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Monday, October 7, 2013

Sit-Down Comedy: A Running Gag (Part One)

A couple of Wudang Tao study trips ago, in one of our little class sessions, our teacher made reference to the necessity of having "good intentions" in practice. (We've all heard this, especially among those pesky Buddhists.)  One of our group misheard this as "you must have good intestines."  No surprise, since most of us were having serious gastro-intestinal issues, blockages, and guts "being like water," all sorts of internal chaos.

Once again, this year in Wudang, I was initially suffering from blockages. Two years of office work, hours and hours cramped in planes and trains, and changed diet, left me quite constipated.  It's very hard to sit and meditate well with that kind of blockage.

I finally succumbed to a little artificial help to create genuine movement and suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to relieve myself when we were all gathered at a temple to do tai chi practice.
Wudang Tai Chi class in Nanyan Temple courtyard.
I wasn't really participating in that anyway, a little plantar's fasciitis and a gimpy hip from all that previous office and plane sitting,  rendering me the spitting image of Tie Guai Li, (Iron Crutch Li).  I would go nowhere without my trusty green Coleman walking stick and red Camelbak water bottle.  Still, I wanted to watch the tai chi practice, which was interrupted by a Hong Kong film crew who wanted to memorialize the foreigners paying respects in the temple and to film the master and his regular (in so many ways, I'm sure) students.

Good time to escape to a toilet. Cesuo zai nar?  I was directed back to the entrance to the temple, with fears of Yuan Dynasty squatters, but was pleasantly surprised to find renovation of the Temple facilities had resulted in perhaps the finest public restroom in China.  A huge flat screen television! A baby changing room! Sofas. And two rooms of toilets, one stall in which was clearly designated for me:
Disabled people, Tie Guai Li impersonators, and Westerners toilet.

Clean, comfortable, and only lacking toilet tissue.

I spent considerable time enjoying this facility, assuming that in Chinese, "disabled people" means "Westerners unable to squat."  I saw no one in wheelchairs at the temple, which otherwise was in no way handicapped accessible.  (Unless you hired porters with their bamboo sedan chairs.) The only thing missing in the stall was toilet tissue, an apparently precious commodity in China, so I completely used up one of my own precious portable packs of Wet Ones.

I felt bad throwing them into the wastebasket, which was decorated with a Wal-Mart happy face.  I had been advised back at our hotel to avoid putting toilet paper down the crapper, with vague reference to the use of night soil by the peasant farmers.  This was a very hard habit to break.  A few times, in a fit of ecological cooperation,  I actually retrieved my tissue from the toilet which barely filled with water, but my overall contribution to the fertilizer was probably not welcome. 

My hotel bathroom. I used that same towel for 18 days. Hotel policy.

This is not the first time I have been preoccupied with Chinese toilets, having had all sorts of primitive experiences over the past decades, in country latrines, restaurant stalls, and train potties. In cities, you develop a mental map of where the good toilets are.  You can google images of "Chinese toilets" for a hint of what I am not posting here: some things I don't photograph.  I did observe though, on our train journeys, the toilets, even in hard sleeper, were slightly improved.  You no longer could actually see the tracks rushing by below as you squatted over the hole. (You're not supposed to go when stopped in a station.)  This time however, on our return to Beijing, after having reluctantly visited the toilet in the middle of the night, I discovered in the morning that the sole of one of my shoes had peeled off.  I suspect the urine pool in the toilet dissolved the glue.  Ordinarily I would have taken them to my shoemaker, but couldn't bring myself to do that this time. 

But back to good intentions...I still laugh about the "good intestines."  But on reading a little booklet edited by one of the Tao teachers I have met on the mountain, I discovered the following tale about Zhang Sanfeng, legendary cultivator and alleged creator of Wudang Tai Chi Chuan, who behaved like an immortal.

"After hearing of his reputation, Emperor Chengzhu of the Ming Dynasty had a meeting with him. The emperor said, 'I would like to learn about Tao. What is the most enjoyable way?'  Zhang replied, 'Having a good appetite and smooth bowel movements is the most enjoyable way.'   The emperor regarded this reply as disrespectful and wanted to kill Zhang.  But at that point, the man disappeared all of a sudden.

"A few days later, Emperor Chengzu felt uncomfortable.  He was unable to eat and suffered from constipation.  Then he realized that what Zhang Sanfeng had said was correct.  Before long, Zhang met an envoy of the emperor on the road and asked the envoy to take a few Chinese alpine rushes to the emperor.  The emperor had them boiled down into a broth which he gulped down as Zhang suggested. All his troubles disappeared instantly.

"As Zhang had once lived on Mt. Wudang as a hermit, the imperial court began to build monasteries on this mountain.  Taoism on Mt. Wudang then began to flourish."

Which makes me begin to believe that what our teacher said was indeed, "You must have good intestines."  Tao cultivation is actually all about "gut feelings."

Lao Tzu recommends, "Take a load off."

So many meanings of "to sit."

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