First up in my sentimental journey was Chinatown.
The man in the photo is known to Chinese as "Au Si Fu." He was one of my Tai Chi teachers. Kind of the last one left standing. I never expected to see him agian. But found him still teaching and very much alive at age 84.
"Si Fu" means "master teacher" and "Au" is his last name. Asians put their last name first. His whole name is (English style) "Kiet Chi Au." He carries documentation of his achievements in a briefcase and is still a self-promoter. His photo album ranges from his early Tai Chi weapons mastery in the 1920s to the theater performances he choreographed (Tai Chi fan and sword are his specialties).
With my dance background, in '97 I was able to pick up the fan without much trouble. I still have difficulty remembering the Tai Chi (Cheng Man-ch'ing style) and double sword he worked to teach me. So I'm not the best student, although I am devoted.
We have dealt with the language barrier as best we can. It's easier when he's telling me something that I can figure out (he speaks almost no English), and frustrating when I can't. This last meeting actually went awry due to his urgent need for a translator. But that's another story.
Au Si Fu learned Tai Chi from a master who was in direct lineage from Cheng Man-ch'ing who modified Yang Style to elevate its health benefits. In the photo above, he's teaching his longtime student Mr. Fong who is 90. That's Mr. Fong's walker in the background.
Au also continues to gather Chi Kung info off the Internet (You Tube) and incorporate it in his teachings. His children gave him a digital still/video camera, and we actually engaged more in documentation than in class this time around.
I found it personally embarrassing. I arrived out of shape and forgetful of the movements. Si Fu was delighted to see me, and kept sending messages to me via bilingual Chinese friends.
In the good old days, I lived near Chinatown in Echo Park. So it was a quick hop every morning to do Tai Chi with my Chinese pals and then head off to the dim sum parlor for "Yum Cha" (literally "Drink Tea").
When I arrived in L.A. in August, I got up the courage to call my old friend Alice. We used to perform in Chinatown for annual festivals. She's pushing 70 now. Still looking beautiful. Alice has always been "head" to my "heart," "rock" to my "rushing water," and the Rational Voice combined with Christian Religion to my Wandering Jewishness.
"Au Si Fu is looking for you," she said. "He needs you to see him tomorrow at 8 a.m. at the Chinatown old people's home by the double dragons."
It was surreal to see him again. Looking thinner but as energetic as ever, he pushed me around for photos, raced me through new Chi Kung exercises ("This one to lose weight...") and re-taught the fan to me (very grateful for that).
I'd written him a letter in Kansas and he carries it with him.
Next time, I invited my friends Tom and Barbara to join us. They both are always on the lookout for new exercises and like to hear about my Tai Chi stuff. That's them in the photos above. Tom is Japanese American and Barbara's Hungarian American.
The language barrier between Au Si Fu and myself seemed thicker than ever, despite Mr. Fong's best efforts to translate....
Until Si Fu had obvious pain in his knee and had to sit down.
I asked if I could put my hand over his knee and do "Reiki." Since '84, I've been a Reiki practitioner and am now at the "master" level but I never offered it to any of my Chinese friends before. Reiki comes from an ancient Tibetan system of hands-on energy transference.
He immediately said yes. Just yes. No questions. No hesitations. Quick acceptance that my hands could help his knee pain.
We must have looked a sight: me on my knees with my hands on his knee. Him sitting on the bench in the courtyard of the retiree home with his pant leg rolled up, letting the heat go into the pain and commenting, "Her hands are hot."
Older Chinese drifted around us with their canes and walkers. I felt thankful that I finally had something I could give back to him. Something that the two of us understood beyond the clumsy language of English and Chinese: