saw the registration desk.  I checked in and they gave me the key to the room (or should I say closet). I went to the room and tried to use the key in the door, but the lock didn't work, the room had no windows, it just had a semi made bed and it was about 90 degrees and stuffy, with about one foot of room to walk outside the bed.  That's when I made the determination I was going to have to upgrade to a room with a window and a lock (imagine that).

I got into the new room, and I could see that the floors weren't really swept, and there was no drawers or closet, just a desk with dirty drawers and old insect wings hanging about.  Needless to say, I just hung my clothes on some hooks on the back of the door. There's no bathroom with the room, but there's two shared restrooms and showers on each floor. That's a whole other story. Because I had my iPad with me I was nervous about leaving it in this place, as it was pretty much a flop house, with people that live there on a regular basis.  I never had any theft problems though. This place makes some truck stops I've stayed at look like five star hotels.

When I sat on the bed it felt like I was sitting on plywood.  I figured that was just the type of mattress that they used in Chinatown, but later realized that it wasn't a mattress at all, but rather just a box-spring. Dare I complain?.. no way!  I left well enough alone, realizing that I had a room that locked and also had a window... at least I could breathe at night. When I did open the window, all I could hear was sirens, horns blowing, brakes squealing, and noise upon noise.

So I decided it was time to get out of the room and at least go walking, so I did my best to hide the iPad in the only place in the room that no one would think of looking.  I headed out the door and began my walkabout in New York City.  I may have quickly toured a little of Chinatown first, but really just began a trip north towards the main city.  I walked, and walked, and walked, then when I finally came home, I was starting to get hungry, and decided I should eat in Chinatown.

Of all the things I thought would be easy that weekend, finding a place to eat was top on the list. After all, I'm staying in Chinatown, and I love Chinese food.  The problem was that I was by myself, and every restaurant I peered into was either a hole in the wall that I dare not go into, or very nice places that had huge round tables for 10 plus people. I could not find any place with a bar or small tables to sit at. I finally found one place with a table for four, and even then they had to move a couple to a larger table for me to sit.  A little embarrassing to say the least. Now I'm very thankful for the restaurants that accommodate eating by yourself that we have in our area.

After a very stressful Friday evening, I got up real early on Saturday morning, wondering if it would be a repeat of Friday, but even longer. After all, this was supposed to be a relaxing Tai Chi weekend? So I decided to visit Chinatown's Columbia Park, which I heard was popular for Tai Chi Chuan (pronounced Tai ji Chuen) and other similar types of Chinese culture. To my pleasant surprise, I walked into the park to see groups of people warming up with some Chi Gong exercises and people practicing Tai Chi forms.  I sat and relaxed, breathing in the cool air, and finally started enjoying the culture of New York City's Chinatown.

After that it was a thrill to find a McDonalds and enjoy a coffee and breakfast sandwich.  Then I returned to Columbia Park and practiced my Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan form on the huge Pavilion overlooking the park.  It was so relaxing.  We need a park like that in NH, dedicated to Martial Art's practice.

Well, it was time to figure out how to get to Central Park for the World Tai Chi Day event, and by asking numerous people, I managed to figure out the subway system enough to get close. One thing I found about NY is that the people there are very friendly and helpful if you are lost. I asked, and received help from some guys that most people would cross the street to avoid for fear of their life... but they were quite helpful.

When I got off the subway near to central park (I believe Park Ave.)... I thought it would just be a walk through the park to get to the location of the event.  It was, but I had no idea how big Central Park was.   I ran into another Tai Chi player named Jim, and we both somehow trekked through and found the area, even though we separated for a time. After asking people, and getting sent left and right, I finally plugged "East Meadow" into my cell phone GPS and just navigated there.

I got to the event and although it wasn't as big as I thought it would be, there were quite a number of Tai Chi players and schools there and I was able to capture some photos and videos with my iPad. I originally thought it would be more spontaneous Tai Chi like in our New England Tai Chi Retreats, with people practicing all around the park, but it turned out to be mostly constant demos. It was great, but it was a little different than I expected.

When it was getting close to the end of the event, I began my trip back to Chinatown via 5th Avenue and thought I'd grab a bite to eat, but this time even pizza shops were so small that there weren't enough seats to sit down.  Oh well back to Chinatown.

When I returned to Chinatown, I pretty much headed to Columbia Park again, but this time to find a completely different environment than the peacefulness of the morning. The park was crowded with almost every bench space taken, Chinese musical instruments, singers and dancers filled the walks of the park, and every table had a Mahjong game going. Although quite a bit different than the quiet scene of the morning, it was still quite enjoyable watching Chinese culture, as though it were China.

The highlight of the evening was sitting and watching a Tai Chi Chuan Class on the same pavilion  where I practiced my Tai Chi form in the morning.  The teacher was very friendly, and didn't seem to mind me looking on. Though it was a different form than ours, it was still quite informative watching students taught their movements in such a pleasant environment.

I really enjoyed Columbia Park, and I recommend it to any that attend World Tai Chi Day in NYC in the future.  It's a great way to begin and end the day in a very authentic Chinese cultural way.

Other than the hotel (flop house) with dirt, bug wings, and box springs... I really enjoyed the weekend, it was certainly a new experience.  When I returned to Boston, I was also pleasantly surprised by a Tai Chi Chuan event in Boston's Chinatown during my bus layover.

Home at last... I just wanted to share my story with those that might care to hear!