01 February 2012

Time Travel

Back in 1987, Shanghai had a lot of loudspeakers mounted on high poles throughout the residential areas of the city.  Music would flow from them, and announcements I couldn't understand, and every morning at 7, music accompanied by counting.

Outside the building I lived in, a group of women would gather each morning and do tai chi to the beat of the music.  I wanted to join them, but between the hour (I'm not a morning person) and the fear of not being able to communicate with them, I never did.

It's one major regret about my time spent teaching English there, from August 1987 to July 1988.  The other is I've lost touch with all of the Chinese people I knew there, particularly our friend Xiao Ye, a fellow English teacher.

I did a lot of interesting other things.

When some American hikers were arrested on the border between Iraq and Iran, and people talked about idiotic young people, The Mate and I remembered that we went some places in China where we weren't supposed to go, simply buying tickets to small towns, taking the train, getting out, and walking around -- all completely illegal. That's how we saw the Great Wall, in a run-down spot in the middle of nowhere, far from the sections outside Beijing reconstructed for tourist consumption.

We visited Xian, more legally, and saw the Xing Xi Huang warriors in situ during the archaeological excavation. We traveled north to Harbin, in the former Manchuria, in the depths of winter, walked across the frozen Songhua river, looked at fabulous ice sculptures.  We ate all kinds of interesting things, both in restaurants and purchased at the markets and cooked at home.  We walked and took local buses all around Shanghai and other cities we visited, and got to know them from the ground up.

On my morning bike ride along the East River, there's a section under the FDR Drive where, if it's raining, a group of women gathers to do tai chi, accompanied by scratchy music from a boombox.  Each time, it brings me back to that year in Shanghai.

Today, one of the women was wielding a sword.  I wished I'd learned enough Chinese to stop and chat with her, maybe find out if women traditionally do tai chi with swords in China, or if this is a recent innovation.