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A not so ordinary travel blog for everyone who enjoys a good read. By Evelien Delgouffe.
Everything you need to know about STAR WARS in exactly 6.000 words
(*** Caution: this post consists of 0,5% silly wordplay, 0,5% nudity and 99% spoilers)
Has it ever happened to you that you totally unexpectedly meet a person with whom you have ridiculously many things in common, almost getting the feeling as if the Universe was plotting to unite you all along. The feeling of absolute bliss and understanding, the feeling of utter completeness, the sound of angels singing and happy bells ringing.
But then, all of a sudden, a big obstacle the size of a second Death Star arises?
This is what is happening to me… I have met a SUPER DUPER GREAT person, but there is one big obstacle…
The force isn’t strong in this one.
He doesn’t like Star Wars…
I swore I would never get involved with someone who doesn’t like this mega awesome saga but sometimes you can’t always get what you want…
Since he doesn’t like it *kuch* (LOSER) and I am obviously very passionate about it, I want us to share this interest, even if it’s just a little and I want to see if I can train him into becoming a Jedi Geek just in time for the 14th of December.
Him: “What’s the 14th of December?”
For him it’s just a regular day of the year. And this is exactly what needs to change in his feeble little brain because the 14th of December is the day all STAR WARS geeks (at least in Germany and the UK) are living for. It is our Christmas, New Year, Easter and birthday combined. It is the day Episode VIII: THE LAST JEDI arrives in theaters.
You: “So why doesn’t he like Star Wars, Evvy?”
Ha! I guess he doesn’t want to jump on the mega mainstream train. Or something went terribly wrong in his childhood… BUT he likes comic books so there is a little REY of NEW HOPE that the FORCE can be AWAKENED. (See how I just made a triple Star Wars reference? Anyone?)
Even though he might be a ‘loser’, he’s not a lost cause. I just need to use the right Jedi mind tricks to tickle his Star Wars interest. So far I came up with:
- A gorgeously hot woman in a golden bikini
Kick-ass action sequences
I will continue to explain him that if he opens his mind to this wonderful universe he will be enchanted by its depths, he will be able to connect with like minded people, he won’t feel so left out anymore in daily conversations, he won’t feel as if he is missing out and he will understand TV shows much better: Friends, That 70’s Show, Family Guy, Big Bang Theory… They all make references to Star Wars and there’s nothing more frustrating than missing the joke.
Also. And this applies for every not yet Star Wars fan: You can run but you can’t hide. Considering the pace with which Walt Disney is refueling the Star Wars craze (they have just announced AN OTHER trilogy) the Force will probably haunt you until the end of your days. If you can’t beat them -and believe me you can’t- then there’s only one thing left to do: TO JOIN THEM.
Ok so let’s commence the training!
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away
Every Star Wars film starts with yellow letters floating into outer space. This is called: the opening crawl. It basically unravels a background story in a couple of seconds, opening the floor to whatever is about to happen next. It enables you, the viewer, to be sucked into the action straight away instead of having to endure 1 hour of film before you come to the good part.
I made a little opening crawl just for you. Click here!
What’s quite extraordinary is that the very first Star Wars movie (Episode IV: ‘A New Hope’) starts somewhere in the middle of the big Star Wars narrative. Without any character or scenic introduction the yellow letters inform us that the Rebel Alliance have stolen plans from the Death Star in order to destroy the Galactic Empire and bring peace to the Galaxy where …
Don’t freak out. When the yellow letters rolled over the screen the first time in 1977 no one knew what the Death Star was or how the Galaxy looked like. You will get there! … But maybe I can’t jump to the plot line just yet….
Let’s go through some fundamentals first. In order to understand Star Wars you have to get an insight in its time line as it’s a little tricky with the different trilogies, episodes and spin offs.
The important thing to know is that:
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope chronologically is the FOURTH film out of the series even though it’s the FIRST one that was ever made. Released in May 1977. 40 years ago to be precise.
Let’s jump into history-hyperspace for a quick second:
Writing the 1970’s. President Nixon had just burnt his hands on the Watergate scandal, many people withdrew from politics altogether and turned from a hippie way of life to a pop culture–easy lifestyle. They listened to 8-track tapes of Jackson Browne, Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer and Marvin Gaye and smoked even more pot than they had in the 1960s. In general, by the end of the 70’s, many young people were using their hard-fought freedom to simply do as they pleased: to wear what they wanted, to grow their hair long, to have sex, to do drugs. Their liberation, in other words, is intensely personal -especially once the ‘personal computer’ finds its way to the people, which changed lives drastically- and science fiction finds its way into cinema.
People hear about ‘this far out movie’ being released in their nearest (drive in) cinema directed by ‘this guy named George Lucas’. It is described being a ‘space opera’. The people don’t really know what to expect but the movie poster shows some crazy cool glowing sword and a girl with cinnamon spice buns as a hair do. Totally revolutionary!
Even though the science fiction genre was -at this time- not very popular and a lot of movie distributors turned Lucas’ story down. It’s even been said that when Lucas showed the film to Spielberg and De Palma they were pretty much disappointed. Or potentially jealous? The first movie, however, was an unexpected box office success turning Star Wars into a pop culture phenomenon in no time. It captured imaginations with an irresistible force and had a huge effect on the film industry later on.
Catch the joke: a robot on the cover of PEOPLE
The first ever blockbuster was born and stayed record holder until E.T. decided to phone home and win the audience’s heart over in 1982.
Remeber when E.T. bumps into a Yoda costume during trick or treating and refers to him as ‘Home’?
Two sequels followed: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) making it into a trilogy. Throughout these three movies (respectively referred to as Episodes IV, V and VI) there are three important protagonists, played by three young performers who were instantly catapulted to superstardom.
Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), => Even though she passed away in 2016, she will continue to stay Princess Leia (aka the golden bikini girl) for all eternity. She will appear in Episode VIII for the last time.
Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Again E.T. is present. Not referring to the Indian guy in the back.
16 years after the very first trilogy, another trilogy was made. Again directed by -the at this point very famous- George Lucas. This trilogy, however, was not a sequel but a prequel. The prequel trilogy describes what had taken place over 32 years before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and primarily focuses on a young Darth Vader originally known as Anakin Skywalker (played by Jake Lloyd and later Hayden Christensen) and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan McGregor). It was the last trilogy to be distributed by 20th Century Fox.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) was the first of the three.
OK brace yourself. Remember I mentioned E.T. before? Well… watch this little clip from ‘The Phantom Menace’ and prepare to have your MIND BLOWN! => This is why E.T. recognizes Yoda in Spielberg’s blockbuster.
Two more films followed: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). These movies basically tell everything that happened until Episode IV.
Well yeah ALMOST everything, since the very recent spin-off ‘Rogue One’ (2016) also takes place before the first trilogy.
Me: “Ok then try to replace the light sabers with something you like, for instance … Errrr… French baguettes! And let’s go over it again in a nutshell.”
You have the original trilogy => Where the glowing sword and the cinnamon spice buns play quite a big part. Three movies that CHANGED the life of people all over the world until this very day => 16 years later another trilogy was established to reveal the history of the first trilogy that DIDN’T CHANGE the life of people all over the world since it kinda sucked => But the brand new trilogy (VII, VIII, IX) which follows the original trilogy (IV, V, VI) brings back the sentimental feelings the original trilogy brought to this world now 40 years ago.
Bear with me darling. It’s about to get better.
Let’s go through some fundamental lexicon:
THE SITH vs THE JEDI
Shit… AHM, I mean ‘Sith’ are basically the bad Jedi. They are overcome with hate. Jedi like Obi-Wan, Yoda and Luke Skywalker are good knights who use the metaphysical power of the Force to guard justice in the galaxy. They greet each other by saying: “May the force be with you”.
Ok then what is THE FORCE?
As Obi-Wan states himself in 1977’s Episode IV, A New Hope: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together”. The Force is mystical energy inside everything that can be controlled by certain people and is often said to be inspired by Taoist philosophy. Just like yin and yang, you have a light side and a dark side and they constantly interact with each other. On each side you also have masters/lords and apprentices. Darth Vader is the pupil of Lord Sidius (Emperor). Kylo Ren is the pupil of Emperor Snoke. Luke Skywalker was the pupil of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.
Let’s start chronologically:
What you ABSOLUTELY need to know about the first TRILOGY (these are the basics my friend):
The trilogy has 3 famous protagonists: Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Han Solo
These are the good guys. Well, Han Solo at first doesn’t appear to be a good guy, he is a rogue, but eventually he turns out to become a hero. He flies the ‘Millennium Falcon’, which is a space ship, together with his BFF and co-pilot Chewbacca aka Chewie aka the walking carpet. He is a 7-foot-tall Wookiee, a hairy, bipedal mammal who only makes gurgling noises. The two encounter Luke and Obi-Wan, a Jedi master, in a cantina in A New Hope and go on to join them, and later Leia, in Rebel attacks against the evil Empire. Luke has his own reasons to seek justice because his aunt and uncle -his legal guardians- were killed by the Empire.
Senator Palpatine before and after his make over into The Emperor / Lord Sidius #plasticsurgerygonewrong
Jabba The Hutt is also an antagonist. He is the most powerful crime boss on Tatooine, who has a bounty on Han Solo’s head in ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi‘.
- The Death Star is the Empire’s ultimate weapon
A huge spherical space station over 100 kilometers in diameter capable of destroying a planet with one shot of its superlaser. The Death Star is a very powerful and threatening piece of imagery throughout the saga. This space station is also populated by Imperial Storm Troopers. They are the troops of the Galactic Empire.
- Luke Skywalker is Darth Vader’s son!
If there is any quote from the movie you know, it’s probably : ‘Luke, I am your father’.
These famous words are being spoken by Darth Vader at the end of ‘Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’ and is until now known to be one of the biggest plot turns in history! Vader wants Luke to join him on the dark side to rule the Empire but Luke refuses since he’s a good guy. They get caught in a sweet light saber duel where Luke loses his hand but he finds a way to escape. One year later, after an intense training becoming a badass Jedi Knight, father and son Skywalker face each other again in the second Death Star. Luke defeats Vader and cuts off his hand in a revenge light saber match. The Emperor orders Luke to kill his father. Luke infuriates the Emperor because he refuses to do so. The Emperor tries to kill Luke but Vader intervenes and rescues his son by killing the Emperor. Vader eventually dies and Luke cremates him. The Empire is defeated. The people rejoice.
- Luke and Leia are actually brother and sister
Luke doesn’t find out until ‘Episode VI The Jedi Returns‘ that Leia is his twin sister. They were adopted by different families right after they were born. This causes a little bit of awkwardness since at first Luke crushes on Leia and they actually kiss in ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘. Yuk! But it was merely a trick pulled by Leia to make Han Solo jealous and eventually -after a lot of bickering- Han and Leia fall in love at the end of the third film. In ‘Episode VII The Force Awakens’ (2015) we find out that Leia and Han Solo actually have a child. A son called Kylo Ren. More on him later. And YES young Padawan (*): this means Princess Leia is Darth Vader’s daughter.
(* a Padawan is a Force-sensitive adolescent who trained in the Jedi Order to one day become a full-fledged Jedi.)
- Other important characters are:
– R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Built by Anakin Skywalker, C-3PO was designed as a protocol droid intended to assist in etiquette, customs and translation, boasting that he is “fluent in over six million forms of communication”. Along with his astromech droid counterpart and friend R2-D2, C-3PO provides comic relief within the narrative structure of the films. C-3PO was strongly influenced by the Maschinenmensch from Fritz Lang’s classic sci-fi film Metropolis , and played by British actor Anthony Daniels. Kenny Baker, a circus performer, got the role of R2-D2. Standing as an adult at three foot, eight inches (1.12 meters), Baker was short enough to fit into the robot and strong enough to operate the heavy machinery a child would have not been able to do.
Funny fact: While the film may show an unbreakable friendship between these two droids, the actors actually couldn’t stand each other and hardly talked to each other during filming. Baker passed away in 2016 aged 81 and got replaced by Scottish actor Jimmy Vee who will make his first credited appearance in Episode VIII this December.
– Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.
These are Jedi Masters and Luke becomes their apprentice. Yoda is that dyslectic little green goblin on the right. Instead of saying “We must destroy the Sith” he says: “Destroy the Sith we must”. He is the most powerful of Jedi and dies at the end of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi at the blessed age of 900. Yoda plays a big part in the prequel episodes I, II, III since he is Obi-Wan’s master. Obi-Wan becomes Anakin Skywalker’s master until he turns into the evil Darth Vader. Kenobi then continues to train Luke Skywalker. Obi-Wan dies in the first film of the original trilogy (Episode IV) after a duel with Vader, his former apprentice. Instead of being cut into two he vanishes into thin air. A technique evolved by Obi-Wan and Yoda.
What you ABSOLUTELY need to know about the SECOND TRILOGY:
Well that’s not entirely true. Let’s just say that the only thing you need to know is that the story evolves around Anakin Skywalker and his transition from being a young kid to becoming an adult and all the challenges related to it. The Force is very strong in him and he is believed to become a very promising Jedi. HOWEVER. When his mother gets brutally murdered, he feels the pull of the dark side growing stronger in himself and his surroundings. He ends up killing a bunch of Jedi and turns into the evil Lord Darth Vader(=> TAKE A MENTAL PICTURE: ANAKIN SKYWALKER IS DARTH VADER)
Queen Amidala dies in childbirth, and the Skywalker twins, Luke and Leia are separated; Leia is adopted by Senator Bail Organa and his wife on Aldaaran. She grows up as a Princess and later on becomes a secret member of the Rebel Alliance. C-3PO and R2-D2 are also in the custody of Bail Organa with C-3PO’s memory getting wiped in order to have the twins split-up and protected. => SO NO! C-3PO WAS NOT AWARE ANYMORE THAT LUKE AND LEIA WERE SIBLINGS WHEN HE SAW THEM KISSING
Luke is taken in by his uncle and aunt on Tatooine but we all know what happens to them at the beginning of Episode IV …
Roast beef anyone?
Kenobi disappears in exile on that same planet and from then on calls himself ‘Ben Kenobi’. Luke, Leia and Kenobi discover each other in Episode IV A New Hope. They bundle forces in order to restore peace in the Galaxy since Sidious and Vader succeeded in taking control of the Senate and later the galaxy forming the Galactic Empire. The two Sith oversee the construction of the first Death Star, a glimpse of the dark times to come.
I would suggest NOT to watch Episodes I, II, III but would advice to look for a re-cut instead.
Apparently Topher Grace (yep, Eric Forman from ‘That 70’s Show’) is such a big Star Wars fan he re-cut the three episodes into a 85 min film. That is the shortest Star Wars film ever made! He showed the film publicly to about 50 people, but it’s not currently available to watch in any other way, likely due to copyright issues.
Topher Grace playing Luke Skywalker in ‘That 70’s Show’
According to Slashfilm’s Peter Sciretta , who attended the screening, “Topher was able to completely tell the main narrative of Anakin Skywalker’s road from Jedi to the Sith,” and continued by saying, “What’s better is that the character motivations are even more clear and identifiable, a real character arc not bogged down by podraces, galactic senates, Jar Jar Binks, politics or most of the needless parts of the Star Wars prequels. It not only clarifies the story, but makes the film a lot more action-packed.”
Or watch this clip where you basically learn everything you need to know about the prequels in 3 solid minutes .
And while you’re at it you might as well check this video (2015) too:
Of course this video doesn’t yet speak of the recent trilogy from which we’ve only seen ‘Episode VII: The Force Awakens’.
Therefor: What you ABSOLUTELY need to know about the THIRD TRILOGY:
- It almost didn’t exist
Chronologically ‘Episode VII The Force Awakens’ is set around 30 years after ‘Episode VI Return of the Jedi’. Lucas originally planned a sequel trilogy in the mid-1970s, but had abandoned these plans by the late 1990s. The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm in late 2012 and then announced the production of a sequel trilogy. Unlike the previous two trilogies, whose films were released approximately three years apart, the sequel films are planned to be released two years apart. ‘Episode VIII The Last Jedi’ is set for release this December, with Rian Johnson as screenwriter and director. Episode IX was to be directed by ‘Jurassic World’ director Colin Trevorrow but he departed from the project. Shortly after, it was announced that Abrams would return to direct the film. It is scheduled to be released on December 20, 2019.
- It’s still very much a family affair (but maybe the last Skywalker one)
It is very clear that STAR WARS has always been a family affair (siblings kissing, father issues, children watching their parents die, a repetitive history of orphanage and exile, …) This road continues in the recent trilogy where Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo, steps into the footsteps of his grandfather Darth Vader.
Grand daddy issues…
Kylo Ren continues Vader’s legacy by setting up ‘The First Order’, a new collective of bad guys with the help of Supreme Leader Snoke (his mentor).
FUN FACT! Snoke is being played by Andy Serkis who y ou may know as that other ugly creature…
Just like with the original trilogy there is another father-son face off in ‘Episode VII The Force Awakens’, only this time resulting in the tragic death of one of Star War’s most loved characters: Han Solo. It’s all just a little bit of galactic history repeating but of course the fans love it. It captures the original Star Wars spirit where the prequel failed to do so.
- There is a new Death Star and a new R2-D2 in ‘The Force Awakens’
More history repeating!
- > Starkiller Base
In ‘Episode VII The Force Awakens’ the ball-shaped BB-8 droid gets introduced. In the film, the robot is the astromech of the Resistance X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Poe entrusts him with a map that must be delivered to the Resistance headquarters in order to determine the whereabouts of Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. While Poe is captured and interrogated by the sinister First Order commander Kylo Ren, BB-8 flees across the desert of the planet Jakku and finds sanctuary with the plucky scavenger Rey. Eventually Rey, the renegade stormtrooper Finn, Han Solo and Chewbacca bring BB-8 to Resistance leader Leia Organa, and ultimately reunite him with Poe. => This story echoes the story of ‘Episode IV A New Hope’ where Princess Leia hides the plans to destroy the Death Star inside R2-D2 along with a holographic recording. R2-D2 flees to the planet Tatooine together with protocol droid C-3PO in order to bring the plans to Obi-Wan Kenobi but bump into Luke Skywalker first. From there on the saga begins.
=> Personal note : Rey being Luke’s daughter could be the most obvious and therefor boring plot line but, nonetheless, makes the most sense. The original idea was that STAR WARS was going to be about three generations. You’d have the original trilogy, then go back to Luke’s father and find out what happened to him and if there was another seventh, eighth or ninth film, it would be about Luke’s children. However, Lucas changed his mind off and on. As announced by Lucasfilm, this recent trilogy also would mean the end of most of the existing Star Wars expanded universe, in order to give “maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience”.
LET THE COUNTDOWN BEGIN!
Who are Rey’s parents? What happened to Luke these past decades? Will Kylo Ren move to the light side of the Force? WHO IS THE LAST JEDI AND DOES THIS MEAN THE END OF THE JEDI ORDER.
What we know about ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’ so far is that the action picks up immediately after the events of 2015’s ‘Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens’ which ended with the film’s heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) coming face-to-face with an elderly Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now living a life of monastic solitude on a planet called Ahch-To.
The only information IMDB cares to share is the following:
Having taken her first steps into the larger Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.
Details about the plot are being kept under wraps, but director Rian Johnson has hinted that the film will be a war film, explaining that its tone was influenced by Second World War classics ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘Twelve O’Clock High’. “Particularly Twelve O’Clock High, a lot of that made it in there,” he said in July. “It ended up being a really personal part of it.”
Be prepared for some surprising plot twists. And potential kill offs… The Star Wars screenwriters have never been afraid of going all ‘Game Of Thrones’ and killing off main characters. Think of Obi-Wan, Yoda, Darth Vader, Han, … I can only imagine more favorite characters are likely to die. Possibly Luke Skywalker since the next trilogy (it has just been announced that Episodes X, XI and XII are coming) will move on from the Skywalker family. But then again, this is merely personal speculation.
14 REASONS WHY Episode VIII will be another box office smashing blockbuster. THESE ARE THE FACTS:
- It’s tradition: Star Wars is one of the most intergenerational movies in the history of cinema. Passed on from father/mother to son/daughter (trying not to be stereotypical here)
- It’s all about reconnecting to a lost childhood. # nostalgia!
- The movietrailer broke records. This is the first time people were actually aware of a trailer being able to do that. The clip shows Luke training Rey to use her Force powers on his rocky mountain outcrop, before telling her “I only know one truth – it’s time for the Jedi to end.” WATCH IT HERE
- There are too many questions that need answers ASAP . For instance: WHO IS THE LAST JEDI? Conveniently, Rian Johnson cleared this up speaking to the New York Times in September, he said the title referred to Skywalker, but added that there might be “wiggle room” for other interpretations. “Luke Skywalker, right now, is the last Jedi. There’s always wiggle room in these movies – everything is from a certain point of view – but coming into our story, he is the actual last of the Jedi. And he has removed himself and is alone on this island, for reasons unknown.”
- It will be the last time you’ll see old school heroes Carrie Fischer and Harrison Ford. *SNIF* The film will include a funeral for Han Solo, who was killed by his son Kylo Ren in ‘The Force Awakens’. Fisher will appear as Princess Leia one last time as all her scenes had been filmed by the time of her death in December 2016.
- These are films you just have to watch on the big screen .
- The Lucasfilm advertising machine promises us a mind blowing, not to miss, experience. Already interviewed in 2012 after the announcement of the new trilogy, Lucas biographer Dale Pollock already said that he had, in the 1980s, read the outlines to 12 Star Wars episodes planned by Lucas, but had been required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Pollock said: “The three most exciting stories were 7, 8 and 9. They had propulsive action, really interesting new worlds, new characters. I remember thinking, ‘I want to see these 3 movies.’”
- There are going to be more movies coming so you might as well jump on the train pronto if you don’t want to be left behind.
- It’s already a pretty sure thing that ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’ will be a piece of brilliant work otherwise Lucasfilm would have never commit to hiring director Rian Johnson to helm a whole new trilogy (X, XI, XII) if they weren’t impressed with his work. One more reason to be excited about this latest development!
- RED FLAG: Something HUGE is about to happen. It is said that this 3rd trilogy will be the last one focussing on the Skywalker family. And chances are pretty real the makers won’t wait until Episode IX to begin this big shift. The red letters are a major RED FLAG!
This isn’t the first time the yellow logo has changed to red for a movie — both ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’ had red logos. Both movies are the end of their respective trilogies, and also both considered to be the darkest. In Return, we’ve got Luke finally defeating the Emperor and the death of Darth Vader; with Revenge, we’ve got the fall of the Galactic Senate, the death of Padmé…and the death of Anakin Skywalker. Knowing that both movies featured a prominent Skywalker dying (even though they were both Anakin), this could mean Kylo Ren is going after his mother (Leia) and/or uncle (Luke) ending the Skywalker heritage?!
- Incoming: an evil R2-D2 !! Has R2-D2 moved over to the Dark Side. Well, no… But after the introduction of BB-8 in ‘The Force Awakens’ there is more fresh droid blood on its way! BB-9E will make it’s introduction in ‘The Last Jedi’ as the evil version of BB-8. According to Disney he belongs to the “astromech unit of the First Order that keep their starships and machinery operational.” We don’t know much more about BB-9E except that he’s probably Kylo Ren’s sidekick.
- Crazy Celebrity Cameos. This is probably the main reason for fans of old UK boybands and the British monarchy to check out the movie. As it’s been said that Take That-singer Gary Barlow has been given a character of his own, while Prince Harry and Prince William will make an appearance as Stormtroopers.
I Sith you not. The royal brothers payed a visit to Pinewood Studios last April and were completely fascinated as they explored the backstage area, and showed off their sibling rivalry with a playful lightsaber duel.
Actor John Boyega went on to confirm in a BBC Radio 4 interview that the royal brothers filmed cameos in the upcoming film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The actor reportedly revealed that the Princes had non-speaking parts as Stormtroopers, although he believes their scene was cut from the movie. We will have to find out for ourselves!
A big name that will definitely make an appearance as a Stormtrooper is TOM HARDY. Really following the footsteps of Daniel Craig (Hardy is said to become the new James Bond) who also played a Stormtrooper in the last Star Wars installment ‘The Force Awakens’. Find the clip here. N ew major additions to the cast include Benicio Del Toro as an unnamed villain, Laura Dern as Resistance fighter Amilyn Holdo, and Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, another member of the Resistance.
13. Look! It’s a new cuddly mascot!
W hile ‘Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi’ had the Ewoks, a kind of living alien teddy-bear,
The Last Jedi has porgs. According to LucasFilm these furry, birdlike creatures are native to the islands of Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker’s new home, so it’s possible the Jedi has befriended a few of them.
14. Make up your own final reason why you wanna watch Episode VIII and start crossing your galaxy calendar!
YOUR TRAINING HAS COME TO AN END. THANK YOU FOR APPLYING TO THE JEDI MASTER CLASS. WE SINCERELY HOPE YOU WILL CONTINUE TO PICK THE FRUITS OF YOUR TRAINING THROUGHOUT THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
May the force be with you
OH RIGHT I ALMOST FORGOT!
Since I have spent days putting this post together, doing a lot of research, reading a lot of theories, digging deeper… I came up with a personal theory on the future narrative of the saga.
Investigating the background of Kylo Ren’s name, I discovered that the expression number of the name ‘Kylo’ is 9 which basically means the following:
“Kylo are idealistic who embrace the principles of compassion and forgiveness. Kylo are visionary who is wiling to make a better world and have the ability to influence masses. Kylo are also creative and imaginative that gives them an artistic talent.”
My educated guess? Kylo Ren will eventually step over to the Light Side and will marry Rey in some reversed Anakin-Padmé story. They will have kids of their own who will carry out the next Star Wars generation and in their turn will flirt with the Light and the Dark Side of the Force. ‘The Last Jedi’ trailer basically confirms this theory with Kylo Ren reaching out his hand to Rey.
Got any Star Wars theories of your own? Feel free to share them!
Thank you for listening, the exam will be TOMORROW.
My ride. My fight. My life
In my last blog post I dropped the bomb on you by coming out of the closet with my resignation.
I’ve been getting some mixed reactions on that decision, but that’s okay. I still stand behind my choice. I haven’t been happier really. I have found the perfect balance between Work, Well-being and Writing. Something a lot of my colleagues are struggling with nowadays. I recognize that struggle and am happy I found my own way of balancing it out rationally.
Because, let’s be honest, I’m not going to make a decision like that and not have some kind of plan or idea of what’s next.
But first things first.
At the end of 2016 I came up with a little challenge for myself.
I just got back from months of traveling and I wanted to sink my teeth in a new adventure. With the money I saved up from working at the bar I bought my first ever race bike and I decided to participate in amateur road races.
I have been hanging around in cycling environments since 2014. And riding a bike myself, has always triggered me since then.
With the help of Golazo, Energy lab and all the good advice I could collect from friend-cyclists, cycling journos and family members I kicked off.
Once I started training I realized there would be a long way ahead for me to actually participate in amateur competitions.
So I decided to participate in bigger road races first. Since they’re more focused on the experience and endurance. And less on rankings.
My training started in November, a little later than planned since I was still struggling with moving out of my apartment and stabilizing here in Antwerp after being on the road for so long.
My first indoor mileage.
Then in December, I got the chance to go to Canada for three weeks and my schedule got postponed again.
Neglecting my diet.
Smoking the Christmas tree…
I was back in the saddle by January 10th. Combining trainings with working at the car show in Brussels for 10 days straight. It was a grueling attack on my limbs,
but I had to get started since I was supposed to ride a big cycling event and I had less than 3 months to get ready.
There were times I panicked. Hyperventilated. There were times I lost faith. But at least three times a week, I was on my bike. Before shifts I rode 1 – 2 hours. And on Sundays I did long runs from 3 – 5 hours.
The big problem was, since I had never rode a racing bike before, I was scared to go outside in winter. I was scared to fall and get injured. So most of the time I was training indoors. On rollers…
Even though you build up a decent condition and muscle strength, it doesn’t help you to get balance and core stability on the road.
I knew I had to go outside asap. But I was fucking terrified of my clip-less pedals.
I use a three-bolt clip-in system aka “the deathheads”.
These things could proper kill you.
Apparently everyone is a little scared of them at first. It involves a little bit of a learning curve.
Of course I realized that a little too late….
Without testing them thoroughly, I immediately went for a first ride on a sunny afternoon.
Clipped-in selfie taking. This is living on the edge!
I was riding for about 20 minutes when I had to make a stop at a busy crossroad. With the traffic lights being on red, I had made an excellent stop. I had put my left foot down, with my right foot still clipped in. As I was standing there for five minutes, waiting to lift off again, I realized there would be no way of crossing this busy road without pressing the pedestrian button. This button, however, was on the other side of the pillar. So I slowly maneuvered my way to it. While I was doing this, I started to lose my balance, tried to counter this by using my right foot, forgetting I was still clipped in and BAM!
There I was horizontally at the side of the road with my bike still attached to my feet while cars were racing by. I got back up and got away with some light bruising. I figured it was best to have that inevitable fall out of the way in order to improve myself on the road.
I continued my ride and didn’t fall after.
I figured I was ready for the next step.
I still regret the day I thought this….
So blonde & clueless…
Next Sunday, I called up my parents to go explore some bits of the road race I was about to attend in a couple of weeks. I hand picked out some of the heaviest climbs. Since I figured I had to know them in order to ride them. We went to the ‘Muur’ or ‘Wall’ of Geraardsbergen. A steep street paved with cobblestones, climbed every year by cyclists during the Tour of Flanders.
The Muur is about 1K long. I started off great. I was cycling up and up and up. With every turn the road got steeper and steeper. At one point it felt as if all the power was flowing out of my legs. And they just turned into stone. I panicked, because I realized I was stuck to my bike and getting out of clip-less pedals on a steep climb would be total suicide. At least for a beginner like me.
I got out with one shoe but my weight fell on the other side, wanting to find support on my right foot but that one was still clipped in.
I smacked onto the cobbles like a bag of Belgian potatoes. The horizontal cyclist, I am.
I got back up again and fell over again! Getting back in the saddle on a steep climb with clip-less pedals is total suicide number 2. At least for a beginner like me…
I was starting to think this training ride was a bad idea.
A+ for guts. D- for cleverness.
But I didn’t come here to just quit. So I rode back. To the bottom of the Wall. And tried again. On my way down I fell again. Trust me, falling over and over again really weighs on your mental state of being. I was feeling pissed off and I was starting to feel really scared and insecure of my riding skills. Also: I was trashing my bike like crazy. My steering wheel was already crooked.
As I tried again I climbed and climbed and climbed and at the point where I fell over before, I anticipated and tried to get out of my pedals faster. I figured that would be a good exercise. But same thing happened. The fall was even more spectacular this time. I didn’t even feel like getting back on my bike again. I was so displeased, I walked my way down on my stupid clown shoes and called it a day.
My parents were there waiting for me and were worried about me participating after what they had just witnessed. Since this day was a measure for nothing, we figured we might get something out of it while enjoying some traditional ‘mattentaarten‘.
A sweet pastry, made with matten paste or cheese curd. Something Geraardsbergen is very famous for. Something that could compensate this total waste of energy.
The disappointment is real.
On my way back home I felt like shit.
What was I thinking? You can’t tame a mustang just like that.
Did Jake just randomly jump on his Ikran and fly away? Don’t think so.
I have to make the bond (starting 00:30sec) if I want to live and tell my grandkids.
First I need to gain confidence on my bike, being outdoors. Only then I can try on the climbs clipped-in. Starting with the little hills. Then the big monuments.
I need to fucking learn how to walk before I can run.
Then it dawned on me. One year ago I was riding bikes in Australia and China. On the left side of the road with kangaroos crossing, through busy Chinese streets with no traffic rules whatsoever. Was I scared then? No way. Why? Because I was wearing sneakers.
If this is the only thing weighing me down for this challenge, then why should I risk hurting myself, my bike or other people participating? If I’m not confident on my bike, because of those clip-ins then this race would be total mayhem for me and everyone involved. I couldn’t take that chance. I much rather have my full confidence and lose all the pulling advantage clip-less pedals offer. My strength is in my legs and mind anyway.
After feeling bad for a day or two, I regained confidence. I had no other choice. I had decided to ride an other road race the week before my big challenge. I figured it would be a good final rehearsal. The ride would be 90 K. But the furthest milage outside (the hundreds and hundreds of kilometers on my rollers not included) was 25 K!
So the day before the race I went to Linkeroever to warm up.
And did a 50 K ride in a little over 2 hours.
Turned out it was a good preparation because the next day I managed to complete the 90 K in Gent-Wevelgem. The final 40 K I had to face tough wind which really pulled down my average speed. But another participant warned me in advance and advised me to spread my strength.
“Make sure to save your strength. The final 40 K there’s heavy wind.”
Roger that! My team mates from Cyclokorsakov were already putting the muscle in the mustard from minute one. But after 17 minutes I detached from my group and rode solo for the rest of the race. Also facing the wind solo. My neck and shoulders were cramping up so bad from battling Mother Nature. The final 10 K were killing me. I was hoping to find a fat arse to tug myself behind. But Gerrit was nowhere to be seen.
One minute out of wind can make a world of difference for your recovery.
That and many other things I learned from that first official ride.
- Don’t grab your drinking bottle during descents, for example.
- Nor on cobble stones.
- Also don’t bite your tongue on cobbles or you’ll bite it right off.
- Always warn if there’s a car coming. And make flight attendant gestures with your hands to make other points across.
- Make sure you drink enough to avoid muscle cramps. I made sure I had a sip every 15 minutes. I had one water bottle with me and one bottle filled with some hydrate mix to provide me with the necessary salts and minerals during my workout.
At provision there’s also a chance to refill your water bottle. And at Gent-Wevelgem there were big tanks with green stuff to keep you energized too. It looked as if the Ghostbusters had put Slimer in different containers. It smelled like the eighties too.
After 4 hours and 30 minutes in the saddle I reached the finish and it felt as if the weight of the world fell of my shoulders. I was extremely pleased with my result and felt ready for my big challenge the week after.
I knew I would have to dose my efforts in the week to come, though. Especially since I had to work and stand on my legs all day.
On Wednesday I went for a nice and easy 30 K ride.
And on Friday I did a quick recovery ride of only 45 minutes.
On my rollers. For old time’s sake…
I was almost ready for my big adventure. Almost. I just needed to loosen up the muscles and fill my energy tank with some healthy greens.
Luckily there was a fresh juice shop right at the end of the street where the massage place is.
=> Antwerp Thai Massage, Museumstraat 8, 2000 Antwerp
=> Fruxino, Museumstraat 1, 2000 Antwerp
I had one more day at the bar …
And then it was off to bed! I had set my alarm clock at 5 am. I wanted to be at the start at 7 and it is advisory to eat at least 2 hours before commencing a training or a race. 5 minutes before the start I like to eat an energy bar to keep me energized until the first provision. Usually two hours in.
I had 1 cup of coffee an two shots of espresso to give me that extra energy boost. The good thing about coffee is that it makes you hyper. The bad thing is that it makes you have to pee faster. And with bib shorts, that’s not an easy thing to do. For evident reasons…
APRIL 1st, D DAY
I felt like a clueless soldier rowing a boat to Normandy, signing up for a suicide job.
Due to some delay on the way, some administration and a pee break at the start, I left at 8 instead of 7am. It was raining, a little bit cold, and the sky was 50 shades of grey.
The first 30 K were psychological warfare. My goal was still a long way ahead of me and I wasn’t feeling confident I would make it. I wasn’t impressed with my legs, I was losing precious time on the climbs and the cobbles, and I realized I would be in the saddle for at least 6-8 hours. I was trying to pep talk myself into it but I missed the clue on why I was doing this.
At 30 K we had our first provision and there I made the click.
At provision you can find all kinds of food displayed for you. It’s easy to overindulge. I am still experiencing which foods benefit me and which don’t, but I find gingerbread to be easy digestible and quite enjoyable too. So at the first provision I had a slice of gingerbread and a cereal bar and a sip of orange energy drink.
At 77 K we had another provision right before the Koppenberg. There, I figured I would be in need of plenty of fast sugars so I ate a slice of gingerbread, a sugar waffle and a slice of banana. I also stretched for 2 minutes since I was experiencing some mild strain in my lower back.
The sugar sure did it’s job (not on the Koppenberg, since there were too many people and everybody had to walk up) but in my fifth hour I conquered 3 climbs in a row. I was impressed. It felt as if I had pressed a hidden power button.
During my final provision at 100 K I had a light meal consisting of 1 banana and 1 orange.
I was carrying a Powerbar which would come in handy in my final hour.
I can’t stress the importance to stay hydrated enough. You lose a lot of water during an intense workout and your muscles need this to recover. I tried to drink a sip of water with some added minerals each 15-20 minutes. As a result I stayed surprisingly fresh. Even after six hours I still wasn’t tired of riding.
Especially since I saw some riders at the side of the road bending over, rubbing their legs, pointing at their bikes, being too stiff to pick them up. I also saw a lot of riders being carried away by ambulances with broken bones. Also on the climbs riders fell over due to their clip-less pedals.
I knew the 141 K was in reach. The finish line was pulling me in like a lasso. The last 10 K, right after the impossible Paterberg, I was racing to the finish line at 30 K/hour. I felt so energized, I just had to give my all and ride myself empty until the very end.
I was living in my head the entire time. I was seeing flashbacks of my life. Of this past year. How, EXACTLY one year ago, I was riding a bike in Beijing.
And how, today, I was riding my own race bike during Flanders’ most beautiful road race. Over paved cobble stones where Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Boonen and Sagan would suffer (and even fall) the next day.
I was amazed about how my life keeps taking unexpected, but exciting turns. And how much it energizes me.
I couldn’t be happier with where I am today.
From the chain smoking journo I used to be. To the independent world explorer I became. And the Sporty Spice I am now. What a rollercoaster ride it has been.
And it felt great I was doing all this on my NIKES.
These sneakers have led me over mountain tops in Australia, through rough roads in Tasmania and through intense Kung Fu training in China. The CHI is in these shoes. And that April 1st, the CHI was with me. Shifu Gao, my Kung Fu friends (Celine, Audrey and many more), Tasmanian Cannibal Helmut, Sammy and all my other Tooperang farm friends, Goedele and Nairn, my gorgeous girl Steph … all of them were there to encourage me and push me over that finish line.
I was pleased with the symbolism. It made the circle complete. It almost brought me to tears.
All because of a pair of iconic sneakers.
First never follows. I like doing things my way. Make my own rules. Blonde/Clueless-style. I’m stubborn like cobbles.
I know there’s a lot of undiscovered potential inside of me. Inside all of us.
And I am going to explore this to the (Air) max.
On and off the bike. Who knows what other things I am capable of. It feels rewarding to discover myself in new ways. And I couldn’t be more proud of where I am today.
Once I reached the finish I was so pleased with my rodeo, I just wanted to fall into my parents’ arms and hug them. Too bad they were nowhere to be seen. I found them 45 minutes later napping in the car 5 K from the finish…
They made it up to me by taking me out for dinner immediately. I needed to refuel and it’s best to do this somewhere between 1 and 120 minutes after your workout.
Taking this to bed.
The next day I enjoyed washing my bike and watching the Tour of Flanders for pros.
I was happy to see Gilbert win. And to have Greg as his runner-up. I also think Niki is kinda cool too. I love to hear him talk.
The Tour of Flanders had a fairy tale ending in many ways.
I’m going to enjoy the moment for the days to come, and keep on training and riding. Next goal is to get better, faster and stronger on the bike.
Time to master that clip-less pedal learning curve. Helmets and seatbelts on everybody.
Smoking the mistletoe
After our Christmas celebrations, Celine and I got ready for a three day layover in Toronto. It would just be the two of us, Thelma & Louise-ing.
I was super stoked. Toronto is supposed to be an awesome city with a very multi-cultural community and a lot of artistic neighborhoods. Just get a load of Kensington, a very bright neighborhood. You got China Town, India Town, Greek Town, The Village, University campuses, you name it! PLUS: It’s Jim Carrey’s birth town and the backdrop of ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World’.
Look that’s Toronto in the back right there ❤
And Rihanna filmed her ‘Work’ video clip on the corner of Gerrard Street.
Wherever I was going I felt I was walking in a movie decor. The little houses with the little porches, the drug stores, the coffee and book shops on the corners, the big street car, … It all felt really American. And very non European. Just the way I like it.
The three days would be simple: just enjoy our time in the city, walk around and meet up with some friends of Celine. One of her friends even ended taking us up all the way to Niagara Falls.
All this water => filling up my bladder
But before I could see the falls I had to go through a haunted mansion. There were three levels of scariness.
- Vanilla scary shit
- Super scary shit
- Hardcore scary shit
I didn’t know what I was signing up for. It was Celine’s friend Ryan who bought the tickets and pushed me to get in.
It was pitch dark and there were things moving and invisible zombies and demons yelling and whispering. I couldn’t help but walk through the maze of terror with my hands over my ears hoping for it to be over as soon as possible. I could only come up with one thing to save my life:
But I wasn’t impressed with myself at all. What a ridiculous vampire slayer I would be.
Anyway, for the next part of this story it’s probably good to know we arrived in Toronto on the second day of Christmas. We got to borrow Celine’s dad’s bachelor pad and on the same night we were supposed to meet up with her friend Mel who lives in an apartment uptown. She invited us over for tea and crumpets.
All ready to hit the town!
We took the subway and the street car and a firm 30 minutes later we arrived at the apartment building. As we entered Mel’s unit it was almost as if we stepped into an oven.
The fumes alone would get us baked.
It had seemed Mel was having her good friend Mary Jane over.
And I’m not talking about a person.
You: “A robot?”
Mel: “Come on in, make yourself right at home. Care for a glass of red? I got you guys some chips, dips and sweet popcorn.”
I sat down on her couch and almost knocked over the ashtray with doobie butts.
The place reeked so much, I had a little trouble breathing regularly.
I’m not opposed to weed or anything. I actually like being in the presence of potheads. Seeing people get high relaxes me too. And occasionally I would take a hit or two if somebody offered. Just never that much. One time I got really sick off some freaky weed and puked my guts out for 5 hours straight. I made the fatal error of getting shit faced first and high after. Not my most elegant outing in 2016.
But I figured I would be up for some Christmas tree burning right about now.
And whilst we’re at it smoke all of the other christmas decorations.
After all we were the second day of Christmas. And being the diligent student I am, I didn’t finish my wine but went straight for the pot.
Me to Celine: “Let’s get Chinese eyes dude!”
I puffed the magic dragon back in China. It was the bees knees! I was curious how the stuff would taste here. And if it would taste anything like maple syrup.
This stoner circle was the bong! It felt like such a natural thing to do. Weed is far more accepted here in Canada than it is in Europe. They’re even legalizing it in 2017. What a lovely timing to be here.
After 30 minutes I was starting to feel a little to a lotta light headed. The room started dancing. And I had to interrupt our conversation for an important communication service:
I don’t remember what we were talking about but I remember not participating in the conversation. I just watched Celine’s mouth opening and closing and stared at it while the wallpaper was raining down the wall.
I think I picked up on a talk about how time doesn’t exist and how you can control your future with your mind. All this happened while carnival videos from Trinidad were playing in the background.
Mel: “Evelien, what is your take on this subject?”
Mel: You’re really liking that popcorn, hey? Here, why don’t you finish the rest of the production line.
On our way home I fell asleep 15 times on the tram. And we were only on there for about 7 minutes.
I was so sleepy, I just wanted to go home and cosy up to Lucy.
No kiss the dog Lucy. Our home girl.
Gimme some of that sweet sweet sugar.
The next day we kept it cool and walked around the city. I had the lucid idea of going to the dollar store and buying me some DIY stuff to make business cards.
The plan was to leave them all over town in coffee shops, thrift stores and the metro station. Ya know, spam the hood. Get the word out.
Fab people casually loving BGftBC at Reflections Vintage store
Enter narrator’s voice:
And that’s how the girl from Belgium made a splashin’ entrance in the throbbing town of Toronto. Ready for whatever adventure’s next on her itinerary: Ottawa, Quebec and Montréal.
=> Read all about my New Year’s resolutions next time on the blog. And my hot date with Celine’s dad ^^
The cycling of life
Writing January 2015. My editor gives me the look. The look he gives everyone who comes up with a lousy idea in a bid to try something new, edgy and different for the paper.
Editor: “Look Evelien, I admire your… ahm… creativity? But we’re not gonna turn you into a cross cyclist. Why the heck did you came up with that idea anyway?”
Me being deadly serious over here: “Because I want to challenge myself, write about every detail and make people think, push them to step out of their comfort zones. In which ever way they want to.”
Editor: “(shakes his head with a big male chauvinist grin on his face) Let’s not, okay?”
back to the daily reality guys. There’s been a murder 40K away from here. The wife apparently stabbed her husband with a pair of scissors and then tried to commit suicide but failed. She is now in the hospital where … ” His voice blurred into the background where it eventually muted. I was in my head. My silent bubble. My turmoil.
My choice for becoming a cross cyclist came forward out of frustrated ambitions, melancholy and heartache.
I wanted to rise above myself. Reinvent myself. Be proud of something I achieved.
I felt so damn ordinary.
Stuck in a daily routine. One where no one seemed to allow me to break free.
Not on my terms at least…
I was a woman shouting in the desert.
The idea was so pure and simple. And many times commercialized throughout my childhood years. I’m a kid from the MTV generation. And all I wanted was to be Made.
But nobody seemed to listen.
I gave in. I decided it maybe wasn’t the time or place to become something else. That maybe they were right, and I should just go back to being normal. “Being normal is already crazy enough.”
… They should just execute people who dare to say that out loud.
A couple of months later I crashed. Hard.
I had become so restless, I just couldn’t walk away from it any more. It was the big elephant in the room. Stampeding. I was looking for so much more. But I didn’t know what exactly. Or where to begin at all. I was scared as fuck.
It’s like jumping into the deep blue without knowing you can swim. Or end up piranha bait.
So -as you loyal readers of the blog already know- I quit my job and bought a ticket out of here. The furthest place I could imagine. Australia. And see from there.
<Seeing from there>
People blamed me I was running away from things. As if it was a bad thing.
But there are two ways to look at the picture here. What does an athlete do? Does he run away from the start? Or does he run towards the finish line?
In my head, yes, I was running away from something.
To run towards something else.
That made sense to me. And that’s all that mattered. No matter how tired I got of explaining myself to family, friends and coworkers.
On my travels I adapted a minimal lifestyle. I shared a shed with deadly spiders, slept in the passenger’s seat of a car, drove around the Sunshine Coast in a Mini Moke, kept the social encounters to a bare minimum, threw away clothes, insecurities and comfort zones. I let go. Trusted.
I read somewhere that people who trust things to faith are happier.
I ended up in China in a Kung Fu school to gain more self confidence and defensibility. Better reflexes too. I reached Japan and realized I was out of money. I worked with what I had. And the universe helped me out with the rest. My long travels brought me back to cycling this summer. I was back in the circus where I got hooked on adventure and fell in love with bicycles two years ago while I was working as a one-time Tour de France reporter. The cycle of life…
And the idea grew back on me.
I want to ride my bicycle.
And participate in amateur road races.
Starting now my life will be concentrated to two wheels. Almost two years too late. But better late than never.
The greatest ticket to freedom, excitement, endurance, self knowledge, and the occasional fall on the face.
A metaphor for life.
“You make every tomorrow faster by acting today. So even if you aren’t at the same level as everyone else, there’s only one way to get there and it’s by staying optimistic and giving it a go.”
(Ella Cycling Tips)
Let’s not kiss the asphalt on the first date. Nor the hood of a car. Or the side mirror of a big truck.
Stay on your bike.
BIG SALE /
They’re all out of fashion guys. I’ve stepped out of mine. People are stepping out of theirs. (Have you checked out srprs.me? It is the best invention ever. Well… Since the wheel, obviously. People are purchasing holidays without knowing where they’re going. I think I will treat myself to a surprise trip for my birthday this month!)
Why do we build up comfort zones? Materialistic ones and psychological ones?
Just think about all the junk you could get rid of. And how much you could actually gain from it.
Namasté all the way!
You: Ahm Evyy?… Aren’t you forgetting something?
You: Weren’t you supposed to tell us all about your new boyfriend you referred to on Facebook?
Me: … I just told you all about him.
You: (…) Is … Is your bike your new bf…?
Me: … Mmyes.
To be continued.
Enter… the fireworks
You: “Evvy are you there??”
You: “Why did you stop writing us? Did you forget about us? Are you slacking off??”
Me: “Err, no… I’ve just been a little preoccupied… Why don’t you staff me already!”
I know I usually send out at least one blog post a week, usually on a Sunday, but this Sunday -I didn’t forget- I just didn’t.
You: “Because you’re slacking off??”
Me: “No. I just decided not to. To leave you hungry for more. CAUSE BOY DO I HAVE A STORY FOR YOU!”
After the last blog post I wrote, events took quite some unexpected turns.
The first thing that took an unexpected turn was my spine. I decided to do a little light training on Sunday and ended up with my back completely screwed for the entirety of the following week. The best part: it was my last full week in the academy and I really wanted to make the most of it. Especially since I felt in such good shape the week before. I was doing super hero kicks and my hip flexers didn’t seem to bother me anymore. Apparently it had all just switched to my lower back (it’s all connected) and I’m pretty sure my little tumble on the top of Mount Amos in Tasmania, when I was trying to save Helmut from sliding down the mountain, planted the seed of all back injury evil.
Note to self: never rescue old gents from sliding into a ravine. They’ve had their life.
So on Monday I could barely get out of my bed. I could barely walk to the office. And I could barely confront my Shifu. I knew I would -again- disappoint him.
I decided to do as much as I could that morning. But I already knew that running, explosive movements and kicks were out of the question. Which is basically the basics of our training schedule. First training of the morning I couldn’t participate at all. I had to watch the rest using their perfectly functioning bodies while I was doing some exercises on the side and practiced my form. After lunch I decided to meet up with the massage Shifu again. I must really be in pain if I voluntarily go see the master of pain to help me get rid of my discomfort. He fights pain with more pain; but usually you feel great after a couple of days. After the bruising and the swelling goes down from him massaging the shit out of you.
Right before my back said ‘KRAK’!
I lied on his table of torture for an hour. Grinding my teeth again (I think I chipped a tooth) and thinking only happy thoughts. At the end, he rolled me on my side, cradled me with his elbows and broke my back. Well… he did not really break it, but I heard a KRAK alright. He told me some things (joints, bones, whatever) in my lower back were out of place. And he ‘assembled’ me back together. But from the moment I stood back on my feet I felt the exact same pain.
Translator translating massage Shifu: “You are not supposed to train today. And maybe tomorrow you should rest as well.”
Me: “B-b-b-ut it’s my last week….”
That afternoon I just sat there watching my team mates do Sanda (Chinese Kickboxing). The massage Shifu told me to stay absolutely still for a few hours. And keep my lower back warm with a hot water bottle. How pathetic am I?? I enroll in Kung Fu school, have only 30 days to make something of it and I have been crippled half of the time. I am not impressed with myself at all.
While my mind and body were arguing, I just glared over to the training. To my Shifu, who probably just thought I was being ‘a girl’. Not trying. Giving up.
“Your so-called kung fu is really quite pathetic”
But unlike last time, I didn’t put depressed thoughts in my head. I was strongly convinced that the next morning I would wake up with an entirely new back. I just had to. And I decided to give myself an extra push by doing a 50 minute Qigong session. To restore myself from all injuries. That night I slept like a baby. But I woke up as an old lady.
Still cripple, still hurting, still proper fucked. I even skipped Taiji that morning for the first time in my life. I couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoe laces, how could I possible do the crane movement, dipping down, digging up invisible earth, standing up with one leg stretched forward, dipping back down again? Instead I sat on my bed, ate my hard boiled eggs (protein) and thought of a plan to get through the week. The week that was supposed to be my moment of truth. The week where I would put everything I learned into practice…
That Tuesday training schedule was a little different than usual. And -lucky me- it worked in my benefit. Instead of doing Qigong and conditioning in school, we went to the mountain. It’s a steep hike, but somehow the steepness didn’t hurt my back so much, and I could just go at my own pace. I was pleased to feel my heart beating again. I was already looking forward to doing some Qigong overviewing the mountain. That’s like double healing power!!
C’mon Chi, work your magic! Momma needs a new back!
After Qigong I felt completely re-energized. I even participated in the power training that afternoon. I just decided to lift some weights while the young kids were running their lungs out and from the moment they would continue with ground exercises like sit ups, push ups, planks, … I joined. Power trainings are brutal. Afterwards you feel so tired, you get into an elevated state of being. And you usually feel exhausted in a really good way. Afterwards I found my way to another Qigong class. I was eager to see if all this Qigong would pay of on Wednesday. It seemed to! I still woke up with my old back, but somehow I had found a way to work with it. I just decided to ignore the shit out of it and continue training like usual. That morning I went to Taiji and I even completed an entire lesson of acrobatics. Usually the worst companion for your back. But I thought to myself: Fuck it, no pain no gain. And I’m tired of being the injured person. I’m not gonna let a crucial body part intervene with my training. I signed up for this, I’m gonna give it my all. Wednesday actually went down pretty good. After every training I was basically limping to my room, but at least I had trained. So even though I was in a lot of pain, I was also very cheery since I felt good about training.
In the afternoon we had Sanda again and I focused on my punches -the kicks were still tricky- because I’m hoping to put my training to use soon in an actual fight.
But first things first.
I still had to overcome Thursday training and NOT make my back any worse. Then I could possibly think about sparring on Friday.
On Thursday everything went downhill. My back was killing me and I didn’t know what to do. At the same time I found out my travel insurance had expired the day before. Grrrreat. Here I am with a fucked back, already one foot in the ring, not being insured for anything that may happen to me. To top that I was encountering some romantic trouble with a guy in school -school just isn’t interesting without some physical chemistry- and after all we were living in a monastery where everything fun is forbidden.
But I guess you’re never insured for that kind of collateral damage. I don’t know how I keep getting myself in this situation but I always fall for the guy that ends up screwing me over. Not in a good way… Acknowledging this is not the guy’s fault, but completely mine is something I have learned overtime, but it doesn’t prevent me from feeling annoyed and sad for a couple of hours.
I decided to flush Thursday down the drain as soon as possible and continue with my life on Friday. Whatever happens, will happen. I’m done fretting over it. It had seemed that the universe had given me an extra day to recover. Because of May Day coming up, the school moved the sparring to Saturday. So I had one extra day to mentally prepare. That day I woke up a new woman. D-day had arrived.
My back was still hurting, but I would find a way to fix that with an effective combination: adrenalin and tiger balm! I had three days of weekend after that anyway.
I was mentally prepared to face the ring; But I was a little worried I wouldn’t be physically prepared enough. I couldn’t go all the way during Sanda classes this week and the back injury is making me a lot slower than I would like to be. That morning in line up, the Shifu asked who of our group wanted to spar that day. When I lift up my hand, he started laughing and pointing at me.
Of course he saw me limping around school the entire week. I was shark bait. But I strongly believe in happy endings and transcending your own limits once you’re faced with them. This is everything I believe in. Not sparring (out of fear, pain or discomfort) would just be the biggest disappointment I could give myself.
I decided to stick with my guns and spar. And I decided to fight Teagan from the other Shaolin group.
She’s a girl (well, woman) from America and strong as hell. She’s much more experienced than I am but I was told to spar a more advanced student in order to learn better. The fact that she would probably beat the shit out of me, was a minor detail I had to bare in mind.
That morning I quickly bought a mouth guard from the school shop (apparently students have lost teeth before and these babies have cost me a lot of money to get them straightened, I’m not gonna let them be smashed) I was hoping that my Shifu would give me some pointers before the fight, but it seemed he just couldn’t care less. He left me hanging. I had hoped he might admire my guts, since I was the only girl in our group that had volunteered to spar, and I’m only in my third week. But then again, he’s not the one I’m sparring for.
Ali wrapping me up
When I was getting prepped in the training hall (Ali was helping me put on my wraps and was giving me some punch advice) I saw Teagan entering the training hall. She was already dressed to fight me. Oozing so much confidence and zen it made my stomach feel queazy. She had bruises on her upper arms as if she had just rubbed sun tan lotion on her body and accidentally had fallen asleep on some newspapers. Leaving an imprint all over her upper limbs. Also: she was supposed to spar three girls in total that day. That kinda says it all.
Translator Susan: “Evelien, hurry up, you’re the first one today. Teagan is already ready. Put on your safety gear and go to the ring. Hurry hurry!!”
Ali wasn’t even finished putting on my first wrap. And I still needed to take off my shoes and put shin protectors on!! This was going south already. But I had reached the point of no return. The next thing would be to step into that ring and acknowledge my inferiority.
My Shifu was the ringmaster of the day. Figures… We bowed before him and he quickly explained us some basic rules. No knees, no kicking in the crotch, no head bumps, … basically no dirty fighting. Only the moves we learned in class.
Shifu: “Leady? Fight!”
I looked Teagan in the eyes. She looked a little daft. Like she was in some spiritual place. Why wasn’t this girl nervous at all. She didn’t even blink.
I was thrown off by her zen-ness and before I realized it she latched out and punched me right in the nose. Damn this girl’s fist travels fast! I didn’t even see that one coming. While I was still recovering from her blow, she threw in another punch. And another. Wow, I was seeing fists everywhere. I decided to take a few steps back and travel around the ring a bit, to give myself some time to recover from the surprise attack and get my shit back together. I started punching her but it seemed like my punches never reached her. I was slow as hell. Always giving her just enough time to block my punches and responding my sissy ass fist bumps with proper fighting punches. For fuck’s sake dodge the glove! My mind and body were having an argument again. My Chi was trying to intervene: “Guys this isn’t the time, knock it off! Rather knock your opponent out!” I was starting to get a little scared here. We’re not even one minute in the ring together and already am I going down quicker than the Titanic. I’m also breathing like crazy. This fighting thing is tiring. It all looks so easy from a distance, but when you’re in that ring: time crawls by and fists reach you quicker than the blink of an eye. I tried to jab and throw in a cross but while I was too busy remembering some good combos, she was hitting me over and over again. She punched the side of my head a couple of times. I was seeing stars. I was backing off, scaring away from her massive arms. She sensed my fear. And my Shifu was -again- not impressed with me. I could hear him think: “The best defense is attack!! ATTACK!! MORE POWER!!” I had already forgotten about the 80 students watching me get beaten up ages ago. This was something between me and Teagan. And the Shifu. I started kicking her, hoping to affect her just a little but it felt like I was just tickling her. I was fighting like a girl (sorry for going all sexist on my own species). I decided to change my strategy from sparring to surviving. And remembering nothing is permanent, all pain shall pass, even this will come to an end.
Think happy thoughts
After 3 minutes my Shifu called it ‘a fight’. We took a bow (actually I forgot to do this, I immediately took off my gloves) and stepped outside the ring. I didn’t know exactly what to think about my performance, but I didn’t feel super bad about it.
I did it, I survived and actually I was quite pleased I had tried. Of course I could have done better but considering the circumstances -with my back hurting and all- things could have been worse. I was fearless. And that is what Kung Fu stands for: to let go of all your fears.
While I was limping to the side, watching the next fight I suddenly realized how my time in this school was coming to an end. It has passed so quickly. I only just got started. This was just enough time to be introduced to the mysteries of Kung Fu, to integrate myself into the school. I knew the next week would be rough, since I would have to say goodbye to something I didn’t want to leave behind yet.
I decided to latch on to the weekend and go for a never ending night out. Some people were celebrating their last day in the academy with a big party night in Yantai. A city a 1,5 hours drive from the academy. Before I entered this school I made a promise to myself I wouldn’t drink alcohol for 30 days. Well, that promise stranded at day 26 cause that night I was drinking alright. Way too much actually, but it felt good. I was enjoying myself and I still was very much in control of my actions. That night I also rekindled with the love interest I mentioned earlier in this post.
Right after a Chinese lady came on to me and kissed me…
What’s up with these girls wanting to kiss me?
I must have been putting out the vibe that night.
Sexual tension was building up really quickly between me and the guy. I guess all this fighting makes you horny. And the fact we had been living like monks the entire time.
Me: “This is it. The moment I have been waiting for since my hormones got all crazy on me back in Australia.” (See blog post ‘Hormones’)
Sex was in the air. I had a double room all to myself. And I’ve really been wanting to use the word gargantuan for a very long time now!
When we arrived at the hostel together we could finally touch each other.
You: “Way to go Evvy!! You had hot and sticky S-EGGS??”
Me: “Stop jumping ahead of my stories! I’ve warned you before!”
While he was lying on top of me -still dressed- and we were kissing heavily for about 30 minutes, we got so caught up in each other, really wanting to move things further, but somehow there was a barrier. We just couldn’t.
You: “… He couldn’t get it up?”
Me: “Oh he could get it up alright. It was something else…”
It was… conflicting Chi.
We had been doing all this Qigong these past weeks, all this mental training, learning not to live by our bodily needs. Somehow it just didn’t feel right to go all the way down to China Town. It’s not like anything could come from it anyway. This is just a fling. We should be able to surpass that and deal with it as monks.
“Less penetration, more meditation”
You: “It doesn’t necessarily have to become something. You can just enjoy yourself and have a good time, right?”
Me: “Yeah sure, that’s how you promote AIDS. But, either way, it just wasn’t the right time. And we both felt that way.”
In the end we were happy we contained ourselves and actually felt really proud of that achievement. Abstinence is pretty arousing as well. And we both knew some day the fire works would be lit. But no one was spreading his Chi tonight.
The next day we went for a nice dinner and that was it. I haven’t heard from him since, and that’s okay. We both have our lives to get back to.
On Monday I returned to the school. Due to the holiday we wouldn’t have training until Wednesday. Thursday night I would pack my bags and say goodbye to the academy.
I was sad. It was nice to have a purpose in life. To learn Kung Fu. Now that purpose was going away and I would have to learn how to get by on my own again. I was getting so comfortable in the school (maybe a little too) not having to carry my backpack around. Challenging my mind and body. Living in the moment. Not worrying about the future. But you cannot escape certain responsibilities. And that’s also something I have to learn to accept.
The final training day was a lot of fun. They gave me the privilege to shout at morning run (usually only the monitor gets to do that) and I was in charge of warm up. At the end of the day the Shifu closed the training day with another line up as usual. Only this time he had a little word prepared. Since it was my last day he congratulated me on completing my training.
Translator Susan translating Shifu: “Even though you were injured, you always kept training and never gave up. The Shifu thinks you are a very strong girl. He hopes you can take care of your body and you will continue to enjoy the fruits of your training in your everyday life.”
While Susan was translating the Shifu looked at me with the cutest face ever. I always knew there was some kind of mutual respect, even though he didn’t always show it to me. I asked permission to say goodbye to each and every one of our group. While my team mates were still lined up I worked my way down the line, shaking everybody’s hand and saying something to each team mate individually since I shared a memory with each and every one of them. Things were getting a little emotional as soon as I had reached the end of the line and faced my friend Audrey. I didn’t say anything to her. We just did our secret handshake. After, I turned around. Shook the hand of the assistant Shifu and translator Susan, saving Shifu for last. When I looked him in the eye, my eyes all teared up. As soon as he noticed he directed his eyes to the floor.
Me: “Thank you Shifu. Thank you for everything….. It was … my pleasure.”
He probably was -again- embarrassed by me and my over emotional-ness. We have only known each other for a month and here I am sobbing like I’ve been here for five years. But I meant every tear. I’m really gonna miss this guy. The Shifu kept his head pointing towards the ground and nodded. He is trained not to show emotions. But as if the Chinese gods intended it, rain suddenly fell out of the sky. Pouring down on us harder and harder.
“The sky is crying for you”, Rebekka, a girl from my group said.
I went to my room to collect my bag and said goodbye to my roomie Celine.
The taxi was waiting for me outside. And… also the Shifu. He walked with me towards the taxi. Videotaping me saying goodbye to some of the friends I made. …He has a very popular youTube channel and likes making videos… We’re his major attraction.
Audrey whispering: “The Shifu really likes you. He’s sad you’re leaving.”
The Shifu? Sad? I looked over at him standing there all helpless and wrapped my arms around myself as a way to ask him if I could hug him. He smiled and gave his phone to someone to hold it for him. We hugged, and again I thanked him. I didn’t cry this time. I saved my tears for inside the taxi. When I saw the Kun Yu Shan mountains slowly but surely disappear behind me. It had seemed I left the same way I arrived. With waterworks.
But a lot more strength both inside and out. Thank you… universe?… for this amazing opportunity. To many more adventures to come! Next stop: Shanghai!
BTW: My roomie Celine and I celebrated our final night together in style. We heated up some chocolate with a candle and made us some chocolate fondue and watched a movie. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
The power of Chi
As you could read in my previous post, life in this academy can be quite confronting. You get confronted with your limits, your incapabilities, your doubts and your fears. But the thing I’ve been experiencing most problems with. Is how confronting my age has suddenly become.
A lot of these kids here are around 21, there are even some 17-18-19 year olds of which I thought they were actually my age.
When I was that age, enrolling in a martial arts school in a far away country to train 40 hours a week was the furthest thing on my mind. I was too busy being a book worm, studying and providing for my future. I was very career minded. Very serious, actually. And very insecure. I was always worried about what other people would think of me. I was always trying to fit in and if somebody would say a mean thing about me, that would bother me for days.
With age, I learned not to care about that anymore. That’s one of the few positive sides of aging.
However. Some comments do still affect me. They don’t hurt me. They just fucking piss me off. For instance, when my article on HLN.be got published about traveling without a plan and living life to the fullest, I couldn’t help but check how people were reacting to it. Most of the comments were good. But, of course, there were also some bad comments. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. And you don’t have to agree with me and my way of living. Different people, different ideas. It’s just the way some people pin you down instantly as a selfish brat that probably hasn’t got any sick relatives to take care of, and shouldn’t expect any help from others when she is in trouble, is just so narrow minded that it drives me claustrophobically insane. If someone would say this to my face I would fucking rip theirs off.
First of all: No, I don’t have a sick relative to take care of. Lucky me! And lucky relatives of mine! That we’re all healthy and perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.
Seconds: I don’t believe people should need other people or that people should put their lives on hold for others. Of course if my mother or father was sick, I would take care of them. But I wouldn’t stop living. The day before I left, someone close to me got really upset about me leaving because she needed me to be there because she was having a baby soon… I couldn’t believe anyone could demand me to stay for the sake of her choosing to reproduce. That just didn’t fit in my head. I’m sorry but I’m not gonna neglect myself because of others. This is my life and I choose how I live it.
But then again, I’m not super human either. So I do ask myself that question occasionally:
AM I BEING SELFISH?
The way it began for me: I really needed to leave my everyday routine and live completely in the moment. I believe people who choose to do so, don’t have to feel bad about that. For example Maryam, who I met in Tasmania, her mother back in Iran was really sick but that didn’t prevent her from traveling around Australia. And her mother didn’t blame her. Is she selfish? No way. It’s not like she was getting wasted every night, partying away. She was there dealing with her own personal struggles and challenges while dealing with her mother’s sickness. People need to understand that going away to travel for longer periods of time isn’t about lying on a deck of a cruise ship, sipping frozen strawberry margaritas and doing nothing. No, that’s holidaying. Traveling is embarking on a journey to gain important life lessons from it. And that usually doesn’t always go as expected, or doesn’t necessarily have to be a better life than the one you had at home. It’s all about experiencing, learning, to seek confrontation with yourself and others. Surviving basically.
To do that on your own requires braveness, independence and creativity. People blame us travelers for taking the easy way out, running away from responsibilities, but honestly if I really wanted to have an easy life I would have just stayed at home, curled up in my comfort zone. My life isn’t easier. It has simplified, yes. Cause I took all the bad Chi out, and only keep the good Chi.
You: “Sorry Evvy, but what is Chi exact-ly?”
Me: Ahaa! Very good question, You-san!
Chi (or Qi) is the fundamental life force that flows through all and everything. It basically differentiates a living human being from a corpse.
A strong life force makes a human being totally alive, alert and present while a weak force results in sluggishness and fatigue. You can increase and develop your Chi to overcome illness, become more vibrant and enhance mental capacity.
That’s what Taiji and Qigong are all about. If I would only find a way to shut up my mind while I stand there frozen for 40 minutes with my eyes closed and knees bent, while trying to find a magnetic sensation between my fingertips.
Basically you should think about your body, your blood flow, … Or birds. Birds are always good. It should bring you into an elevated state of being. If you achieve in doing that, Godzilla could drop in the school yard and you wouldn’t even move a muscle.
“Shit, they’re doing Qigong. There goes my terrifying entrance.”
Or how coach Ariel likes to put it: “No matter what happens, no matter how much it hurts, do not open your eyes, do not drop your arms, do not straighten your legs, just focus on your laogong* points.”
That basically means if someone would stand next to you and burn your face with a Bunsen burner, or fire gun shots at you, you are not supposed to move. Yeah, it’s advanced. ***
(*** BTW coach Ariel did an awesome thing this week. He broke a brick with his bare hand while holding an egg inside his palm. Guess what?? The egg didn’t break! The egg was real alright, he showed us after. Right before his palm magically gave birth to an unidentified living sentinel thing with sharp teeth!)
… Okay that last part I made up…
I think this whole Chinese philosophy thing is super interesting, though. But sometimes it’s a lot to process. Especially when the lessons are in Chinese, and the school translator isn’t doing a very good job getting the point across. I was following a Taoism class the other day and I just couldn’t understand everything the master was explaining us. I was #dafuq’ing all over the place.
During that class we were supposed to learn about Feng Shui. But at the end the only thing I actually remembered was that it means Wind – Water. I decided to run over to Amanda, the weirdest of translators, always wearing the most colorful and funny outfits, and ask her the obvious question:
Me: “Amanda, what in da funk is the difference between Chi and Feng Shui?”
She stared at me with her beady eyes, not really understanding how I had just came out of a one hour Taoism class about Feng Shui still asking that question.
Amanda: “Well, Feng Shui is all about harmony around you. Your home, the trees, the buildings around you, … They have to be aligned so that the wind/water can flow without blockages. While Chi is the energy inside your body. If someone has a weak voice, for example, then that person has weak Chi. If a person has a strong voice than that person has a strong Chi. Got it?
Wow, Amanda had just provided me with an interesting insight there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this academy so far -besides spider man crawls, walking push ups and Russian push ups- it’s definitely how to speak loudly and raise my voice.
My whole life I’ve been too much of an introvert to do that properly. And sometimes I just swallowed words or I would begin a sentence loudly and end it softly. Mumbling. When we train I yell it out like crazy. My punch doesn’t come out without a loud and clear : TSE HA! They taught me that the first day. To scream and shout, to do your movements with power. The Shifu is always screaming: ‘Louder! More Power!’ And when we do laps around the school yard we always count as loud as we can. Like soldiers.
Leader: ‘Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi … (group echo: Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi Er, Yi)
Leader: Yi Er, San Si (group echo: Yi Er, San Si)
Leader: Yi, Er, Saaaaan Si! (group echo: Yi, Er, Saaaaan Si!)
I guess that means I have a strong Chi! Thanks Amanda! You made it a lot more clear! Now go back to being weird!
With her clearing up that question, I could finally answer that other question for myself.
AM I BEING SELFISH?
No! Of course not!! If this traveling and experiencing new things is doing all this good to me, then w hy should I be ashamed of living for me? It took me a while to come up with an antonym for selfish, until I finally got it: if I’m doing this for anything, it’s out of SELF LOVE. And subsequently the love I have for others. The most important people in my life. Cause when I am a stronger Evelien, they’ll gain from it too. If I’m not happy with the way things are going in my life, how can you expect I will be of any beneficence in your life? My Feng Shui would fuck up your Feng Shui, and then we would both end up with bad Chi, shitting that bad Chi on other people, creating a bad Chi-chaos that would eventually bring this whole world to an end.
Now THAT! would be selfish.
There are no blockages in my system, I can love others much more than I ever could before. I can literally empower others with my Chi. And I will, once I return. You better be ready!
Screw you guys, Imma do whatever the fuck I want. It’s good for you. It’s good for me. It is the power of Chi.
Nourishing my Chi. Out of self love. Of course. Every Saturday I go to the bakery in Mu Ping and treat myself to a nice pineapple pie. It iz zie best! ❤
Kung Fu Panda
So as you may or may not know -I have been keeping this a secret for a very long time- I didn’t really go to China to explore/discover/travel like I did in Australia. I know everything’s a knock off in China, but I was not gonna copy myself just like that. No no no no, no, China had to be a chapter at it’s own. A one of a kind experience … And that’s how I got enrolled in….
Yup you’re looking at a real life Kung Fu Panda here
(Any relations with Kung Fu Panda 3 hitting theaters at the same time is merely a coincidence)
The panda thing isn’t even a lie. Australia made me fat and since I haven’t got a decent sleep in weeks I’m starting to get panda eyes as well!
So yes, I am currently a residing student at a Martial Arts school 5 hours away (by fast train) from Beijing. I took the train on Tuesday morning and arrived at the school in the afternoon.
After indulging on a big Panda breakfast of course. Steamed buns at 6am in the morning with my loyal travel partner!
You: “But Evvy, how did you manage to get yourself accepted in that school? You don’t know funk about kung fu?!”
Me: Well, that is correct. My experiences in Kung Fu are very little to none*.
* I did take a Win Chung class in Melbourne (…) and watched a lot of martial arts movies when I was little, not to forget I was very lethal at playing Street Fighter and Mortal Combat on Super Nintendo.
Don’t be fooled by this honey badger paws. I am indeed very lethal. Especially after big breakfasts. (pic from when I was indulging (again) in LA november 2014)
Once I started looking into traveling I asked myself a lot of questions: What are your dreams? What have you always wanted to do but couldn’t because of it not being the right time or place? Or because you thought it would never be possible? While I was sitting in my apartment in Antwerp I flashbacked to a moment in time, almost two years ago, where I was lying on my couch one Saturday morning watching Kill Bill volume 2. I was having a bloody good oat meal breakfast while watching a gory massacre in a wedding chapel. When Beatrix arrived to that temple to become a lean, mean, killing machine I wondered: are there any actual schools that train chicks to become really bad ass martial arts…ies?? Eventually I never end up checking that. Until a few months ago. I suddenly realized that was something that had stuck in the back of my head somewhere. At that time I had already made up my mind about going to Australia. So it was merely out of curiosity I went to have a look on the internet. It took me less than a minute to find a martial arts school that lived up to all the expectations I had:
° It was somewhere up in the mountains, so far away from every day life/tourism;
° They had a temple;
° They had awesome monks and masters;
° They offered trainings to everybody from around the world;
° AND: the bottom of the website stated that everybody was welcome, even if you have minor background in martial arts!
At that moment my heart almost jumped right out of my chest.
I didn’t know where to go with my excitement and decided to get in touch with the school, telling them who I am, where I come from and see where it goes from there. Within a couple of hours I got an email back and before I knew it I was finding a way to fitting in a China chapter into the Australia Chapter and throwing in an extra Japan chapter since I thought: if I go to China, I might as well take an extra plane to see Japan as well since I might never get that close again.
So that my friends, is how it all started…
Of course it sounded super spectacular in my head, but when I arrived at that school ….
IT WAS EVEN MORE AWESOME!
Even though I was very doubtful that day. While I was sitting in the shuttle bus that was taking me from the station to the school I thought to myself: this is gonna be some lazy ass thing for tourists, there’s a big chance I’ve been building this up way too much in my head and it probably won’t live up to my expectations and blablabla…
When the bus rolled in to the school yard, there were twenty people sitting on the stairs in front of the main building. They were just hanging, wearing sweat pants, watching ‘the new kid’ arrive. I’m gonna be honest with you it was a little intimidating. I stepped out of the bus and then the embarrassing thing had to happen: I would have to take out all my bags out of the trunk (my very big backpack and hand luggage). These kids probably thought I was staying for at least 2 years. I said hello from a distance but was rescued by the translator -yes we have translators here- who immediately took me up to my room. It’s a very old building and in winters it gets to minus 25 degrees INSIDE. You can wear every piece of clothing you own, attach warm water bottles to your body and still be f*cking freezing. I was lucky I came in Spring. Every day it gets a little hotter than the day before and some trainings are held outside. As we were walking up the stairs (I’m on the third floor, being the highest floor in the building. I already knew then and there I would be cursing those stairs after a day full of training) The white green paint on the walls was peeling off and I suddenly felt back in high school again. Well there was a mix of things it reminded me off: prison, boarding school, a police academy or a dance school. But not the prestigious USA one we all know from FAME, more the very basic Soviet one. As we arrived up to my floor I saw some weapons lying in the hall way, posters of Kung Fu movies hanging on doors and some dry racks where people had put up their exercising gear. We paused at one door. Susan (the translator) handed me over the key and squeezed her almond shaped eyes into perfectly horizontal lines: “This is your room. I will give you a tour of the school later after you unpack your things.”
I entered a room not bigger than 4 by 2. There were three beds so I immediately figured it came with two room mates who weren’t in at the moment. There were also three wardrobes, three desks and three water containers. Since the tap water isn’t suitable for drinking, we have to tap hot water from a hot water dispenser, let it cool off during the night, to have cold drinking water in the morning to drink during the day. I cast the backpack off my back, stretched out and threw myself on the bed to relax for two minutes. Bad idea. There was no mattress in the bed. Just a wooden board with quilts on it. And a pillow. Even sleeping is to be seen as conditioning training…
I decided to go for a little stroll and explore my floor. I found out all floors were mixed as soon as I saw signs stating ‘male toilet’, ‘female toilet’ and ‘male washing room’. The female washing room is all the way down on the ground floor. Yes that means after a day of long, hard training I have to go upstairs to get my towel and toiletries, go downstairs to take a shower, and go upstairs again to close my eyes and sleep. Unless I forgot to fill up my water bottle, which means I have to go all the way back down again to fill that up (since the hot water tap is on the same floor as the female washing room, and I will regret not having water in the morning cause I have to keep hydrated during the day if I don’t want to end up on a hospital bed or worse… D-E-….hydrated. Of course.
Even though all floors are mixed, only men can cohabit with men and only females can cohabit with females. It is FORBIDDEN to sleep together or get too physical with each other. A hug during training isn’t the same as a hug after hours. Boys are not allowed to walk around bare chested and girls cannot walk around in their sports bra. We can visit each other’s rooms but not after 9.30 pm otherwise you get the staff. No I’m kidding, but people have been staffed, so I’m told…
Of course any enjoyable physical contact is forbidden. No sex. And no, anal sex is not an exception. Even though that’s not always enjoyable for some people…
After I got my things organized, Susan showed me around the school. I found out there is an old building (where I and most of the students are staying, the head office is also located here), there is a new building where optional classes such as Mandarin, massage, acupuncture and calligraphy and Taoisme is given. There is also a TV but most people just watch movies in their rooms on their laptops. The internet connection is shit. So if you want to stream a movie you must load it hours in advance. You always have to think in advance here: If you want to have drinking water, you have to take care of that at least 8 hours in advance, if you want to see a movie, same thing. I guess that’s what fighting is all about: anticipation.
But Kung Fu is not about fighting. It’s about learning to fight to learn not to fight. Kung Fu warriors are warriors of Peace. They don’t support violence, but will defend themselves fiercely to maintain the peace. That’s why I like martial arts so much. There’s a positive vibe to it, even though you are trained to be a very effective fighting machine.
The day of my arrival I just observed the classes, to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. Obim, a Swedish student, took me under his guard and gave me some insights while we were following the trainings. He was sick that day so couldn’t participate either. He was the first friend I made. After that I made another one and another one and another one, …. by the next day I almost knew everybody of my group and people were even remembering my name! I have never been accepted this easily. When I started playing basketball I had to suffer two years to be where I was now. This time, it took me half a day. I know why though: we are all outkasts here, have all been bullied or have felt unaccepted in life before, and therefor grew a love for geeky stuff like movies, comic books, and martial arts. Everybody gets along really quickly because of that, and it’s nice to meet so many people from all over the world to discover they’re just like you and share the same humor and interests. I love that.
So first day of training….
Before training I was told I had to introduce myself in front of the entire school. I hadn’t really prepared actually, I just decided to go with the flow.
Every morning there is a line up. You have to line up, stand straight and greet the master. I felt in North Korea. My Shifu is master Gao, he’s the Rufio to my Peter Pan since he’s only 23. After greeting, I had to walk forward and tell everybody who I was in 30 seconds.
I decided not to mention I was a journalist back in Belgium ’cause a) I didn’t want them to think I infiltrated the school and b) They probably don’t give a fuck.
Since it was Wednesday the day started with acrobatics. Apparently that’s a class everybody dreads but I kind of enjoy it. As a kid I was always rolling in the grass doing cart wheels and splits but with age some things don’t go as smooth as they used to. That first training day I suffered a couple of bad landings and hurt my neck over and over again falling on my back. I thought I sucked ass. At the end of the class the Shifu called me over, said some things in Chinese I didn’t understand but luckily Susan was there to translate. That’s what she gets paid for anyway. To give bad dub jobs.
Susan: “The master says you did very well. You have very good body condition and are a very clever student. Keep up that energy for the rest of your stay and you will learn a lot.”
I was humbled by such a compliment. Especially since the Shifu is tough as nails. He’s only 23 but he’s a former Chinese kickboxing Champion and isn’t afraid of using the staff when you don’t perform the way he likes. I managed to survive a whole day of training and even did the optional Xi Quon class. You have to sit or stand 40 minutes in one position while pulling your hands away and towards each other without making your fingertips touch. You have to imagine there’s a magnetic field that is drawing them away and towards each other. After five minutes my shoulders were cramping up and my mind went bazurk*. (*Sorry if this spelling is completely wrong, I don’t have Google to check it!)
My mind going bazurk: “No fucking way I’m holding this up for 40 minutes. This isn’t fucking possible, this is torture! What the hell was I thinking coming to this class after 6 hours of training, … (and so I raged on for a few minutes)”
After ten minutes the pain got even worse.
After 15 minutes I was crying on the inside and telling myself to think only happy thoughts.
But after twenty minutes it started getting a little better. I couldn’t even feel the pain anymore.
Me: “Okay another 20 minutes left, you’re half way there. Don’t give up. You will deserve your shower and sleep later!”
Five minutes before ending time I was opening my eyes, looking at the coach, wondering when he would tell us to relax our arms, when he finally did I felt like I had just delivered a baby. Body parts felt like they were about to fall off, falling asleep, waking up and hurting even more. I was broken. That night at dinner I couldn’t even hold my chop sticks. I had to use a spoon to scoop my food up. I could comfort myself with the outlook of a 10 hour night’s sleep. On a wooden plank. But I would even have settled with a bed of nails.
When I woke up I felt battered and bruised. My muscles were all cramped up into one giant dumpling. I almost couldn’t get up. Luckily after breakfast I started to feel a little bit more relax. That day of training I kicked some serious ass during sanda, Chinese kickboxing. After that we had massage class and I volunteered to be the test dummy. The massage master (I forgot his name) laid his healing hands on me…. AND HURT ME EVEN MORE. I should have learned my lesson after getting a sports massage back at the Tour De France in 2014. But here I was stepping back into the chamber of torture again. But: it got better after. That’s seems to be an important lesson here: no matter how much you hurt, keep suffering and eventually you won’t even feel it anymore. Better: you will learn to enjoy it! And that’s exactly why I came here. To empower my mind and body. It’s amazing what a little willpower can make you do. Apparently with me: it was taking on another Xi Quon class the next day. And another the day after. Now I can’t live without it. I’m doing a Xi Quon class every day and every day my chi is getting stronger. It feels grrrrreat!
On the third day of training we got ‘Mountain Training’. People had been warning me for this. It is the last suffer point before weekend. I figured I would like it since I walked up so many mountains back in Oz. But this one was a little different… We hiked up to the base of that mountain for a firm 30 minutes to arrive at a beautiful temple.
We walked up the stairs to discover 400 more steps that would lead to the actual temple inside the mountain. These steps were our training. We were supposed to run up and down as much as we could in about 1,5 hours time. I started running up those steps but not even half way there I had to change my game plan. I decided to power walk up those steps and run down again, have a sip of water and power walk back up again, and so on and so forth until I would eventually turn into stone and wouldn’t be able to move anymore. I decided I would have been happy with 4 ups and downs, but I changed my mind and went for 5. Apparently that wasn’t bad at all. Some people only did 3 on their first time. But I didn’t feel great either. Next time I need to be faster, better stronger, harder.
That night people were hitting the town (we are free to go out of school on weekends) to party but I decided to call it an early night. The next day I went to Mu Ping, a little town a 40 minute bus drive away, took a bunch of my new friends with me and indulged on some fried scorpions. It doesn’t taste that bad. It’s like fried chicken skin.
Mu Ping market, where I ate a scorpion. I will try to upload the movie I made on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/blondeclueless as soon as possible!
Today, Sunday, I did a little bit of training. I have to nail those 5 steps!! And tomorrow a whole new week of training commences. I will be in a tremendous amount of pain since it will be my first full week of training. But like I said: things will get much better from there.
Or at least, I hope.
PS: I noticed some people are getting a little worried since they don’t hear as much from me as they used to when I was in Australia and posted 5 Instagram pictures a day. It’s not from a lack of trying, I can tell you. I am just incommunicado here due to the Chinese blocking me from everything social. So for now: I’m doing really good, don’t be worried, I will try to keep in touch and keep putting stuff out there as much as I can.