This week, I asked a favor of my coworker, "Could you be my taiji photographer during lunch break?" Our office is a couple blocks from Oakland Chinatown - where the Dragon School initiative has some irresistible, powerful dragon murals.
So as everyone else was headed to lunch or on a grocery run, we were positioned in front of the dragons, as I posed in the, haha, "Ground Hacking Dragon" posture. At our second stop, my photographer was leaning against the door of a parked car in order to frame the shot. Then, an old man approached to put his groceries in his trunk. "Uh oh," I said, thinking that he's about to get irritated by these "youngsters" getting in his way to take their stupid photos! I pushed my luck - maybe he'd be patient so that we wouldn't have to start over - so I quickly got into my pose as my friend took the photo.
"Oh!!!!" the 'uncle' exclaimed. His aloof expression went into utter surprise and delight! He started talking very fast in Cantonese - all I could catch were the words "pretty" and "tai kek." I laughed with him in between photos. My friend and I were both amused at his enthusiasm when just moments ago we thought we were in trouble. He got out his phone, asking my friend to take a photo for him too.
Moments like this are validation for me. I get discouraged having a practice that friends my age don't share. They get it and support it, but it's certainly not a "trend" like drop-in yoga or the latest fitness craze. My childhood was been full of traditional arts, and I do lose sleep at the thought of what the next generation will lose if these practices don't make it another 30 years. I don't think it will be easy, but I do believe taiji and other "ancient arts" have their place in the modern world, yes, for health and vitality, but also for the real big stuff like world peace.
So it's moments like this - the unassuming 'uncle' taking joy in watching young folks take pictures of taiji that reminds me why I do it. For him, I was doing something unlikely. No doubt that based on his reaction, it surprised him. I was all too familiar with this (sad) story. For second generation immigrant kids, traditional wisdom and arts aren't a priority. It's "nice to have" if and when you can. Which begs the question, if the wisdom of centuries is just "nice to have," what is the wisdom we are requiring the next generation to master if not THIS? Even without words or too much "intellectual analysis," with just his chuckles, that uncle I met on the street knows. Taiji isn't just nice to have. It's required. And now he knows its going to make it another generation beyond him. ;)