It is 6am in Shanghai. Jet-lagged yet drowsy, my kids are up. They are peevish and bored. My elder daughter, 16-year-old Ranju, inserts her headphones and prepares to disappear into her iPad. My younger daughter, 12-year-old Malu, settles down in front of the television. It doesn’t seem right. Why are we travelling all the way to one of the world’s great cities only to do what we do at home on a Sunday morning?
“Come on kids,” I say chirpily, “let’s go for a walk.” They protest. The Fairmont Hotel is warm and comfortable. Later, they say. I will have none of it. The excuses that work at home fall flat in Shanghai.
We step out of the hotel and walk towards the Bund. A few steps up and we are on the long pedestrian boardwalk that overlooks the water. Men are flying kites. Some women are jogging and walking dogs. Most people, however, are standing together in loose formations and practicing tai chi. They are young and old, men and women, fit and fat. They move together slowly as if dancing to a silent song that only they can hear.
Curious, we stand and watch a large group moving their hands and legs in movements that are both simple and prescribed. They do the same movement once, then again, then again. We walk on.
The next group is more advanced. Even we can tell. They are standing on one leg like a crane and then jumping forward, pulling back and whipping out their hands. The movements are familiar to us, having watched martial arts films as preparation for coming to China. “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” Ranju mutters.
The sun comes up and warms our back as we walk on in companionable silence. We aren’t squabbling. I am not lecturing them about having a sense of adventure in a new city. Nobody asks if we are done yet. Further up, another group does the same movements as the first beginner group that we saw. We stop. The movements are simple enough for us to delineate into beginning, middle and end. Unconsciously, Malu begins to imitate their swaying dance. We are in the back. Nobody sees us. We aren’t dressed in white but maybe they won’t mind. I join in, as does Ranju. We finish the movement and join the group as it goes back to the beginning crouch. Sway to the right, lunge forward, lift hands up slowly, turn sideways, hold the pose and bring the arm back. And again. We follow the group as it repeats the movements, becoming increasingly confident with each round.
Malu grins. “Happy?” she asks.
“Certainly beats watching TV at home,” I reply with a grin.
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