When she and her husband booked a trip to Vietnam this past December, she decided she was going to take the opportunity to practice tai chi in a place where it was a common pastime.
So while on vacation, she left husband M behind and headed to a park in the wee hours of the morning to participate in a public tai chi session. Here's her story:
"I have done what I came to do. Achieved my minor dream. Gone out on my own, with the help of a guide, to Hoan Kiem Lake (pronounced Juan Kim) that is to Hanoi what Central Park is to New York.
And there, at 6 in the morning, just as the sun is coming up (though, it doesn't feel like a sunrise since it's overcast and drizzling and pretty dark even when it's daylight), my guide steers me past the doubles teams playing badminton (yes, badminton is still alive and well somewhere in this world) and the men lifting barbells to groups of ladies doing tai chi.
This is what I wanted to do: Tai Chi in a park in an Asian city.
It's not what I thought it would be. I imagined hundreds of people moving through their tai chi routines as one. But no. It is small groups, mostly elderly women, following a leader. Sort of like an aerobics instructor leading a class.
I get in line as a class begins. It is not the tai chi routine I learned at home, but it is not hard to follow. Some moves are familiar. I raise my hands and lower them in the "lifting water" move.
I clasp my hands and follow along, slowly bringing my arms in front and then in back and down the back of my hips and legs to my ankles and around and up. It's all very easy and gentle. And refreshing.
There is the Asian version of aerobic-class music playing, tapping out the gentle beat. I am, of course, the biggest person in the line but I don't feel like anyone is staring at me or wondering who the awkward Westerner is.
It only lasts about half an hour. Then the class is over, the leader leaves and I see another group forming a little further along the lake. Should I join in? Since I have the guide with me, I decide to wait until tomorrow.
Now I know how easy it will be to get to the lake from my hotel. Of course, that leaves the problem of crossing a street in Hanoi traffic. But I'll do as the Vietnamese do. Wade right into that traffic and keep my pace.
The guide did more than lead me to tai chi. We started out with a 5 am tour of the outdoor wholesale food market (a phenomenon of its own) and huge outdoor flower market, both of which get underway at 2 in the morning, with sellers packing up their goods and reloading them onto motorbikes or bicycles by 6 am.
I couldn't have found the market or maneuvered through it without a guide but having him along for tai chi made it easier to figure out how to join in.
Got back to the hotel at 7, with M just waking up. We took a cooking class later in the morning. I use the "we" lightly, since M decided to observe rather than participate.
We had an Englishman in our little group of three. [Clearly someone going solo! At least in the class.] He went first and was quite adept at the chopping and slicing. When it was my turn, the chef "helped out" much more.
Cutting cucumbers to a thinner-than-thin slice and shredding chicken breast, even with the help of his sharp knife, was difficult for me. He had to show me how to hold my fingers (tucked under, with the nails biting into the meat) so I wouldn't cut myself.
M took many photos of me in my little chef hat doing the slicing and dicing. I made rice paper rolls and a chicken and pepper dish. Secret ingredient to seasoning the chicken (besides the Vietnamese fish sauce) is a drop of sugar.
But this is not food for the diet conscious. Don't know how I'll take off the pounds I'm putting on. Well, I'll have to worry about that tomorrow. That is, if there is a tomorrow after I cross the street by myself. You have no idea how formidable it is. Motorbikes are like water. They seep into every open space."
That's not the first time I heard how difficult it is to cross the streets in Vietnam!
Although P went with her husband, the activities she engaged in solo are ones that everyone should consider, as a way to find company while traveling. Cooking classes are popular in countries from Vietnam to Thailand to France to Italy.
And, though I don't know tai chi well, I would consider joining a public exercise class during my travels. I did so this summer, in Maryland. I was in a park where a group of mostly Chinese women were doing a form of Falun Dafa, if I remember correctly. Also a meditative movement class.
An assertive Chinese-American woman prodded me to join the class, taking place in the pavilion, while I was waiting. It turned out to be very relaxing.
How fun it would be to do it in another country where you'd be a "special guest" at a similar class.
Falun Dafa teacher correcting student. Courtesy of a Falun Dafa Website