The title for this one could be "Something from Nothing" because that's what this weekend trip to LA to visit the Beijing Team. Brandon, Lisa and I went down visit the team during spring break for a few days, not expecting to get to spend much time with them but at least to get to check out their Pasadena performance. The performance was a demo for the Pasadena Police's Police Activities League, an inner city youth outreach program. We drove down thursday afternoon, bringing some scenery props that the team left at Zellerbach from their performance two weeks earlier strapped to the top of the SherpaMobile. The most I expected out of this weekend was a chance to see the team perform and a chance to hit a few VW shops in S. Cal.
On Friday morning we dropped by NWTC to deliver the props and to get the 411 on the next day's demo. We got to check out a little bit of their practice which is always a pleasure. They were mostly practicing long weapons but a few people were doing hand sets and short weapons. The cool thing is that we got to check out some of the new moves that they are required to incorporate into their sets. There is a definite difference between the kind of stuff you see in a Beijing Team practice and a Beijing team performance. For one in competition, they don't do the risky difficulties required for competition in China and also they get corrected when they mess up. So we got the chance to hear Zhang Xian Ming tell the team members what its supposed to look like.
For Nan Quan we were entertained by Chen Chen running through a part of her set where she must do a standing jump outside crecent kick (thats the full 360 degrees) -- and then add another 180 degree rotation -- landing into a dragon riding stance pose. Zhang Xian Ming corrected Chen Chen for landing and then dropping into the stance, in China that would be deducted, you gotta land with your legs already in the stance!
I didn't get to watch very much of the practice because I went out to grab some of my photos from the team's trip to the Bay Area to show He Jing De and Jiang Bang Jun, but Kong Xiang Dong asked me if I'd let him drive the Sherpamobile around the parking lot. Never being one to turn down the Beijing Team, I handed over the keys and strapped into the passenger's seat. As soon as we finished our circuit around the lot, Zhang Xian Ming, apparently done with the workout was waiting for his turn. Last year I let him try out my Beetle, so I knew he could handle it. The funny thing is that both Kong Xiang Dong and Coach Zhang complained about my lack of power steering and power brakes. You'd think those buff professional wushu masters would be able to handle a my humble Microbus.
At this point our first stroke of luck kicked in. Turns out our pal Nathan 'The Mongolian Blizzard' Tong who was also down for Spring Break was having the team over to his house that night for dinner! But that wasn't for a few hours, so I took the opportunity to drag Brandon and Lisa with me to hit two VW shops in nearby Orange. After that we also took some time to stop by the famous Southern California Wushu Association's class in Westminster. My old Pal Huy was teaching the kids class. What this place doesn't have in the way of fancy facilities, they more than make up for it in hard work. But they do have a nice carpet, and a high ceiling, and thats all a real hardcore wushu person needs to practice! It was also cool to see some of the guys we know from SCWA, including Lam and Tri. We only got a chance to see the kids class and a little of the adults class before having to take off though.
Unfortnately we ended up being a little late showing up to Nathan's house because Brandon didn't read the part about "Bring Drinks for 30 people!" on the tail end of Nathan's directions! Let me just say when we showed up 30 minutes late the team was NOT happy! "Where were you? Why are you late! We didn't think you were going to come!" Turns out the team has been really busy training and performing and hadn't had much time to go out or socialize since their trip to the Bay Area... Or its just because they love Big Nose, Parrot Boy and "The girl formerly known as Pizza" so much?
|Kong Xiang Dong, Brandon, Shan Ming, Lisa, Liu Qing Hua and Liu Juan checking out the video of the Hawaii performance.|
Some of the venues were as large as 9000 seats from what I understand. They performed in Oahu and Maui over the span of 7 days. The funny thing is that they performed with the "Shaolin Temple of New York" under "authentic Shaolin Monk" Shi Yan Ming. Well, I know that Shi Yan Ming defected back in the early 90's from a Shaolin Monk troupe, but I dunno if he's a "real" Shaolin monk, since I think there aren't any real ones still alive. Plus I've seen him and his student's wushu, and I can tell you that they should have taken the first plane back to New York after the Beijing team got on stage, cause there is no way they can compare. (But I'm biased of course).
Let me just say that Nathan's mom is the coolest mom in the world, with the exception of Brandon's mom, who is also cool. Since Nathan's dad was out of town, I couldn't compare him to Brandon's dad, so Brandon's dad presently is uncontested in the 'coolest dad in the world' category (I'm hoping MY parent's don't read this...) The team thanked her for her hospitality with an authentic Beijing Team T-shirt signed by all the team members (Damn, I want one!)
The next day was the demo in Pasadena. We showed up at the venue just in time to catch the team as they were finishing setting up. The PAL program people had picked them up down in Huntington Beach in their police vans. Well actually the vans they drove the team in were normal passenger vans, but the van they used for the carpet and weapons and drums was a genuine Pasadena Police Department Paddy Wagon, complete with 'lockdown-able' bench seats in the back. Once they had finished setting up, the Pasadena cops were going to give the team a brief tour of Pasadena, since they had about an hour and a half to kill before the demo. So we got back in the Sherpamobile ready to follow the caravan... but wait! Those damn cops are driving too fast! Sherpamobile's top speed is only 65 and those guys were doing like 70 on the highway! Unfortunately we lost them around a curve and couldn't find anyone... plus we didn't really know where they were going except to "a golf course" (which is the most the team knew about where they were going). Well through a little bit of brilliance and a lot of luck, Brandon and I found the caravan as they were leaving the Rose Bowl (well how many things are there to see in Pasadena... and the fact that the Rose Bowl has a golf course next to it made it seem like it was a good guess).
|Qiu Dong Xing, after emerging from the Strip Search room.|
Well I never actually saw "Red Corner" but I'm assuming that this experience must have been really unique for the Beijing Team, as jails in China are probably a lot different (but of course, being upstanding citizens, they probably have never been in a Chinese jail). But the whole thing got really disturbing when they took us into the control room for the cell block, its the room that overlooks the cells that prisoners actually live in. It was kind of creepy, especially since there WERE people in them. Kind of gave me this weird feeling about being kind of like a zoo.
After learning what the sign "Strip Search" over that particular room in the prison meant, and taking a picture with a tall, beautiful member of Pasadena's finest, the team headed back for the gymnasium to prepare for their demo. The gym was pretty small, with only a few rows of bleachers on one side. So the Beijing Team's carpet was placed at the center the basketball court.
|Kong Xiang Dong, poses with Double Hook Swords|
They did a really full demo too. With exception of the Terracotta warriors and a few odds and ends, most everything that I could recall from the Zellerbach demo was in there. The small venue made for a real intimate demo. A few mess ups, but since I missed most of the Zellerbach performance, it was almost all new to me and pretty damn awesome.
The most exciting/dramatic mess up was during the 'Arnold Demo' set, during the group staff part, Chen Chen and Qiu Dong Xing's staffs hit eachother on the tips, sending part of one flying off (harmlessly landing in the corner). I also really enjoyed the basics, not only the weapons basics but also the jump kicks. Damn, that Wang Xuijin can jump high as hell!
|As part of the women's group straight sword set, Han Jing and Liu Qing Hua perform some high speed straightsword sparring.|
The lunch was really weird too. It was quite a mix of food. First there was a salad, then there was some Spanish rice, then came some ribs and shish kebab, then pizza, then desserts... Between every dish Li Qiang would ask me something like, "What kind of food is this? Is this Mexican?" And everytime I would say something like "Well THAT was, but this isn't...." Well wherever it came from, we ate it and it wasn't too bad.
|No Lisa, you take it!|
Then someone brought out some balloons and all my fond memories of childhood birthday parties were rekindled. A man who may or may not have been one of the three warrior bad guys in Big Trouble in Little China was quite skilled at making balloon animals so he was wielding his magic impressing all the team. Also the team tried their hand at creating balloon animals... with limited success.
|Shang Yu, perhaps forgetting he is wearing his balloon hat, steps out of the van to take a few pictures of Pasadena city hall.|
The next day, Nathan, Brandon, Lisa, Felicia and Tina and I met the team at the school and quickly tried to decided what kind of place to take the team. Matt "Drummer Boy" Emery suggested 'The Block At Orange' a pretty big outdoor mall. Unfortunately my Marshalls/Nordstrom's Rack proposal was vetoed. So as time was precious we jumped in everyone's car and hit the road. The Sherpamobile was graced with the presence of some of the Beijing Team's most beautiful members, Han Jing, Liu Qing Hua, Liu Juan and Li Jing. They specifically demanded to ride in it, actually, wanting to experience a '67 VW Microbus deluxe at least once in their life.
|We stopped for one last group picture before bidding fairwell to beautiful Pasadena. That's 'Phreaky Cop' in the back row behind Shan Ming (yellow balloon hat), and I'm on the far left in front of Wu Bin.|
So after finding out where the closest Ross was and making sure that everyone knew we were going, we literally ran back to the car ("Lets go! Ross!") and hit the road. At this point they remarked how SLOW my bus was and how much they wanted me to drive faster! Well their impatience was only momentary, as the Ross came into sight Liu Qing Hua (who somehow managed to yell RIGHT into my ear everytime...) was sure to let me know we were here and I better turn right away to make it into the parking lot. Then she told me to stop so she could run straight in! Oh behold ye Ross, vessel of cheap clothes!
They didn't even wait for me to park the bus before the door was open and wushu superstars were burning rubber for the door. Once inside the sight somewhat resembled one of those Discovery channel specials on sharks... a true feeding frenzy! Li Qiang alone ended up buying like four pairs of shoes. The fun part was getting to play shoe model... "What size are your feet? No, in Chinese size!" "How do these fit? My dad is about the same size as you, do you think he'd like these?" I cringe at the fact that there are going to be groups of people in China clothed based on Raffi's taste in clothes!
|Maybe Brandon should change his name to "Glam Daddy"? This was at an all glow-in-the-dark store in Orange. Brandon works his magic on Liu Juan and Shan Ming.|
I did end up scoring myself a couple of pairs of Adidas socks cheap. But I couldn't match the team members, almost everyone bought at least one or two things. A few (shh! don't tell the coach) snuck over to the drug store and got a few pounds of M&Ms... for China or just for their personal use while in the states, I'm not sure, but it was obvious that some team members have a sweet tooth.
After that we piled into the Sherpamobile and raced back to NWTC to make sure the team was back on time. Thus ended our special weekend with the team. Truly a stroke of good luck, if I ever have had one. We went down to LA that weekend not expecting to see much except a demo, and we ended up getting to more time with them chatting and hanging out than I did at any other instance this year.
But then again as with most things, life follows the principles of the Dao, aka Karma... too much good luck and you gotta pay the piper. After leaving Huntington Beach, we headed back to Brandon's house for dinner before heading out back to SF. I had class at 8am the next day and Lisa had work, so we needed to get going. Sherpamobile's 65mph was slowly but surely getting us back to the Bay. We stopped for fuel and food once, and then I got my Red Bull (friend of long haul truckers around the world) to make sure I wouldn't fall asleep. We hit the East Bay by about 4 am. I foolishly said something like "Yep, Sherpamobile not letting us down on her second trip to LA and back!" then Lisa said something like "don't speak too soon!"
We had to drive across the Bay bridge to drop Lisa off at her place. As we were on the last quarter of the span, I heard this crunching sound and then the smell of gasoline was all over the place. The engine cut out and it was obvious that something was seriously wrong... Luckily (see, even the bad luck isn't that bad) we were on the way off the bridge, so I was able to coast all the way off the bridge and exited onto a downtown street... after executing some high speed turns I was able to use our momentum to carry us into an empty parking lot. We got out and inspected the damage. Well there was gasoline sprayed all over the place... because a wire had come out and gotten caught in my fan belt, thus pulling my fuel pump hose loose and yanking my airhose into the fan as well. All the junk in the belt chewed up the belt and jammed the engine. Luckily, nothing started on fire, despite all the gas all over the place (whew!)
Being the master engineer that I am (I have a masters in engineering after all), I knew I could fix it and get the car going, except the fuel hose was missing (probably either somewhere floating in the bay or it was eaten by the fan belt). So it was obvious that at 4:30am I wasn't going to be able to find one nearby. Brandon and Lisa and I decided our best move would be to go home and come back later during the day. Luckily we happened to be only three blocks from the Embarcadero BART station. Lisa took Muni home and Brandon and I took the BART back to the East Bay. After three hours of sleeping on Brandon's sofa, I headed to campus to hold my office hours (missed Chinese class!) Once that was over I met up with Brandon, hit a VW shop, got my parts and headed to fix the car. The guy who ran the parking lot was a little pissed at me for leaving my car there, I was just glad he didn't tow Sherpamobile, so I didn't have too much of a problem with him charging me $25 for parking. (Well it could have been worse).
$25 for parking, but only $12 for parts! After a combined total of about 30 minutes of labor, Sherpamobile was completely mobile. Ha, sure beats letting some crooked mechanic charging me $100+! Well I guess I should count my blessings, I'm glad it happened in SF rather than somewhere in the middle of the I-5... that would have really sucked.
Well so there was a little bit of bad luck in there, but I ain't going to complain (too much). The best thing was, we knew we were going to be back down in LA the following weekend for one more chance to hang with the team before they left for Beijing.
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