Beijing at First Light

Beijing at First Light

Planet Vermont Quarterly
A journal of Earth, Spirit, and Healing

By Katherine Burns Sartori

Beijing at First Light, photo of wooden walkway through peaceful garden.Squinting from the sun’s silver rays, we swing through the new Beijing Hilton’s glass revolving door and meander up Hua Shan Road towards the nearest public park. My husband and I have heard that at sunrise each day the Chinese gather there to exercise, including Tai Chi and Kungfu.

The air is much cleaner than the warnings my friends offered unasked, when I told them I was off to visit China in May. I detect only ordinary city street smells, much like home. Exhaust fumes from small trucks mix with mildew in the already humid air. Otherwise the air is clear.

We wait for the signal to change at a busy intersection flanked by new glass skyscrapers and dingy gray storefronts. Bikes careen in crazy patterns around buses and beat-up vans. The Chinese steer effortlessly, zigzagging through the traffic. A few of them smile and wave at us. Surprised, we wave back.

I expected to see them dressed in traditional Mao jackets like the dated videos I saw before I left California. Instead, everyone is wearing cotton slacks, skirts and shirts in black, white, gray, brown, or even pastels and muted fabric prints.

We pay one Yuan each (about 12 U.S. cents) to enter the public park, pass through an imposing gate, and enter another world. Weeping willow trees shade wide expanses of bright green grass. Silence, except for the chirping of birds, surrounds us; though dozens of groups of Chinese men and women engage in various exercises.

We climb stairs up a sturdy white stone bridge, traversing a trickling stream that winds through the center of the park around alcove after alcove of white granite banks. Bushes snuggle around rocks. Poplar and willow tree branches sway in the morning air.

On the other side of the bridge, more Chinese citizens cluster in small groups, some with eyes closed, standing tall and still. They move their hands in circles over their tummies while soft, tinkling music encompasses their meditation. I think of waterfalls.

Our Chinese guide strides on and we follow. Around each boulder a new Chinese group appears. An old wizened gentleman in a white karate jacket and pants practices martial arts with an ancient sword in hand. A young man (perhaps his grandson) copies his movements in perfect unison.

Gentle, cheerful music flows out from an outdoor pavilion that resembles a rollar skating rink. Is that “Waltzing Matilda”? Sure is. Couples glide around the floor, moving in and out of the bright blotches of light the sun has spilled on the dance floor.

A clump of people surround two dance instructors, a sleek couple dressed in black and white. They strut and sway together, demonstrating. The crowd hesitates, then a few couples move onto the dance floor to try the new moves.

Next a German Oompa number picks up the tempo. A group of young, smiling Chinese women swing into a lively line-dance at the other end of the pavilion.

Over by the edge of the stream old men sit on park benches, each with a hooded package at their side. I watch as they uncover their treasures. Loud chirping distracts me and I search for the source. Hanging on several branches of nearby trees are other birdcages, each with a fluttering occupant. Our guide tells us that the old men carry their pet orioles to the park to compete. The man with the best songbird is widely respected because the Chinese treasure their birds as their only pet. Dogs and cats are taxed annually in China; the amount is as high as the tax levied for a child.

We move on through the trees and stop to watch a group following an elderly gentleman’s lead. They swing their arms in continuous exercises. Their eyes follow us, never missing a motion.

It looks easy, so we join in. The leader notices, a slight smile crosses his face. He swings into a new arm pattern and points to us. When we mimic him, he nods approval. The others welcome us with their eyes.

Only twenty minutes and I’m perspiring from these simple exercises. Even at this hour, the air is humid. A breeze ruffles my hair and I’m grateful. The upbeat music permeates the park. My spirits rise.

I won’t forget my first morning in China, Beijing at first light.

A native of California, Katherine Sartori lived in Connecticut for 14 years and enjoyed frequent trips to Vermont.

Planet Vermont Quarterly
A journal of Earth, Spirit, and Healing
Summer 2002

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The Mystery of Dreams

Photo NaturalThoughts By Idea go ID-10020201

Photo by Idea go

Have you ever had a dream you can’t forget? That startles you? That seems so odd or scary it’s hard to decipher?

I’m a Dream Traveler. I not only like to dream up my next story, adventure, trip or project but I love to keep learning! So, I said to myself, why not learn about DREAMS?

Recently, a friend talked me into going to what to me was a very unusual workshop:  “Dream Tending,” led by Stephen Aizenstat. I spent an unforgettable 4-day weekend at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California. It was an amazing experience!

So what exactly is dream tending, you ask? I wasn’t sure myself, but I soon found out it was a practical approach to deciphering the meaning of our dreams. Using Carl Jung’s foundational principles and his 40+ years of psychological study and counseling, Stephen Aizenstat led us all in a step-by-step approach to try to uncover the mysteries of our unconscious.

We’ve all had dreams we can’t forget. We spend days trying to figure them out. We ask ourselves: What is our unconscious trying to say? Stephen Aizenstat says the unconscious is the voice of our soul, trying to penetrate our conscious mind through the dream figures and images we experience. Uncovering their important actions, colors, and moods is also part of solving this mysterious puzzle. “These are real inhabitants of our psychic reality,” he told us. Then he advised us to select one special dream, write it down and then freely draw pictures of it.

From there we began to “work the dream” by watching Stephen unravel the dreams of five different attendees throughout the weekend. In front of an audience of @120 people, they revealed their dream aloud and tried to relate it to details, incidents or people in their lives, prompted by Stephan’s sensitive questions. Some dreamt of white whales or flowers that turned into monsters. Others were on a journey, climbing a mountain or traversing the sea. Others wandered through a forgotten factory or witnessed a strange, enigmatic parade. By the end of Stephen’s session though, each dreamer was enlightened, relieved and even elated by their discoveries.

The dream I chose “to tend” was very odd and, because I dreamt it the first night of that weekend and it actually woke me up, I felt it was a special message from that “Other World” of my mysterious psyche. So, when we first broke into groups, I threw worry to the winds and decided to reveal it to the three other wonderful ladies in my Kiva, (the name Stephen gave to our small groups). Working together, we were told to seek out associations in the dream and in our lives, plus look for ancient story figures (archetypes) as well as animated dream figures who often visit our dreams.


photo by KasSartori

My unusual dream:   I was in a New York subway car alone. Suddenly the car swerved from the underground to a carnival place much like the county fair, and it stopped. Through the windows I could see crowds having fun. Vendors were selling cotton candy and hawking their prizes and teddy bears, asking people to try their hand at different games. I sat inside the subway car though, suddenly realizing I’d sat there for two whole days. Then I leaned over and noticed a hole in the bottom of the subway car’s floor. For some inexplicable reason, I reached down into the hole, which turned out to be a heavy black pipe full of yucky slime. I had to yank my hand to get it out, but then when I looked down at it, the diamonds in my engagement ring as well as the small one in my wedding ring were gone! I was shocked and wished I’d never done it! Continue reading

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