When you have not booked your train tickets long in advance, in China it is almost impossible to travel during the Chinese new year holidays (unless of course to opt for the bus…). Me who thought naively to book a berth on a train for Wuhan in the middle of the holidays, I had to learn patience and wait until the beginning of March and the end of the holidays, to find something other than a standing ticket.
More than two months after my last trip in the capital of Hubei, I returned to Wuhan for a week of Chinese spinning top training. A 4 kg top in my bag, a stick of one meter fifty in my hand, including the camera, iPad and Mac in order to (also) work there; I take the train loaded as a mule to find me twenty hours later at destination. Between us, need to be a bit set to do that but since I contracted the Chinese top player virus, I would do four thousand kilometres just to watch a competition…
The day after my arrival, I leave the hotel at 6:30 am to arrive at Yanjiang Park before seven o’clock. The players that I met during my previous trip are all there, except my coach. I’ll have to find a new coach. But there is no hurry. I unpack my 4 kg spinning top and keep my stick from its bag. Regulars recognized me and come to greet me. They have all noticed my new spinning top and wait to see how I handle it. Finally, I play not too badly; After more than two months of daily training, I did not get bad habits. The movement is correct; There are just a few small details that I need to improve but I already know that.
Finding a new coach
In Yanjiang Park as in other places where people practice Chinese spinning top, there are two kinds of players: those who practice intensively, spend an hour or two to train and repackaging their material, and those who settle for the morning (or afternoon), with their camping chair and their Thermos of tea. Those ones are retirees who do not have much else to do, and between two strokes stick or whip, they are ready to give you some advice.
This is how I met my new coach. He is one of the regulars at the square and I had already seen him on my previous trip. He arrived around 6:30 in the morning, with his caddie in which are stored his sticks, whips and tops, and settled on the edge of the esplanade, back to the river. The spinning top that he unpacks every day is less than 2 kg but as I’ll figure it out, he is also comfortable with a 4 kg spinning top as mine.
Launching spinning top
On this first day at Yanjiang Park, he comes to see me while I’m trying to start my top using the whip as I learned with Zhanjiang players; he borrows my stick and shows me how people do here. He wraps the top with the rope that ends stick, put the spinning top on the ground an holds it with his foot, takes the stick with both hands, and with a trong gesture propels the spinning top a few meters away, which begins to run. The movement is perfect but isn’t for me because in Zhanjiang space is limited and I risk to each throw to send the top outside the open-air stage that serves as playground.
I then take a break to go see other players and ask them if they know where I can get some rope to replace the one of my stick. Of course, there is the little shop of Changdi Lu that I discovered during my first visit to Wuhan (see post) but I imagine that there are other shops like this in this city. As nobody seems to know, the afternoon I return to my small shop for rope. I even buy a pair of scissors without knowing wether the security control at the entrance of the station will let me pass with this ‘tool’ in my bag. Back at the hotel, I replace the worn rope of my stick.
The next day when I get to the Park, my coach is already there, always ready. I brought my old piece of rope and I intend to use it to launch my top as I have seen other players do. After two unsuccessful attempts, my coach joined me and shows me how to do: he starts with a loop at the end of the rope using what seems to be a Bowline knot, wraps the rope around the spinning top and launches all with both hands, taking the loop in the right hand. The method appeals to me, more effective than the whip and simpler than with the stick, in appearance. Seemingly only because it will take me a few attempts before succeeding to launch the spinning top correctly.
Play upside down
My coach then proposes me a more “vicious” exercise He launches his small top upside down and tends me his stick. The spinning top turns counterclockwise and therefore, need to hit it left to right and not right to left as one usually does. A movement that seems simple but is nothing but natural and puts your brain upside down, as certain grammatical constructions that loves the Chinese language (see the post John’s bicycle). I thus spent part of the morning to forget everything I learned last year to spin this crazy spinning top upside down. Without much success, it has to be said; but I know that it is a matter of practice and also a great exercise for the brain. So, in a few weeks I hope to make progress in this domain.
After two hours of training, I repacks my equipment and prepare to leave the square when a player that I questioned the day before comes to see me; he brings me some lengths of rope for my stick. In fact, there are probably 20 metres. I do not know too much how to thank him; I offer to pay, what he strongly refuses.
The day of my departure, I will offer him my scissors. Indeed, as confirmed me a friend of my coach, this kind of tools is strictly forbidden in Chinese trains; If I come to the station with a pair of scissors in my bag, it will be immediately confiscated by the security services and I will lose twenty minutes with explanations and various formalities, as it arrived to my wife on a previous trip. She had slipped into his bag a small switchblade knife she wanted to use to peel an apple! This time, no question of risking a delay like this, especially as the day of my departure, my schedule will be timed because I intend to play spinning top an hour before catching a taxi to reach the station.