Witkem House

a Crown Heights house-in-progress

Mendel is home from China!  This was his last email:

the benefits of pollution

Dear All,

Just in case you haven’t heard, there is mad pollution in Beijing and yes, at times, my eyes watered and my throat felt a bit scratchy, but yesterday I witnessed the majesty of the dense haze that seems to cover the city every morning. As I walked down HuGoSi st. at around 6am to go have my standard breakfast of Boazi and Dan Shi, I stared directly at the sun with my eyes wide open for about 3 minutes straight. I don’t know about you, but in the past I’ve only been able to stare at the sun for a split second and then have to look away. The ability to stare at the sun was truly a singular experience. It’s almost as if the city itself is wearing a gigantic pair of sunglasses with super UV protection. Ahhhh, pollution. 
On Wednesday of last week I began training with Master Gao Ji Wu. He is 70 years old and is the president of the Beijing Ba Gua association. He is short and pleasant and one of those old chinese guys that generally looks sweet and docile. Most of that is true, however, when he wants to put the hurt’n on you, he is more than capable. He used me for application demonstrations every day of training and he is extremely fast and powerful. I was taken out many times. I think he liked knocking me around because he called upon me quite a bit during class.
 Each day we would meet up in a park not too far from our hotel in the Hutong and train in the shade of the trees amongst all of the other people in the park. In the earlier part of the day almost every section of the park was filled and active with people practicing a variety of martial arts, mostly of the internal variety like Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Straight Sword and more. In the afternoon people usually played cards, sang traditional songs and played this game that’s like hackie sack, although, instead of a bean bag the object passed around was a stack of metal washers with four bird feathers coming out of the hole in the middle. Imagine a shuttle cock from Badminton. The funny thing was that they were, in general, all old and awesome. As far as longevity goes, I think we certainly have a thing or two to learn from Chinese culture.  
The training has been really valuable and more than that, the generosity of the teachers, the group of people traveling together and the setting have combined to create an unforgettable cache of memories. 
Below are some pics of strange debris piles in the Hutong,  hand painted signs from various businesses and master Gao Ji Wu and yours truly. 
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