A certain sort of interaction

Chengdu Travel Blog

 › entry 8 of 16 › view all entries
Traveling by train from Xian to Chengdu in China I was sharing a sleeper cabin with a couple of other gentlemen. I had thought I was on a fast train but the journey just seemed to never end. It also made plenty of stops. I had tried speaking with the locals earlier but neither of them spoke any English at all. Not even hello. Which despite 2 weeks in the mainland was still considerably more English than I had learned of Chinese. But that's why I journey half way around from my side of the world. Always striving to find those ever narrowing pockets. Not to be undone by our lack of a mutual language I pull out a map and point to Chengdu, because no matter how I try to say it, I'm not finding the right one of those 4 tones. And there's a dozen Chengdu sounding cities in the mainland. After we locate the right city, also employing the current train ticket; I grab a watch and point towards the big hand. What time? It only took a few minutes for us to figure out that the train I'm on would arrive when Mickey Mouse's big hand points at the number 3. So began the conversation of dispirit tongues.

He pointed at my ring finger. No. No girl for me. His was empty too. An unfortunate side effect of a country that allows only 1 child per family and they all want boys. We point at the map again and I see the name of his home town. I show him a map of the US and pick out mine. He points at the China map, then me and shrugs the obvious question? I pull out my camera and show him pictures. Just pictures? no. Kung fu as well. A quizzical look. hmm. Kung Fu doesn't translate. Or rather southern drawl American doesn't translate. So I perform a quick Wing Chun wu sao. His eyes light up. Ahhh Gong fu.

Somehow we stumbled across a much more ancient form of communication. One that I have learned for exercise, defense, and even to make money as a professional for a time but had never considered as a replacement for language. It doesn't take long to find out he has studied as well and before you know it we're sharing our knowledge of Chinese martial arts. For 2 hours we sat in a cabin delving into Chi na / sticky hands, elbow theory, hard style vs soft style, 5 animal, and much more. Every barrier dissolved. Communicating through the Kung Fu I learned more about this man than most people I've spent in years of traditional conversation. His insatiable thirst for knowledge, attention to detail and respect for life. His ability and willingness to press an advantage. An understanding, respect and acquiescence to the necessity of lethal technique as the last resort. Buddhists use the word "Namaste" in a variety of ways- most of which boil down to the acknowledgment of the same spirit exiting within 2 souls. Sticky hands has something similar with out the need for the verbal translation. It's when both practitioners become so in-tuned to the movements of the other that you can sense the thoughts of attack or defense immediately. When the sense of the thought fades into simply sharing its awareness simultaneously it is said their chi, or whatever name you give it, have recognized one another and no longer need the crude interactions of consciousness. Despite what some masters and practitioners may say, I have found it to be a very rare thing. But a binding one.

In the end we had a crowd standing outside the cabin watching our inaudible dialogue; appreciative of the show. I was appreciative of the conversation of a lifetime.
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photo by: spocklogic