“I think I may be getting to old for this,” I said to Shiuwen, wincing as I drug my body out of bed and to the bathroom, “but don’t tell anyone!” We both laughed and she told me a story of a conversation in a store with some teenagers. She used the Taiwanese term for “trash bags” and the elder shop owner didn’t understand her. The kids however did and helped her with a different term. Think the difference between “trash bags” and “garbage bags.” She and the kids struck up a conversation about practicing Taijiquan. (One can safely assume 99% of people here practice it). She asked if they feel pain, and swatted her thighs. No. They don’t feel pain. “NO PAIN???” Not even in the first year? Shiuwen exclaimed. The kids laughed, “a little sore, but you get over it!” We both laughed again.
It’s 4:30 am at the time of this writing and at least I slept straight through the night, utterly exhausted from the extra training for the demonstration plus the regular classes. Yesterday we also had the dress rehearsal and drove another hour each way to the venue and spent about 5 hours there rehearsing and watching the other groups mark their spots on the stage and go through their performances. It looks to be some regional competition - not a martial arts competition, but more like a talent showcase for regional artists - singing, dancing, reciting what seemed to be a National Pride narrative. We even stood for their National Anthem, people looking at us making sure we understood the protocol. It was quite the cultural experience! The performance itself is in 2 more days.
I’ll be looking forward to it and to it being over. Training for this and giving my all to the time with my teacher is a challenge for me physically, but also mentally. One of the reasons I come here is to slip into an altered state - one of watching, learning, and hours of repetition. It’s not something I can get at home and it’s worth coming here for it. Training for performance is not just a physical extra but it also forces me to use different parts of my brain. I have to shift from concentrating only on my internal world, taking my time with the sensations there, following the flows, releasing blocks and misalignments in my own time, to concentrating on my rhythm within our group. In performance one’s postures have to be big and showy and perfectly synced within the entire group. One has to follow the direction of the coach with no hesitation and change in an instant per those instructions. I actually really like doing it and also love being a part of the team. Its fun and very much an honor to be there, it is simply a different type of training mind than long slow personal depth practice. Part of this trip for me will be gaining skill at flipping between the two.
I tried to decompress by going for a walk alone last night in the light cooling rain. The temperature dropped considerably and the misty drops felt so good. Some of the food stalls along the street were playing loud music and even in the rain people were sitting on plastic tables outside laughing, eating and having a beer. I thought about a beer but instead found some shops to peruse, still looking for some cooler wear and contemplative time. Instead I found store owners other patrons quite curious about this foreigner. One cannot ignore other’s curiosity about oneself when traveling. Even when one is desperate to be alone, one must engage fully and with open hearted kindness and enthusiasm. I consider it very much my job to be the best cultural emissary I can be generally speaking when traveling, especially here in Chenjiagou as a foreign Taijiquan practitioner with Chen Xiao Xing as my teacher, especially in this hot political climate. So strike up conversations I did, using my terrible Chinese and the translation apps we all have now. I even performed once more for a husband and wife teaching team, from “Mao’s home town” they said with pride when I asked them where they were from.
When people ask me where I am from I am acutely aware of feeling uncomfortable answering. Someone said, “You are from England?” And I almost said, “yes,” and let it go. It is the first time in all my years of travel that I am a bit ashamed of being an American. The horrible gun violence in our country and this arrogant, narcissistic idiot in chief we have at the helm who understands absolutely nothing about how to have relationships with his own people much less the Chinese makes me feel, well I don’t even know fully how I feel. Sad, enraged, desperate. These words don’t even come close. And yet I know in my soul that being here right now, in the now of it all, the one thing I can do is represent well, in the demo, on the training floor, in the shops at night. It’s the only power I have really, and I have to believe somewhere in the long line of life, when everything does change, it is enough.
One or two more cups of tea. Rehearsal starts at 8:00, class at 9:00. Day three ensues shortly.