Sunday, August 17, 2008


Every weekend morning since arriving in China, as I wash my laundry, I have listened to the beat of drums and the crash of cymbals. When I peer over the wall of the outdoor patio of the 6th floor roof, I see a group of women marching, drumming, and shouting at the next door government building.

One of my friends Renee has a goal of wanting to have a meaningful conversation with older people. I thought to myself, the drumming group of women would be a perfect place to practice. I invited Renee and we went yesterday.

We were a bit worried because we didn't hear any drums but when we arrived a group of older women had gathered. One big red drum was on wheels. Hanging from the tree were bright colorful silk bags that the round snare drum shaped drums were pulled from. Other women were holding bright red velvet bags that carried golden cymbals tied with bright yellow cloth.

The women welcomed us with bright smiles and handshakes. There was such a warm feeling as women laughed, played, sung and danced, teasing each other and showing off, and we hadn't even started yet. Slowly women gathered their drums strapping them to their bodies with bright red silk straps, helping each other untwist and arrange the silk pulling out thick wooden drum sticks with bright yellow strips of long cloth tied to them.

Women lined up and I was feeling, "hmm... can we actually join in? We don't have any drums or cymbals." But then I noticed two women didn't have them either. One only had fans which she used as drum sticks upon an air drum, and the other used her hands imitating the cymbals. Renee and I would be cymbal players.

I thought it would be easy, and the first action was. One line of drums and cymbals rushed another line of drums and cymbals like two armies meeting on a battle field. But from there it got more elaborate as drums circled cymbals, as cymbals circled drums, as drums and cymbals looped and ran around in organized patterns, arranging themselves into set formations just like marching band. But with a smile, I just ran along.

After the first set, we rested and yes I was sweating. We were surrounded by smiling women all very interested in why I couldn't speak Chinese and where I was from. Everyone tells me that I am Chinese and there is no way I can convince them that I am American. I just nod and say "I am Chinese and I live in America." My limited language is not strong enough to explain the diversity of America especially to women who speak a Sichuan dialect while I am learning Mandarin. They asked if Renee was from France. They asked her age and when she told them they smiled happy to welcome her rejoicing her age and their ages, a joy of being older.

The leader of the group was gorgeous with a glow to her and a smile that showed an unforgettable spirit of joy. Her inner beauty shined through the glow of her face. The way she moved and danced while directing the band of similar glowing women is the type of essence I seek.

In my older years, I want to live in such a community where women get together every weekend to drum, a community where you can walk to the local farmer's market where the possibility of running into your friends is easy.

I want to find the love and touch of people rather than the TV babysitter and the walls of cars.

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