In which I hurt, teach a new class and discover the evils of miscommunication.
It was good to be back in Shanghai, where the air was warm and visibly less polluted. I went right to the park, before I even had a chance to unpack my beat-up canvas suitcase. Er Yang was there and thrilled to see me, as was everyone else. I had no idea I was so loved. Complete strangers were coming up to me, saying they were glad to see me and so afraid that I had gone back to my home country. “Why hadn’t I told them I was going on a trip to Beijing?” they would scold me. The answer was simple, yet somehow unutterable, it had never occurred to me that they would care if I had left. I attended a martial arts class for a year where the teacher and other students would look up in surprise that I had come back, assuming that when I left those doors every Monday night it was my last session, so for such a large mass of near strangers to be distressed by my absence was…well…flattering actually, but initially surprising.
Er Yang was immediately insistent that I practice shisuo. It wasn’t the weekend, but I didn’t work until the afternoon, so what the heck, I might as well do it. That’s when I began the pattern of practicing throwing stones every single day. It increased my hours in the park from one to three, so that by the time I returned to my apartment, my American friends were finally online. The only problem it created was in calling my early to bed older sister, but we eventually worked that out, so, in short, the new schedule was perfect.
I was so sore. Everyday I would practice and by the time I returned to my apartment my arms were aching. The backs of my thighs had hurt the first couple times, those muscles you use to climb up stairs, but that faded quickly, luckily too since I lived on the third floor of an apartment building with no elevators. I know there are those of you who think that public buildings without elevators are barbaric. My Californian acquaintance in Shanghai, Yang Ling, said as much, but the government forbids such buildings to have more than six floors. Climbing up six flights of stairs isn’t exactly pleasant, but it is doable. My neck muscles and back were also briefly sore, but that too quickly faded. I wish the same could be said for my arms, which ached every single day. I would try to say I couldn’t play shisuo that day, because I hurt, but this would lead to a discussion that would end with them declaring I wasn’t injured and thus could still practice. This led to me learning how to say ‘suan’ the word for sore muscles, which would actually grant me a slight reprieve, but not that much. They would always sympathetically say
“It’s ok, we’ll go easy on you today.”
But this was always followed by “Come on, let’s try 16 jin. It’s not that heavy.”
And “You did 16 jin so well, let’s try 25. 25 isn’t that much. Shishi kan, if it’s too much we’ll stop.”
So in the end, I usually ended up working full compliment anyway.
Er Yang was a hard albeit enthusiastic task master. Because he worked on the slow train to Beijing, he would disappear for periods of time. While he was gone he would assign Da Yang to look after me. The best word to describe Da Yang back then was ‘sexist’, no that’s not true the best word to describe Da Yang at any time is ‘loquacious'. The man never shuts his mouth. His saving grace is that he usually talks about fascinating things. He constantly quotes Confucian doctrine, traditional poetry and great gongfu masters. This is interspersed with tales of his own adventures, usually involving beautiful women and lectures on morality. Anyway, sexism was his early lecture theme. He would constantly tell me that if I was a boy, he would make me do one hundred tosses, but because I was a young maiden he would only make me do 50. It angered me and I would do one hundred just to spite him.
Between Er Yang’s encouragement and Da Yang’s skepticism I was soon tossing as much as 30 jin. Everyone was thrilled until the day they noticed my hands. I think it was Lao Wang who noticed first. He was one of the friendliest and often would try to make conversation with me. He had a perfectly round face accented by his closely shaved skull. He had big glasses that hid slightly vacant single lidded eyes that were constantly creased by the contented smile that turns up his mouth. One day he picked up my hands and noticed the rows of blisters slowly turning into calluses. He laughed and pointed it out to everyone else. Er Yang, in concern, grabbed my hand in his sandpaper rough ones and inspected the palm. A frown creased his face, he yelled something to Da Yang who also came to check out my hands and soon wore an identical expression of disapproval. Being the chatty one, Da Yang turned to me and said sternly:
“Yin Mu, a lady’s hands are her pride. Hands are a lady’s second face and lao kong fu zi miao says that both should be soft and delicate. Your hands are rough and hard like a man’s. This will never do. Chinese men love to fondle the hands of their lady loves and yours are no longer feminine.”
“Oh.” I answered dumbly, eyes round and mouth open. This was news to me. I hadn’t given it much thought or concern. Americans don’t really have a soft hand fetish as far as I know and I hadn’t thought much about dating in general. All the men shook their heads and expressed their displeasure.
However this didn’t stop them from teaching me. I came back the next day and they taught me again. So it went day after day. They kept inspecting my hands and quickly decided it was a sign of my strength. What other girl could toss 30 jin? They were my badge of honor and I should be proud of them. Instead of disparaging their existence, the guys started showing them off to everyone who came in. They would grab my hands off my lap and display them for all to see. The spectators would always smile and repeat “lihai lihai”. So strong! So cool!