The ‘p’ is Silent

Me: “You see why I keep losing my temper?”

My Co-Teacher: “Yes, because  you are on [your] period.”

There’s a scene in the kung fu classic Enter the Dragon where Bruce Lee is traveling on a Junk boat, where he ends up explaining the ethos behind his own badassery. In this scene Lee is approached by a shadow-boxing New Zealander who belligerently asks “what’s your [martial arts] style?” Lee’s character, imaginatively named Mr. Lee, can barely stifle a yawn as he replies “I suppose you could call it ‘the art of fighting without fighting’.” His Kiwi assailant narrows his eyes suspiciously and says, in no uncertain terms, “show me some of it!” Lee agrees, explaining that there isn’t enough room on the boat to demonstrate. He suggests a trip to a nearby island. The New Zealander gets in a wooden rowboat and Lee immediately casts it off, leaving the swearing bad guy adrift in the ocean, stinging from the realization that he’s just been had by the art of ‘fighting without fighting.’

Wangfujing, in central Beijing, has become one of the training grounds for my own martial arts style, which I have dubbed ‘the art of telling people to fuck off without actually resorting to telling them to fuck off.’ I like to imagine that if Bruce Lee was alive today he might nod with approval at the name of this style, and at its clever acronym: ‘tatpfowarttfo’.

Like any seasoned martial artist, I only unleash the power of the ‘fo’ as a last resort, and it is reserved almost exclusively for people who try to take me ‘tea shopping’*. Whenever I am approached by an individual who tells me how handsome I am or how they would like to help me improve my Chinese I resort to monosyllabic answers before unleashing an animal cry, tearing off the metaphorical black shirt and unleashing a deadly dose of tatpfowarttfo.

Note that when I mentioned the tea shoppers, I used the qualifier ‘almost’ (as in, “not entirely exclusively”). I have also body-slammed unsuspecting attackers with the more subtle moves in the tatpfowarttfo arsenal, often as a way of escaping the cast-iron death-grip of a night out in Sanlitun, which I usually find about as enticing and rewarding as my job doing the night shift in a care home run by nuns…

…Which, coincidentally, was where the very first movements in the training manual of tatpfowarttfo were stealthily developed. Yes, I know: If there is a hell, then my adventurous week-and-a-half working for the Nazareth Sisters or whatever they were called has guaranteed me a ticket there on the one-way bullet train.

My black belt in tatpfowarttfo has earned me many accolades and nicknames: “grandad”, “letdown”, “miserable old bastard”. In fact, only the other day a friend was lamenting the fact that I wanted to spend a day off writing instead of ascending the stairs of yet another temple devoted to some Chinese god or other: “There’s all these great parks and temples in Beijing and you’re sitting in a fucking Starbucks!” He said.

I stared at him.
He blinked.
He looked down at his feet.

When he looked up again it was with the face of someone wondering how the hell he was standing on a little wooden boat, shaking a fist and thinking This is going in the blog, isn’t it?

*See previous blog:


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