I don’t know why I asked, I just happened to see a message in my kung fu group about a wushu competition in Tongwei 通渭. I didn’t really ask where it was, or details, it just came out. I didn’t think I really had time either, but why am I here if not to see something awesome.
Tongwei is southeast of Lanzhou, only about an hour by high speed rail, but that’s not where I wound up going. They picked me up in a car and we went to a local school to meet some of the masters. We talked, as much as I could, and we had tea. Everyone wanted a picture taken with me. It is interesting, but it’s hard to feel pride in people who care about where you are from before they even ask who you are.
As we got to know each other they became friendlier, talking and laughing, before we set off to the temple. Zhan Long Guan 湛龙观 was outside of a town with no roads. Most of the houses were old enough that they look like they were made of the same material as the earth around them. They faded into the background as the car wove through the mountains, long ago terraced for farming. With the coming of spring, the green of the fields and the trees was a beautiful contrast, occasionally speckled with purple or yellow flowers.
I don’t think many, if any, Americans ever go to that part of China. The photographs were endless, people so happy and awed to see an American. There was a certain honor to it all, and that I can accept because all of us have invested our time in kung fu. I am told that the people of Tongwei love the martial arts, and it was great to be part of that kind of group again. The people in Lanzhou always seem too busy.
The days were sunny and bright, and the food was simple and wonderful. As a guest, I wound up drinking a lot, but not so much that it was more than an edge of drunkenness. The first day wound down with a long dinner and a drinking game I never learned how to play but I still did well enough at.
The night was a bit different. One of the people there was more or less in charge of the event, and I think he booked the entire hotel we were staying at. They were all very friendly, but until they have experience, the local police never know how to deal with a foreigner staying in such a small town.
There were two cops in my room, as well as three of my friends, taking pictures and calling people, trying to figure out the paperwork for having a foreign visitor in their hotel. I think that foreigners are only allowed to stay in certain places, but mostly it’s just that everyone who goes to a hotel gets registered. It didn’t bother me until the police came back after my friends left.
It was hard to communicate with them, but apparently they needed my physical passport so they could xerox a copy for their records. Also not uncommon in hotels here. They take it for a night and return it in the morning. Still stressful, but the police were friendly enough. I just never like dealing with the police in an official capacity.
In the morning, there was no water. It happens in my apartment sometimes too, but it makes it difficult to shave. I’m sure all of the locals are still happy with the pictures of the scruffy foreigner, but I would have liked to look better. The event was only scheduled for the morning, and I spent the time before with my friends, old and new, practicing their forms for presentation. They wanted me to practice too, so I went through what I knew of the Chun family tai chi form, but that is only a bit more than half.
The man in charge gave me a camera, a heavy DSLR, to get what pictures I could since so many people at the event were short enough that I could see over. I wandered, took pictures, and had mine taken in turn. I played with the children after they presented their wushu forms, and eventually they devolved into tapping me and running and feeding me weird foods. I didn’t mind the super sour candy, I never have, but the individually wrapped chicken foot was a no.
We finished off with a decent sized lunch, which is awesome because so many of the meals here are beyond enjoyment by the end. The old man next to me kept me drinking, but their shot glasses were half the size of ours. I finished the last toast and we made our way back to the train station at Tongwei, stopping on the high roads to take pictures of the driver’s hometown.
It was beautiful, and that is so easy to forget here in the big city. There are roses growing on my campus now, huge and bright, but most of Lanzhou is so brown. To see the fields and valleys so close in Gansu if amazing, and just to be part of something so fascinating is why I am here. To see behind walls, places hard to get to…