Its about 5:30am in the Gou. I slept fairly well after unpacking and fussing around, just waking up a few times mid-dream stream to read about the Oscars and Spike Lee. Waking and writing is a ritual I look forward to when I am here. I make my tea and have a snack - this morning it is a scone I stuffed in my bag from the Starbucks at Zheng Zhou train station. It’s a bit stale but offers me one last familiar tether to the tastes of home. I’m not hearing any roosters yet. I don’t know if they still live here or if it’s still too dark. It’s cold but not nearly as cold as we all expected. Still, we slept with hats and socks on. The dorms we are in are recently renovated. They are clean, spacious, and have hot showers.
The drive from Zheng Zhou to the Village always has some bit of a harrowing nature to it. Over the years it has varied: sometimes the roads were lined with 3-wheeled vehicles and bikes with families and chickens. One year we were late for something so a drive that should have take two hours took one and included using the sidewalks as passing lanes. This year it took three hours. The expansion of China is exponential in ways one cannot fully grasp until one experiences it. This year there was so much endless construction along our route even our driver, Wang Yan, who has lived and trained in the Village for almost 2 decades, got lost several times, sometimes having to pull over to the side of the freeway to check the GPS, which seemed to be inconsistent. More than once he had to create a wide turn through dicey traffic, go back and take another exit.
Wang was visibly relieved when he made it through. He said, “15 minutes Chenjiagou!” And then turned to me and said, “do you like cats?” I showed him Boots’s picture on my phone to the consternation of my car mates. “You’ll get us killed!” We all laughed-if it would have happened…! Its always the first lesson here: you go with the flow when you get off the plane and land in China and it usually works out just fine. Richard learned that lesson very quickly when our small mini-van’s side door slid open during a couple of Wang turns. Richard’s reflexes are quite good!
It was great to get to the Village (in tact!) again. The dynamic changes continue: more shops, more small eateries, longer roads lined with grass and trees and more upscale residences. There are new statues, new murals, the clothing lines are more creative with new logos, fur lined training shoes and newly designed trinkets. There will always be those who lament the dusty roads of yore and I’m grateful I had a piece of that myself. It is a history that is gone now forever. Yet the same wide smiles and the natural generosity pouring out from the sparkly eyes of people who recognize you year after year are still here. The sheep herds still line the streets even though they are asphalt. The kids still run and huff along the way. The Village remains under renovation and expansion just like everywhere else in China, and in the world really. But here, everywhere you look Taijiquan is happening. No matter dirt, brick, tile or concrete, that footfall will always be the same, here. It is still The Village.
One might be tempted to think at 61 one might be too old to suffer the 2 day trip and all that goes with it to get here. One might be tempted to allow trepidation to flood in about the condition of one’s body for what lies ahead. One might be tempted to wish for a soft bed and a hot bath this early in the experience, but those silly thoughts dissolve when one arrives here, meets up with one’s old friends, sees the glee and awe in the eyes of people here for the first time and sits with their teacher for jasmine tea in his home while surveying the new dorms that should be ready by August.
I asked Viki why she personally keeps coming back for these trainings with Grandmaster Chen Xiao Xing. “Because it is a part of history that once is gone, will be gone.” I think we all feel like that, really. She continued, “it is an honor to be here.” Yes, it is an honor to be here and be a part of the woven web of the art we love and its evolution. We have all become part of the shift of Taijiquan from the old ways to the new, from the hidden to the global. We have become those who simultaneously shape and witness this transformation.
Just as as I am ready to post this, I hear the rooster’s call. It’s so nice to be home. Day one training ensues shortly.