Why the Old Man Cried

Updated: Jan 2

(Authors note: this post was originally written in 2014 during my time living and studying in Xiamen, China. It was a profound and unique experience and I thought you all may like to hear it; I hope you enjoy!)

As any of you who have been following me for some time already know, I practice kung fu every morning. The area I train in is a public space, but because I train early in the morning there are very few people there during my time (though for the past two months there has been a grandfather with his one year old granddaughter that come to the lake every morning, she likes to watch all my funny movements, her grandfather calls me her friend, it’s ridiculously adorable). Anyway, aside from that, there are sometimes people who pass by and watch me for one or two minutes, nothing annoying or intrusive. However, this morning was different.

This morning, while training, I noticed an old man with what must have been his grandson (the man was between 80 and 90 years old and the grandson around 25). I noticed them watching me but paid no attention (when one trains, one should be utterly focused) but then it got weird. During my body conditioning work (strength and flexibility) the young man stood a good distance away, but the old man got uncomfortably close to me (around three feet, or one meter away). This continued for about twenty minutes. When I got done with my strength training it was time for my deep stretching work, so to be polite, and also because I was feeling kind of like an animal in a zoo, I greeted the man. “您好” I greeted him in the politest way I knew. The old man said nothing but suddenly and abrasively took my hand in his. As I shook his hand, he gripped me very tightly with a slight bow and I had the sense it was out of respect.“不用” I told him he need not show me so much respect, as he was my elder. Then, he deeply bowed to me, making me feel very strange. Here is this old man, who has been watching me for 30 or 40 minutes, and now he is bowing to me. I told him again and again “no need, no need” (all in Chinese of course, he did not speak English). Soon the experience would boarder on the surreal.

After speaking with the old man I assumed he would leave, so I turned away and started my stretching session, which requires me to strictly look forward with intense focus ( because when standing on one leg and bending at 90 degrees, you will fall on your butt if you don’t focus!) As I continued my training, to my surprise the old man did not move, but instead he started singing! I cannot tell you what he was singing, but I can tell you it was beautiful. It sounded to me like it must have been a very old song. As he sang, his grandson looked on with his mouth agape, he sang while I stretched for 15 minutes. As I got done stretching I again approached the man. As I approached him, I noticed tears rolling down his cheeks, he was openly sobbing. I didn't know what to do, I told him the song he was singing was beautiful and asked what it was. He answered me but I did not understand. Feeling very awkward and not knowing what to say, I told him I appreciated his singing but that I must now practice my Qi Gong. “老爷,我很感谢你唱歌,这个歌很漂亮,但是我现在需要练习我的气功,不好意思”。With tears in his eyes, he told me he understood and that he was sorry. I felt bad for not being able to say more to him, I told him there was no need to be sorry and shook his hand. Upon shaking his hand we had a slight embrace and he again tried to bow to me, though I did all I could to stop him. As I walked to the lake side and began my qi gong, I knew he had gone.

After I got home I had so many questions about this man. Who was he? Why is he at Xiamen University? Why and what did he sing to me? And above all else, why did he start crying? I have some theories, but no answers. I would like to hear any of your ideas. I do know one thing: he was a sweet old man, and his heart had pure intention. I felt honored that he showed me so much respect, and was touched by his tears, though I do not know the reason for either of them.

I will end by saying this. I have given this old man a lot of thought today. If he is 90 years old, he was born in China in 1924, during a time of political change. The Qing dynasty was over, and China was in a confused state. He was a young man when Mao Zi Dong came to power. Maybe he fought for Mao, maybe not. He lived through communism, he lived through the Cultural Revolution, and he was already in his 50’s when Deng Xiaoping declared “to get rich is glorious.” Now here he is, an old man near the end of his life, and the China he sees now must be so foreign to him. Commercialism everywhere, fancy cars on the streets, young women in miniskirts and high heels. And then one day he decides to take a trip to Xia Da, maybe his old university. While there, he sees another sight he would have never seen in his youth, a young foreigner. And this foreigner is practicing something (and dressed in clothes) that maybe, just maybe remind him of the past. So, he becomes overwhelmed by emotion and begins to sing a song from his youth and try as he might, he cannot fight back the tears when they come. This is just an idea; I have no way of knowing this man. I only hope his tears were happy in nature, and not sad.

That’s all for me this time everyone, I would love to hear your thoughts! until next time! 再见!

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