Editor’s Note: This news column showcases stories from around the world that bring a touch of positivity to the fight against the deadly coronavirus.
In the northwest corner of Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, Belgium, Jean Carlier was practicing tai chi wearing a face mask with his nose uncovered.
About 20 people showed up on Thursday morning, almost all with masks covering both mouth and nose.
Carlier, in a bright blue silk tai chi suit with Chinese frog buttons, said that it’s not much more difficult to do tai chi with the mask on but it’s better to have the nose out.
The group, part of the Belgium Association of Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, typically meets seven days a week. But during the three months of COVID-19 lockdown from March to June, their gatherings were suspended due to government restrictions.
Belgium, with a population of 11 million, had reported 70,211 cases and 9,850 deaths from COVID-19 by Tuesday, the worst among OECD countries.
Carlier said he practiced at home during the lockdown. “I have to do it every day. I cannot pass a day without practicing it,” he said.
He found the group in the park by accident three years ago, and since then, he has attended the tai chi class every morning.
Hane Tchang Houang, the instructor, said the group has 80 members, most Belgians and less than half ethnic Chinese and Asians. “It’s great for senior citizens to keep fit while promoting tai chi,” he said.
The class, which is offered both in morning and afternoon on weekdays, but only late morning on weekends, is free of charge. “It’s tai chi of gratitude,” said Houang, who migrated from Hong Kong to Belgium 40 years ago.
He said that it’s better to practice without face masks for better breathing, but there is no choice during such a pandemic.
In the group, 21-year-old college student Darya Foroughi stood out since everyone else is a senior citizen.
Wearing a navy blue tai chi suit and her hair in a bun on top, Foroughi has come to the place every day for the past two years since she was introduced to the class by a friend at her Chinese-language class. Before that, she had been practicing karate for five years.
” (It’s good) for health, mental health. It’s really calm, relaxing, so I really enjoy it and practice with everyone,” said Foroughi, who has a Chinese name Fu Daiya.
During the lockdown, she tried to practice at home but felt there was not enough space, so she came to the park to practice with just one friend.
Foroughi is learning the 85-form of the Yang style tai chi. She said the instructors are “super nice”. “They try to help you to improve,” she said.
Both Carlier and Foroughi performed at the China Day event last September at the Rond Point Schuman, site of the European Union headquarters, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Asked how she feels as the only youngster in the group, Foroughi said: “I feel I am home. It’s like my family.”