"I am curious. What are your personal opinions on Shaolin kung fu. I don't just mean your scientific, logical opinions that's just based on observation and documented cases or anything like that. I mean your real opinions based on your own experiences, speculations, and most of all, your intuition. I know you are an intelligent man. And I would really like to know what you think of all this, Shaolin Kung Fu and what it all means to you. Sometimes in dealing with things like Shaolin most Westerners are too afraid to share opinions not based on something substantial like "scientific" or recorded evidence. For example, on your homepage you displayed texts saying Shaolin Kung Fu is ultimately for nothing else but enlightenment (as I recall). Do you really know what enlightenment is, and do you really believe that? This is just an example. You seemed to have spent a great deal of time researching Shaolin, what do you think about it as a whole or in any aspect that you think is important? And it is more your personal intuitive ideas that I am interested in, not the scientific mumble jumble that people get lost in. Well, if you have time, I would really like to know."
From an a recent email, the sender will remain anonymous.
Do I really know what enlightenment is? He's not the only one who would really like to know....
I waited until I got back to Shaolin before I tackled such a deep and intricate question. Actually, I had been putting this one off for quite a while, because I really did not know how to answer it.
"I tend to get 2 weeks off every year for sure one day I want to go to china...for some strange unknown reason I like suffering in order to achieve and what better place to suffer than at Shaolin...It must be a dream for you come true.... I know for me it would be and the reason is because it would be raw martial arts, raw training, training that has not really been influenced by modern day society. Training for survival, enlightenment and compassion, not for title or trophy or shrouded mystery of martial arts. Learning martial arts the way we should have learned it, by true masters of life, and by True masters of the Martial Arts. Today it is just too easy to claim your one thing, but to prove it that is a totally different matter all together. And even proving that you are a true master becomes meaningless eventually and all that matters is perfection of your art, because only through that can true enlightenment happen. I truly believe this when enlightenment comes it will be so simple that I won't realize how I missed it. It is always right under your nose."
I had thought about this one for quite a while. And I had mistakenly thought, that once I had immersed myself in the world of Shaolin yet again, that I might sit down up on Songshan mountain, after a few hours of training, and think about the whole concept of "enlightenment". So, one warm day in February, after a good hard day of training up on the mountain, I sat down, and I thought. And thought. And thought.
And the thoughts just didn't come.
But the winds did. And with them, came the clouds. And with the clouds, went the sun. And the temperature plummeted from the low forties to the high twenties. And it was cold.
And I thought, and thought, and thought.
And as for those much awaited thoughts on the concept of "enlightenment", they just never came.
But I did catch pneumonia.
It slowed my training down a bit, but, despite the lack of energy that I had from the infection that was raging in my lungs, and despite the migraines that the seemingly ever-constantly changing weather precipitated, continued on did I. And I never really grasped the concept of "enlightenment", but, I do have some stories to tell, stories of a few of the monks that I'm close to; monks, that I spent quite a bit of time with this last trip.
And maybe through them, you'll learn something of enlightenment.
You sure as hell won't learn it from me.
"I think that being a student doesn't give you any more enlightenment than working at Blockbuster. In fact, if your parents are footing the bill to put your pansy ass through 4-7 years of college, you haven't begun to be enlightened."
I had first met Shi De Yang a few years ago; I think it was back in 1997, when I was training with Shi Xing Hong. They had been, and still are, good friends, along with one of my current masters, Shi Xing Xi. At that time, Deyang struck me as being terribly polite, very reserved, and extremely quiet. He's not exactly a large fellow, very slight in stature, and very quiet in his demeanor. But I immediately recognized that looks can be terribly deceiving. For Shi De Yang's skill in gong fu is renowned, especially in Europe, where he has done most of his performances in the past. At that time, in 1997, he was slowing down his performance schedule, as monks tend to do when they get into their early to mid-thirties. At that age, a move towards teaching develops, which is exactly what Deyang did a mere few years later.
Our first meeting reminded me of one which was your typical "Oh, your friends with Xing Hong, pleased to meet you, a friend of Xing Hong's is a friend of mine" type of deal. I saw through that facade quite easily, and did not put much value in this new found "friendship" that was supposedly offered to me. I've come to know Deyang much better over the years, and, over that time, a friendship evolved to some degree, something a little deeper than the initial contact, but not exactly something that I could really put my finger on. I did stay in touch with him through a mutual friend over the time that I was not in Shaolin, and with every journey back, Deyang made certain that he got a hold of me for at least one or two meetings. And for some strange reason, he just would never, ever allow me to buy him dinner. He would always honor me as his guest. Very reserved, and, very honorable, I had thought.
And so it was with this trip. My journey here was short (February 2001) this time, and my interests were less research oriented and more personal training oriented. So, I had spent most of my time with my master, Shi De Cheng. Mornings and afternoons were spent training and reviewing, lunch and dinners were also mostly spent with him and a few other monks. I really had little time to myself. Just when I had thought I would have an evening free to work on emails, or the web site, there was yet another knock on my door, or, a ring on the telephone. And yet another monk master had wanted to visit. And so it went, through the entire trip.
I kept getting emails from a mutual friend of Deyang and I, who was informing me that Deyang had been trying to get a hold of me at my hotel, either through direct visits or by telephone. And for a week and a half, he just could not find me. I had just been out far too much. We just kept missing each other.
But one day, in the morning, Deyang apparently had discovered where I was training, and he had made the trip from Shaolin to Dengfeng, to finally make contact. And it was a very pleasant meeting. He had been happy to see me, as well as I him. As he had noticed that I was in the middle of one of my training sessions, he politely, as I had expected from him, to kept our meeting short. And after some warm heartfelt initial greetings, he told me that he was very glad to see me again, and that he had wanted to keep what little time we would have together as "friends", and not talk "politics". As I had completely refrained from discussing anything political concerning Shaolin, or him, I had no problem with this. I was more concerned with finding out how he was doing, as I had heard that he had been in the hospital for a short while. So I kept it on a purely friendly basis, and I had decided not to stray from that, during any of our future planned meetings.
But, he hadn't. It wasn't barely five minutes into the conversation, that he made mention of "the magazine article".
Allow me to digress.
I was last here in Shaolin this past summer, during which, I had sensed that ill winds were boding. I had sensed that there were soon to be significant happenings in Shaolin, happenings that I could not at that time put my proverbial finger on. I had questioned many people at that time, including Deyang, who I had spent some significant time with. And though I did not get any outright answers, I got some hints of things to come, hints, that I spoke about last spring and this past summer (2000), in the Shaolin FAQ section. But there was nothing concrete. One thing was concrete though, at least in my mind.
I sensed fear.
And I wrote about this, in the earlier parts of the Fugue section.
"Deyang is in jail. Get him out"
From an email to me, that I received, the first day at Shaolin, summer 2000
That email started a whirlwind of shit, in my mind, and it really set the tone for what I was eventually to discover the rest of that trip. The whole concept of Deyang being in jail was just mind-boggling to me, as I had understood Deyang to be a very highly respected gong fu and Buddhist master at Shaolin. So, of course, with concern and bewilderment, I searched out Deyang relatively early during my trip last summer. And, after the usual initial friendly discussions, I, in my typical brusque New York fashion, asked him what was going on. The result, was comical, to say the least. I've written about this before, but I downplayed the entire event at the time, as I was unsure as to Deyang's future at the time.
"Did you go to jail?" A simple question, usually accompanied by a simple answer, which, in the case of a few of my friends, was "yes". Not an answer that I'm quite surprised to hear anymore.
I never got an answer, but I did get pictures. Pictures of his recent short trip to Hungary. Plane ticket receipts. Travel plans. All, intended to give me the idea that there was no possible way that he could have been in jail. A short trip recently concluded meant nothing to me. I had thought that he sensed that, as, for some reason other than the expected one, the language barrier, Deyang seems to communicate with me in other ways. And I, him.
So, that had precipitated a trip to the jail, which, ironically, is attached to the Shaolin temple. I got a quick tour of the few jail cells in that building, along with some introductions to some of the local police and jailers. Deyang made fun of the whole idea of being behind bars. He made fun with the jailers. He was sending me the message that the whole concept of his being behind bars was ludicrous. I was getting a different message.
I had thought the whole charade was bullshit. Though I didn't tell Deyang that, I got the feeling that he had sensed it. As he always seems to sense what I'm thinking. As I, him.
So I didn't push it. And I didn't talk about it ever again.
I had gotten the impression that Deyang appreciated my newfound lack of curiosity, and we continued with our visit, and some others after that, without getting much into "politics" again. I had kept it at "friends". And all was fine.
The fear level increased over that time period, as more and more interviews and meetings with people uncovered some highly negative thoughts and concepts, which I've talked about in some earlier parts of this Fugue section (written in June, July 2000). And, surprisingly, my fears and predictions, and the "negative thoughts" that had been thrown at me, came true in the late summer of 2000, all well documented in the Destruction section of this part of the site.
And it was bizarre, to say the least. But, with knowledge comes power, and with the exposure of the destruction came its end.
But the destruction had precipitated other things, other things which had appeared to have more destructive power than the initial event. Sometimes, the reporting of an event, or, more accurately, the offering of opinions of an event, however misguided they may be, can be more damaging than the initial event. And that, was exactly what happened.
And of course, news of this reporting found its way to Shi De Yang. And from Shi De Yang, it found its way to Shi Yong Xin, the abbot of the Shaolin temple. The abbot, who, all had presumed, had been responsible for the initial destruction. News had found its way to Shi De Yang from various sources. The article eventually found its way to Deyang because I had brought it with me.
People well conversant in English and Chinese spent the time with both of these people apparently, from the reliable sources that I have, and they translated the article for all to enjoy. Needless to say, it was not well received. Especially by Deyang, who had felt that the misguided opinions expressed in the article had placed him in a bad situation. Yet again.
"Make sure you come back with all of your body parts connected. I don't want to pick up too many boxes at the airport".
Schumacher Sensei, upon hearing that I was returning to Shaolin.
I was uncertain as to what I was going to find upon my return to Shaolin. I was especially uncertain as to what I was personally going find, as, I had known, that "people" had been watching this site, and had especially been watching what was being said. It was going to be an interesting trip.
Well, it had ended up being a very interesting trip, but not in the way that some of us had expected. For, I had discovered some interesting things.
I had discovered peace.
Nothing was happening at Shaolin. A few buildings had been torn down, but plans to remove the village at Shaolin have all but ceased. Nobody knows when, or if, the plan to remove the village would continue.
I had also discovered that there had been peace between Shi De Yang and Shi Yong Xin, an interesting discovery, especially since I had uncovered from multiple sources that my interpretation of the Deyang "jail stories" were true. And, especially since, multiple sources had suggested that "all eyes point to Yongxin" as being "responsible" for that event. And yet, now, there is peace. All is quiet at the Shaolin temple.
The article caused a severe rift in the peace process that had been forming. And it had seemed, that Deyang had wanted to make a response to this, for all here had felt, that a response was necessary. Necessary to repair the rift that was in danger of enlarging. And, of course, I had offered my assistance. But, I did nothing. For it was not up to me to get involved in such an issue, unless I had been asked to.
"Just friends, no politics"
Shi De Yang, to me, upon our first meeting in Dengfeng, February 2001
Our first meeting, this trip, had occurred during a training session with Shi De Cheng. Deyang had made it clear that he did not want to hamper our friendship with such nonsense, and I had concurred. But, that didn't stop him from talking about the issue not more than five minutes after his arrival. He had made it clear to Decheng and LuYong (who speaks perfectly good Chinese and English) that he had been through the article, with a translator's assistance, as had Yongxin. And both had thought the opinions of the article to be complete and utter nonsense. Deyang complained that it had caused damage not only to the temple's reputation, but to his. Deyang worried that it was going to put him in a "bad position" with respect to his relationship with Yongxin, a relationship which had healed and had grown quite a bit since the occurrences of last summer. And, Deyang had wondered who the author was, as, he had stated, (on multiple occasions, multiple sources) that he had met the author only once, and that was over a year and a half ago.
At the time, he was uncertain as to what to do. But it had been clear to him that something needed to be done to set the proverbial record straight. He didn't want this issue to get out of control. One would think that history has a tendency to repeat itself. No doubt, Deyang didn't want to see that happen.
Deyang knew that I had been concerned, as I knew he had, in our own little unspoken way. And he had kept his initial visit short, as he knew I had been training, but he made it clear that he had wanted to buy me dinner within the next few days. And, as usual, I accepted, wondering to myself, when in hell I was going to be allowed to buy him dinner....
We had met a two nights later, and had had a very nice meal together. Just typical "friend talk". No mention had been made of the issue which seemed to weigh heavily upon his mind. I just waited for him to start talking about it, because I knew, that eventually, it would come out.
But it never did.
So, after dinner, I asked him. I asked him if I could help him in any way concerning a response to this "issue".
And he had made it clear to me that there was nothing to do. He had decided that he would not respond to it.
That, was the "Buddhist way".
And I understood. And at that point, between Deyang and I, what little of the "issue" that had been discussed between us, had died.
I thought quite a bit about his lack of retaliation, as we might put it in the west, and thoughts of complacency and lack of resistance started entering my mind. It had seemed to me that "giving in" was the wrong thing to do; it just did not seem to be the "American way". God knows where our country would be right now had nobody in the past stood up for what they believed in. A lack of resistance is sometimes viewed as weakness, as submitting, as slavery. In our western minds, we seem to think that "giving in" is equal to "losing", something which is anathema to us. In their minds, it is something different.
In their minds, it is not "giving in". It is not "losing". It is not subjugation, submission, weakness, or slavery. In their minds, it is understanding. It is peace.
It is tolerance.
My friend Yong isn't a monk as we tend to think of them; he is, as I am, a disciple. Though, his master is Shi Xing Hong. He has trained in Shaolin for about three years now, and over that time he has not only functioned as my translator, but has eventually become a close friend.
We traveled to Harbin together, prior to our returning to Shaolin to train. It was up in Harbin, that, completely by chance, we met a very attractive young girl, who I shall refer to by the name of Carol. Carol was around twenty years old, and had been preparing in the university at Harbin for a career in some sort of medically related field. Between her brief but short career in English, and my even briefer and shorter career in Chinese, she and I had quite the time of it. But I had noticed, that something had been happening between Yong and Carol. Something that seems to happen more often when one is young, than when one is old. Something that is blessed and delightful, something that brings warmth to all those who happen to be fortunate enough to not only experience it, but, to see it.
It had appeared that Carol and Yong had liked each other.
Yong had had a difficult time during those years of training in Shaolin; some of the reasons for his being there will go unsaid. But, needless to say, this little unexpected event took us all by surprise, and without a doubt, I had been very happy for what had befallen into Yong's previously gong fu filled life.
I strongly encouraged Yong to continue the relationship with Carol, during our very brief and frigid visit to Harbin. And it had appeared that over that brief amount of time, something had bloomed. Something had bloomed so much, that I, with my usual stupid and short-sighted western ways, suggested that Yong "encourage" the relationship. I suggested that we get Yong his own room, so that he might be able to spend more time with Carol. Hell, I thought, so what if you lose qi during those "episodes". And I told him that. Besides, we weren't going to start training for a few days anyway.
But Yong reminded me that Harbin is far from his home of Beijing, and that, more than likely, he would probably never see her again. And I, with my usual stupid and short-sighted ways, said, "So what?". Hell, I thought, what's wrong with at least having a little fun? What's wrong with enjoying yourself? What's wrong with enjoying the company of a woman?
And Yong's response was brief, quick, and totally unexpected.
"I wouldn't do that to her".
He's compassionate and caring, and with those consistently warm brown eyes, he's always looking to make sure that all is ok with your world. For a guy who's only a little over five foot tall, he's a powerfully built man, who starts his day every morning at 5 AM with a jog up into the mountains, followed by a private solitary one to two hour gong fu workout, during which, he reviews a portion of his gong fu armamentarium. Sometimes he'll train at night, when it's dark and quiet. But, regardless of the time of day, or the weather, or the time of year, he'll train for at least two hours. And he always reviews, on a daily basis, some group of forms or another. There's no way that he can possibly train every day, and review, as I try to do, all of the forms that he knows. For I know only twelve gong fu forms (not including all the Seidokan and kempo forms). My master, Shi De Cheng, knows well over eighty.
And he knows them precisely. With power, speed, and flexibility that you rarely see in most monks.
In fact, Decheng has become to be known as an encyclopedia of gong fu. For it is my experience, that most monks know anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five forms, some more, some less. But the forms that those monks know, they know them well. And their performance of them, is usually, incredible.
But what sets Decheng apart from the crowd, is the extent of his knowledge. And, the precision with which he knows them. For, unlike some other teachers, Decheng keeps all those forms in his head, in a completely, unchanged, unabridged fashion. For, as I've seen with other coaches, teachers, and masters, occasionally, a form might be changed to better suit a student's ability. Or, changed, because a master just did not like it "that way". Or, one might have changed a small portion of it to make it "better".
Decheng knows them, and teaches them, as he learned them, from his master, Shi Su Yuan, one of the original surviving monks of the years prior to the drastic changes of the Cultural Revolution. Unchanged.
For, tradition is important. And, daily practice is important. And consistency is important.
For, the continuation of knowledge is paramount.
I should have expected it.
I should have completely expected it. But, I didn't.
It has been typical, over all the time that I've known Shi Xing Hong, that he's completely predictable in his unpredictable fashion. And he's always early.
I had started training with Xinghong about four years ago, because my master, Decheng, had been out of China during a few of my visits to the temple. Xinghong's gong fu is far from just incredible; actually, words just cannot describe his abilities. But I have no problem describing his nature: fun loving, humorous, sincere, and caring. Oh, and he's just a bit ambitious.
And, he has trouble figuring out time. For, when he's in Hungary, and he gets the urge to call me, he always seems to call when it's around 5 AM my time. Towards the beginning of these events, I just tolerated it, happy to hear from an old friend. But as time went on, my answering machine started taking the night watch, and after a while, Xinghong just got tired of leaving messages. He never quite figured out that he should call just a few hours later.
Xinghong had had a school in Dengfeng, and yet a few more scattered in various towns throughout China. And, on top of that, he also taught at a school in Hungary. And, for the local police in Hungary. And, for the special forces police in Berlin. And, he traveled a lot, always going from one temple to another, in this region of China or that. But his true desires lay not in spreading the word of Shaolin gong fu, which, it had appeared, had driven him, and which, had apparently completely taken up all of his time. His true desires, in my opinion, was to advance to the next level of spreading the doctrine of Shaolin gong fu. He had wanted a larger audience, one which would come to him, as opposed to him constantly traveling, and going to them. He wanted to spread the word of Shaolin gong fu through the medium of the movies. Xinghong, it seemed, had ultimately wanted to be discovered by Hollywood. It was an interesting way to do the monk's work, but, I had supported it.
But I had also warned him. For, as I had suggested, he was spreading himself too thinly. He had schools here and there, and I had warned him that his inability to support each individual venture with his own time and work would eventually lead to that venture's failure. Students want to go to a Shi Xing Hong school to train with Shi Xing Hong, and not one of his coaches. I also told him that eventually, if students did not see him at least more than on two or three occasions a year, which seemed to be the norm for some of his schools, that they would get tired of his absence and eventually leave.
Which, seems to be just what happened.
Xinghong was a little perturbed that I had not called him in Hungary to let him know that I was going to China. But, he found out, as he usually does, and since he was going to be in China, visiting what schools were left, and, making a local television documentary on Shaolin gong fu, he decided reroute his trip to make a brief visit with me at Shaolin. I had had no idea how brief that visit was to be. It just reinforced my whole idea that he was spreading himself around, far, far too much.
I had been training fairly intensely this past week, when, it seemed, that everyday, Xinghong was going to show up in Shaolin. But he never did. He did call me twice, once to tell me that he was on a train in some godforsaken part of China, the other, to say that he was in Shanghai. And after a while, after hearing rumors of this and that, that he was going to be in Shaolin on Wednesday, and then Thursday, and then Friday, I eventually completely forgot that he was coming.
It was 8 AM on Sunday morning, and we had spent the previous night in the karaoke bar, singing stupid little ditties about this failed love affair and that. And, I had had no problem staying up just a little bit later, because the next morning, Sunday morning, was going to be a "sleep in" day. For the first time in two weeks, we were going to take a morning off from training. So, I went to bed late, and looked forward to a long time the next morning, snuggling under my two little comforter covers, on my little "made for a Chinese" bed. But, it was not to be. For predictably, the unpredictable happened. But, at least it happened, fortunately, a little later than the usual 5 AM.
"I am here". Well, at least, I thought, his English is getting better. It was Xinghong, and he had arrived late to Shaolin temple, where he had spent the previous night. And he had wanted to see me, downstairs, in the restaurant. So, up I got, and off I went. And it was a joyous meeting. And, lots of fun. And, terribly short.
We talked about all sorts of things, most of which I can't remember. He asked about my "significant other", whom he had met when he last visited me in America. I had informed him that she wasn't significant any more, and explained to him that during my last trip to China, last summer, she had apparently met another "significant other" in the US, a man, who, a mere few months later, proposed to her. I had thought the whole thing a bit strange, and humorous; he had thought the whole thing absolutely hysterical. For if there is one other thing that Xinghong can do really well, other than gong fu, it's laugh. And he looked at me with near laughter induced tears in his eyes, and said "Forget her, they are not worth it, train in gong fu". And, I had been a bit surprised at that, as, of all the monks that I know, Xinghong was the one that I had predicted would leave the monk hood, and become what's known as a su jia di tz, a common monk (one that lives the common life, such as, getting married or having a girlfriend). Xinghong had tasted western life, and seemed to be enthralled with it. But, it seemed that his love of Shaolin gong fu had kept him on track. I had been impressed. His focus on gong fu was incredibly strong.
And then, a mere hour later, he told me that he had to leave. He was flying to Guangzhou to work on a television documentary, and he had wondered if I could go with him. As all of my travel arrangements had been already made, I had to politely decline. I was impressed that he had made this journey from the south to Shaolin to visit with me, but I was saddened by the fact that his journey had been so tightly scheduled, that we had only an hour to talk.
As the car arrived that was going to take him to Zengzhou airport, I had thought about his focus on Shaolin gong fu, and how strong it is. And then, I had thought about his focus on everything else in life, and how he scattered his energies on all sorts of ventures here and there, all of which were successful to some degree, but, were not his own great and significant successes.
So, as we said goodbye, I grabbed him firmly by the shoulder with one hand, and shook him gently. With a stern look on my face, I said to him "You may be my gong fu master, but I, am your friend. And you need to learn and remember one thing. Pick a goal, and stay focused. Remember, focus. For that is the only way you will truly become successful."
I could tell by the look in his eyes that he understood me.
For a Chinese, he's a large man. Stout, solid, strong, whatever you might want to call it, he's big. I still tower over him, as I do with just about everybody here, but, one look at Shi Xing Xi, and you can tell that the man is just one hell of a powerhouse. His gong fu is good, but where he lacks in encyclopedic gong fu knowledge, he makes up for it in power, speed, and flexibility. Xingxi's expertise seems to be more along the lines of sanda and fighting, as opposed to knowing a lot of forms. But, in a tough spot, he's just the guy I'd like to see at my side.
And I know, that if I ever got into a tough spot, without a doubt, Xingxi would be there. For not only is he the "tough monk", but he's the devoted friend. And, over the years, I've come to know him as something else.
He's just fun.
I've met few people, who can be in any kind of situation, and find humor in it. Whether it be eating in a restaurant, training outside, or, just walking down the street, Xingxi would interact with people that he both knew and didn't know, and find some sort of humor in it. (God knows what he finds funny in me, on an almost constant basis....) There would always be a huge smile on is face, a twinkle in his eye, and eventually, a remark, one which would bring laughter to all involved. You could tell that his mind was constantly moving, constantly interpreting, and constantly looking for an opportunity to find humor with something.
For a big guy, who's tough in his appearance, you couldn't find a more gentle, caring, fun loving individual.
I first met Shi Xing Wei last year, when he arrived with Shi Xing Qi and a whole bunch of other monks in Las Vegas, to do a performance. It was one of those Shi Xing Hong type phone calls, but, that time, it was 10 PM on a Friday night. I had answered the phone, and all I could hear was the constant and undecipherable banter of Chinese. But within that message, whatever the hell it was, I heard two things: "disciples" in English, and "Shi De Cheng". And I wondered. And then I had heard, "MGM", after which, it all kind of fell together.
I eventually got together with both of them, and took them around Las Vegas on various sightseeing trips (See Shaolin Gallery) And after a while, a friendship developed.
It was sometime in December, 2000, when my answering machine recorded a Chinese voice at around 5 AM. I had first thought is was Shi Xing Hong, but, I soon recognized it as Xingwei's voice. And all that he said, in very rough English, was "Welcome to Shaolin temple". I immediately understood the message. It wasn't as it appeared, as most things Chinese are not. It wasn't "welcome to the temple", it was, "when the hell are you coming back?" It didn't take long to decide, as I was getting the gong fu urge yet again, and soon afterwards, I was making plans.
I spent a lot of time with Xingwei and Xingqi, as they are both disciples of Shi De Cheng, and as such, now teach at the new school that Decheng just opened in Dengfeng. Both grew up in the wushu guan, with Decheng as their teacher and master. And both left the wushuguan to help Decheng with his new school.
One day, after we had all seen Decheng off for his trip to Italy, Xingwei invited me to lunch. As it was the same day that Xinghong had gotten me up early, after a wild night of karaoke, I had been tired, and had not been too talkative. Xingwei could sense that, and respectfully, did not pursue a conversation too aggressively, something, which I had been thankful for, as I was not up to trying to interpret Chinese. But, I was curious about one thing, as he was buying lunch. I had been especially curious about this one thing, because Decheng had been buying me dinner, with Xingwei and Xingqi and Xingxi, almost every night. I had been curious about money.
Decheng's school had just started, and he had only about twenty students at the time. It would increase, eventually, but, twenty students is pretty hard to run a school with. Deyang had complained to me that enrollment at his school had diminished, from last years level of close to four hundred, to this year's enrollment of close to three hundred, all because of the "economy" in China. Apparently, all the gong fu schools were experiencing the same drop in enrollment. This had caused me a bit of concern for Decheng's financial status, especially since he insisted that he buy the lunches and the dinners. The lunches and the dinners that seemed to occur almost every day. Hell, a few days I suggested that we fight it out, in a friendly fashion, so that I would have the opportunity to buy them lunch or dinner. (And one day we did, right there in the restaurant. He let me win, I bought lunch.)
So, I had asked Xingwei what kind of salary he was getting from his employ at Decheng's school.
He said he wasn't getting any.
Decheng had been his master for well over fifteen years. And this is what a disciple should do for one's master.
But, Decheng is a good master, and as such, he takes care of his disciple's needs. Xingwei and Xingqi get their room and board at the school, and on a monthly basis, get "spending money" from Decheng. Decheng makes sure that they do not go without. They make sure that Decheng's school runs appropriately.
It is the definition of a good, true, master-disciple relationship. It is the definition of devotion.
Ignorance is bliss, or so they say. And to some degree, it's not a bad characteristic to have. To some degree.
It was 7 AM one cold foggy morning in Beijing, and I was on my way to the airport. The end of my Shaolin experience had drawn near, and it was time for a short trip to Yunnan province, to do a little exploring, prior to my return home. My 8:50 AM flight was on a Chinese airline whose name I hadn't heard before. But, no matter, as most of the Chinese planes, throughout all the fleet, are relatively new Boeings and Airbuses. No more of those old, and very scary, Russian planes. Chinese air travel was now very safe. To some degree.
We were not departing from a gate per se, for some reason, we were bused from the new Beijing air terminal to, of all places, the old Beijing terminal. And outside that terminal was a very old appearing Boeing 737. I was struck by the relative age of the aircraft, as it just seemed to be a bit atypical to find such an old plane now within the Chinese fleet. But, I didn't think much of it. Until, I saw a rather large puddle under the middle of the aircraft. I thought about that puddle as I climbed the stairs to the passenger cabin.
Well, we sat on that plane for about a half hour, wondering when the flight was going to take off. It never did. For after about thirty or forty minutes, we were told to get off, that we were to go "to waiting hall". Nothing else was said. As I climbed down the stairs to the tarmac, I looked at that puddle I had been thinking about. It was much larger. And, on top of that, there was a drip. A very large drip. Actually, more like a "pour". From the section where the wings attach. The section where one of the fuel tanks resides.
The captain of the plane was talking to some technician, pointing to this ever-constant drip pouring from the underside of the plane. As I entered the bus, I started thinking about a few things.
I wondered why it had taken anybody so long to decide to cancel the flight. I guess somebody finally figured out that maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't have made it to Yunnan, which was clear across China. Yes, what a brilliant idea. We would have run out of fuel. That is, if we hadn't blown up first.
And as I watched the pilot chastise the technician, I started to imagine what they were saying:
"Why can't you fix this? I have a flight to complete!. Passengers to move. A girlfriend in Kunming to see. Damn you, fix my damn plane."
"Fix it with what?"
"Fix it with whatever. Bubble gum. Duct tape. I don't care!"
"You know, that gray sticky stuff the Americans fix their planes with....."
As I was amusing myself with this imaginary, but, maybe probable, conversation, down the stairway from the passenger cabin walked a middle-aged, very typical, Chinese man. As he stopped on the tarmac, barely twenty feet from the fuel that was pouring out from the belly of the plane, he pulled out a cigarette, and stuffed it into his mouth, his pudgy little hands searching frantically through his poorly made suit pockets, no doubt, looking for his matches or lighter.
I had thought, so typical. God, they're just so addicted to those things, that this one just has to get his fix on the brief, thirty-second walk from the mobile stairway to the bus. Or, maybe, he just might stand there, next to the stairs, and smoke his cigarette until somebody yelled at him to get on the bus. Yes, this was typical.
But the whole image, of this pudgy little middle-aged Chinese man, struggling to light his cigarette, barely twenty feet from what was becoming quite the pool of jet fuel, amused me immensely. I had heard that jet fuel is not as flammable as gasoline, as it is not as volatile, and that it probably would not ignite from just a simple match. But the image still amused me immensely. And I especially got a kick out of what the possible consequences of his completely ignorant actions might be.
And he stood there, with quite the smile on his face, cherishing this very, very brief moment, in which he attempted to enjoy his overbearing and overpowering filthy habit.
He was definitely, quite happy.
One of the things that you'll notice in the airports, as well as other places, is that the Chinese don't like to be on line. They kind of wait on line in the same way that they drive; that is, if there is a space ahead of them that appears to be empty, or, slightly empty, or, can be made to be empty, they'll maneuver into it. Regardless of who was there first, or, regardless of who is there, period. So, for example, if you're standing politely behind someone who is getting their boarding pass at the ticket counter, don't be surprised if some little Chinese woman tour guide with fifty tickets in her hot little hands ever so gently walks in front of you and stands at the counter. And don't be surprised if she starts pushing the gentleman who's getting his boarding pass, ever so gently away from the counter. For there are fifty Chinese on some sort of tour, with hundreds of bags, standing behind you, watching her delicate maneuvering to get their boarding passes, and, check their luggage. Yes, that means, once she grabs the ticket agent's attention, those fifty Chinese then trample over you to get their luggage on the scale/loading area. Now you have to wait for those fifty people to get their luggage checked. And then, you get to see the ticket agent.
That is, if you were successful in thwarting the next tour guide's attempt to step in front of you.
It only has to happen to you once before you decide that enough is enough. Tolerance plays no role in this issue, this is a matter of civility. And, if you have any sort of intelligence, which, I think I do, I think, once you've experienced something adverse, you learn to deal with it the next time you have to, well, deal with it.
And so I learned. And it became to be known as the "Doc Line Breaking Technique".
There's three parts. The first step is the civilized approach. Let me explain.
When this little Chinese woman with the multitudes of tickets in her little hands jumps ahead of me in line, I just gently tap her on the shoulder to get her attention. Now, since my Chinese is almost as good as my German, I have to communicate with these people "non-verbally", which means, a "look; a "look" which is directed inconspicuously and silently, directly and discreetly towards your intended target, a "look" which can best be described verbally as "if you don't get the fuck back in line, I'm going to shove your little dark-haired head way up your flat little Chinese ass".
My gong fu is good, but my skills at "communication" are better. It usually works.
And when it doesn't, I proceed to step two. Time for gong fu. But, gently. And, as Shi De Cheng says, "slowly".
I usually just grab them by the back of the neck. With one hand. The other, gently standing by, usually holding my ticket pack, ready for further action if need be. There's never a need for "need be". And there's no need for the "look". They usually get the message.
And sometimes, oh, only so rarely a sometimes, they don't. It's the very rare one that will see your "look" and return to you a "look" of their own. It's a rare one that will ignore the more physical step two approach. Time for step three. And it's easy.
I just physically remove them. Usually, by grabbing them around the waist.
It's kind of fun.
In Yunnan airport the other day, I had quite the experience. I was the only person on line, as I patiently waited for the guy at the ticket counter to check in his luggage. Then, from out of nowhere, like cockroaches in a New York kitchen, a large bunch of Chinese tourists found their way behind me. And as they distracted me from my patient and constant gaze at the ticket counter, the little Chinese guide woman snuck in in front of me.
Sneaky little bitch, I thought. But, civility, yes, civility. I must set an example. Step one was all it took. The "look" scared the absolute shit out of her, as she just had not expected it. She apologized, and disappeared into her little tour group. I had made my point, and I had not made her lose face, as nobody else had really seen what had happened.
But then, as I watched her disappear into her little group, from out of veritable nowhere, a male tour guide, who must have been watching this whole episode, snuck in in front of me. Fascinating, I had thought, they really know how to take advantage of a situation. I let my guard down, and they just pop right in. It also occurred to me that I was just going to have to teach this one a serious lesson.
He got step three. I never saw him again.
And for some reason, which I just will never fathom, the two mysteriously appearing tour groups had backed ever so slowly and gently away from me.
Flying in China can be an experience, but what makes it even more fun, is the joy of just getting on the plane. In the airports of China, one needs to purchase a tariff ticket, usually fifty Yuan for a domestic flight, which is used for airport reconstruction. It's not a big deal, as you muscle and maneuver your way to the front of the line of masses upon masses of little Chinese, who are themselves muscling and maneuvering their way to the front of the line. There's no such thing as manners when it comes to lines. The "Doc Line Breaking Technique" just doesn't work all that well in these situations, as the ticket desk is just too large for it to be effective. I mean, if you picked one up to remove him to the rear, another one would just fill the void. So, it's just push and shove, push and shove, until you get to throw your fifty Yuan at the ticket agent, and hope that nobody's in the way when he throws the tariff ticket back at you. I enjoy this part of flying immensely.
The fun part is, this little episode can physically take place either before you check in your luggage, or, way after, it varies from airport to airport. But it always, always takes place before "passport control", where they take your little tariff ticket, and, eventually, check your passport. I always try to go to the smiling woman officer, as they seem to be most charmed by my size.
So, it just happened one day, that after going through the check in, the tariff purchase, the passport control, and the security x ray check station, that we got on the plane, and eventually, got off. As it was leaking jet fuel, we had been sent back to the terminal to get new tickets on a different airline. I had thought, in the back of my mind, that they were just never going to let us back through all the check in stuff easily. It was going to be a rehash of the morning's events.
We got our new tickets, and decided to go through the tariff collection point with the stubs of our previously used tariff tickets. I decided to get right back into line with the female tariff collection officer that I had dealt with just a mere two hours before. I mean, even though she must see hundreds of Chinese in an hour or two, she probably only saw me, the big white guy, once. I had just not seen any other Americans, or, Europeans, in the Beijing terminal that morning. I thought that she would remember that I had already gone through, and that she would figure that something had happened to my flight, and that I would not have to buy another untorn tariff ticket. I was wrong.
She had wanted a new one, one that was not "used". I looked down at her, as I towered over her, and smiled, saying in broken Chinese, "Don't you remember me?"
She looked up at me, and said in broken English, "Eyes", pointing to her eyes, "white man all look same".
I laughed. It's just a better way to be.
This last trip was kind of rare for me. I had hair.
Usually I shave my head when I go to Shaolin, and it's primarily for comfort and health reasons. Historically, I stayed in the wushu guan hotel, which, in the summer, is not the cleanest place to be. And we all found that shaving one's head just made you feel more comfortable, when the rest of you was just dripping and slimy with stinky sweat. You could dump a bottle of drinking water over your head, shake it a few times, and feel like a new man.
But this trip found me with hair. Something the monks had not seen before.
Shi Xing Hong was quite surprised when he saw me. He had not seen me with this much hair before. Well, it's not that I have a lot of it... Well, come to think of it, he never saw me with hair.
One day he just looked at me with concern and said "Your hair is white". I kind of laughed and said to him that we call it "gray", and not white, and I explained to him that when people get old, they get gray hair. Now, I don't have a lot of hair to begin with, and what I have is not completely gray by any means. But, the times have been hard, and the wear and tear has definitely shown its effects on my head. Most people would say that the graying hair look makes one look "distinguished".
I just usually refer to it as "old".
But Shi Xing Hong just flatly refused to believe that I was old. (He thought, as most Chinese seem to think, for some strange ungodly reason, that I'm in my late twenties. Also, for yet another strange ungodly reason, they seem to like me better with a shaved head, as opposed to a slightly hairy one. An optometrist would make a fortune in this country). I explained to him that I was older than he had thought, and that, at my age, people get gray hair.
He said, "You are not old. You have white hair because you think too much".
I just laughed and let it go at that.
Later that day, when I was having dinner with Shi De Cheng, I had told him what Xing Hong had said to me that morning. His response was quick, flat, sincere, and terribly, terribly insightful: