I found out last week that Stephen Laurette, the man who introduced me to Chan Tai-San, had passed away. I haven’t spoken to Stephen in twenty years, but I know he was a remarkable, intelligent man, dedicated to education, and loved both Chinese culture and Chinese martial arts. Also, I remain the official representative of Chan Tai-San’s organization, even a decade after he has passed away. So down to Chinatown I went, to arrange for the flowers.
By now, I should be used to the drills. As soon as I began writing the Chinese to go on the flowers, everyone in the shop began talking to me. Of course, they also told me how famous Chan Tai-San was, how everyone in the south, particularly Toi-San knows him. I’ve heard it all a thousand times before.
There was a time when I lived in Chinatown. Today I rarely find myself there. Yet speaking Guangdonghua, writing out the characters, talking about Chan Tai-San and, of course, thinking about Laurette, all drew my mind back to another time. How strange that a completely white person still feels so comfortable among Chinese, speaking a peculiar sub dialect of not even the mainstream Chinese language?
Then gradually I was drawn out of my dreaming. I walked up to a dim sum place where I had frequently met Chan Tai San over the years. Frequently I met him as early as 8 in the morning. I’d walk in and he’d already be sitting there with friends of his, such as my “uncle” the Choy Lay Fut teacher and the ON Leong representative I had gotten to know. I pulled on the door, and it was locked! They don’t even open until 11 am these days…. 11 am?
So I walked half a block to the small place that sits beneath the Chan Family Association building where I first trained with Chan Tai-San. Back then it was a dingy (I use that word with AFFECTION!) old place staffed by old, grumpy but efficient Toi San men. I walked in to find it had been remodeled. It was bright and clean, and… boring.. and staffed now by giggly young women…..
Ha Jeung? You can’t get that on a Monday. Now they only make it on weekends. Polei Cha? You really want that? When I was studying those early years with Chan Tai-San, my classmates and I were the only non Chinese eating dim sum. Now the place is packed with tourists?
You can never really go home, never really…..