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My Chinese Name, an Ancient Village and a Bamboo Forest

October 26, 2011

How Not to Get Hit is experiencing technical difficulties and so I’m afraid I cant bring you the full, fluid Tai Chi Tournament extravaganza just yet, that little treat will have to wait ’till the weekend.  Luckily, that was only the beginning of a rather busy weekend.  Let me tell you the story of how I got my Chinese name…

Ping Le Ancient Village is not, we quickly discovered, quite what it says on the tin.  Whilst I have no doubt that there has been a village there since ancient times, and few could argue with the picturesque high street and ancient architecture.  It does not take long to spot, between the ornate eaves of traditional buildings or the quaint bridges over the babbling brook in the centre of the main street, the familiar grey-tiled high-rise tower blocks of modern China – or the concrete seams in the classical looking walls before us.

“We have these all over China” one teacher explained, dashing my expectations in one fell swoop.  We were, it seemed, in something of a theme park, kitted out to look like an old town for the tourists but with modern facilities and a stage in the centre of a square off the high street.  Still, it is a working town and much of the side streets are indeed still original; as ever, you just have to venture off the beaten track to find them.  Which is what we did – wandering out of the main tourist area we discovered the real town; narrow streets, lanterns, people working and going about their daily routines; further still, the streets opened out in to small farmsteads and then, eventually, a gorge cutting through a bamboo forest-covered mountain.  Quite a treat.

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After exploring the town a bit on the first day, we selected a fish restaurant to dine in by examining the live fish out front.  “This one (Zhe Ge)?” The owner would ask, pointing at a large fish swimming about in a small bucket.  Jess turned to me, looking pale:

“Oh no, I don’t think I can eat it after I’ve seen it live” she was saying, but I didn’t catch the rest as, over her shoulder, the owner picked up a great big fish hook, speared one the size of a serving platter through the middle, lifted it up over her head and, with all her strength, brought it down with a mighty ‘SLAP’ on the floor of the restaurant.

Jess turned just in time to see the poor thing flailing around, hook still through its centre, until the woman managed to catch hold of the handle, lift, and bring it down again.  SLAP. This was the end for the poor creature, and almost too much for Jess.  Eventually we managed to convince her to come back from round the corner and sit down.  She opted for the pork.  The fish, though, was some of the finest I have ever tasted.

It did not take us long to discover that a trip to Ping Le ancient village to do some drawings was a thinly veiled excuse for a weekend drinking session, which is indeed what happened both nights we were there.  The Chinese way is to start early with a banquet, during which there are toasts every few minutes where you have to drain your glass with the person who instigated the toast.  Sometimes these are the whole group, sometimes just with two people but always, it seemed, including me.  Our hosts were fascinated with the English ability to put away the beer and, self-confessed lightweight in my own country, here (due largely to being about twice the size of everyone) my ability to quaff glass after glass made me something of a focal point for the evening’s entertainment.  It was almost like I was the subject of some kind of scientific experiment – people standing around rubbing there chins, staring at me quizzically and feeding yet more alcohol in to me just to see what happens next.

I read somewhere that some Chinese regard drinking as a way of gaining ‘face’, or respect, amongst their friends.  I don’t know how true this is, or whether it’s any different to the drinking culture we have in the UK, but after a while I decided it might be best to feign a stumble, appear a little drunk, so as to release a little pressure of being the unbeatable champion that everyone wants to beat.  Let the Wookie win.

Whether it was this, my admittedly awful attempts to speak Chinese, thumbing through my iPod Mandarin dictionary, or just that they liked Jess and so pitied me, I don’t know – but I seemed to endear myself to them over the two days and, as we gathered to leave, the teacher who I spent most of my time draining glasses with came up to me and proudly told me that they group had come up with a Chinese name for me, as Nathaniel was too hard to pronounce.

“Da Shan!”  He said, “Big Mountain!”  Pondering this for a moment, I nodded, and smiled.

“I like it” I replied.  Da Shan.  Big mountain.  That could stick, you know.

  1. Stuart permalink

    Splendid stuff, what a fantastic time you are having, i enjoy catching up with your blog posts and they always bring a smile to my face no matter what time of the morning it is that i read them.

    i do hope that fantastic tasting fish was one that you had no idea what it was, even when it was pulled from the bucket.

    i wonder how much of a feign it was to stumble? 😀

    keep taking big strides, Da Shan.

    Stuart (Yama yuki)

  2. Marc Moor permalink

    ‘Big Mountain’ sounds epic in the John Ford genre, to match your giant strides through history, martial arts and culture.

    I salute you Da Shan

    • Giant indeed, I feel like Gulliver over here! Seen some pics of your own epic journeys in the green green lands of Eire, looks like things are coming along nicely for Budo Warrior Schools can’t wait to get back and see what you’ve done with the place!

  3. There is a famous Canadian on Chinese TV with the name Da Shan. Most Chinese people know of him and assume he is the only laowai who can speak fluent Mandarin Chinese. If you speak just a little Mandarin or it is totally unbearable to hear, the Chinese people will ask you if you know Da Shan. It is a subtle way to say your Mandarin sucks.

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