Tuesday, 10 November, 2015
(I use real names and identities where I have strong reason to believe the individuals being named are comfortable being so.)
I met with my friend, Christian, outside the metro station in 江南西 West Jiangnan. This is a busy area in Guangzhou – high-rises, lights, people, shopping. It was evening, and we were waiting to meet with a contact about some Wing Chun. The previous week, after meeting with the kung-fu group at the Sun Yat-sun University, we were put in touch with a Chinese man who had invited us to his Wing Chun school. He suggested we first meet with one of his students from America, as a kind of intermediary, to guide us to his school, and give us a little introduction in English. This is the man, Mekael, we were waiting to meet with.
A tall man, who stood out not only for his hight, but perhaps also for his long dreadlocks and energetic attitude, came out of the crowd to meet us. Mekael has lived in Guangzhou for over a decade, and has been studying Wing Chun for the later half of that time. He was going to take us to his teacher. After greeting, we were led through a dark gate, not three meters from where we were standing, between the high-rise buildings.
At this point I had had a vague impression of Guangzhou (perhaps I still do). The neighbourhood I live and work in is on the outskirts of the city. There are a lot of very old, Canton style buildings, which look tall and square, and which jut out above the first floor (which conveniently makes for a covering when walking in the rain). Many of these buildings have small driveways with expensive European cars parked in them. There are no skyscrapers in this part of town, and relatively fewer shopping opportunities. The food is also more expensive, and it is a little harder to find something with a home-style feel (which is unfortunate when you don’t have a kitchen of your own).
My only other impressions had come from an area in the center of the city, which is full of flashy skyscrapers, shopping malls, small hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and tons of people. It was in this area that I attended my teacher training course.
So, we pass through this gate, down an alley, and onto a small street. The street is populated, but relatively quiet. Little cafes and restaurants line the sides of the street. We walk down this street for some time, making introductions and sharing some China experiences. At some point we turn down an alley-way and continue down a maze of alley-ways, such that I had totally lost my sense of direction. In fact, at this point I was pondering how we have walked for so long and not run into some main artery. And, suddenly, in a seemingly normal alley-way where a group of people were enjoying some food and drink, we notice a wooden dummy next to a building. As we approach one of the men at the table stands and enters into a room behind the wooden dummy, and the lights come on…