Our overseers, the university’s Foreign Experts Office, hauled a busload of us to a holiday kungfu show. The performance was underwritten by the municipality of Beijing. World champs displayed snake style, drunken style, monkey style, swords, strung together with a search-for-elusive-panda plot. The stage backdrops were computer-generated, floor-to-ceiling projections of flying through a futuristic, neon Beijing…eerily emptied of cars and people.
Impossible not to think for a moment this post-neutron-bomb scenario enacted a fantasy/dream wish-fulfillment for the sponsor (city hall). It can’t be easy running this place…
Afterwards, the ritual we’ve grown accustomed to: big posed group photos, here with the martial artists–some of whom managed their gravity-defying moves in giant panda costumes. That can’t be easy, either.
Bamboo grows in city as well as forest. So we learned walking in a direction we’d never gone before–sideways, on the Third Ring Road. After 15 minutes of overpasses and skyscraper vistas, we hit a scruffy, slouchy, century-old red Buddhist temple on a canal (dwarfted by modernity, a Chinese “Little Red Lighthouse”). Behind it, well hidden, was Purple Bamboo Park–lake, pavillions, bridges, and many large stands of bamboo. Bamboo, said a sign quoting a classical Chinese poem, symbolizes
“Uprightness, imperviousness to flattery, and the ability to emerge unstained from filth.”