Monday, June 30, 2008

The Fragrant Hills of Beijing

It’s taken me four times to China to find this place, but well worth the wait. We’ve been here a week now and Rachel and I are still blown away at how beautiful, quiet, and even green our new home is. And we’re still in Beijing! I didn’t think such a place was possible…

We’re staying at Mountain Yoga a yoga retreat 20km due west of downtown Beijing and seemingly worlds away from the soot, smog, and crowds of the city.

We arrived last Sunday eve going right past the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube aquatics center on our way through town. The air in the city center seemed as bad as ever—picture a thick fog that makes your eyes burn. Still there are a lot of changes in the works that, with a little luck, should still bring things around in time for the Games. (More on that too come.)

But first, what, you ask, is a Chinese yoga retreat like?

Picture a traditional Chinese compound with an open-air courtyard in the middle and rooms off to each side. Guests stay in the smaller rooms and the largest room, an elevated studio along the courtyard’s entire north face is reserved for yoga.

A typical day starts with Rachel leading an hour-long class for a few guests and me before breakfast. A cook provides three yummy vegetarian meals a day (ironically, none of the staff are vegetarian and they sneak us all meat dishes when no guests are around). After breakfast there are calligraphy or painting classes for the guests, which Rachel has been able sit in on as well. When no guests are here, breakfast is followed by “Karma Yoga” –a fantastic euphemism for sweeping, mopping, and cleaning toilets. We like it when we have visitors☺

A few times a week Rachel and Gyan, the head of the center, teach an online yoga-English course with a live video feed that allows viewers to follow along and text in questions. Gyan, a Chinese guy who goes by an Indian name he was given by a visiting yogi, has been running the online course for a couple months now. He only has a few regular viewers at the moment--Chinese yoga teachers in Beijing who teach to foreigners—but is hopeful that it will catch on.

When it hasn’t been raining—a massive hurricane hit southeastern China last week dumping rain on us every day since we’ve arrived—we’ve been getting in some great hikes. Mountain Yoga is one of the last buildings at the base of a steep range of hills that run north to south along the city’s entire western border. The Beijing Botanical Gardens are just down the street and, as a result, much of the hillside near us has been set aside for forest conservation. The end result is some amazing birding—a rarity in a country that has caged, eaten, or, likely, poisoned most of its feathered friends.

Link of the week;

Sexy Beijing a tongue in cheek take on Sex in the City, Beijing style. The night after we watched our first episode the show’s star, Anna Sophie, was one of Rachel’s students here at the retreat.—Neither of us recognized her without the glasses.

-This is my first blog ever, please send me a comment and let me know what you think!



  1. Hey Phil,
    Looks awesome! Enjoyed your commentary about our adventures so far. But you forgot to mention that we have a cook! She makes 3 meals a day for us. Amazing! And she really nice and patient with my learning of Chinese!

  2. Hey Phil,

    It looks and sounds like you two have found an amazing spot. Unfortunately I'm not doing any kind of yoga right now, but incidentally I'm sipping on some delicious Bai Mu Dan tea (Chinese white tea) on my porch, looking at beautiful woods behind our house. Thankfully Virginians didn't kill their feathered friends, so there is lots of bird music too.

    I love your comments about the socio-political situation of China/Beijing; I'd love to hear more.

    Can't wait to read more.

  3. Hey, fellow Beijing-themed blogger. Good to have you on board. I'm expecting a lot of productivity out of you this summer!

    I'da been starstruck to meet Sufei in person. She's been on the Beijing Sounds listening list ever since I stumbled across some of her recordings of real Beijingers from the hutongr, e.g. here.

    Enjoy your corner of the lovely city. Looking forward to more!

  4. Hey Phil and Rachel,
    Glad to be receiving dispatches from the field. Coupla geographers, you two. Congratulations, too, by the way. Have fun. Eat much and often.

  5. Phil, the blog looks very professional and it sounds as if you and Rachel found an oasis in Beijing. I'll be interested to hear more about the "air-cleaning" prior to the Olympics.
    Rachel, the yoga and other activities sound wonderful. Maybe they'll want you back?!

  6. Hey Phil and Rachel!

    The blog is awesome! I really like the pictures and I'll look forward to seeing and reading more about the culture, the land, and your adventures.

    My knowledge of Chinese history and cultural nuances is limited, so I'm looking forward to learning something new!

    Glad to hear you two are doing well, and hope to see you when you return!


  7. Hey Rachel and Phil--

    Thanks for the updates... Keep 'em coming. Sounds like you're having a terrific time. Keep that up to.

    - Paul

  8. Enjoyed the blog. Great work. Keep the news coming. Good luck. Mike & Heather

  9. Phil,

    Enjoyed your blog. I would have not thought of green hills so close to Beijing!!!! Sounds like you are having a good time. I look forward to reading more about your travels.

    Philip Close

  10. Sounds like Shangri La amidst Armaggedon !
    Meanwhile back here click on the address below to read about the wildfire catastrophe on the coast. We can smell it from here!,0,863004.story

  11. Hi Phil and Rachel,
    It looks like you found a great honeymoon retreat. Congratulations on being newlyweds and on landing your respective gigs in Beijing. I love the blog already and can't wait to read and see more of your time in Beijing.

  12. Hi Phil and Rachel,

    The blog looks really great and it's fun hearing about your adventures so please write more. I won't bore you with what's going on in Cambridge in your absence, but you're not missing much! Looking forward to catching up in person when you're back (though from the looks of it I imagine it'll be hard to leave!)


  13. Phil,
    Your blog is great. Good to hear from you and Rachel. We look forward to more news.
    Barbara and Lowry

  14. Your blog is great fun to read. It is as if you are living this life right out of a novel and we are fortunate enough to experience it through your descriptive writing and colorful pictures. I have to admit I did enjoy the Sexy Beijing bit and I feel you and Rachel would be awesome guest stars for an episode. I'm sure the show has not had a professional mooner ... Phil?

  15. Hey Phil,

    OK. I'm Hooked! This is the most exciting, interesting adventure I have shared with anyone! Thank you for allowing us all to be a part of your wonderful honeymoon and to take a peak at Paradise!

    You'll never be the same when you come back.... Keep Writing!

  16. We like your blog Phil and Rachel. The pictures along with the story line makes for a professional look.We are following The Tour. So different having a variety of stage winners. We'll do a ride of our own on the Bearskin Trail tomorrow. A baby for Steve and Debbie on Wed. - Anthony James. Elsa

  17. Phil & Rachel,

    ENJOYED your blogging. One week from the start of 8-08-08 Olympics. Capture the history!

    See you in Antigo, WI or Cleveland, OH soon.


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