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Making art with a boundless fist

Bo-Yee Poon is an expert in the ancient art of Tai chi. Provided to China Daily

The ancient art of Tai Chi proves the key to a new, happy life for one expat. When Bo-Yee Poon, arrived in Beijing, like many expats who first enter a foreign environment, she felt isolated and lonely, despite having family at her side.

But learning Tai Chi changed all that for the American-born Chinese, who used the martial art to interact with people and build a bridge to Chinese culture.

The 29-year-old American now works as a Tai Chi instructor at Tsinghua University while teaching English and doing voice-over work on the side.

She was first introduced to Tai Chi as a child, when she would wake up early in the morning and watch her grandmother practicing Tai Chi outside their Vermont home.

"She was just so graceful. It was always amazing to me that despite her age she could move like that," Poon said.

An injury dashed her youthful aspirations of becoming a professional ice skater and she was stuck working as a waitress at a restaurant in the US, despite having a college education and a considerable amount of talent. Realizing her situation, Poon's father, who was working in Beijing, suggested that she move to China and learn Mandarin.

Begrudgingly, Poon took her father's advice.But when she arrived, she felt isolated, and quickly grew unhappy. "I couldn't socialize, I couldn't have a normal conversation and I was really unhappy," she said. "When I first arrived I wanted to leave."

While walking on her way to class one day, Poon spotted some elderly practicing Tai Chi in the park. Recalling watching her grandmother as a child, she began seeking out an instructor to help her begin mastering the Kung fu style that her grandmother practiced.

Asking around, she was told about a local park where there was a man willing to instruct those interested in Tai Chi. Waking up at 5 am one morning, she went to park to seek him out. What she found was far from what she expected. After inquiring at the park she was pointed in the direction of a man who was sitting staring at a tree.

"I walked up to this guy who was just sitting there staring, it was really strange. I greeted him and, after a minute, he turned to me sharply and gave me one of the craziest looks I've ever seen," she said."His eyes were like a tiger's."

He told her to meet him at the park at the same time the next day and he would teach her for free.

When she arrived at the park the next morning he showed her a pose and told her to hold the same pose for an hour. "He later told me that if I wanted to learn to move, I must first learn to stand still," she said.

She has now been studying Tai Chi for more than nine years and has even taken on a teaching role at Tsinghua University. She said she has never felt more at home in Beijing.

 

 

 

She said Tai Chi was a way of getting thoughts out of her brain without just sitting and watching TV. "When a lot of people think relax, they think it's letting go of everything. But from my understanding it's maintaining everything, maintaining structure, while letting your mind relax," she said. "That's what Tai Chi does."

Poon has taken the practice a step further than most practitioners by incorporating the mechanics and thought processes of Tai Chi techniques into other parts of her life, most notably her art.

Combining Tai Chi techniques with an art form known as 'gesture painting', Poon held a calligraphy brush while going through Tai chi movements to create splash paintings.

She has had exhibitions of her art in the United States, Italy and at the Art Walk festival in Beijing.

"I'm really happy now, I've found my niche in Beijing, what I want to do and how to give back. Through Tai Chi I've found what I want to do," she said.

By Todd Balazovic (China Daily)

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