THE BACK STORY:
Chinese Grandmas practicing Tai Chi has been an intriguing thing for me for quite some time. Since a neighbor had her baby, her mother has been here helping out and gracing our street with her Tai Chi. I love to know my neighbors, we have a great neighborhood and I feel comfortable with my family living around such kind and caring people. This interview was a perfect opportunity to strengthen that bond.
When we were in grad school at UC Davis we lived in the on-campus family housing. Over half the population of the complex had a Chinese origin. I loved seeing the Grandmas with the babies visiting at the park. I loved how they picked up my super chubby little girl who had one thigh bigger than their little baby’s legs put together, saying “oohhh!” and pointing at her amazing rolls. One of these sweet ladies even brought us homemade dumplings. I think it’s amazing how we have different languages and cultures that bind us together. At the same time, I sometimes wish those barriers were more easily crossed so I could understand these amazing women. One thing is sure, we all think family is important, we all know that hard work is absolutely necessary, and we do what we can to build up those around us.
Since this interview with Shengzhen she has brought me some rice and meat packages tied in green banana leaves. I don’t know their name, how long it took to make them, or the tradition behind them. I know that she made them with sincerity and individual care. I might not speak her language and I might not ever practice Tai Chi, but Shengzhen is a woman of grace and as women we are connected across all boundaries. Shengzhen loves her family, she believes in hard work, and her Tai Chi is both beautiful and inspiring.
Shengzhen’s story is part of Dynamo, a series of posts dedicated to showing real people, real power-houses, who inspire me and people around them in their healthy living. They might not always think they do, but I believe that we each influence others more than we realize or recognize. That inspiration is empowering for others and themselves. I believe in the good of every person and I believe that this and stories to follow can change our outlook, our dedication, and our perception of the people around us. Up next in the Dynamo community, I introduce Dynamo: Shengzhen.
Where are you from?
I’m from the capital of AnHui, the city is HeFei, in the middle of China. You know the Avatar movie, the capital of our providence inspired that movie. It’s 7 hours West of Shanghai or 2 hours by train.
What is one of your favorite things about home?
Nothing special! It’s home. Family is everything. GaoWan (is what she said family is to her) Gao is tall/high/upmost, Wan is “everything”. Nothing else in the world is better than home. It could be nothing special but everything.
Why do you do tai chi?
Chinese martial art, I do it for exercise.
Who taught you?
I learned from TV.
Do any other family members do it too?
What do you feel like it gives you?
Besides good for health, for certain it has benefits above exercise. It makes you feel comfortable and well in your body. It’s some way to find peace.
Tell me about the community of Tai Chi.
I started doing this after I retired. Sometimes I do some dancing. In China this is also very popular. A group might play Tai Chi or dancing together early in the morning. Tai chi is common in parks among older people. It would be similar to old folk walking in parks.
What do you hope your grandchildren remember you for?
To remember how I play Tai Chi and dancing.
If someone is just beginning Tai Chi practice, what would your advice to them be?
Tai Chi is not simple. You must “jianshi” – verb: to persist in, persevere in, or insist on. It is more difficult. It can be difficult, but simple. Most important that you persist in working, nothing else. You keep practicing to make it perfect. I’m still not good at it. I don’t know very much, I live a simple life.
Is there a breathing technique you use?
Chi! Breath deep. “Hen shen de” – deeply. Deeply with vigor. Breathe with power.
Is Tai Chi used for actual fighting?
Tai Chi is used to be for defense, but the technique is not to attack people, but to defense people.
Do you ever do Tai Chi with other people?
Sometimes with neighbors [at home], but most of the time by myself. Turn on the music and just do it.
Would you say to encourage people?
“Jianshi” – persist and keep going. Endure to the end. There is hardness (“kunnan”), you must (“jainshi”) press on. No pain, no gain. You have to keep trying, never give up. Keep going when it’s hard.