October 5, 2012 by Manny Wordsmith
Recent pictures have unearthed, exposing my childhood obsession with everything Kung fu. I’ve openly admitted my strange attraction to the martial arts and everything Asian, but there’s something about actually “seeing” the bi-product of my attractions that make my own memories seem less cool.
That’s me on the far left (obviously), essentially wearing a red version of this man’s outfit.
As a teen, I studied everything I could about Kung fu and Chinese culture. I figured If I could name 75 of their obscure films, recite the wisdom of Confucius, and cook a mean batch of sweet and sour pork, then maybe, just maybe, the Shaolin Monks would teach me their secrets.
I despise the color orange, but I could hang with these guys, right?
It was a real goal of mine. I wanted a way in.
So I did research on Chinese customary greetings, the history of the Seven Waring States, and even called Chinese restaurants in hopes of getting an internship. Because we know all the best way to start your journey to kung fu greatness is working in a Chinese kitchen!
Hey, is this Wong’s Dragon Palace?
Yes, what you like?
Well, I was wondering if I could get a job. I have this big dream to one day…
I’m still working on my Mandarin, but did you say yes?
Well it sounded like a yes.
You should have seen me in June 1997. I might have been the only American 13-year-old who watched the British hand over rule of Hong Kong back to Mainland China. I remember laughing at the ears on Prince Charles and clapping my hands like I won something. A tear or two may have been shed in the process too, but only because I felt the centuries of pain. Mostly because I had identified with the 14 Chow Yun-Fat films I had seen. And that’s no joke.
Those are the eyes of an animal!! This guy made a living off of shooting guns and jumping sideways in slow-motion! Can you not see how he drips machismo and killer instinct!!??
But everything I did was an attempt to beef up my resume so I could impress a consulate worker, or diplomat. Maybe they’d come to Detroit for some auto industry meeting and return to China with me. But only after I had convinced them that I would learn the cherished ways of Shaolin and fight for everlasting freedom!
I even attempted to court a young Asian girl in my Biology class. She was Filipino, but I assumed my knowledge of China would somehow transfer over and she’d think,
Well at least you have the right continent.
And fall deeply in love with me.
But to expect that is like expecting some Russian girl with a Jamaican accent and a mean Jerk Chicken recipe to impress an African American guy like me. Wait, that would be impressive…God, I’m hungry.
Anyway, it wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I kind of gave up the dream. I figured since I had never taken a martial arts class, never dated an Asian girl, and never learned more than hello (nǐ hǎo) and good-bye (zàijiàn) in Mandarin, that maybe I wasn’t suited for the glory I had dreamed about.
Of course that was till I joined the Army in June 2004 and met Eric Chan. He was Chinese and pretty much my best friend.
He grew up in Cleveland, where he worked at a Chinese video store that was connected to his parents Chinese restaurant. He was also fluent in his home language and a practitioner of the martial arts. I couldn’t have asked more from a friend. Just me knowing him validated me. ”
They HAD to let me in now, I thought.
We talked throughly about China and the lore of great movies. We secretly sparred and honed our techniques. He was a better fighter than I (which he proved during our first and only bout, where he kicked me in the face!), but mostly because he was taller, faster and stronger. Little had to do with him being Chinese. I also asked him lots of questions…like I had never met a Chinese person before…
What’s the secret behind the noodles?
Oh! You’re gooood.
We were pumped. All we needed to do was survive the Army. But that was easier said then done.
My childhood dream slowly melted away as I learned more about world politics. I learned about the ongoing battle between the monks and the Chinese government. I learned more about communism and how our countries constantly spy on one another. The reality didn’t seem as cool as the fantasy. Pretty much, I grew up. I was Robin Williams in “Hook” and I didn’t know how to fly anymore, or make those cool “Wahcha!!!!” sounds that Bruce Lee always made. But I still saw a bit of hope. I slowed down on the kung fu flicks, upped the dramas and love stories, and realized that China still has a lot of beauty beyond its political affiliations and lack of Shaolin Monks saving the day.
So who knows, I might end up in Hong Kong for a little while, taking in the sights and looking for Chow Yun Fat. I might learn how to become a bad ass assassin or meet the love of my life, who may or may not be Filipino. But if neither happens, I can just look at this view.