One of the great ironies of living in the international melting pot of Hong Kong is that it’s all too easy to stick to your little expat enclave and never experience the local culture (Wan Chai on a Saturday night does not really count as local culture, does it?!). So it was with this spirit of wanting to “get amongst it” and step outside my usual bubble that I attended my first ever Tai Chi class with Master Cheung at the Langham Place Hotel, Hong Kong in Mong Kok.
I’d often admired the many elderly people practicing Tai Chi in Shanghai’s parks and gardens when I was an expat there, but despite my Chinese friends suggesting I try, I’d never been game enough to join in. As such, a class with Master Cheung was an excellent way to ease myself into it… And when I say ease myself into it, it was certainly a nice, comfortable introduction! This was “getting amongst it” with the sharp edges sawn off – after all, the idea of practicing Tai Chi on the deck next to the Langham Place hotel’s beautiful pool on the 41st floor didn’t sound too shabby at all!
Nonetheless, I must admit that I was a little skeptical about Tai Chi being an actual workout. I mean, it just looks too easy! I’m the type of person that likes to sweat when I workout – I used to teach spin classes and take great pleasure in yelling at my students to “suck it up!” – so would I be wasting my time here?
However, from the outset, Master Cheung’s enthusiasm and obvious knowledge was really engaging and ensured that I was never bored. Quite the opposite, in fact – I had to concentrate hard to keep up with every small detail, from how I positioned my thumb to the meaning behind each pose, and this kept both my mind and body fully engaged. It was certainly not easy, and I could see that with practice and greater understanding, Tai Chi would be incredibly meditative and calming.
Still, old habits die hard, and I must admit that one of the things that I enjoyed most about our Tai Chi class was that the majority of sequences I learnt were designed to both repel and defend against an attacker. Yes, Master Cheung was using this graceful, seemingly peaceful practice to show me how to fight! As I moved through the poses in sequence, he explained how in doing so, I should make my hand like a claw in order to go for my attackers’ throat – awesome! It was quite empowering to learn that some of these slow and studied movements would be the ones that would help me most to remain safe were I in danger.
A real highlight of the experience was leaving a new exercise class having learnt more than just a few new physical skills. Because Master Chueng took the time to explain the meaning behind each sequence, I felt that I also gained a little understanding not only of Tai Chi, but also a small part of ancient Chinese culture too.
If you wanted to make a day of it, once you’ve finished your Tai Chi class, there is the option of buying a day pass to use Chuan Spa’s facilities – including their pool and gym, or purchasing full treatments at the spa itself (see our full review here.) The gym was certainly one of the better-looking hotel gyms I’ve been to in Hong Kong, as was the pool with its amazing location.
After all this, if you’re still in a “get amongst it” frame of mind, you are right in the middle of Mong Kok. Take a wander around the markets, see some fresh meat hanging in the sunshine next to cages of toads, and be glad for the contrasts and diversity that makes Hong Kong such a great place to live!
Overall, although Tai Chai is not the kind of workout that I’m used to, it is perhaps exactly the type of workout someone like me needs – a meditative form of exercise that does not require me to sit still! Furthermore, the focus on breathing, strength and balance left me feeling calm and refreshed. Master Cheung is a true master and it was a privilege to have my first class taught by him.
Tai Chi Chuan Exercise Classes with Master Cheung cost $80 each and are available on Tuesdays 5-6pm or Saturdays 10-11am; an optional Chuan Spa Day Pass costs $360
Chuan Spa, 41/F, Langham Place Hotel, 555 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, Hong Kong, 3552 3510
Jane is an ironman, multiple marathoner, corporate lawyer and mum of one, who recently moved south to Hong Kong after a two-year stint in Shanghai