Growing up I always heard of Prof. Cheng Man Ching, not because he was dad’s teacher necessarily, I always understood that Mrs. Cheng was my grandmother on dad’s side and I grew up very close with two of her granddaughters, My Aunt Marina’s twin girls.
By the time I was born The Prof has passed away and although I asked dad what happened, dad always said “it was because his wife wasn’t with him”. He never said much more than that. He always spoke very lovingly about Mrs. Cheng and the respect he showed her was always this protective formality of a loving and devoted son. Mom would tell me about how dad said Mrs. Cheng knew the form better than anyone else even though she didn’t practice herself, or maybe that’s just what she liked others to believe… Mom would tell me about how she could correct anyone perfectly and that she embodied her husband’s Tai Chi ability. Everything mom and dad ever said about Mrs. Cheng was out of deep respect and honor, I could feel it and I think this is how I truly understood and learned the correlations between love/honor/respect.
We would go on little trips that dad would take us on all together and Mrs. Cheng loved bowling. Mom and Dad used to go bowling with The Professor and Mrs. Cheng before I was born.
The Professor was always greeted very formally by his disciples, you had to kneel and the first time dad introduced mom to The Prof. he tried to pull mom down to kneel and she refused, The Prof. laughed and announced to dad that he liked her. Especially now that dad wasn’t dating his previous girlfriend anymore, mom told me The Prof had given dad the silent treatment for a previous girlfriend of dad’s that he didn’t approve of, glad he had the good taste to approve of mom’s defiant behavior.
For years I had just assumed that The Prof had died of old age. I would hear dad frequently credit Mrs. Cheng with The Prof’s health and being the one the The Prof listened to and never questioned. There was always something in the way dad always spoke about Mrs. Cheng that made me wonder if she was really the brilliance behind The Prof’s acknowledged brilliance. There was also something in the way dad would listen to her when I would watch them talk, he would drink every word in, mom would sit and respectfully observe, always keeping this invisible step back, which I have never seen her do again in life. Mrs. Cheng was very powerful, you could feel her presence and you felt very safe and warm around her. She was so elegant and classy. She was also a stunningly beautiful woman. Powerful, but still very soft and delicate in a way that almost seemed to magnify her inner strength. She was kind of magical gorgeousness. Dad always said she kept her husband healthy cause he always listened to her and that if she had been in Taiwan with him he would still have been alive for many more years. Finally I got the story from Mr. Hsu, dad’s best friend and Tai Chi brother’s son, who was there in Taiwan that night, that morning and many days that would follow after.
Richard, Mr. Hsu’s son came to say hello when we were in Taiwan and at one of his father’s apartments. Somehow we started talking about The Prof. Richard was there and told me the story.
They had finished training and The Prof really liked to drink. Dad also told me this growing up and would add “But, Mrs. Cheng never allowed him to drink at night” almost in a way of telling me that men should always listen to and respect their wives. It was late and he told his students to get him some alcohol to drink, a bottle of some special liquor he liked, but the stores were’t open. For what I understand The Prof had a willful kind of personality and in Asian culture, nothing is worse than NOT getting your teacher what he wants. In wanting to please their teacher an pacify their own fear they made him a mixture that tasted liked the liquor he wanted, a counterfeit liquor. The next morning, as Richard told me, it was mayhem and very bad. His father got a call, jumped up and ran out of the house, everyone was freaked out and from the sound of the story, many, many people tried to wake him up, but it was too late.
Dad never shared the details with me, but when Richard told me this story, I was in my 20’s and asked dad. Dad confirmed it.
What I aways remember about The Prof though is Mrs. Cheng, not just because I actually knew her, but because of how dad spoke to her and of her till this day. Always, always emphasizing that he feels if Mrs. Cheng had been with her husband he would still have lived many more years, which is why he learned to always trust and listen to his wife.
I learned of my father’s deep respect for women from the beginning of time. Remembering now, how the examples were, to me, as a child, just a magnification of how honest and subtle his brilliant manner of teaching is. He truly does teach by example and I realized I never fully understood sexism existing, because I was raised in this very unassuming way to just understand that we are all the same and what always sticks with me is his respect for Mrs. Cheng, My Mother and the way he always spoke of my Grandma Chen.
Even when dad talks about his school now, he says he would have none of it, if it wasn’t for his Mrs. Chen and that he always listens to his wife, because, she takes care of him.