By Susan Kimmelman
Hainan Island, China, March, 2001
Little did any of us guess that this obscure island-The End of the World-as the Chinese historically have viewed it, was going to be the site of a major international confrontation shortly after the visit of fifty or so westerners and some 3500 Chinese. What brought us together was the peaceful, meditative practice of Tai Chi Ch'uan.
Hainan Island is an improbable place. The hundreds of half completed high-rises are a testament to a Chinese Free Trade Zone set in 1988 gone wild. If we build it they will come, if we don't build it maybe we can just keep all of the money. Who knows the stories, but it is likely we have heard the same stories here in Houston, Chicago, Canary Wharf- wherever there was too much money to build spec buildings. Nevertheless China's tropical paradise littered with half completed high rises occupied by squatters with jerry rigged mechanicals was not what any of us expected.
Neither did we guess that the Chinese were going to mount a major international conference/competition and neglect to organize it. Seven us arrived from Chicago via Hong Kong at the Sanya airport on the island only to find us ourselves hijacked Shanghaied-by a rogue tourist company. We were taken to a flea bag Chinese tourist hotel, shown our rooms, and told by our Beijing translator that we had to pay up front in American dollars for the full length of our stay. Fortunately none of us had enough dollars to pay. Seemed a little strange, hostile, but we were in a foreign country. What the hey.
The first night's banquet. Long speeches by every minister and head of every Tai Chi and Kung Fu school in China. But why did they all have to throw in seemingly gratuitous comments about the evils of the Falun Gong. Couldn't understand what the Gong and the Government were about reading about it in the U.S. papers, had even less of a clue reading about in the Chinese papers or listening to the speeches. One more mystery of the Orient.
The first day of the conference itself. Exhibitions by the great masters. Only every time you stood in place to see them, a hundred people pushed in front of you to stand right up against the masters who ultimately gave up and left. Hordes of Chinese breaking through police lines to get to the select demonstrations-for Chinese only-but not all Chinese. We are talking about mainland Chinese, not Chinese from Macau or overseas Chinese from the Philippines. We Westerners watched passively as the overseas Chinese were not going to be stopped by a police line from seeing what they had travelled thousands of miles to experience. In the middle of the near riot, a very elderly gentleman practices his Tai Chi sword in slow motion, at peace with all around him, as hordes rush about him, miraculously avoiding his sword.
That night our group of nine-men and women-discovers that even after midnight we can get a foot massage at the massage parlor. We notice how attractive the young women masseuses are but think nothing of it until the next night when four of us naively order the 'full body massage', only to discover that the 'Massage Parlor' is in fact a brothel with over a hundred working girls. In fact every hotel has a brothel with a hundred to two hundred working.
Susan Kimmelman in Hainan Island, China, in March 2001.