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October Issue








THE CHANCER
Maggie Pishneshin
She liked being busy, relished the frisson of deadlines and decisions, and the freedom to make her own mistakes. (Long Read)


Sandy gunned the engine and dropped smoothly into second as she raced for the rapidly closing gap at the road works on the outside lane. She loved driving and had to travel a lot for work. Smugly she glanced in the rear view mirror at the irate van-man, now forced into the space behind her.
He had tailed her for some distance, testing the engine of his companies white Mercedes Vito against that of her black Saab 9-5. She was well aware that her car evoked this chase reflex in the baser sort of male, and it still rankled that she had finally had to resign herself to giving up her beloved red Porsche. In her younger years, as a blonde babe,she had enjoyed turning heads where ever she went in it. Sadly it had also drawn the unwelcome attention of every chauvinistic driver she ever came across, and she had become utterly weary of the hassle. Life had become too serious a game for such energy drains.

Trickling slowly forward in the queue of traffic, she changed the tempo and volume of the music on the quad-stack system to something less urgent. She had never outgrown the tendency to use tracks that had an aggressive edge, purely to help her focus her attention on her driving. But then, she tended to do most things in a full-on z kind of way.
Now though, with little opportunity to make any quicker progress, she relaxed in her seat and caressed the silky leather surface of the steering wheel. She had become reconciled to keeping a low profile on the road , and was quite content with the Saab. It was powerful, responsive, technologically slick, and very discreet. The extra-spec tinted windows afforded her some measure of anonymity, but the obscure glass did sometimes seem to provoke resentment.
She had found that impeccable road manners usually deflected this, and as a result of her strategy she had become an expert at reading the road. She needed to drive defensively in order to be left alone to get where she was going, and she hated wasting time.

Impatient now , she craned her neck in an effort to see the extent of the queued traffic. She had a particularly full schedule for the day, unusually so for a Thursday, and would have to sacrifice some of her treats if she were to be delayed further. She consulted her Palm to check for any flexibility in her schedule, and found that if she cancelled the ten thirty appointment and moved the eleven o clock meeting to after lunch, say around two, she should still be able to drop in for that final fitting.

She was very much looking forward to the weekend, and knew that the magenta silk velvet number would be indispensable. Figure hugging,expensive, not too short but deeply decollete, it was just right for the new field she had chosen for her next play-time. With some classic accessories it should strike just the right chord.Over time she had become so adroit at this kind of machination that familliarity with it had begun to breed contempt in her for expending energy on something so easy. She went over the agenda for the meeting with Tom in her head.There was the matter of the outstanding accounts of course; they were important, and she considered a range of shrewd tactics that she might deploy against the late payers. She was good at this part of her job, tough and ruthless. She had an arsenal of moves ready for situations like this. She played to win,quite fairly on the whole, but there seemed little ground for generosity on this occasion.If she could talk Tom around to her way of thinking then the meeting could be over by four.Then maybe she could get to the gym in time for that lecture.

Reaching for the hands-free car phone, she called in to the office. Her P.A. Brenda answered as she expected, sounding tense and a little anxious. "Hi Brendy, it’s me. Look, I’m really sorry, I know I promised to get in early today, but Tom e-mailed me first thing with all the data for this morning, and now here I am stuck in a jam out on the north-bound road works." Sandy knew that good old dependable Brenda could be relied upon to bend every rule in the book when necessary. Brenda was very dazzled by Sandy’s success, her natural authority, her efficiency, her flair and business acumen, and of course her glamour...also she was not a little cowed by Sandy’s impatience when things went awry.
"It’s okay, Sandy, I can hold the fort at this end as long as you’re here by half-past. Or shall I try to reschedule Tom for later?" Tom was Head of accounts, but Sandy pulled rank on him as a Board member. He found her quite intimidating. Sandy was well aware of this and found the necessity for putting on such a show a tiresome drain, but she knew that in the male dominated world of corporate management an aggressively competitive approach was expected as the norm.
Sandy smiled as she heard Brendas’ response. Always the sign of of a good P.A., being able to anticipate the bosses needs. "Good girl Brens; yes, if you can switch it for around two, after lunch, that would be great. And can you get hold of whatsisname pencilled in for the ten-thirty slot, and put him off till next week? I’ve got a few things to se ue to before lunch, and I’ve no idea how long this jam is going to last. Call me if there’s a problem, will you?"

Sandy replaced the car-phone handset and checked the queue up ahead. Having slowly rounded a long bend in the motorway, the vista showed that the contra-flow ended a mile or so further on.Through narrowed eyes Sandy watched the van-man in her rear view, eating a chocolate bar and reading his tabloid. She could probably lose him if she was quick off the mark.

She liked being busy, relished the frisson of deadlines and decisions, and the freedom to make her own mistakes. She had been married, once. It seemed like a long time ago, but the time she had spent being thus held to account now seemed like a much longer time. She felt herself to have lived through several lifetimes already. Orlando-like, transiting mysteriously from one set of circumstances to the next, she had not yet reached the age of forty five. She was generally comfortable in her skin,and believed she had wrought a life for herself that suited her capabilities and propensities. Not to say her predilections, which she was now very well able to indulge. She took very good care of herself, and felt that she was probably at the peak of her powers. Physically fit, always perfectly groomed, she was polished, influential and experienced. But she was becoming aware of a growing unease with her life, and the demands it made on her. Somehow there was a hollowness, a hunger for greater authenticity, a dissatisfaction with the personal costs involved in having to work so hard to uphold values she no longer found sufficient.

Dismissing this vague disquiet she thought again of the magenta silk velvet, voluptuously skimming her contours.She thought of it as necessary armoury on the battlefield of amorous encounter. Having tired of the trammels of courtship, and the treachery it usually entailed, she had embarked upon the pursuit of sexual adventure untrammelled by any such considerations. Her sensuous nature required expression, release, realisation, and she was clear about her right to claim this. She was good at compartmentalising her life, and recognised the benefits of it.Indeed it was one of the health-checks she had practised for years. To function effectively she recognised the necessity to separate work and play rigorously, juggling one against the other, just as she was intending to do today. These were her rewards for her diligent self-sacrifice in the service of her duties she felt, but she knew too that she must maintain a core of herself that was not subject to either work or play. This part of herself she held aloof from either of these, a safe place where nourishment w ías neither material nor sensual. This was where she really lived, and the thought steadied and stabilised her, reassured and comforted her. She sometimes envied those whose vocation did not seem to require such a dislocation of the self. She imagined that perhaps those who were engaged in creative pursuits, artists poets, musicians and so on, might enjoy a greater sense of synergy and continuity in their lives.

After the fitting and a quick sandwich lunch in front of the computer, the meeting with Tom went smoothly. He was a methodical and conscientious man, but with a carefully cultivated streak of sentimentality a mile wide. She dealt with this anomaly, as always, by driving coach and horses through his objections, reminding him obliquely of the company policy on arrears. Thus had she forged a strategy to overcome the obstacles, as she was paid to do. It was her job to get a little heavy sometimes. It was a game he often forced her to play, but she didnt enjoy it and found it all rather tedious. She was tired now as she gently ushered a bewildered Tom out of her office and towards Brenda’s desk and the Diary.

Back in her sanctum, she closed the door and slipped off her shoes. Now was a good time to refuel. She took up position on the rug in front of the plate glass window and stretched, luxuriously. As she went through her programme of Hatha yoga asanas, she felt the tension ebb away from her muscles and from her mind. At the end of the sequence she finished off as normal with a concentrated spell of meditation, breathing smoothly, focussing deeply on the t’an tei, centre of chi. Lying supine on the deep pile rug beneath the window afterwards, she felt refreshed, reinvigorated, light and clear-headed, alert but relaxed. She was centred again. This was her very safest place within herself, and Brenda always knew when to hold the calls.

She consulted her Palm again, and downloaded all the latest entries onto the office computer for Brenda’s attention.There were a few unanswered letters, some e-mail enquiries she could shuffle off to R&D, some appointments to make in preparation for next week, some she could cancel.She checked the itinerary for Friday. Not too demanding,mainly loose ends to tie up, issues to formalise, like todays head-to-head with Tom.
She should be able to leave a little earlier tomorrow,pick up the dress on her way home, then have time to pack for the weekend. She had made it a rule that when she played the field she played away. This time it was to be in the next county as a house guest at the stately home of a magnate with political aspirations. It would be opulent, impressive and sufficiently well-peopled with enough of the right sort to enable her to make a considered choice, should she feel so moved. Diplomats might make an interesting change perhaps; suave but thrusting ätypes, well-educated, and keen to make the right connections. She would probably have a lot of fun, if they weren’t all stuffed shirts.

At twilight Sandy’s Saab 9-5 glided quietly into the last available parking space at the Country Club; Jane’s silver Lexus was on one side, and Simon’s dark green Cherokee on the other. She glanced around the car park at the other vehicles. Rob’s red Beamer she saw, in its usual spot in the reserved staff area. Some vehicles were familiar and belonged to friends, but there were many others today that she didn’t know.It was unusually busy, probably because of the lecture, she decided.

Opening the car door she swung out her long elegant legs and slid smoothly from her seat. Of above average height, slender and athletic, she moved easily and fluidly,almost catlike.She hiked her gym bag from the boot of the car and slung it over her shoulder. As she clicked the Çbutton on the remote she glanced up at the sky. Crimson clouds chased with gold scudded quickly across a cerulean expanse of ripped silk. The wind rustled at the few remaining leaves on the towering beech trees, as the rooks coming in to roost for the night screamed and quarrelled and fought for position. Sandy felt the strange mixture of excitement and relief that her arrival at this place usually evoked.
It was a very special place, and secretly she felt privileged to be a member. The clientele was very exclusive, and membership required nomination. To achieve full membership status was a signal to the world that you mattered, were of consequence, had arrived.

Sandy pushed open the heavy glass door at the entrance, and was assailed by the familiar blend of the comforting aromas of fresh coffee,wood smoke from the log-burner in the relaxation area, and perfume from the huge display of lilies gracing the foyer, all mingling together with a faint whiff of chlorine wafting through from the pool complex. It was warm and humid inside,and she slipped off her jacket as she approached the polished blonde-wood reception desk.
The pretty young red-haired receptionist greeted Sandy warmly, and took her membership card to place it in the rack on the desk."Hi Abigail, how are you today? Rushed off your feet I should think, to judge by the state of the car park. I’ve never seen it so packed." Sandy leaned across the desk to scan the rack of cards to see who was in.Abi also leaned forward to look. Only about half of the spaces in the rack were taken up, which meant that many of the people in the building were visitors, by invitation only, of course."W ell the pool is really busy, and the fitness suite as well, but I can probably find you an empty jacuzzi if you like?" Sandy nodded and Abigail glanced down at the video screen on the lower desk. She hit a couple of keys on a control panel to survey the different areas within the pool complex."There’s only Jane in number five. Looks like she’s asleep though."Sandy grinned. "Great; she wont be for long I promise you. Thanks Abi. See you later.Oh, by the way which room is the talk being held in this evening?" Abigail hit a key on the console. "It’s in the Blue room in the meditation suite, but I should get in early. It’s drawn a lot of interest.Be there for ten to if you want a good seat." The wall clock showed it to be just after five. No time to waste then.

In the palatial changing room Sandy wriggled into her red bathing costume and slipped on the fresh white robe Abi had given her. Quickly she arranged her clothes on a multi-hanger and put them with all her other stuff in her locker. She checked the contents of the little cabinet built into the door; more body lotion needed. Sandy fished out her Palm from her bag and made a note for herself.

At the door to the jacuzzi Sandy paused to look through the glazed panel. Jane was still there, apparently asleep, eyes shielded by a bright pink eye-shade as her body bobbed and floated on the bubbling surface of the water. A faint cloud of steam enveloped her. Sandy opened the door a crack and hissed "Ssssnakes Janey, Sssssnakes in the water..." Jane came to groggily and giggled at her friend.
"Sandra darling- " she bellowed over the noise of the tub, "how the devil are we, so nice to see you. Come on in sweetness,there’s room for a little one." Jane moved over in the tub to make room as Sandy slipped off her robe and hung it on a peg.

Jane was dark and petite, curvy and ebulliently confident."Well, what are you getting up to this weekend? Old Shannons place I bet.I was planning on going myself, but then Simon called, and well, I don't know, I thought I’d just give him one more chance.You know what an Achilles heel I have for the blonde cherub,and such a Hercules when he’s trying to mend fences! But I might see you there if he gets tedious."
The two of them sat in the hot raging water gossiping avidly, sharing secrets about discreet indiscretions and howling with laughter. They lived by the same code, were partners in crime, and loved plotting and planning thei ›r escapades together. Sisters under the skin, they were very similar in many ways, but there were important differences too, mainly to do with outlook.

Jane came from a wealthy background, and cultivated all the arrogance she felt her birthright entitled her to.She could afford to be empty of any values that she did not consider to be useful to her.Sandy, by contrast, had fought her way up from obscurity, and had wrested her good fortune from the teeth of destiny by dint of sheer determination and talent. She was well aware that self-preservation for her would be an on-going venture, a learning curve into infinity, an evolution towards something other.

The clock on the wall of the jacuzzi showed five thirty, and Sandy knew that she should make a move to get ready for the lecture. Although she and Jane had both attended Aikido classes for some time together, she knew that Jane would be unlikely to be interested in attending the talk. It was too seriously hard edged for her, ťand anyway she had a massage booked with the new masseur at six. Sandy felt that she needed to find friends that could share the new preoccupations she felt stirring within her.

Sandy stepped from the tub and slipped on the soft white robe again, preparing to take her leave of her friend. They made a flexible arrangement to meet up later in the bar, and then Sandy returned to the changing room. She showered, dressed herself comfortably in loose trousers and a tunic of soft navy cashmere. Carefully she dried her fine fair hair, and tied it up casually on top of her head. She reapplied make-up. Just a little, not too much. She was off duty now. But perfume was still nice, just a touch, not too much. She was relaxed now and felt at home, but was aware that s he shouldn't appear to be too frivolously female. She checked her image in the full length mirror.

She knew from her Aikido classes that a certain deferential seriousness was required. Originally she and Jane had taken up Aikido after the Belly-dancing classes had folded,mainly because they felt that it would make them less vulnerable at times when defensive action might be needed. And they had liked the elegant costume, with the simple white top and the voluminous long black split skirts. The movements were fluid, graceful and controlled,and the two women had been amazed at the degree of suppleness and tensile strength they had conferred.This had had the effect of making them more daring than before. They knew they could get out of tricky situations when ne wcessary.
But they had had to acknowledge that it wasn't as much pure fun as the Belly-dancing classes had been. There the all female class had been able to enjoy the freedom to be as frivolously sensual as they pleased. There was no sense of competition among the women as they learned to gyrate gracefully, and laughter had been a concomitant benefit they had all derived from the excercise. It had been good clean fun, but with a serious side that allowed for each woman to find and express her femininity. They had been very sad when the classes ended.

Sandy made her way along the plushly carpeted, softly lit corridors to the meditation suite. Here the paintings and sculptures were simple and contemplative, evoking a peaceful and Zen-like atmosphere.
She found the Blue Room empty but for a handful of people she knew from the Aikido class, and she found no trouble in securing a couple of plump floor cushions and a good site for them near the front of the seating area. The room was laid out simply but elegantly. The subdued lighting, she noticed, came from a dozen fat candles set in polished granite bowls ranged on the floor around the perimeter of the room.A low table at the front constituted the only furniture, and was empty but for a sparsely graceful arrangement of a single orchid in a small glass phial, and an empty brass bowl with a hardwood striker. On the wall behind the table hung a yellow silk banner bearing the sign of the t’ai chi in black, surrounded by the eight trigrams.

Partly as a result of the sound-proofing put in for the purposes of meditation, the hush in the room was also due to the reverential whispers coming from the rapidly assembling audience. The speaker was to be an eminent Master of the martial arts, who rarely travell yed to the West. He was billed as one of the very few practising Masters of the Shaolin Temple tradition. To be able to hear him first hand, and perhaps see him demonstrate his art, was a rare opportunity.
Sandy became aware of a gentle fragrance in the air and identified it as amber coming from an incense burner in the corner.She had to concentrate hard in the diffused light to make out the introductory notes on the leaflet she had been handed as she came in.

Sandy had taken the Aikido classes much more seriously than Jane, and had begun to find a greater depth and value in the practise than she had at first thought possible.She had even begun to read Lao Tzu and suddenly recognised the verse at the bottom of the page;
"The best soldier is not soldierly;
The best fighter is not ferocious;
The best conqueror does not take part i n war......"

Sandy felt she was at a stage in life when she was ready to delve deeper into the Taoist principles involved in such ideas. She liked the literal meaning of the word Aikido ; "way of the divine harmony". She liked the soft, purely defensive approach which seemed to embody somewhat higher ideals than those martial arts of a more combat-oriented nature. The stress in Aikido was on complete relaxation of mind and body by always preserving a calm still centre. Fighting techniques were thus always purely defensive, being based on reaction to attack by evading the opponent, and then pressing the power points which attacked their chi or life force. Central to the concept was the idea that the sporting and competitive aspects of training were to be discouraged; sparring was considered to be logically unacceptable. and even morally repugnant.

Sandy knew a bit about the Shaolin Temple tradition from previous reading, and had been intrigued to learn about this exoteric hard school of the martial arts. S áhe had explored something of the history and diversity of many of the different forms, and had practised a little of several of them.Typically she had set about a structured reading programme, and this was where she had picked up some of the ideas that underpinned the traditions of the Shaolin Temple school. Sandy was fascinated by the antiquity of this Zen Buddhist sect, and wondered that something so complex and sophisticated had been practised for fifteen hundred years.Further back still, the roots were thought to lie in shamanistic naturalism, a way of thought still extant among some Mongolian tribes and their relatives, the Indians of the Americas.It had been their ancestors of more than twenty thousand years ago that had begun the migration northwards from Asia, and thence across the land bridge that linked Siberia and Alaska. With her own roots left far behind several lifetimes ago, Sandy felt an affinity with the very idea of origin.

Sandy had learned from her studies that perhaps these ancient peoples had not yet separated the notions of spiritual being from material physical being, and that they therefore saw living beings as the highest examples of a fusion of spirit and matter, and the idea appealed to her own sense of herself as a free spirit.She had a sense that her own perspective was in some way more limited. She felt that somehow the universe might indeed be populated and driven by immaterial forces, and that these notions were perhaps key to the feeling of her life being now somehow dislocated.Thus was her curiosity thoroughly ignited.

An old Chinese saying that went "All the martial arts known under Heaven began in Shaolin" made Sandy long to visit the temple in Honan Province. The chi of it’s site at the centre of the vast plains of China, home to Fo Tuo the jolly laughing monk an ƒd the other Zen warriors, was reputed to be one of the most resonant places of antiquity left in the modern world. Maybe here were answers to her underlying confusion. Maybe she would plan her holiday around a visit there, perhaps next year. She had become bored by the skiing trips and gin palaces that had made up most of her vacatioal destinations over the past few years, and wanted something that would provide an opportunity for growth and personal expansion. She wanted to explore ideas that were clamouring for expression, just on the edge of her conciousness Sandy gazed dreamily at the printed images in the leaflet. There was the beautiful and ancient Shaolin temple itself, somehow as permanent as the clear blue sky above it, or the glittering Songshan mountain range within which it was set.

Suddenly she became aware of a deeper hush in the room. Looking up she saw, at the periphery of her vision, a group of shadowy figures moving quietly toward ¬s the front.
As they came more fully into view, she saw that the first two were strongly built men in dark robes, belted at the waist. Following them was a smaller man in pearly grey robes, slender and of more delicate proportions. Behind him came two more strongly built men, dressed as the first two. All of them exuded a quiet and powerful presence.The five figures filed behind the low table, and made a deep and sustained bow to the audience. Fluidly they seated themselves on the floor, their gaze directed somewhere above the heads of the people.
The smaller man in grey took up the striker from the table and gently tapped the brass bowl. A clear and resonating tone rang around the room , a pulsating vibration, eddying, flowing, echoing, filling consciousness, and diminishing only very slowly. Softly the sound faded and floated away into the ether.
A deep calm pervaded the room. The small man in grey smiled beatifically at the people before him, and replaced the striker on the table.Sandy saw now that he was much older than any of his companions, but could not guess at his age. The Master turned and gestured to the man on his far left who had led the group into the room.He elevated himself slightly to a kneeling position and prepared to address his audience.
Sandy appraised the man keenly. Charismatic, of well above average height for an Oriental,he was lithe and sinewy, but powerful. His bearing was one of easy grace, assured, that of a natural aristocrat.
"Good evening and welcome. My name is San-do Ch’an, and I am here tonight to assist my grandfather, Master Ch’an, in introducing to you some of the traditions of the Shaolin Temple school. Our aim is to enlighten people everywhere as to what we see as necessary for t Dhe evolution of the martial arts."
Sandy was taken aback by the delivery of these opening remarks. San-do Ch’an spoke in the cultured and measured pitch characteristic of one the better public schools. His enunciation was faultless, with no trace of a Chinese accent, and this was so unexpected that it seemed totally incongruous. With all expectations now suspended Sandy scrutinised him carefully.
A strikingly attractive man, probably in his mid-forties, he had finely chiselled Asian features with high cheekbones and a strongly defined jaw. A broad brow framed deep-set slanting eyes of a penetrating intelligence. Sandy wished he would smile.He caught her gaze momentarily and Sandy looked away.
"My grandfather, Master Wushu Ch’an, is one of the few remaining exponents of the pure Shaolin tradition, and has decided to limit t he extent of his teaching specifically in order to preserve those traditions. This may seem to you to be paradoxical, but I would ask you to consider the text of Lao Tzu’s poem , which appears on the front of the notes we have provided. It reads;
The best soldier is not soldierly
The best fighter is not ferocious
The best conqueror does not take part in war.......
In todays world conflict has never been so prevalent. All over the world mankind is engaged in mutually destructive activity of such a profoundly negative nature that the future of the planet itself is in some doubt, as you are no doubt aware. Our Shaolin tradition embodies the most ancient teachings known about combat, and we feel that these teachings have never been more relevant, even with regard to modern warfare.
But we will begin this evening by demonstrating some of the practices and forms of Shaolin, and then there will be an opportunity for r you to put your questions to Master Ch’an."
Sandys’ attention was alerted by some of the phrases, ones that she related unconciously to her own circumstances. "Mutually destructive activity of a profoundly destructive nature". She realised fully in one instant what it was about her work that had triggered her response. It was mutually destructive insofar as success was chiefly demarcated by defeating the goals of ones opponent, regardless of their broader contextual value. Winning was all important, regardless of how you shared the glory. But glory was conditional, and could only be enjoyed if it could be shared. Even Custer knew he would at least be appreciated posthumously. But then, he had not had the luxury of being able to take the longer view, hampered as he was by the constraints of his limited world.

The table was removed to make a clear space at the fro nt of the room.Then there followed the most astonishing display of agility and speed that Sandy had ever seen.San-do Ch’an remained at the edge of the proceedings, giving a running commentary on the action.He explained to the audience how Shaolin students learned a series of forms based on the movements of twelve animals, all of them indigenous to the wild mountainous regions of Honan Province. The reason for this was to understand the meaning of the animals movements, and why they moved the way they did.
Sandy watched, fascinated as the two pairs of figures swooped like swallows, slunk like leopards, leaped like antelopes. Master Ch’an was the fastest of them all. Light and lithe, mercurial as he spun and whirled and flashed from one shape-changing stance to another. One moment a cockerel poised on one leg, then a wriggling snake weaving from side to side,now a tiger crouched to spring on its prey.Sandy found she was holding her breath from sheer excitement, but the protagonists remained calm and controlled, even their facial expressions playing a part in the process in which they were completely engaged.

As an exhibition of grace combined with power, and speed used as a basis for considered action, what was offered up to the audience made a huge impact on their psyche. The people were awed, and filled with a respect bordering on reverence.
The tempo of the action slowed as stances and postures were analysed.The subject of vital points was touched upon, with a brief explanation of how it was possible to int errupt the flow of chi by using the junctures of the acupuncture meridians, applying pressure at these points in particular ways. Then, after about twenty minutes of activity the low table was reinstated , and the five Shaolin proponents seated themselves on the floor, with the Master once again flanked by his assistants.
San-do Ch’an addressed the audience once more. "Now that you have seen something of our Shaolin tradition, you may have questions you wish to put to us. My grandfather speaks little English, b
ut my father and my brothers and I will try to interpret his answers for you."
The first questioner wanted to know to what Master Ch’an felt he owed his longevity. The old man chuckled, and spoke in Chinese to the questioner. San-do smiled too as his grandfather answered, his face suddenly transformed by a merry humanity that spontaneously banished his previously rather forbidding demeanour. Sandy too found her own face responding in tandem.
"My grandfather is now ninety years old, and still rises at three every morning and walks five kilometres across the city of Taipei to his favourite place, a spot on a low hill under some trees, where the air is fresh and healthy and full of chi. He does his exercises and then walks back again in time for my mother to open his c »onsulting rooms. Then he takes some tea of jujube fruit and ginseng. He quotes for you his own Long Life Poem which goes;
Sound sleep, early rising,
When eating, stop when still one quarter is empty
Always walk, and smile, always smile,
Be free of worries and busy every day.
You will not grow old."

The audience laughed with Master Ch’an, who had sat chuckling quietly as his grandson spoke. Sandy found herself comparing which of these reccommendations reflected her own daily patterns. She was certainly busy every day, too busy perhaps to know how much or how little she smiled.
The next questioner wanted to know whether it was true that the Master was a practising doctor. The Master became serious and thoughtful, and answered at some length.San-do took his cue to translate at intervals, as his grandfather so indicated to him , with glances and nods. It was confirmed that Master Ch’an was indeed a highly respected healer who specialised in acupuncture and bone -setting, and that all students of Shaolin were expected to undertake study of the healing arts as part of their training.

Then someone wanted to know why animal movements constituted such an important part of the Shaolin tradition. San-do listened carefully to the Master before explaining. "In meditational practise Taoists seek to rediscover purity, such as that of a baby’s breathing, and to experience as closely as possible man’s natural place in the world. Humans are the weakest of the animals, and our ability to adapt and survive is comparatively poor, except for our intelligence.The ancient masters observed the movements of many creatures, and learned their basic defensive and fighting postures. The idea was to learn the meaning behind the form, the emphasis always being on defensive rather than offensive postures. Thus, by working in harmony with the natural world do we harmonise our own nature. The Master believes it is now time to make this idea more widely understood in the West, so that our collective future can be safeguarded. When we move from the study and imitation of the natural world into a corporeal performance of the combinations and separations of the basic elements of the world, we literally enact the elemental dramas of creation and destruction. The Master believes the time has come for mankind to shift the emphasis more constructively towards the creative '." Sandy flinched inwardly at the phrase "corporeal performance".
San-do looked to his grandfather for confirmation of his interpretation, and the old man rewarded him with a smile and a slight bow.

The audience had fallen silent, considering the implication of the message they had received.San-do looked around the room. "Are there any more questions for Master Ch’an?"
Once again Sandy encountered his gaze and had to look away.There was something in his look that frightened and shamed her.

There were no more questions, so the vis itors brought the meeting to a close amid appreciative applause. The robed figures bowed, smiling , and applauded too before moving through the room to take their leave.
People began to talk animatedly as they made their way to the exit, and Sandy waited quietly for the crowd at the doorway to thin out. She felt vaguely unsettled and somehow discomfited, and she did not know why.
Her mood was pensive as she made her way from the meditation suite to the bar. Across the busy room she could see Jane, perched on a bar stool, head to head with a young man with blonde hair. She was giggling flirtatiously and seemed to be very pleased with herself. Looking up she saw Sandy and beckoned excitedly.

"Sandra darling, how was the dusty old meeting poppet; ooh you look like you could use a drink!" She gestured to the bar man for another glass and grabbed the bottle of champagne from the ice-bucket on the counter. "Sandy, this is my friend Gustav, our new masseur all the way from Austria, and he’s absolutely gorgeous, ar en’t you sweetie?Sandy-Gustav, Gustav-Sandy." Jane beamed at them over her glass, and Sandy smiled and nodded at the new toy, and held out her hand. The young man snapped to attention and bowed as he took Sandy’s hand. He was all hard-rock biceps and tight tee shirt, and she thought she had heard his heels click."Hello," she said, " nice to meet you Gustav." The young man flashed his perfect dentition as he returned her greeting in a clipped Lutheran accent. Sandy thought she knew the reason for Janes’ radiant vivacity. Poor Simon, she thought, no fence-mending for him this weekend then.
Sandy settled herself on on the bar-stool next to Jane, and sipped her glass of champagne. She raised her eyebrows quizzically at her friend, and Jane laughed as she slipped her a rm through Gustavs. She whispered something in his ear and laughed again.Sandy had seen all this many times before, and knew that Jane was smitten . She decided she would finish her drink and then leave them to it.She felt tired and out of sorts, and probably in need of an early night.
Jane was now thoroughly absorbed in her new play-mate, and Sandy looked again at the leaflet she was still carrying from the lecture. Her sense of tension faded as she re-read the text, and she reflected on what she had seen and heard earlier.

She gazed again at the picture of the beautiful Shaolin Temple, and dreamed of distant lands. Lost in reverie she sipped the cool champagne. Her gaze slipped into focus on her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, and the face with th be finely chiselled Asian features there smiled, as their eyes met in the glass.
Tao begets one; one begets two; two begets three; three begets all things.
All things are backed by the Shade (yin) and faced by the Light (yang), and harmonised by the immaterial Breath (chi).
What others teach, I also teach: "The daring and violent do not die a natural death."
This (maxim) I shall regard as my instructor.
Tao Te Ching-- Lao Tzu –—

© Maggie Pishneshin 2001
This is Maggie's first fiction piece for us. Previously she has been writing about the difficulties of buying houses in Spain. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing in Exeter
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