My primary reason for going there was to attend the annual Global Council meeting of the United Religions Initiative ( www.uri.org ), a global interfaith organization dedicated to promoting daily, enduring interfaith co-operation, to stop religiously-motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing among humanity and all the creatures on earth.
I spent 6 days at Vallombrosa, a beautiful Catholic retreat which was the venue of the meeting. It is a former mansion converted into a retreat after additional accomodation wings and a large chapel were added. It is situated in Menlo Park, a quiet town about 50 km south of San Francisco, and bordering the famous town of Stanford, home of the Ivy League Stanford University.
Vallombrosa is a splendour of green and a rainbow of colours as the flowers of all hues blossom in its gardens. The weather in California is so pleasant ( although at first a bit too cold for me until I got used to wearing thicker clothing! ). The sun is always up, but the cool winds blowing down the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the East and the cooler breezes coming from the Pacific Ocean in the West makes you feel you are living in a naturally air-conditioned place. The land is so fertile that it produces over 40% of all fruits and vegetables marketed in USA.
With about 35 million people, California is also the most populous state, and is home to a third of all Asian immigrants, and half of the Mexican immigrants. Its proximity to their original homes partly explains this, but it is also the obvious choice to stay and earn a living. There are many Americans who migrate from the vast continent to this paradise. With Hollywood and Los Angeles at the centre of the state ( and muscle-man Arnold Schwarzenegger as current Governor ), it is indeed the most famous state in USA.
Seeing all those big cars and tall buildings ( including the imposing Transamerica Pyramid building, the city’s tallest ) also convinced me that this is the land of wealth and opportunity. I met a former Malaysian ( from Taiping ) who is making millions using the most sophisticated IT marketing system in the world to power his global computer-supplies business. I was his guest for 1 day in San Jose ( about 100 km south of San Francisco ) and I was amazed at the efficiency of his business operations. Our business people can learn a lot from him to tap the vast global market.
Visitors throng to the must-see structures and places like the Golden Gate Bridge and it’s expansive Golden Gate Park, the Alcatraz, the Fisherman’s Wharf, the numerous museums and arts centres, trendy shopping centres and tourist-friendly markets. It was the US Memorial Day holiday when I did my sight-seeing, so the streets were filled with the locals and tourists.
I had the thrill of being driven down the world’s most winding road in downtown San Francisco, though I missed the opportunity of riding the famous trams ( cable-cars ) we often see in the movies. The public transportation system is excellent, with the trams, electric buses and driverless trains complementing the regular buses and taxis.
Since all the roads are wide, with multiple lanes, one never feels crammed even when there is a traffic jam. All the cars are big, including the stylish expensive ones which cost a bomb here. Even the carwash is out-of-this-world! The one I visited is itself a tourist attraction.
Then there are the bikers – health-conscious bicycle-riders who take advantage of the fresh, clean air and the ever-sunny weather. Californians are sports savvy and indulge in many sporting activities. Bicycling is a favourite, and the undulating hills surrounding the flat ocean front and beaches present a variety of terrains for them to enjoy. There are special bicycle lanes throughout most of San Francisco city’s ocean edge. These are used by roller-skaters too.
Although the ocean must be very cold, that didn’t stop many from enjoying surfing, wind-surfing, and water motor-sports. Seals are a regular sight, especially in the calmer waters of the San Francisco Bay. On that day, the Bay was filled with white boats, as their owners took advantage of the magnificent weather and wind conditions. Up in the sky were the occasional hang-gliders.
And the food? With the whole world’s rich cultures and traditions converging here, one can imagine the variety of culinary delights on offer. Unfortunately, as I can consume only halal food, I could only savour the salads and seafood at most places. That didn’t stop me from sampling the delicacies at a Chinese restaurant ( there are many of them as San Francisco has the largest Chinatown in the world ), an Italian bistro, and several side-walk stalls. Non-Muslims would be spoilt for choice.
My last two days were spent as guests of two university professors, one of whom had emailed to me asking about qigong, just a few days before my departure! They are new practitioners of qigong and found it very effective. They are planning to come over to Malaysia for a conference and were looking for a qigong master in Kuala Lumpur and found me through the internet.
I was given an apartment on the hills of Pacifica, a suburb of San Francisco, with the most breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. On the first morning we went hiking on the hills bordering the beach, and standing on the cliffs watching the ducks swimming in the frizzy ocean below was an unforgettable experience. On my last morning there, we practised qigong on the beach, right at the edge of the ocean, with the freezing early morning ocean winds numbing my hands. But it was an exhilarating experience. I did the Amazing Qigong Walk and mesmerized them, as the Qigong Walk that they had learned was totally different, and nowhere as gracious and beautiful! It was a befitting way to end my journey.
QIGONG IN CALIFORNIA
California is in fact the new centre of Qigong in the western world. Among the many Chinese immigrants who have settled here are many good masters. They have in turn trained many others to become good practitioners. People from all over are coming here to learn or seek treatment from them.
Since the Americans have a good culture of investigation and research, qigong has been extensively studied in the last decade. Although the Chinese have a rich treasure about qigong, there has been little documentation along scientific methods, and we are not able to use these information to validate our claims. Now that this art is growing in popularity in USA, many more valid scientific studies will be done. Recently, the US National Institutes of Health awarded a grant for the scientific study of the health benefits of qigong. This means that qigong has received recognition at the highest level. I will share some of the latest scientific research findings on qigong in future articles.
It is also here that the annual World Congress of Qigong is held. I hope to attend the next one. That is a good excuse to return to this wonderful place. And I look forward to doing the Amazing Qigong Walk on the famous streets of Hollywood!