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The Twain

Fifteen Minutes of Dalian Fame
back to May June Issue
by Lynda Synnott

On a warm Saturday morning, my guru taiji Master arrives spring-loaded. Normally patient, Master has ants in his pants. We speed through the warm up and killer leg lifts, flying through kung fu moves and the set taiji routine. With no breaks, I am breathing and perspiring heavily. He suddenly bolts to a window, waves me over, and points to the neighboring stadium. Obviously something is about to take place. Leaving my water bottle and towel behind, I grab my camera, quickly toss my dirty clothes into the washing machine and dash out with Master.

Children in a rainbow of uniforms bounce around outside the stadium, awaiting the start of a parade. Master shepherds the kids and gets them to perform for me. They smile and giggle with the innocence of youth as their leaders shake my hand. If only I knew how to ask “Please, what is this event?”

Master guides me thru the stadium rear entrance, muscles us past a man loudly protesting our presence and dismisses him with a wave of his kung fu hand. We stride past performers with an obvious right to be there, enter the infield amid press and photographers, and cross the track for…oh no…the reviewing stand with well-dressed dignitaries.

I am mortified, but Master is oblivious, bounding up the stairs to greet the Grand Poobah. Master speaks, four dignitaries go “Ahhhh!” and suddenly I am also a dignitary. Sweat pants with tee shirt - and no make-up, earrings or bra - plus unkempt hair dripping with sweat complete my grunge look.

A live performance of “Crouching Taiji, Hidden Dignity” begins. Explosions rock the stadium, and colored paper fills the air. I feel sorry for anyone trying to sleep thru Chinese fireworks.

A band dressed in white naval uniforms and white leather go-go boots leads the parade, playing to the review stand. The surrealism of the event increases when dozens of 1950’s Pan Am stewardess lookalikes in fashionable green outfits and matching green berets smile and wave their white gloves. Brigades of standard bearers hoist large pastel banners with no insignias. How odd to not see brand names! Ah, but then a troop clad in black pants and snappish red and white tops pass, ‘Adidas’ displayed proudly on every back.

Group after colorful group strut their stuff. Feeling weak from Kodachrome overexposure, I barely notice that my neighbors are rising one by one as their names are called. I want to hide, but there’s no place. As I hear my Chinese name called, I stand, smile and give an astronaut’s thumbs up. Wild applause erupts as children repeatedly heap bouquets of flowers and baskets of fresh fruit on us. I want to photograph them but a TV camera is near my face. Why me?

The parade resumes, with even younger and cuter participants. I snap a photo of a five-year-old angel with wings clutching a sunflower twice her size. Hundreds of children hold balloons. On cue, they release them en masse to the heavens. Trained pigeons are freed, circling high in the azure sky above the crowd. Everyone stands for the Chinese flag and the national anthem.

A final round of fireworks marks the official end of “what the hell was that?” I quickly excuse myself and return home to the blissful normalcy of pinning my clean clothes on a line, grateful that fame is fleeting.