Dancing with Buddha in China

There was a time when I used to escort tour groups to China. This was in the early days of China opening up to westerners, and although the China of today is a very sophisticated and futuristic place, at the time that I started escorting groups, China was very much a communist nation where privatisation and reward for personal endeavour had not yet been introduced. Each time I visited China, in the 1980s, a visit to a commune was always de rigueur so that you could admire the official Chinese notion of rejecting individuality for the good of the community.

At that time, ballroom dancing was a popular entertainment, and as nightclubs were not available to ordinary folk, they used to gather in parks or hotel ballrooms to indulge in some dancing. Often I would turn up at a hotel in which we were staying to discover that the ballroom was filled with people wishing to dance. I would often wander in, and, as a rather large and tall westerner, would be asked to dance almost immediately. By men, that is. Women would never consider dancing with a foreigner or they could be arrested. I always said yes, and was usually invited to lead. These men were not homosexuals, and it was entirely innocent, I was just someone a little more interesting with whom to dance, and they took their dancing very seriously, and, to be honest, it was a real hoot.

One of my fondest experiences of visiting China at that time, when religion was officially shunned by the state, was to have my belly touched just about wherever I went. As I said, I am a large man, and I do look somewhat like Buddha, particularly the Laughing Buddha, statues of whom could be seen just about everywhere. The tradition in China was to touch Buddha’s stomach as the Chinese believed it would bring wealth, good luck and prosperity. Hence, the propensity for total stranger to come up to me and gently pat my stomach.

Often I would be walking through a park, where newly married couples would go straight from the registry office to have their wedding photos taken. For them to touch my stomach gave them an auspicious start to their married life together and the promise of riches to come so, of course, once my stomach had been patted, in a very gentle way, the happy couple would have their photo taken with me – and I normally towered over them. Often I would be invited to share their wedding feast, but I always politely declined. However, I am sure that when those couples get out their wedding photos from twenty plus years ago, it must give them a lot of joy to tell their friends that Laughing Buddha gave him their blessing, and they have the photos to prove it.

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