Friday, September 08, 2006

Tale of the 40-Foot Scroll

I had one helluva day. Screw the middle-school classes, I checked out tai ji quan. Ema went with me to help me translate. We got there at 5:20, and there was a man buying or discussing a shu fa scroll with another guy. In a chair in the main room was an older man (maybe 35 or 40) in dark blue patterned, traditional Chinese clothes, head relaxed, sleeping it seemed. Not so. He was on his feet and talking to us before I could blink. I found out he was a master. He asked me a few questions (through Ema) and we spoke a bit about tai ji quan.

I found out that it is 100 yuan. It seemed like it was for a course, there being many layers to it. The first is 'fist and wrist' or something. At this point I was going by mime and interpretation. I asked if I could watch a class, and he said certainly. So I left in a fantastic mood, set to go watch the class at 8.

Suffice it to say, I haven't been in such high spirits since I came to China. The next two hours passed so slowly, but I went for a beer with Nick and Alistair, then food with Nick. I told Nick where I was going and he wanted to tag along, so off we went. I was pretty nervous and very excited.

We arrived and watched the warm-ups and people practicing. No one was younger than 30. Then the guy who I assumed was the master came out all in white, with another man all in black, very somber, with quiet motions (if that makes sense). Well, the master in white came over and greeted me and invited me to join them. So I did.

The master asked me a few questions about what martial arts I had studied before, and I told him judo, tae kwon do and haidong gumdo. At this point, there was no shortage of listeners, all smiling and nodding and trying to help my horrible Chinese. For example, the master asked about Ema, saying something and putting his hand out to my shoulder-height. So I asked Nick what "friend" is, and I tell them "Ema shi wo hangyo, bu tai ji quan." and mimed translator. Nick held my bag and took off to grab alcohol after he helped me translate a few words.

Then the somber man in traditional black clothes steps to the front, and begins. I figure it was a senior student starting off the class, with the formerly-sleeping master (dressed in white) watching me. At the time I didn't realize he was watching me specifically, though in retrospect, he kept himself angled so he could observe me the entire time. So I did what I could, which was tough, as I tried to follow both feet and arm motions. About five minutes later, the man in black wrapped up and made a motion, and the master in white ushered me towards the doors. (Sorry, class was outside)

I turn around and there's Karen, a former sales admin with EF! She had gotten a call from one of the students (or someone in the neighbourhood) saying that there was a Canadian English teacher doing tai ji quan, so she came over. She lives a few doors down... and her father was one of the other masters! Never thought I'd use the expression 'it's a small world' in China, but there you have it.

So inside we go, and we sit down in sofas across from the masters. The head master, Zhiang Lao Shi (Zhiang Teacher), asked me a bunch of questions, and Karen translated as best she could. Turns out he was curious as to why I moved as sharply as I did. So I told him I used to do tae kwon do and I was trying to keep up with the movements without knowing them. He nods and gestures me to the centre of the room. Karen tells me he wants me to demonstrate.

I haven't done tae kwon do in over 14 years. ... but I did it again then, mixing different blocks, kicks and strikes together because I'll be damned if I can remember any of the forms. Again, the head master nods and gestures. (turns out he was quite satisfied) We are all ushered upstairs, Nick more bewildered than I. I was just in heaven. We ascend past these long long calligraphy scrolls and ink brush paintings of lions and karst landscapes.

... right into the head master's bedroom-slash-study. The place was unreal. I don't think I've ever seen so much paper amassed together. There were scrolls floor-to-ceiling, and tables covered with dozens upon dozens of bound, rolled scrolls, wrapped around some kind of beautiful dark wood. Carved chairs, tables and a twenty-foot desk - all made from the same kind of wood - occupied the rest of the room, along with a very modest bed. The head master then proceeds to say very little, with the master in white and Karen's dad doing most of the talking.

First off, the master in black is not only a tai ji quan master, but renowned for his shu fa calligraphy and artwork. We talk for 15 minutes or so, and then the piece-de-resistance...

A 2'x40' scroll detailing the master's entire philosophy and interpretation of tai ji quan and taoism is unfurled across the entire expanse of the floor, and into the landing, and a short ways down the stairs. Fucking amazing. Imagine seeing a life-long philosophy essay written in elaborate, artful ink brush and pen strokes... spanning an entire room. I don't think Nick was all that impressed, but my jaw dropped. I crossed over to see it right-side-up and knelt down. Unreal.

After that was re-rolled and bound, the words "yi bai yuan" were mentioned again (100 yuan) and I said, "Yes, 100 yuan for a course." Then Karen said, "No... not a course. Only one time you pay. 100 yuan forever." Apparently, the master is well-off and teaches because he loves it, so he doesn't charge anything but the barest pittance. He does so purely to weed out people showing up for a night, fannying around, and then disappearing. He also doesn't believe in being selective - those who wish to learn can and will learn, if they're willing to give it what they've got. Additionally, I was told he would instruct me in shu fa if I prove myself in tai ji quan. Another jaw-dropping moment.

Oh, at one point I was asked my name. I said "Patrick" and Zhiang Lao Shi waved his hand in front of his face. They wanted my Chinese name. There were smiles when I gave it. They said it was good, but a bit too long. I guess they'll think of something.

We left on great terms, and Karen's dad drove us back to our places in one of the nicest cars I have ever been in in my life: a brand-new BMW, with on-board computer and enough room between the back and front seats that we almost needed an intercom.

If I had a bike, I could get to tai ji in about 15 minutes. It would take me 45 minutes to walk there, or 8 minutes or so by taxi. I don't want to pay for a taxi all the time, so I'll have to figure something out. I'll be there tomorrow for 8pm, with 100 yuan in hand. I'll need to change clothes at the school, I guess, and head out from there most nights since my weekday evenings are filling up with VIPs and classes. I'll be damned, though, if I don't show up as often as possible.

The instructional periods are every night, from 7:30 until 11pm. Tomorrow, the master in white will instruct me individually, and I will be there with metaphorical bells on.

I would say "that's all for now" but believe me... tonight was enough. It was a fantastic night, and bears the promise of many more to come.


PG said...

WOW! That sounds so amazing! Straight out of a story. I am so glad for you!

This sounds rewarding both spiritually and physically. Savor the moment! This beats a thousand different experiences of going to bars with go-go beer-chugging dancers.

Enjoy yourself! You should buy a bike!


Wayward Mind said...

lol I am buying a bike. Apparently the market (shu chang) somewhat nearby sells used bikes. I'm a-gunna get me one for like 60-80 yuan. I'll have to haggle, though... we foreigners always get jacked on prices.

I even bought myself some tai ji shoes for 77 yuan. Okay, not specifically tai ji shoes, but they look like they should be!