By Tem Horwitz - Founder & Publisher of Cloud Hands Press
I decided to accompany my wife Susan to the First Nansha Longevity World Taijiquan Conference on Hainan Island in March 2001 along with her Tai Chi teacher and a handful of his students. Our introduction to the conference, however, was being waylaid by the event’s hotel coordinators and deposited in a damp, dismal, dirty hotel. We were stuck there for the night while our Chinese leader/teacher from Chicago was unwilling to confront the conference organizers. The group was furious and confused. After all, we had booked a first-class hotel on the ocean.
I went to the hotel that hosted the conference organizers and found them in a large, open 3-story atrium in the center of the building. I began by politely explaining the situation and asking that we be taken to the class of hotel we had booked. I was politely told this was impossible. Several more go-arounds to no avail. Well, this is going nowhere, I thought. Finally, I slammed my fist with great force on the table behind which the organizers were seated. This made a significant noise and got their attention, at least, but did not result in any change in attitude. I slammed the table a few more times uselessly but noticed a cash box filled with dollars on the table collected from other participants in the event and had an idea. I snatched the cash box from the table and put the money in my vest, insisting that we be moved within the hour.
What on Earth was I thinking? I had taken a huge gamble, but there was a method to my madness. This was an international conference being staged as a publicity stunt for what I assumed was the Chinese regime’s bid to host an upcoming Olympic Games, so I hoped that there would be some reluctance to get me into too much trouble. Though I was aware I might end up in some dark prison never to be seen again, I thought the game was worth the candle.
In a short while, I got my answer. We were, in fact, moved to a hotel that was fine, one class lower than what we had booked and paid for, but just fine.
I knew a formal apology was going to be required from me. As it turned out, I met and apologized profusely to the governor of the island. All was made right. I was never asked to return the filched money so I kept it and used it to pay for a variety of excursions of our group.
In my mind, I felt the Chinese had just paid for an advanced seminar in chutzpa. In short order, it became clear that our rooms were bugged and our comings and goings were all monitored. In addition to surveillance, the hotels that our group of 5000 occupied were wired into a central communication system which would rouse us in the morning—through our TVs—and direct us in the course of the day to whatever activity we were expected to be doing.
There were innumerable competitions with many extraordinary participants. Remarkably, the American contingent won many first or second places in the events that were not at all deserved. At the same time, brilliant performances from overseas troupes always came in behind the mainland contestants somehow.
We got to see our pictures all over the Chinese press and broadcast media. As it turned out, we were the only non-Asian participants in the event; we were there to fill their diversity profile.
There were young martial artists whose exhibitions made you believe that a great deal of what we all have seen in martial arts movies is for real. The old Tai Chi masters were remarkable, though far less theatrical and consequently much less popular. It was quite wonderful watching and feeling the subtlety of their movements.
For the finale, we joined 5,000 Tai Chi practitioners on the beach in front of the ocean to perform a series of movements that we had all rehearsed. Helicopters flew overhead filming us. Camera people on the ground filmed us as still photographers shot us.
To complete the trip, Susan’s teacher asked each student to take back to the states a large quantity of clothing, apparel, and other items which he asked them not to declare. I only had a small backpack and so was exempt. We arrived back in the States and were greeted at O’Hare Airport by a film crew and a group of newspaper reporters led by an old friend of mine. Hmm, I wondered to myself. What don’t I know about this trip? A U.S. spy plane had just been detained on Hainan Island, so I thought that might be the reason for the media’s interest. As it turned out, the reporters were there for the arrival of a plane full of Chinese babies brought for adoption.
Tem Horwitz is a photographer, real estate developer, Tai Chi practitioner and teacher, and a writer. Click HERE to read more about Tem.