Sunrise on Halong Bay. Dawn is reddening the eastern horizon between two of the bay’s iconic karsts. There’s bird chatter in the vegetative scruff that ekes out a living on the limestone monoliths. And the bay’s residents are creaking oars, already at work on that day’s living.
On the sundeck of the Emeraude, more than a dozen passengers - half of them European, several Asians and several more of indeterminate Continental origin - have mustered up from their berths, intent on a proper start to the day. Twenty-five-year-old Nguyen Dinh Truong greets his guests, and the routine begins as both a complement and a compliment to another beautiful morning in one of the world’s most sublime places — Halong Bay.
The routine is tai chi, one of the internal Chinese martial arts that’s rooted in Asia, of course, but finding a widespread following in the West. And for good reason. By focusing the mind on the slow, calculated movements of tai chi forms, practitioners realize all kinds of health gains, from improved balance to psychological well-being. That, and what a way to start the day.
The Emeraude’s Mr. Truong learned tai chi from three masters, each of whom comes aboard the Emeraude on a regular basis to train not only Truong but other crew, as well. Over the past several years, Truong - who otherwise works on the boat as a receptionist - has risen before dawn to refine his practice.
As a master of the 24-step routine, Truong leads his fellow practitioners on a 30-minute regimen. Quite frequently, he’ll work one on one with passengers to help them improve their moves. Not all of Truong’s groups are skilled at this art. Indeed, many have never tried tai chi before.
“When I know someone has never tried tai chi, I work extra hard on my moves so they can follow me as closely as possible,” he says. “If I practice well, they will be able to follow in a way that suggests this person is not new to tai chi at all!”