This is a tale from one of my real-life adventures. It’s from a trip I took with my son to Mt. Wudang in China.
Discussion questions and resources for teachers are located at the bottom.
Anger on Mt. Wudang
by Nathan A. Hansen
For a month my son Elwin and I stayed at a Taoist academy on Mt. Wudang in central China hoping to learn about Taoist philosophy. One of my main disciplines of study in college was Philosophy and I wanted to see how one of the eastern philosophies was embodied in practice. That’s why we were there.
The first week we were there it was all adults staying at the academy—with the exception of my sixteen-year-old son—and then a woman from Shanghai showed up with her five-year-old son in tow.
I was genuinely curious to see how the Chinese interacted differently with their children compared to the western culture that I and by extension my son were raised in. Elwin was annoyed. There were things like love, patience, kindness, and discipline that aligned very closely with child-rearing practices that I had experienced, but when it came to behavioral issues and respect for personal boundaries it seemed as though, at least with this child, a much more liberal stance was taken.
Tim was a man who was staying with us at the academy. He is a professor of mathematics and Vietnamese American who travels to different places during his summer break to study different forms of martial arts. He came to the academy to study Tai Chi Chuan after studying at a Shao Lin temple.
The Chinese boy was usually fairly content playing Plants vs. Zombies on his mom’s smartphone unless someone was doing something he found interesting. However, he liked to invade Tim’s space, especially when Tim was practicing, which can be particularly dangerous when practicing martial arts for obvious reasons.
For over a week, I watched as Tim’s frustration grew. I watched as he patiently marched the five-year-old out of his way, time and time again. I watched as shooing motions were directed toward the boy. I heard him tell the boy, to get out of here, go away, and leave although the boy knew no English.
One morning we were practicing our Tai Chi in the valley and were going to hike up to the temple for lunch. The boy wouldn’t stay out of Tim’s way. Over and over again the boy invaded Tim’s space. Tim finally marched the boy over to where his mother was, swatted his butt lightly, and told him to stay put.
The little boy’s face turned red, you could see his rage rising. As Tim walked back to the practice area, I watched the boy bend down, pick up a rock the size of his tiny fist and throw it at the back of Tim’s head. Tim whirled around, caught the stone right in front of his face, gave the boy a stern look, and let the rock fall from his hand.
The little boy was still angry.
I walked over to the rock laying where Tim let it fall, bent down, picked it up, and took it to the boy. I motioned for him to hold out his hand.
I placed the stone in his palm and closed his fingers around it. Then I turned to his mother and in my very limited Mandarin said, “chi fan” with a quizzical look on my face. She spoke even less English than I did Mandarin.
The boy made like he was going to throw the rock at Tim again spouting off words I didn’t understand in an angry tone. I looked at him, held up a single finger, and with my other hand grasped his cocked arm and gently lowered it to his waist level.
He dropped the rock.
I picked it up again, pressed it in his palm, and closed his fingers around it while the anger still raged in his little eyes.
I yelled back to Tim and Elwin who were talking and practicing Shao Lin Kung Fu moves to tell them we were going to start heading up to the temple for lunch. They nodded and said they would be coming in a moment.
The mother, the boy, and I started up the long stairway up to the temple. Over a thousand stairs stood between us and lunch. We made our way to the first landing and the anger in the boy’s eyes had only grown while he muttered words I didn’t understand.
He still held the rock and was shouting back to where Tim was and making gestures like he was going to throw the rock at him when he was close enough again.
I bent down, found another rock, opened the boy’s other hand, and placed it in. He looked at me with a mischievous grin and motioned like he was going to throw it.
I ignored him and started up the next section of the stairs.
His mother urged him along and they followed a little behind until we reached the next landing.
The boy, undaunted, yelled down at Tim and made motions like he was going to throw his rocks.
I bent down, picked up another stone, and handed it to the boy.
He placed it in his pocket.
Then I started up the next flight of stairs.
On the next landing, the same shouting—same gestures. I handed the boy another stone which he put in his other pocket.
By this time, the mother had a little smile that was starting to peak through and my son and Tim started up the stairs.
I continued to the next landing, mother and son not far behind.
The boy muttered as he eyed Tim coming up the stairs.
Another landing and another stone. The boy couldn’t fit it in his pocket and he had one in each hand so he just dropped it on the ground.
I bent over and picked it up again.
I handed it to him, again.
He dropped it again.
I handed it to him again.
His mother put her hand on his little shoulder and gave him a little nod.
The boy carried the stones to the next landing.
I handed him another stone there too.
He had a stone in each pocket and two stones in each hand when Tim passed us on the stairs. Elwin decided to walk with us. The little boy yelled at Tim, dropped one of the extra stones, and cocked his arm.
Elwin was still surprised that the little boy was so angry.
I kneeled down, picked up the stone he dropped, and held it out to him. He lowered his arm and I placed the stone back in his hand.
Each landing up the staircase I handed him another stone.
Each time he reluctantly accepted it.
Elwin asked what I was doing and I told him to wait and see.
The little boy’s breath became labored and his pace slowed as we wound our way up to the temple—adding a stone at each landing.
When we reached the top I knelt in front of the boy who was now watching Tim smoke his cigarette while he waited for us to come up the stairs. The boy looked right past me until I picked up one of the rocks he was now cradling with both hands while holding the bottom of his shirt in extra support for the pile.
I held the rock up in front of his face and his vision shifted from Tim to the rock then to my face and back to the rock. He watched as I set the stone down at the top of the stairs.
Then I picked another one out of the pile he was holding, held it up for him to see, and set it down.
I did that fourteen more times before I had him fish out the rocks from his pockets for me, and I held them up for him to see before setting them down.
When all the rocks were piled at the top of the stairs, I grabbed one.
I placed it in the palm of the boy and pointed at Tim, then I took a step out of the way and ushered for his mother to follow me. We walked a few yards away and then watched as the boy looked at the stone, then at Tim, then at the stone, then at Tim and then he put the stone back on the pile.
Questions for Discussion
- The act of having the boy carry the stones had multiple purposes. Some of these purposes were physical, others were emotional. What were the purposes you thought of as you read or listened to the story?
- What literary devices did you see used in this story and what effects did they have on you as you read it?
- This isn’t a very long story, but it illustrates and discusses a topic many struggle with in an effective manner. What impact do you think the length of a story has on the audience? Why are there really good short stories and really good long stories and do they serve different purposes?
- Write a story about something that happened to you in your life that illustrated a greater truth. Make sure your story has a conflict that comes to some sort of resolution.
- In a five paragraph essay discuss what makes an effective story and how the length of a story is an important consideration in how the author crafts it.
- Depict this story in a series of 12 illustrations.