I would always come home with wonderful stories of the park to regale Pan with. I tried to stay up till she got home, since I was no longer back from the park before she went to work, though after my daily training became intense I was too tired to await her return. She became so curious about what I was doing there that she decided to get up early one Saturday and come see it.
I brought her first to the weapons guy. She was rather surprised by Lei Ping shifu’s lack of proper Mandarin and conversed with him in Shanghai hua. Through her, I discovered that his shifu had recently passed away and he had inherited the school. What I was practicing was the famous Shaolin. The guy who I could still barely understand was from the far Southwest and Lei Ping shifu’s prize pupil.
Lei Ping shifu was insanely proud of me, the token female and token foreigner. He referred to me as his yang, being a play the word for foreigner and a Shanghai hua word for lucky. He felt that since I had started coming more people had begun to practice. There was also some debate about my yin jing (voice power), Lei Ping shifu wanted me to shout when I did the stick form, but Gu laoshi felt that it was a waste of qi. Since I had a background in Kendo/Iaido, I was inclined to go with Lei Ping shifu’s opinion. Japanese martial arts are big on screaming.
Interview with my weaponed group completed, I escorted her to the shisuo place. Er Yang wasn’t there that day, so it was Da Yang who talked her ear off- I mean greeted her. He also had glowing reviews of me. I understood so little of what he said it was good to have someone there to play interpreter. She was surprised to realize that they often spoke not Shanghai hua, but some other dialect. Pan pointed out to me a new member of the group. He was a tall, pudgy fellow with narrow nose and a broad square face.
“Look how they’re telling him to stretch out his fingers like that. It makes him hit his fingers on the stone when he catches.” Pan whispered.
I watched him make a catch and curse as he stubbed every finger on the unforgiving stone. I was suddenly glad I was female and not subject to the hazing of new members. After we finished watching the poor fellow collect bruises we walked over to the far corner of the grounds. We met some guy in his pajamas doing pull ups on the parallel bars. He said he was looking for an English teacher, I said I had lots of free time and could teach his daughter. Under Pan’s encouragement I exchanged numbers and addresses with him. I wouldn’t normally give out my address, but Pan said this was the Chinese way. When in Rome…
After our outing in the park she told me I should watch a lot of TV or I was going to pick up their southern, non-standard, accents. She was right of course and I did start to gain a southern accent, but I couldn’t watch TV. Nothing intelligent ever seemed to be on, the programs were too long for me to commit myself to, and moreover everyone talked funny. TV actors all have Beijing accents and it now sounded so removed from what I heard every day that I found it unnerving. This was a disappointment to Pan, who discovered the unknown dialect to be the dreaded subei hua, a form of speech associated with the poor and uneducated. She forbid the learn it. Since I listened so well to her advice about the southern accent, you can guess how well I listened about the Subei hua.
She had one last piece of advice for me, be careful. Shisuo looks pretty dangerous, so I understood why she had to play my mother, but the truth is that I’ve only injured myself once and I say this now with the perspective of ten years of shisuo practice and that time totally wasn’t my fault. You see, there was one woman who started coming to the shisuo park. She had a face like a Chinese lion, all squashed in and proud. I think she was in her late forties and she let me call her Xiao Zhu, as in scarlet, though people did make pig cracks. I liked her a lot. No one really taught her and she couldn’t toss much, but she was allowed to sit around smoking and tea drinking with us. She approved of a female doing shisuo and it takes guts to hang out in a man’s world.
One day she asked me to toss with her. We used the little twelve pounder. This was when I discovered the error of her lack of instruction. Instead of throwing it in a straight line at my chest, she threw it at an angle to my outstretched arm. The result was that when I let the weight drop it banged right into the side of my knee, under the protective knee cap. I can’t even describe how painful that was, but I’m sure you can guess. I went down as fast as the stone, clutching my leg. Xiao Zhu immediately dragged me into the tea hut for medical attention. I had a cluster of concerned men watching the proceedings. Their idea of administering to the wound was applying an ice pack to it, so that I wouldn’t get a bruise. A young maiden’s skin is important, it should be pale and clear so that she may snag a good husband. The pain of the cold hard ice on my knee was even more intense than the original wound. Lao He taunted me asking if I was going to cry. I can tell you that that was tempting, but I wasn’t going to seem like a wuss.
The ice worked, I had no bruise, but it hurt all week. I had to stop Shaolin for a bit, because I couldn’t bend without pain. I drew a diagram to explain the problem to one of my shixiong, Gu laoshi. He told me I should go to the hospital and when I refused he pronounced me an idiot and said there was nothing more he could do for me. The wounded tissues healed within the week, just as I expected they would, but I’ll tell you this, I have never agreed to toss with someone who aimed at my hand instead of my center again.