And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Gosh, ten days go by, and it's almost July. I think I said the same thing just a year ago.

My brain is a little full and fuzzy (blame the Spam?), still in some kind of recovery from China, a couple weeks at home alone, and now a new job in a new milieu.

It took the new personnel department to point out that my driver's license was six months overdue for renewal and insist that I update it if I want to park my car on campus. Actually I knew it, but that's the sort of thing you can ignore...or I can...and anyway, I've been carrying my passport with its interesting China visas to prove my identity. I'd been putting off the delayed renewal because I didn't want to take a test, written or on-the-road. And as it turned out, I didn't have to. I just had to pay 20 bucks extra "for being so punctual," as the license clerk put it. (Amortized over seven years, the extra $20 on top of the $24 renewal doesn't seem so bad; the license would have expired on the same date even if I renewed it on time six months ago.)

I was a little shamed because I'd just read an item about women in Saudi Arabia for whom driving is something of a revolutionary act, a symbol of freedom. (A burqa-clad woman carries basic toiletries and a prayer rug with her in case she is caught and incarcerated for being behind the wheel of her SUV.) I was willing to risk being pulled over with an expired license; these women are risking being pulled over simply for DRIVING. I was looking at a fine; they are looking at serious jail time. But now, I'm street-legal until December 2018, by which time it is conceivable that I will make that 286,000 fly-me-to-the-moon milestone with TAO 61.

And in other women-and-work news, I noticed after reading Factory Girls, about female migrant workers in China, that the new trend is for the factories to relocate in the interior provinces like Sichuan, the source of many migrants...because labor is cheaper there. And China is outsourcing for the same reason, to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India. Just when you think you have figured out China politics and economics, it all changes by the time the book goes to paperback. In time, in some kind of economic taiji turn, I expect labor to become cheaper in the U.S. ...when some Laotian entrepreneur decides to set up a factory in Arkansas.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Back to Work

I arrived home from my pilgrimage to enjoy a vacation; I sent an email of resignation to my office from Beijing, certainly a first for the HR department. It was the earliest I could have done it, not having the new position quite lined up until Bob Dylan's 70th birthday, an auspicious day to quit. After using the hotel's 20-yuan-an-hour computer, I went back to my room and listened to Maggie's Farm on my iPod 61 times. (Well, not quite, but it is a ritual I observe when I quit a job.)

I have allowed myself a gentle re-entry: minor transitional activities out of the job and some lunches with friends, but mostly just ignoring housework and recovering from the nasty respiratory souvenir I brought from China. (One of China's major exports is phlegm. Since there is an ongoing campaign against spitting, I think they just send all the crud home with visitors.) Reading, writing, painting, watching DVDs, and practicing the new qigong routines--my days have been ordered by these activities. (I have failed to do any planned serious housecleaning and tomorrow I MUST renew my drivers license before returning to the work-world on Tuesday.)

I will miss the luxury of lying in bed half the day to read. I finished Peter Hessler's third China book, Country Driving, which I began before I left. I'd read both of his previous books, and always enjoyed (and envied) his pieces for the New Yorker about life in China. Towards the end, it seemed to point to the next book in my to-read pile, Factory Girls, by Leslie T. Chang, where it had been languishing since it came out in 2008. I did not know that the author is Peter Hessler's wife; they wrote the two books at the same time, together in Colorado. This seems very romantic.

Country Driving was a terrific re-entry read...I could feel vividly all the craziness of his highway and interpersonal adventures in China, but Factory Girls was the real surprise, about the most current cultural revolution in China, the huge migration of rural workers to the cities, where they find jobs gluing together shoes and punching machine parts, manufacturing all the things we don't anymore in the U.S. Even though the book relates the author's observations as much as a decade earlier in China, it still is timely; who hasn't heard the recent stories of suicides in Shenzhen sweatshops? (Oddly, my guide/interpreter wants me to acquire an iPad for her because it's cheaper in the U.S. But they make them there!)

Factory Girls gives my own transition from one job to another an odd perspective. The factory girls of Chang's book leave their village homes, holding up their half of the sky, and transform themselves in the city, with boyfriends, fashion, and an unexpected determination to better themselves. They never go back home except during that newsworthy annual trek at Chinese New Year, taking gifts and cash back to village families who have no clue what the girls are actually doing in the factory cities.

Chang confines her story mainly to the young women, and gives it an interesting twist: an interwoven family memoir about her own family's immigration from China in the '50s. It is good to understand one's own micro-history against the larger story of current events. Family events and personalities become integrated, make sense in a way they might not seen in isolation. There are lots of personal stories about and by refugees and victims of the turmoil of China's recent history (i.e., the past century or so), but Chang finds parallels to the current internal migration in the country. What could easily have been two books, is a marvelously integrated whole, which explains something about the Chinese mentality and character, and sheds a new, bright light on China that defies the usual stereotypes held by Americans who don't seem to realize that Mao is dead and a puzzling new New China has risen. (In some ways of course, Mao is not dead, in the same way that Qin, Han, Tang, and Qing emperors are not dead...that 5,000 years of Chinese civilization.)

I am wallowing in a historical moment of my own...I would really rather be retiring than just switching to a new office position. (But like lots of boomers of what used to be retirement age, not working isn't quite the option just yet. We're that 10 years younger generation I mentioned previously.) I'm thinking of these determined factory girls who claim their independence (from family, if not work), entrepreneurial spirits who will never live the life of their mothers. I cannot imagine the intolerable conditions of the factory--well actually I can. For a few weeks after my freshman year in college, I did a stint in a shirt laundry, working with mangles and hangars to process piles of wet dress shirts. It was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. Unknown to me, the laundry had gone bankrupt and I never got paid, but I did have an experience among some people with whom I had absolutely nothing in common except slaving for money. An old woman with grotesquely burn-scarred arms, a tough girl who told stories of beating up her boyfriend or her mother the night before, men who had maintained the equipment and kept the steam flowing for years.

"Why are you going to college," the tough bitch asked. I couldn't give her an answer she understood, I'm not sure I even knew then, but I did know I would not spend more than a few weeks in a truly sweaty shop. (Now I might answer, "To have the luxury to move from one office job to another with a trip to China in between.") I also did a brief stint in retail, selling wedding gowns in another between real-jobs moment, and after reading Factory Girls, I am certain they would have made higher commissions than I ever did, possibly ending up owning the shop. But quite frankly, I don't know if I ever have had their determination to create their own new futures. I was protected, pampered and lucky. I grew up in the U.S. My parents got through the Great Depression and WWII. And then I came along. And that was it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Leaping Forward in Time

One of the questions routinely asked of foreign visitors in China is "How old are you?" I usually got amazed looks when I was honest with strangers and cute massage therapists: "Wo liushisan sui." Despite short sage-silver hair that looks like I may have abandoned a nunnery just weeks ago, but with a relatively unlined, unwrinkled, even, moist complexion (which I attribute to living in a mild humid climate, good sun-blocking moisturizers, and retin-A), people always thought I was younger than I am. Chinese femmes du certain age liked to pose for pictures with me. I must look like a sturdy energetic immortal who does not choose to dye her hair black. (I should open a retin-A franchise; it would be more effective for youth-preservation than the ubiquitous Chinese skin-whitening products.)

Still, I am unnerved by the revelation in China Daily that the Bee Taoist is only 76. (I am unnerved that I might think anyone is "only 76".) I would have put him a decade beyond than that. And once, while strolling in a park on the morning of my arrival in Beijing, two women with a little one in a stroller proudly pointed to the bent old ye ye following with a walker. "He is 80!" I would have sworn he was 90 or even pushing 100, although 80 is a respectable age in China.

Then it occurred to me. There is a time warp in China, and it was caused by Mao Zedong. I think Baby Boomers and their parents -- that is to say, everyone still alive and born before 1966 -- have actually physically aged 10 years, if not chronologically. The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution cost all those folks decades of their youth, like a debit account; in the effort to move China ahead, the effect was just to make everyone appear older than they really are.

In contrast, it seems that all those coming of age or born post-Mao, after 1976, actually seem younger than their chronological age. I was surprised that the master who taught me Five Animals was 45; he looked mid-30s. Other "young people" well into their 30s seemed to me to be just coming out of their 20s. I credit the Taoist practices for longevity and immortality for the physical youth of the masters and teachers in the mountains; but I suppose the economic revolution since Deng Xiao Ping has served to keep the beneficiary generation young. (I see that in the U.S. as well...the narcissism of the "Me Generation" and material comforts keep one from aging as expected, or as demonstrated by the generation who lived through the Great Depression and the stifling '50s. And then there's cigarettes.)

In the Chinese TV serial drama I just completed, The Shadow of Empress Wu, which featured the Five Animals as a plot point about health, there is a curious bit of philosophy quoted, twice.
"People in their 60s count down their death by years; people in their 70s count down their death by months; people in their 80s will die without any sign." Anything after that is considered immortality. In his weird way, I guess Mao--who was preoccupied with his own longevity-- just pushed people closer to immortality.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Commercialization of Tradition

I feel a little tension, a little ambivalence, very mixed feelings, in the increasing commercialization of Wudangshan as a center for Taoist wellness and spiritual cultivation. Traditional masters abound, equipped with cellphones, updating their websites, becoming media personalities, published authors, and extras in TV and film. And I can say I feel part of the blame for this.

A small group of westerners working with our top-knotted teacher, we were overwhelmed and observed by Chinese tourists one morning (on the so-called International Tourism Day, when you could get into the Wudangshan area, like a national park, for half price.) One chicly shod and clad young woman (it is amazing the heels and sequins you see in the temples and on mountain stairs) jumped into the group to "pose" beside the teacher, in his traditional robe, flashing the ubiquitous "V" sign to her boyfriend/photographer. It was odd to be a visitor transformed into part of the attraction.

My beloved "hermit" is also a media celebrity. You can find him in many youtube videos, showing off his bee friends to barbarian seekers from all over the world, but now he has turned up in mainstream media in a recent China Daily feature that revealed details about him that I would rather not have known. He's only 76? He subscribes to magazines and newspapers to keep up with national affairs? (Although that sounds more like China Daily talking than Jia Ye himself.) Even while we were visiting, a film crew arrived, doing a documentary on the Four Seasons of Wudang. I may turn up in it; they did several repeated takes of me and him in farewell embraces. He seems to take these things with equanimity, but still, what a life for a eremetic Taoist! When we asked him when he meditated, he said, "Not during the day; I have too many friends who come to visit."

And if I don't turn up in a Chinese documentary, I already have some presence in the internet marketing of Wudang Tao, practically a registered trademark. Last night, visiting with one of my Chinese friends in Honolulu, dining on Japanese noodles before going to see a Korean movie, I was describing my experience with the rooftop shifu who taught us the Five Animals routine, encouraging her to join me next year. "Look, here's his website," I said, retrieving my iPad from my bag. Scrolling down through the photos, I came across a familiar scene. "This is exactly where we practiced, it was just like this." In fact it WAS us. In just two weeks we have become part of the marketing collateral, an example of "American Students."

In Wudang, over the past year, a curious "Taoist Vegetarian Cultural Experience Center" had opened, a restaurant which also showed martial arts and wuxia movies at night for free. I didn't eat there (I'm told there was nothing vegetarian on the menu anyway), but I did poke around to inspect some paintings on the walls. (I spent a lot of time on this trip closely inspecting paintings.) Mostly they were illustrations of Taoist figures and legends, but there was one HUGE shan shui mural on the wall behind the retractable video screen, a traditionally styled illustration of the 72 peaks of Wudang, the wandering clouds, waterfalls, some tiny immortals at sacred sites. And in the lower left, a mountain road winding up from the valley below. And on this road, a delicately brush-stroked MOTOR BUS. (There is no bus in my little reference volume of traditional Chinese painting elements, such as tigers and trees, fishermen and sages.)

One day I actually witnessed a traffic jam of buses on the two-lane village street. The driver of an aggressive black Honda SUV barreling the other way around the curve was sufficiently alert not to plow into them, but he did indulge in some incessant and ineffective horn-blowing in an attempt to break up the tangle of buses. I had just walked back from the hermit's cave in a light rain; it was a strange contrast to observe. There were photographers with really fancy cameras with long lenses and tripods everywhere taking pictures of the cloud-shrouded mountains that looked like living shan shui masterpieces. (One moment when I indeed did miss my little Casio.) I guess the bus in the mural was not so out-of-place after all.

The ancient techniques of internal alchemy and other Taoist arts and practices are the same as ever, but they are no longer hidden from the ordinary public. They are on offer to anyone who can afford to make the once laborious trek up the mountain. I have been astonished by the incredible development in China's cities, and in commerce, since my first experience in Beijing in 1988 when Deng Xiao Ping's "To get rich is glorious" reforms were beginning to lift China out of Mao-era economics. Now these developments are reaching the most remote and reserved parts of the country. In fact, our guide and interpreter says the place we really all should go is Yunnan. "That's the hot tourist destination now." Dally in Dali!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Charms of Feng Shui

The feng shui charms I bought to carry with me on my trip may or may not have provided me protection. The lapis elephant and jade rhino were scrutinized by lots of security screeners, one of whom, in the interest of protecting people I had no intention of harming, did manage to relieve me of my nice big traveling Leatherman with its wicked blade and pliers; I'd neglected to transfer it to my checked luggage when flying from Hangzhou to Wuhan. I tried to be less obnoxious than the Russian who, several years ago, was enraged because police would not let him take his fancy new tai chi sword on the train. (They did let him take the scabbard.) So when the cute security guy finally found the all-purpose tool in my bag, he said "Sorry," and I said "I understand, wo mingbai, mei wenti, you did a good job. Hao ba." He was also puzzled by the large solid chocolate Easter rabbit I was carrying; he pulled it out of my rucksack like a magician. I was saving it for a special "Year of Rabbit" moment in Wudang with my friends, who had occasional chocolate cravings. He let me retain the "qiaokeli tu," and the Leatherman's nice leather case. I wonder what happens to the confiscated items. I hope the security guard pocketed my excellent tool; it gives me pleasure to think of him using it. It was not deposited in the bin along with hundreds of cigarette lighters and suspicious bottles of water and hand lotion.

I don't know when the lapis elephant broke his leg. Not a fine piece of stone, and the fracture seemed to be along an exisiting fault line. I pointed this out to a companion. "Maybe he broke his leg so you won't," she said. Well, anything is possible, although my constant reliance on a nice collapsible walking stick probably had more protective value than the elephant.

"It only works if you believe it does," the feng shui woman told me when I bought the charms(thus limiting her liability). I'm not sure what that really means; I have lots of jade charms and carvings that give me a certain pleasure, dangling from my purse, rear view mirror, and bookmarks. Some are sentimental gifts. When I look at them they remind me of what power they're supposed to have. (I also constantly wear a very old antique Egyptian faience protective wadjet eye pendant; the only time in the past two decades I wasn't wearing it I wrecked my car.) Do I believe these things work? What does "work" mean?

Feng shui (wind/water) is ancient shamanic Chinese geomancy, and is readily evident in the placement of tombs. On the train ride to Wudang, I pointed out the tombs in a certain hilly area placed on slopes that clearly pre-dated the rail right-of-way.* Although in Hong Kong even modern buildings have odd adjustments to their architectural placement and design, and in the countryside, you come across tombs in the oddest places, until you notice the wind/water influences.

There are lots of books that will explain this (I particularly recommend this novel) and also tell you where to hang crystals in your living room, what charms to put on your desk to bring prosperity to your office, and which direction your head should point while sleeping. (If you're lucky, it's the same one your partner's should point. If your partner snores, put your head near his feet...but that just seems like common sense, like, don't place yourself with your back to the door in your office.** Consider Mafia bosses who have the common sense to know where to sit in restaurants.) Generally, I regard this charm and crystal stuff as superstitious (if entertaining) bunk, but, still, I always wear my wadjet eye. I also always wore my taiji ear studs, but I lost the yang one somewhere in Wudang, which seems okay. Now I'm just wearing one, but I am reluctant to remove it. It connects me to its counterpart in the mountains. I have recently littered China with all kinds of personal earring, my Leatherman, a broken camera, a bulky pair of jeans sacrificed to make room in my luggage for take-home tea.

Yesterday, I was to meet a colleague for lunch. We'd picked a little Chinese restaurant, and when he didn't show up I went ahead and ordered anyway. Channeling Brigitte Lin, I wished I'd had a sword with me to lay across the table. A perfectly decent local Chinese meal, but it made me long for the auto workers' restaurant in Shiyan where the peppery food was energizing and comforting on a cold rainy day. The Hawaii restaurant's menu did list "Zechuan" specialities and the "ma pao tofu" was guaranteed to be "splicy." Still, I ordered a bland chicken and black mushrooms and some shrimp and vegetables with noodles. When I left with a substantial doggie bag, I noticed a little shop around the corner: The Joy of Feng Shui. How could I not go in? But after China, everything on offer seemed sort of hip new agey and commercial, to say nothing of terribly expensive. There was nothing I wanted or needed, although I did ask the proprietor if he knew where I could get a good authentic Chinese foot massage. He didn't.

Next week, we try again, at an Italian restaurant. I will sit facing the door (so I can see my friend arrive). But I think I will take along my little lapis elephant with the broken leg. He makes for a good story.

*The Wizard just related a story to me, which may be apocryphal, but has a ring of veracity to it. In 1901, the Chinese rerouted an entire rail line around a mountain to assure that the dead noble the funeral train was transporting was always laid out in an auspicious direction.

** Last time I did this, I turned to answer a knock on the door and it was the Governor of Hawaii stopping in to admire the dry-erase bamboo sketches on my whiteboard.

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's All About Me

I was thinking this morning about the incredible self-absorption (or is it absorbtion?) of some people who call themselves Taoists, and came across this survey on one of my most faithful reader's blogs and just had to mop myself up.

Thanks to the wonderful Falu Nuwu, law witch, I decided to jump in and do this:
  1. ONE OF YOUR SCARS, HOW DID YOU GET IT? Large scar on right thigh, obtained just after my Grandmother said, "Slow down. Watch out for that open tin can!"
  2. WHAT IS ON THE WALLS IN YOUR BEDROOM? Dust bunnies and vivid acrylic paintings by my dear friend and astrologer.
  4. WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO? Bob Dylan, anything influenced by Bob Dylan, and anything that influenced Bob Dylan. And Miles Davis and Beethoven. And Chinese guqin music.
  5. DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME YOU WERE BORN? No, but they TELL me it was 9 p.m.
  7. WHO DO YOU MISS? An old hermit in Wudang.
  8. IS ANYONE IN LOVE WITH YOU OR HAS A CRUSH ON YOU? An old hermit in Wudang.
  9. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU KISSED? The Wizard. And an old hermit in Wudang.
  10. WHAT’S YOUR MIDDLE NAME? Chinese or English?
  11. THE BEST TV SHOW EVER CREATED? House M.D. and Mad Men.
  12. THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO? My friend who I lovingly call Chatty Kathy.
  13. DO YOU GET SCARED IN THE DARK? Only if there are accompanying weird noises.
  14. THE LAST PERSON TO MAKE YOU CRY? Sun Honglei, in "If You are the One, 2"
  15. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE COLOGNE / PERFUME? Angel, (Thierry Mugler).
  16. WHAT KIND OF HAIR/EYE COLOR DO YOU LIKE ON THE OPPOSITE SEX? Chinese ponytails and topknots and dark eyes.
  17. WOULD YOU RATHER BE SMART OR FUNNY? I am smart and funny.
  19. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIZZA TOPPING? Cheese and pepperoni.
  21. WHO IS THE LAST PERSON WHO MADE YOU MAD? I have abandoned anger.
  22. DO YOU SPEAK ANOTHER LANGUAGE? Enough Chinese and French to get me out of the trouble it got me into.
  23. WHAT WAS THE FIRST GIFT SOMEONE EVER GAVE YOU? A tiny gold charm shaped like a bell, long gone, but it still rings in my memory.
  24. DO YOU LIKE SOMEONE? Of course.
  25. ARE YOU DOUBLE JOINTED? All except my permanently dislocated left pinky which is frozen at 60 degrees and automatically sets the caps lock key when I least expect it.
  26. FAVORITE CLOTHING BRAND? My custom-made taichi suits.
  27. WHAT’S YOUR DREAM CAR? Jaguar XK8, my vintage Miata all grown up.
  28. WHAT COLOR IS IT? Pewter.
  29. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE KIND OF EXERCISE? QIgong with hot Chinese masters.
  30. WOULD YOU FALL IN LOVE KNOWING THAT THE PERSON IS LEAVING? Of course, everyone is leaving.
  34. WHAT IS THE ONE NUMBER YOU CALL OFTEN? I never make phone calls, only receive them.
  35. WHAT ANNOYS YOU MOST? Making phone calls.
  36. HAVE YOU BEEN OUT OF YOUR COUNTRY? WHERE DID YOU GO? WHAT PLACE DID YOU LIKE BEST? Indeed. The Middle Kingdom, the Counterweight Continent. Tai Chang Temple, Wudangshan.
  37. YOUR WEAKNESSES? A little arthritis in my right thumb joint, and gin and tonics.
  38. FRIES/CHIPS, RICE, OR BEANS? Yes, please. In China, all of these can turn up in the same meal.
  39. FIRST JOB? In a bankrupt shirt laundry in July; worked like a dog, never got paid.
  40. EVER PRANK CALLED SOMEONE? Not since I was 13.
  42. IF YOU COULD GET PLASTIC SURGERY WHAT WOULD IT BE? I wouldn't, but sometimes a face lift looks like a wonderful thing.
  44. WHAT DO YOU GET COMPLIMENTED ABOUT MOST? Wisdom, sense of humor, and kindness. But they're probably lying.
  45. WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF ALCOHOL BECAME ILLEGAL? Learn to make bathtub gin.
  46. WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY? No more birthdays.
  47. HOW MANY KIDS DO YOU WANT? I only wanted one and I got him.
  48. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? No, I was the first to be named.
  49. DO YOU WISH ON STARS? Yes, Vincent Zhao and Song Il-guk.
  50. WHICH FINGER[S] IS YOUR FAVORITE? What? I could do without that dislocated pinky. Not really.
  51. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? A papaya, rice and beans and a bourbon and soda.
  52. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? Depends on the pencil and paper.
  54. ANY BAD HABITS? Salami, bourbon, gin. I recently overcame a bad habit of pointing at things. Now I sort of wave.
  58. DO LOOKS MATTER? You can't judge a book by its cover, but if it looks creepy, you may not get to page 1.
  59. YOU RELEASE YOUR ANGER? I have abandoned anger.
  60. WHERE IS YOUR SECOND HOME? Hangzhou, but I haven't done the deal yet.
  61. DO YOU TRUST OTHERS EASILY? Sometimes, too easily. True trust is trusting people who are untrustworthy.
  62. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TOY AS A CHILD? Tiny plastic animals; I liked playing God.
  64. DO YOU USE SARCASM? Oh, never....
  65. DO YOU KNOW ANYONE FAMOUS? I think so. I once ran into Jerry Lewis in a deserted bar, but refused to introduce myself.
  66. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A MOSH PIT? Too old for that, although I did recently dance in the street in Hangzhou with our driver in a night market until the police turned off the music.
  67. WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A PLACE TO LIVE? A toilet, a sink, light switches and absence of vermin.
  68. WHAT ARE YOUR NICKNAMES? Baroness, Empress, Mrs. Bee Hermit.
  69. HOW MANY HATS DO YOU OWN? WHAT’S YOUR HAT SIZE? Hats make my head itch; my head is bigger than my husband's. (Although, on second thought, I do actually own a real vintage Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat, a strange gift from the Wizard. I would wear it to a Dylan concert, but it makes my head itch.)
  70. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? I don't practice that kind of bondage.
  72. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? Vanilla with bits of almond and/or chocalate.
  73. ARE YOU LAZY? No, just good at much simply doesn't need to be done.
  75. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BAND? Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan's.
  76. HOW MANY WISDOM TEETH DO YOU HAVE? Teeth gone, retained the wisdom.
  77. DO YOU WANT TO GO ANYWHERE SPECIAL THIS YEAR? Maui, Portland,Or., Taiwan...
  78. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Birds and the electric fan.
  79. LAST THING YOU ATE? See # 51...the bourbon and soda,
  82. FAVORITE THOUGHT PROVOKING SONG? Desolation Row (Bob Dylan)
  83. FAVORITE TWO THINGS TO HATE? Politics and sports. But, I have abandoned anger.
  84. FAVORITE DRINK? Gin and tonic.
  85. FAVORITE ZODIAC SIGN? Chinese or Western? I like myself, a Sagittarian triple Fire Pig.
  86. SPORTS YOU LIKE TO WATCH? Kung fu, if you call it a sport.
  87. WHAT IS YOUR HAIR COLOR? Now or then? I'm..uh...silver.
  88. EYE COLOR? Muddy algae.
  89. DO YOU WEAR GLASSES? More and more.
  90. SIBLINGS? Nope, I'm a born hermit.
  91. FAVORITE MONTH(s)? January/February (Chinese New Year)
  92. DO YOU LIKE SUSHI? Yes, except for soft-shell crab, which tastes like burned hair.
  93. LAST THING YOU WATCHED? The Shadow of Empress Wu, episode 56 of 62.
  95. ARE YOU TOO SHY TO ASK SOMEONE OUT? I'm married, and the Hermit is thousands of miles away.
  96. SUMMER OR WINTER? I live in Hawaii, I do not understand these terms.
  97. KISSES OR HUGS? Hershey Hugs.
  98. RELATIONSHIPS OR ONE-NIGHT STANDS? I'm married, and the Hermit is thousands of miles away.
  101. BOOKS YOU’D LIKE TO SEE TURNED INTO A FILM? My own novel in the making.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weekly, Weakly

Has it been a full week since I arrived home? I've been in a daze, time-and space-lagged, slowly divesting myself of one of China's major exports (phlegm) and exiting from a job I've held for four-and-a-half years. I somewhat theatrically emailed a resignation notice from Beijing on Bob Dylan's 70th birthday, ceremonially played Maggie's Farm a few times on my iPod, treated myself to a Chinese "hurts so good" massage and cupping therapy, and ultimately came home to an open-ended situation. A new opportunity begins, auspiciously, on the Summer Solstice. Some folks assumed I was retiring, but it's not dark yet.

In the meantime, I am trying to process the events of the past month, with little photographic evidence, but some journal notes. I really didn't go anywhere I'd never been before, but even so, revisiting revealed new lessons and new teachers, the kind who present themselves when you are ready, doors that were always there mysteriously opened. And just like when you leave a job you didn't really much like, saying, "But I'll miss the people," so too, part of the pleasure of a pilgrimage is the fellow pilgrims and priests.

One morning in the mountains, where I usually awoke at dawn with birds who may also have been restless during the full moon period, I took my tea and journal to the rooftop of the hotel to watch the sun rise over the very landscape which is the banner of this blog. After some stretching and breathing in first light and fresh air, I seated myself along the railing to make some notes about the previous evening when the group had been entertained by a charming literati type who sang some Chinese opera and folk songs, spontaneously, when we were enjoying the full moon.

In the dawn, the same young master emerged on the roof from his own little apartment with his tea and began a morning qigong routine. His back was to me, so I watched for a few moments and then realized he was doing movements I was familiar with, so I quietly began to follow him. At some point, he turned to acknowledge me. "I know some of this, it's eight brocades," I said, hoping he did not object to my energy, and he told me, yes, but what he was doing was a mixture. And then proceeded to demonstrate. Then he offered to teach me the Five Animals exercise.

Before I left home, I had been enjoying a 2009 Chinese TV series, The Shadow of Empress Wu, in which the five animals is a plot point -- a clever and manipulative Taoist applies the ancient routine to cure the sickly young prince (though the Taoist's elixirs were not for the good of the dynasty). I had been interested in the exercises, and it seemed uncanny that the master brought them up. (And I just discovered there is an earlier series about the Empress which also features my muse Vincent Zhao as Tang general Li Zunxian in a fictional romantic role...well, why not?)

But back to the exercises. After tiger (no tiger mom) comes bear, oh my...when we did that one, young master said to me, "Now you are a happy bear," not knowing then that my Chinese name is Xiong Shan Di (which a Chinese friend at home says may be interpreted as Empress of Bear Mountain, something like a Baroness). Later he began to call me Madame Xiong. A happy Madame Xiong. (Xiong=bear, which is in fact, my family name.)

We continued over the next few days, early morning before breakfast, on the roof, to complete instruction in the five movements. It was an unplanned program, one of many spontaneous happenings off the itinerary and schedule, but linked to full moon and sunrise. To be practicing while the sun and moon were both in the sky, together hovering over the mountains, was magical.

And now after a week, I am 95 percent well, 5 percent weak ---the phlegm is almost gone. I hope my memories linger longer.