Beijing, Chiang Kai-shek, Chinese Breakfast, East Asian Art, Fog, Hong Kong, Mary Carlin, Memory, National Palace Museum, NYU, PRC, Sherman E Lee, Squid Fried Rice, Tai Chi, Taipei, Taiwan, Tangshan earthquake, undefined, University of Hawaii/Manoa, vacation, YMCA, ymca hostel, Yoga
Tourist Tuesdays are when I push myself to become a tourist in my own everyday world. Yes, I live in Paradise, but I swear you can see your own stomping grounds with new eyes, too. DO, try this at home.
72 Hours More or Less
The trip was short. Although I had planned to catch up with my journal writing that extended weekend, I hadn’t. Therefore, what I have to relate is my spotty and imperfect memory of what occurred at the end of July during the summer of 1976…Read more Part I here.
I am a light sleeper. Just days before, July 27th to be exact, while still in Hong Kong, I woke up to witness the water sloshing in carafe on my nightstand. I should not have felt the Tangshan earthquake as far removed from Beijing as we were. But the memory is a vivid snapshot to be confirmed when we went for breakfast and later in the day when our visas to the PRC were put on hold.
I am confounded at how Michael had made his way into back into the women’s dormitory and managed to pull out clothes for me to put on before muffling me awake as to not disturb the sleeping sounds of a room full of women. I remember accepting an armload of clothes from him as I slipped into the still darkened bathroom.
We walked on cat paws out of the YMCA and into the predawn fog that blankets Taipei in those early morning quiet hours. The late night neons had flickered off and the fever pitch of the day time sun had been smothered in cool mist. We walked on dew damp stone and cement, our breath and the careful steps muted in the cloud that encompassed us.
Finally and silently, Michael sat me down. I did not see the bench of stone but felt it first against my thighs. I sat and he left. I stared out into pitch darkness. No landmark for direction or star to guide. But I felt swaddled and safe. I could feel in the abyss a connection to Life as if I had been placed in a cosmic womb. Floating in space and rooted in a park bench.
Morning Has Broken
The darkness was finally tinged with grey. Dawn had not yet broken but was being heralded in the refracted light from the harbor’s surface being caught in the spider’s web of foggy dew. It hasted through varying shades of grey to become illumined light as the sun dawned. Bright blinding light refracted in millions of droplets of mist.
Suddenly an ancient weathered hand punched through the veil seemingly disembodied. Upward it rose turning palm to sky and then disappearing back into oblivion. To the right a foot clad in ubiquitous black Chinese slippers white socked lunged forward then retreated.
As the sun ascended, the mist dissipated. Soon the random limbs became attached to their proper bodies. I looked to see Michael only a short distance a way the whole time practicing his morning rhythm slightly distracted by his enjoyment of my reaction.
Tai Chi, en masse. I believe in Chinese you say 10 thousand to mean “a whole lot.” I’m sure the number was literally less than that but metaphorically couldn’t have been closer to truth. People of all ages, but mostly old and ancient to my eyes.
In 1976, Tai Chi was not a commonly known practice to many Westerners, much less Midwesterners. This was my introduction. And what an initiation! And I never truly got to thank Michael for that experience.
But our morning didn’t end there. He was certain that Mom and Mary would still be sleeping so he took me to the street market. Early morning bustle with fish freshly unloaded from the junks and vegetables recently carted in. He perched me onto a bar stool and ordered a bowl of hot soya milk and a deep-fried combination that reminded me of a hot dog in a bun but made completely of two varieties of batter.
Flowers. Then I remember bouquets of flowers. We stopped in appreciation. But did we buy any? I can’t recall. How is it that somethings stand out so dramatically in detail while others slip from view? Did Michael accompany us to the Palace Museum? I don’t know. But I do recall the squid fried rice I had for lunch on the step you see me ascending in the picture on the right. Best. Fried. Rice. Ever. Ever.
Extra Bonus Questions
Several years later in an Asian art class at University of Hawaii, I was able to get a perfect score on all of my tests by remembering which museum I had seen the art work referenced in Sherman E. Lee’s seminal work on East Asian Art. How is that? I can’t begin to tell. I can only be grateful for what I do remember.
Ever been to China? I’m jealous. I still have yet to make my way back to Mainland China. Ever meet a stranger in travel who felt like an old friend? Ever haunted by the clarity of a memory as disjointed as the hands and feet of the Tai Chi practitioners in the fog? Anything else in this story resonate with you? Please do share.