Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bruce Lee Tattoos and the June 4th Massacre at the Tiananmen Square Water Park (天安门广场水上公园)

The first time I went to China was in 1988 on an American basketball team that traveled through Asia.  I had just graduated high school and was heading off to college, had raised money throughout the school year and a lot of people were happy to help me and give me a chance to see the world.
We saw so  many cool things...Hong Kong subways and Japanese armed soldiers and Philippine shanty towns and Taiwanese snake blood drinkers...but the most amazing thing by far, was stepping into a part of ancient China that doesn't exist anymore.
China was so undeveloped at that time.  As Americans we had to keep a separate page in our passport declaring our hotel, what streets we'd shop on, and which restaurants we'd patron.  At night, parts of Canton city went black as the electricity was shut off by the government under a strict curfew.
And the food, not the delicious Chinese food I had come to enjoy in the states...no!  This was Real China!  All cuisine was served in hot steaming pools of dish water that gave everyone on the team immediate upset stomachs and violent intestinal pain.  I lived off a jar of peanut butter I'd brought from home and a bag of saltine crackers for a week.
Speaking of our team, we played this one game in a barn in Guangzhou with parquet floors that had giant holes dug deep in the tiles beneath our feet, catching the dribbled ball to a wedged stop.  Three people deep stood on the court as fans grabbing us during out-of-bounds plays, laughing and spitting on us and tripping us as we cruised to a blow-out victory.  Truly, a unique and crazy travel experience for a young kid raised in the Oregon woods.
But looking back, I think what made the trip so much more provocative, was that exactly one year later, as students protested the Chinese government and tanks rolled into Beijing, the Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred, June 4th, 1989.
I was glued to the television.  This wasn't the age of 24 hour news cycles and  information was painfully slow.  You basically bought a newspaper or waited for the evening news that night to see what was happening in the world.  Oh my...how times have changed.
So I was thinking about Tiananmen today...looking at these old photographs of the Yamay Water Park taken a year ago...I haven't had a chance to get them on the old blog...so today's the day!
Funny thing about that day...it was sweltering hot and humid. We arrived early, as we always do.  The kids ran around and swam and I traded Chinese barbs with lifeguards about the necessity of a swim cap.
And then I saw him...the kid with the Bruce Lee tattoo!  I mean, just look at this thing....look at it.  What on Earth?  How awesome is this guy?  I couldn't stop it.  I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture of his naked back... which I would have gotten away with...if his girlfriend didn't spot me...
So now I've got this kid, obviously a young street gangster, his bright orange-haired girlfriend with her own red and green fire-breathing dragon printed up her back screaming at me, and to make matters worse, Bruce Lee tattoo has about ten buddies all hanging out at the swim park that day and each one of them is inked up and ready to rumble.
Quickly I'm surrounded... bright blue Malaysian eagle in flight and black Maori tribal markings up the leg and Japanese ocean waves tossing a small wooden boat on white surf and all these tattoos and faces closing in on me...then I see Bruce Lee, standing in front with a menacing scowl on his face.
I can't help it.  I burst out laughing.  Turn my camera back on and show the kid his picture.  It takes less than a moment, but he's roaring in laughter.  His friends think it's hilarious and want to show me all their inked body parts.  Even his girlfriend, the girl with the fire-breathing dragon, is asking if she can baby sit my three daughters.  We had a total laugh.

So many funny things happen here in Asia.  This place that I never really left.  It's not all about power and corruption and control.  Most days, it's about jumping in and going for it.

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