Retrospective Note: Reading back on this blog post, I realize just how little I understood about the sport of wushu (and about how to write a blog post). I was focused far too much on the cult of wushu athlete personality, and not enough on actually training and improving my skill. Sure, I trained pretty hard, and it helped me to understand how to approach wushu with more determination, but I’m not sure I truly appreciated just how much commitment it takes to be proficient in wushu. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and it is easy to point a finger at my past self and see my deficiencies. In the end, I’m grateful I had these opportunities even if, with today’s lens, I might feel like I squandered them a bit. (March 11, 2020)
Back in the early spring, I had the opportunity to train with the Beijing Wushu Team during their stay in Los Angeles. I must admit it was absolutely incredible. They are at a physical level that I didn’t realize existed before and it was certainly inspiring (and actually a little depressing too).
The trip started on Friday, March 21, 1998. David Chang and Mike Chew picked me up from work and we made our way down California (after quickly getting a new car and some refreshments at David’s house in Milpitas) to the sunny land of L.A. We also had a pit-stop at Carl’s Jr. and watched ‘Transformers, The Movie’ on David’s Camcorder … uh .. can anyone say “geeks”? I had never been to L.A. before … or at least not that I can remember. (I think the last time was when I was 6 years old with my family at Disney Land but since I don’t remember it we’ll just say it doesn’t count.)
Before I say anything further I should just mention one thing: I was a complete camera freak. I purchased these little disposable cameras and just went crazy with them, driving absolutely everyone batty. The pictures are both with this article and in my image gallery. I purchased four of them with 27 pictures in each one .. that’s like 108 pictures, right? (Some of them actually turned out too.) Like I said … freak.
So we got to L.A. around 1:00 a.m. and stayed the night at Billy Shih’s mansion … er .. I mean “house”. Shiyah, right. The place was like the friggin’ Taj Mahal. I half expected to look out the window and see the stable being renovated to make room for their new gymnasium. I must say that Billy’s family was very nice and his mother was an extremely generous host. My thanks to them for putting up with us.
I should also mention that the entire weekend I was sick which made for some interesting noises coming out of my mouth. I basically had a low-grade voice loss so my Nan Quan yells were non-existent.
So … Saturday came … David and Billy dropped Mike and me off at the National Wushu Training Center where we watched Debbie Chen teach a beginner’s class. I must say that Erick Louie was right. They really do stress basics a lot. I was very impressed with the level of instruction there. Nice facility too.
So … Where was I? Oh yeah .. so Mike and I were sitting there and members of the Beijing Team started to filter in the room and I was like … oh crap .. That’s He Jing De! Oh, man! That’s Chen Chen! Basically I was drooling all over the place. Here were these people I had basically watched videos of on a daily basis for the past 3 years and I was seeing them live and in person. Now I know how teenage girls feel when they meet Leonardo DiCaprio … well .. okay .. maybe it wasn’t quite that exciting.
Then, Patti came in with Laura, David and Billy (They picked them up at the airport) and all the Beijing Team people were like “Hey! Hao Zhi Hua! and I was like “Oh… Hi Patti.” Sometimes I forget what a big wushu celebrity Patti is. I remember the first time I saw the Beijing Team with her in 1995. My friends and I were all scrambling to get our pictures taken with the Beijing Team and the Beijing Team were all trying to get their pictures taken with Patti. (I don’t think Patti was trying to get her picture taken with anyone.)
So Patti and Wu Bin ramble in Mandarin for a bit and then she looks at us and says “Okay ..warm-up.” and we were like “Uh … whatcha talkin’ about Willis?” So we had to quickly warm-up and then do basics and practice routines with the Beijing Team. If you haven’t practiced with the Beijing Team let me say this … My previous practices were a 1920’s recording of “Tiny Bubbles” being heard through a 2″ mono speaker attached to a small record player in a crowded Tokyo subway … Beijing Wushu Team practice is a DVD recording of an Aerosmith song in THX Surround Sound on 21″ Bose Speakers.
Beijing Wushu… Australian for Work!!
It was sooooo intense. I thought I was going to give birth to twins right there on the floor. But it was a good kind of intense. On Saturday Chen Chen (who’s nan quan is the second most amazing thing I’ve ever seen) was helping me with my nan quan. She gave me lots and lots of really good pointers and I’m very grateful for her help. It was fun. I sort of petered out towards the end but David was going strong the whole time. I guess those 2 1/2 months in China last summer did him good after all.
So .. Saturday evening Patti, David, Laura, Billy, Mike and myself went to dinner with Raffi, Patrick and Li Jing to this place called “Pick Up Stix”. The quality of the Chinese food there was evidenced by both the name of the establishment and the number of Asian people inside. (And I think both of them worked there.) Actually, it wasn’t THAT bad .. but it was no Mandarin Garden (downtown Berkeley … try the shaved fish in white wine sauce .. delicious!). I had some good conversations with Patrick and Raffi about wushu, politics and other stuff which was quite fascinating. Patrick has a good idea for a wushu school which you should ask him about some time.
So .. after dinner, we went back to Billy’s (dropped Laura and Patti off at Laura’s aunt’s house) and collapsed in our respective beds. Then 7:30 the next morning it was up-and-at-’em and we rushed off to NWTC for more training. The next day was just as intense as the first except this time the entire team was there … not just the 8 or so members from the day before … and this time I had Shang Yu helping me with my nan quan (his nan quan is the first most amazing thing, by the way). He was equally as helpful as Chen Chen from the day before and I was most appreciative.
After the workout we all went out to lunch … kind of our way of repaying the team for their help and all .. and the rumors are true. They are total heifers. I would have seen them eating all that food but a certain person who’s name is spelled D-A-V-I-D went and sat at their table without saving a seat for the rest of us. ahem! So I got to eat with all the people I see every week in class anyway and David got to pal around with the men’s team. Thanks, DAVE. If you’d like to email him and complain for me feel free to.
Oh well .. that’s okay .. because afterward we all went shopping together. I’m still trying to remember just how many cans of CK-1 Impostor fragrance they all bought … like 60 or something. It was fun and I took lots of annoying pictures again. After shopping at the Mall and Big-5 (where I mesmerized them with my newly-purchased gyro-ball thingee) we all went to some other big Wal-Mart type store and then we treated them to Dairy Queen. It was a good experience all around.
After we said our goodbye’s at NWTC we drove to Billy’s for a bit before David, Laura, Patti and I went to the airport where I caught a flight back to Oakland and returned home. The weekend was a wonderful, wonderful experience … but Monday was soreness-city. (ugh)