This photo was taken some four months after I had been accepted (through a harrowing audition in front of hundreds of outdoor martial artists) into the Snake Hill Wushu School of 90 year old Ding Hongkui, respectfully called by one and all simply as “Grandfather Ding,” or “Ding YeYe.” This audition and acceptance took place in a bewildering, magical set of occurrences within 3 days of my arrival to Wuhan, Wuchang to begin teaching “Native English” at a specialized university. And thus began the realization of a long-held, 20 year dream-come-true of training in mountain temples, mist-covered mountain pathways, and white bearded venerable Master of Daoist/Taoist lost arts! YeYe’s 91st Birthday Celebration! Banquet!
The photo in question here marks my true acceptance into the school and heart of this extraordinary teacher. It was taken at the banquet held in honor of YeYe’s 91st birthday after the January beginning of new year (Western calendar) 1986. The photo commemorates the joint birthday of Ding Hongkui and the opening of Wuhan’s first “Free Clinic” by YeYe’s senior student, Doctor Chen, who we will get to see in a future Throwback Thursday (the term Free Clinic does not, of course, refer to the clinic of the same name in U.S., but refers to a medical enterprise ‘free,’ or more free, of government control and interference)
The photo’s setting was in Wuchang’s newest Taiwan-style restaurant, a traditional Chinese restaurant with “western” touches of Taiwan and Hong Kong establishments. We were at the top of the 4th floor building in two large banquet halls of 10 round tables each sitting 10 revelers a piece. The guests were a mix of martial artists and people from the folk and government medical world, many of the latter sharing the love and training of the former.
The season was a very cold January. Wuhan has weather comparable to Washington, D.C., so us east coasters can imagine the temperature. Pretty damn cold and, because Wuhan-Wuchang lies below the Yellow River there is no central heat in any building anywhere! Thus the coats, hats and earmuffs...
My awareness of my acceptance, status and title in his school began at this round table. Not only was I invited to sit among all the senior and more deserving students, and other very honored guests (and completely out of my class and rank; little more than a talking monkey!), but I was seated at the honored position to Ye’s left with the important function of keeping his wine cup always filled. I imbibed at the time in alcoholic drinks, but refrained from such this night for fear I’d blow the job! In this photo we are probably on our second bottle, and there is little indication, other than in his eyes, of any alcoholic effect on him whatsoever! What a 91st Birthday this was! Starting tomorrow, my 77th, I have 14 years to wait for mine. I am striving to reach that milestone!
This photo however, really marks the date of my Dream-Come-True. For it was knowing I was there and in that chair at his insistence that I knew this magical experience for me was reciprocated with a similar one for him. I, a talking monkey, came into his life (YeYe taught in this Pavilion thru war and Revolution, destruction and civil chaos for 60 years) during his last year on earth’s Middle Kingdom, and then along comes this foreign enigma (to my question, did he ever meet a foreigner -Wei Guo Ren- before he replied no, then paused a bit and said, “yes, I met Japanese soldiers once”) with which he had to rely on very different approaches to teach. He had a final challenge to do what he loved and what his life was centered around. I am hoping for that challenge to come my way sometimes before the end of the 2020’s!