Deep in the Experience

It’s Saturday morning, and we’ve been in the village since Thursday afternoon. Our accommodations are not in the village this time. We are staying in a new hotel on the edge of Wenxian, a hotel that is currently filled to the brim with taiji people who are competing in or attending the competition that starts today. It’s a complete madhouse, with meals that include pushing and shoving and empty dishes and hoarding of rice. Yesterday for lunch I was only able to get rice and noodles; everything else was attacked and gone before I could elbow my way to the dishes. My push hands skills clearly need work. Last night dinner was better, in a much larger room (the hotel clearly realized some of the challenges) with plenty of food available. No drinks – they don’t serve anything to drink (??). Every dish has hundreds of red chile peppers in it…which makes me feel safe eating any of it since that will kill any parasite that might be lurking. Then we found a small mini-mart and bought ice cream bars and popsicles. YUM.

The seminar started yesterday. Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang has achieved a status of major celebrity in this country. Everywhere he goes he is photographed, touched, followed, questioned, and revered. Crowds of people walk in lockstep with him, filming his steps on their ipads, phones, and handheld videocameras. A while back, a photo was put on one of the taiji facebook forums of someone holding an umbrella for him. There was a great deal of criticism levied at this “arrogant behavior”. Many of us defended this as something not arrogant at all, but a necessary behavior of those who take care of him, due to his status in this country. Yesterday I realized again – it’s not him, it’s them. He is so gracious, so calm, so giving. His “handlers” work very hard to keep him from being groped and grabbed, walking right at his side, in front and behind to protect him from the clamoring crowds. He poses tirelessly for pictures with strangers. People try to come into the seminar and place themselves among us and have their friends take their pictures, hoping to be in the frame with the Grandmaster. Several had to be ejected from our seminar yesterday, as Grandmaster is trying very hard to make this seminar for us only, as promised. People hang in the open windows, at the door, in the balcony, and the sound of pictures being snapped punctuates our flow. During the breaks, getting in and out of the room is almost impossible, as we have to literally shove people out of the doorway to exit and enter. Grandmaster sits on the stage with his back to the room during these breaks, the only way he can rest, because the moment he turns and faces the room, people surge the stage for pictures with him. The price of fame…I remember him saying years ago that he would retire soon. He is still pressing on, no rest, always teaching and exposing people to his family art. For this, we are all grateful.

The competition begins today. We will attend the opening ceremonies this morning, in the brand new stadium (an impressive beast of a building), then return to the school to continue our seminar with the Grandmaster. It’s hot, unbelievably hot, with no cooler weather or rain in the forecast. As the Grandmaster says to us, all drenched in sweat, “you are strong!”