Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Muus and the Tai Chi Masters (story; Part 7 of 8)

(from Strange Tales from a Sinological Studio 漢齋誌異 by Lloyd Haft)

The filming went well. Vera and I had done a little practicing ahead of time, especially on the extra transitional movements that Shen Weiran made and I had never learned. I wasn’t satisfied that I had mastered them, but the extreme slowness of our movements helped cover up my uncertainty. During the shoot, Jiang Wei slept on the couch and Muus pulled weeds in the yard.
Later in the afternoon, when the cameraman was gone, Jiang Wei woke up. She said she was feeling somewhat better. Muus and I decided to take Matt for his walk; when we we came back, the four of us would sit down for a well-earned drink.
        As soon as we got out and started down the gravel path, Muus started pouring forth: his report on the morning. I wished I had brought along a recorder. The way he told it, full of imagery, puns and bittersweet humor, it would have made good copy for a future Aarts classic.
The gist of it was that as soon as he and Wei got into position, facing each other on the patio, he had trouble concentrating: he was badly distracted by the sight of her long bare arms. When they launched into their supposed ‘fight,’ just as I had predicted, one of his rubber soles refused to follow his leg in turning, and he fell. Alarmed, Wei crouched down beside him, put her hands under his shoulders, and tried to help him up. He grabbed her arms and seemed to be co-operating – until in a sudden rush of ecstasy he started kissing one of her slender but gleaming-strong biceps, going on to lick the hairless armpit. While she turned away in confusion but did not resist, he was overcome by an instantaneous orgasm. It was the first time in years that he had climaxed in the company of another human being.
        From that moment, Wei had not known what to do. Except, of course, to refuse to talk about it. What she did manage to communicate was her refusal to appear personally in the film shoot.
        I found it a beautiful and poignant story. But I could guess how much of the beauty and poignance would survive if Wei indeed shocked all the would-be participants by speeding back to China and the media got hold of the reason why.
‘That name “Wei,” I said to Muus: ‘did you know one of the things it can mean is “comfort” or “consolation”?’
        ‘No, but that’s appropriate. There’s more to her than just a teacher who knows all the answers. But now, what did she say? that she’s going right back to China?’
        ‘Well I’m not sure at this point. I don’t think so. Let’s let Vera talk to her and then we’ll see.’

The four of us were sitting at the kitchen table, together once again. Vera and Wei were drinking herb tea; Muus and I had just refilled our minuscule jenever glasses. Wei was looking a lot better. She smiled again, talked again, said lighter things again even to Muus.
        With my eyes I asked Vera how Wei was. Winking, she nodded almost imperceptibly. Her cellphone rang.
‘Hello, this is Vera Tjoe speaking...Yes...yes...oh, Jesus! Well...where did it happen?’re saying no danger to life...oh thank God! I’m his girlfriend, can I come see him right now? Okay, but you’ll have to give me the address. I’ll be right there.’
        Muus was already beside her with a ballpoint and a torn-off scrap of last night’s newspaper. Vera stood up while writing. ‘Thanks, I’ll be right there!’ And then to us: ‘Ed had a bad accident on the trike. He’s at the intensive care in Heerenveen. It’s serious but his life’s not in danger.’
She took Jiang Wei and Matt along. After the hospital, they would go back to Ed’s house to spend the night. Tomorrow Vera would give the workshop and I would assist her. Tonight I would stay at Muus’ place again so that I could spend more time studying the DVD. Muus assured me there were enough pizzas in the house.

Early next morning when Vera drove by to pick me up for the workshop, she had Wei with her. As I got in the car, Wei greeted me with a loud: ‘Good morning, Teacher!’ The lower, available side of her face smiled.
        She told me she had ‘thought some more about it’ and decided it would be ‘much more fun’ if she gave the workshop after all, with me as her assistant. When I asked why Vera couldn’t assist her, she said Vera would be going back and forth to the hospital today. Besides, – but now the upper half of her face was speaking – the audience might find ‘man-woman interaction’ more interesting.
The venue turned out to be the office of the Foundation: a big room looking out on a quiet cobbled square with linden trees. The place had formerly been a tap room, as it still said on the painted tiles above the front door. A number of the participants had already arrived and were standing around with coffee, cigarettes, and cellphones.
We took up position behind the bar that had survived the remodeling. Vera laid out what she called the Propaganda Items: brochures about the Foundation, sample copies of the books and DVDs that were for sale. She also laid down a cellphone for me on the bar: ‘If anything comes up, a tough question or something technical or whatever, just give me a call. I’m going to see Ed again now; maybe this afternoon I’ll stop by to see how you’re doing.’
She took a good slow look at the audience, glanced at her watch, and said to Wei: chabuduo la, okay, it’s time. She picked up the microphone and said a few words of welcome in Dutch. Introducing Wei, she said Wei was ‘the famous Chinese teacher’ who had come over ‘specially for this workshop.’ I was an ‘advanced student.’ I was glad: this would be a no-lose situation. The simple fact that Wei was from China meant the audience would regard her as infallible, and if I flubbed somewhere along the line, the audience might actually like it. If even an ‘advanced’ student still had to work at tai chi, there was hope for even the least confident among them.
        Vera left and we started. The audience watched entranced, making photos, webcams and audio recordings while the genuine Chinese teacher moved before their eyes. I, the ‘advanced’ assistant, was a foil to their goddess. Occasionally Wei mumbled some barely audible Chinese as a secret language to correct my posture: raise your knee a little more, let your elbow drop now.
The first couple of hours went fine. After the coffee break we continued. We were just starting to do ‘Hold the Lute in Your Hands’ when the cellphone on the bar rang. Wei went on with the demonstration while I picked it up and walked quickly out into the pantry.
Vera’s voice, distraught. ‘Daaf? Oh, Daaf, it’s terrible, Ed’s – dead! He died about an hour and a half ago; when I got here it was already too late!’ She was crying too continually to talk much, but I understood that yesterday when he was admitted, Ed had had a thickly swollen leg; the doctor had not considered it alarming whereas in fact an artery was seriously damaged; a clot had developed and come loose, causing a fatal blockage of the pulmonary artery.
I’ve always been very secondary in my reactions, and it was no problem for me to just walk back into the bar and get on with the lesson. Vera herself had said we all had to ‘just keep on.’ On her advice, for the time being I said nothing to Wei.
        At the end of the first day of the workshop, a dinner for all participants had been arranged at – what else? – a Chinese restaurant. Shortly after five, Vera showed up to drive us over. She had Muus with her.
She shook my hand quickly, conspiratorially. She was wearing her thick sunglasses. Other than that, no sign of anything unusual. When she said anything to one of the participants, she said it with a smile.
By now I knew Muus well enough to see that he was pretty badly affected, but he carried enough of the cosmos around with him to stay open, available.
I had my hands full interpreting; many of the participants spoke little English and it seemed everyone wanted an audience with Wei. During the meal, people kept coming over to stand next to her, ask her just one more question. All in all, we got through dinner with no problem. Little by little the others went home, full of expectations for tomorrow. In the morning they were to learn more Postures; in the afternoon Vera would round off the weekend with a lecture on The Meaning of Tai Chi.
Once we were alone in Ed’s big van with just the three of us, Vera told Jiang Wei, sitting in the front seat next to her, what had happened. Wei broke down totally. While we drove out of the city and on through wide fields of lingering sunet, she cried like a child. Steering with one hand, Vera stroked and patted her arm, her shoulder, her thigh.
Between sobs, Wei declared she was not going to spend this night in Ed’s house. In Muus’ either. And it would not be ‘appropriate’ for her to give the rest of the workshop tomorrow morning. She said Ed’s death was unquestionably her fault: she had ‘too rudely refused him’ and ‘shown insufficient gratitude and consideration to him and the Foundation.’ She had caused him to have ‘unstable’ and ‘unclear’ feelings which had influenced his behavior on the road.
I knew that besides these reasons, she had another: fear of possession. She would avoid any behavior that might make Ed’s surviving spirit still more confused, still more inclined to hover around the scenes of his recent life rather than moving on. He still needed to let go.
I tried to capitalize on that by urging her to go ahead with the lesson tomorrow after all. I said it was the least she could do to show loyalty and thanks to Ed.
        After a bit of telephoning, Vera found a B-and-B where she and Wei could spend the night. She drove Muus and me home and promised to pick us up early in the morning.

That promise didn’t last. Shortly after midnight, we were phoned out of our sleep – by Vera, now near the breaking point herself. In the evening she had looked into the details of Ed’s will. He wanted to be buried at the absolute earliest possible; in practice this meant tomorrow: the day after the workshop. During this coming day, there was a long list of difficult things to arrange – all of them by Vera, since the surviving family was paralyzed with unresolved feuds. It was not even clear whether Ed’s son would attend the funeral, not even to mention his mother, Ed’s ex-wife, with whom there had been no contact for many years.
‘Sorry, Daaf, I really have to work hard to keep myself on track right now. I know I’m supposed to give that talk tomorrow at the workshop, but I don’t see how I can, seeing the state I’m in, and what all still has to be done. Daaf, this is all just – so horrible, Daaf, what am I going to do?’
        But now Muus was standing beside me, gesturing that he had something to say to me alone. ‘Wait a second, Vera – can I call you back in a couple of minutes?’
When I hung up, Muus said: ‘They can sleep here if they want to, of course they can!’
        ‘No, that’s not it.’ I explained the situation.
        ‘How about let’s have some coffee? We’re awake now anyway.’
        We went to the kitchen. Muus filled the old-fashioned coffee filter and put on an old-fashioned kettle of water. We stood around the blue hissing gas flame like Boy Scouts around a campfire.
       ‘I’ve got an idea,’ I said. ‘We can drop the lecture and just fill up the time with more Postures, nobody would mind that. Just let Wei go on for a couple of hours.’
‘No. At this point we can’t count on her. She’s got all she can do just to keep it all together. You could see it in the car on the way back. No, don’t worry about that talk tomorrow afternoon – I’ll give it myself!’
        ‘Yeah, sure. I can do that, no problem. I’ve had forty-six years of experience talking to groups of students.’
        ‘Yeah, sure, I mean – but you weren’t a tai chi teacher!’
        ‘Well, neither was Ed! You think he fooled me, the way he slapped that DVD together? The Twenty-One Postures with himself in the lead role, digitally jazzed up so it looked like it wasn’t him but some tired old Chinese guy – you can’t tell me that guy we were watching is Master Wee Shee Whatever from Beijing! It’s Puilenbroek himself! You want to bet? The whole thing is fake! That way he didn’t have to pay for any copyrights. We can turn it on again and I’ll show you. I can show you the places where you can tell it’s really him. You want me to show you?’
        ‘No, I believe you, but – wow, hey, I’ve got to get used to this.’
‘Take your time!’ he laughed, pouring the coffee. ‘No, come on, I want to show you.’
‘But Muus – then why did they pay all that money to bring an expensive teacher all the way from China, if Ed and Vera can do it all themselves?’ 
‘Well, for one thing, Wei guarantees their credibility. A real live teacher from China, she’s infallible, she couldn’t possibly be taken in, you understand! But there’s another thing. Who knows, maybe she really came over here to be with Vera. I’m just not sure yet what kind of vibes those are, between those two. Didn’t they just recently get to know each other, in China?’
‘Yeah, that’s what they said. But hey Muus, listen, you could write a fantastic exposé on all this. It’s a great story! It’ll be your so-manieth bestseller!’
        ‘Well, I’m not going to write it. You won’t hear me saying one bad thing about them. I’m just thankful for everything they’ve brought into this house!’

[to be continued]