School of Oom Yung Doe
Before I came to the US, I heard people would ask if all Chinese people practice Kung Fu like they do in the Crouching Tiger, Hidden dragon movie. To my disappointment, no one had asked me yet, until last weekend.
I went to the school of Oom Yung Dow for a free Tai Chi seminar last Saturday. The place was a tiny little store surrounded by “food and liquor” emporium, goodwill store and take-out pizza house in North Cambridge. A logo featuring one tiger and two dragons on Yin-Yang symbol was printed on the signboard, accompanied with Chinese characters “Yin”, “Yang” alongside, which has nothing to do with the English translation of “body”, “mind” and “harmony” printed beneath it.
“Welcome,” said a 30-something man in a tight working-out T-shirt. Chinese calligraphy of “hardworking” was printed on his left sleeve. He has blue eyes and wide jaw, with beard and hair style like Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine. “I’m John,” said the man, standing up and shook my hand. He is about 5’7’’ and well-built. I was then assigned a spot to sit down. It was between a couple of skinny old ladies.
I tried all my best not to breathe hard during the ten minutes’ meditation. The air was suffocated with a strong smell of sweat. Japanese wooden swords, Chinese bamboo spears, metal fans and nunchakus were decorated with calligraphies on the wall.
“Where are you from?” The skinny old lady on my left side asked when she opened her eyes after the meditation.
“From China,” I answered.
Her green eyes behind the thick glasses immediately lightened for a second. “So, do you practice Kung Fu?” she asked with a smile blossomed on her face.
That was how I met the 75-year-old retired high school teacher Jackie Longwood. Before coming to the free Tai Chi seminar, she has already spent over $1,800 on practicing Energy Medicine, a Martial Art program taught by a woman named Donna Eden. Eden claimed herself a true martial art master.
“I paid for two stages of certificates. Then I figured out I would not stop paying her if I continue the session. So I quit,” said Longwood when she stretched her arms as told by the coach.
Longwood said she turned to yoga for exercise the first year of her retirement. “I was looking for something gentle, not too intense,” said Longwood, stopped the posture to rub her back. “But it turned out to be still too intense for me. I got my back hurt after one thermodynamics session,” Longwood said.
Longwood signed up for the Energy Medicine class after a free seminar, “Donna said she has former students having similar back problem and got better after practice,” said Longwood, stretched her arms to another side.
The Energy Medicine program, which Longwood later learned, was actually a mixture of yoga/Pilate/Kung Fu movements. “Honestly the practice didn’t work that well. And it just seemed a bottomless pit which I didn’t even know how much more money I would have to throw in,” said Longwood.
The whole free Tai Chi session ended up after ten minutes’ meditation and twenty minutes’ arm stretching. John the Master said this is the essence of Tai Chi Chung. “I have practiced this for eight years. The mental and physical problems I used to have were all gone,” said John, jumped up to demonstrate a Kung Fu movement.
“People gain energy and inner peace out of all this. Like Christina,” he paused and pointed towards a girl wearing karate uniform in the other side of the room. “She just got promoted into a job she said she would never dare to acquire before practicing,” said John, busying handing out pamphlets on which other magical effects such as curing arthritics and headaches were listed.
“Oh, you are a student?” John’s blue eyes blinked when he turned to me, “that’s even better. I have students practicing with me and their GPA all roaring up afterwards.”
Chinese Horologist in Brookline
I was looking through a couple of ceramic elephants placed under the sign “Louie International” at 318 Harvard Street. It was hard to tell what’s sold in this place. There were clocks, watches, books, ceramic art collections, dried flowers and all kinds of things disorderly placed in the window display.
A voice jumped in my thought, “Are you looking for me?” I turned around and saw a middle aged man about 5’5’’ tall covered in an oversized navy jacket walking towards me. We shook hand and he led me into his store. For a second I thought I stepped into the wand shop in the Harry Potter movie. I didn’t know a real store could be so messy.
The man’s name is Baoxiang Lin. He doesn’t have an English name and said he didn’t know the “Louie” on the signboard. “I took over this place from a Vietnamese guy. He taught me how to repair watches when I bought this place,” said Lin, clearing up a Chinese rosewood chair for me to sit on.
Lin has been the owner of Louie international since 1996. He didn’t hire anyone. Throughout the past 18 years, Lin has spent his days sitting inside the store, alone, waiting for customers to come.
Customers don’t really enter the store. The place is stuffed with autopsy books, old newspaper, dried vegetables, and boxes of cheap wine. A giant gilded six-leaf screen stands in the center of the room. It was hard to see beyond the screen. Wag-at-the-wall in various shapes filled in all the space on walls. Watches covered in dust were set out in three giant window stands along the wall. Lin sits at the entrance, where batteries, hammers, tweezers and magnifying lens all piled up with scratch paper and invoice books on his desk. When there’s no customer, he would dig himself inside the piles of tools, fixing the watches or reading pictured autopsy books.
I move the rosewood chair closer to him, asking about the display in the room. “I’ve never done any purposeful arrangement in this store. Many customers came back because of the display. Some of them were college professors. They told me their labs were a hundred times messier than this store,” said Lin, exalted, “the disorder is common-to-see in a real craftsman’s studio.”
The first customer on that day was a girl named Shirley Yoo, who drove all the way from Newton to pick up a watch her mother sent to the store last week. The girl spoke broken Mandarin and Lin’s English was limited on “Me, change battery, you, old customer, no charge.” Oddly, the transaction went smooth. “My mum has seven watches. She changed every day to match with different outfit. She’s been sending her watches fixed by Mr. Lin for at least six years. I would sometimes be the courier,” said Yoo, taking out a $ 50 dollar bill for getting the watchband changed.
Not everybody is satisfied with the pricing of Lin’s service. Right after the girl left, an orthodox Jewish man came to pick the watch with a receipt in his hand. Lin took out a note with the watch, on which stating he would charge $35 for fixing the problem. “This can’t be right. There’s no satellite problem,” the Jewish guy raised his voice, holding the scratch paper and waving it in front of Lin’s face. Lin didn’t say much. All he did was pointing to the paper and repeating, “this problem, $ 35.” The bargaining went on for about three minutes until the Jewish guy finally gave up. He probably realized the Chinese man he’s talking to couldn’t understand what he was saying. He took out the credit card.
When the guy left, I asked Lin if he understood what the man was saying. He grinned and answered “yes.” The note he took out was written by one of his friend. Sometimes when the problem is beyond his language proficiency, he would ask a friend to write things down on a note.
Lin went back to a Rolex he was working on when all the clocks suddenly rang together at half past two. “When I started, it took me a whole day to figure out what’s the problem. Now I can do that in just a couple of minutes,” said Lin on his recollection. He took out a 10X magnifying len to show me the little scratch number he put on the watch cell. “I know this watch was repaired by me. It was about six months ago and I cleared the moist inside the watch,” said Lin, gently stroke the backside of the cell.
Outside of Lin’s shop, in the hallway, an old woman on an electric wheelchair passed by, looking in at the store. Lin waved, saying, “she’s one of my customers.” Answering to Lin’s gesture, the old woman opened her mouth and greeting in Mandarin came out, “Ni Hao,” she said.