Thursday, May 22, 2008

Strangers on a Train, Pt. 4

I am so very glad I found my blog-notes from my vacation. I had completely forgotten about the T'ai Chi Ch'uan incident until I re-read my notes. Unlike my other "train" stories, this one is not jarringly odd, per se. It's not really "laugh-making." Certainly, it is in another realm from my other entries.

It was on the last day of my vacation stay in Salt Lake City. I had traveled via the Trax train/transit line up to the University of Utah to visit a friend and to wander around the campus bookstore.

Aside: Campus bookstores, if you were not aware, are some of the best sources of strange books, and odds-and-ends that you will ever find. For example, I enjoy the feel of a nice wooden pencil on a piece of paper. The trouble is sharpening them--I hate the cheap plastic sharpeners that abound in office supply stores. I adore, however, a very fine and reasonably priced pencil sharpener that a friend introduced to me in law school: a glass bottle topped by an excellent metal sharpener. The problem? I have only ever found them in random campus bookstores. Art supplies, too, are fascinating in quantity, style, and relative rarity in these stores.

As I was saying, I was taking the train up to the University campus. As we pulled up to one of the stations, I looked down at the platform to see an elderly Chinese woman performing T'ai Chi.

As you may have seen, T'ai Chi is most commonly seen in this country in the larger cities in city parks, early in the morning. I first saw it when I lived in China, and saw it everywhere and everywhen. Done properly, it is an elegant form of martial arts. I would sit for extended periods of time just watching the old men practice and perform. I say practice and perform because it is both: most of the elderly men would tell me that the form is never perfect and must always be honed and sharpened.

But I have never seen it practiced on a train platform--until now. It was always in city parks, or in courtyards, or any generally open walking space. Somewhere with at least a little nature nearby.

But on a train platform?

She made no move toward the train. I am not even sure she noticed the train was present, she was that quiet and absorbed in the motions. There was no flinching or blinking at the tumult around her, no sign that she was even aware of any of us.

It was odd. Jarring, even. One little girl nearby said, "Mommy--that woman looks like a statue!" and her sister chimed in, "Yeah, a statue with socks on her hands, too!"

It was odd.

Yet, at the same time, it was poetic and beautiful.

Here was a woman in a bustling city (granted, Salt Lake ain't New York, but still....) a woman in a bustling city, with noise and a smoky hot haze all around her. And through all that, she was at peace. She knew who she was and cared not a whit where she was or who saw her. She was calm and completely at one with her surroundings, even though her surroundings seemed to be against her.

It was absolutely amazing. I sat stunned for the thirty seconds or so it took for the train to empty and re-fill at this station. All I could do was watch this woman. I was sorry when the train pulled away. I craned my neck to watch her as long as I could, even for a few extra seconds. I was moved, and thought my eyes teared up a bit.

It was odd.

I wonder even now if it would have had the same effect if she was standing in a park, or surrounded by other people in a grove of trees. Even on an open courtyard. I do not believe it would have had the same impact.

Alone, on a train platform, practicing T'ai Chi, with socks on her hands.

It was odd.

But yet, not.

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