My friend Mary Ellen Foley – who blogs at M E Foley’s Anglo-American Experience Blog – shared a story with me.
So I went to a Tai Chi class today, taught by an Englishwoman who has studied Tai Chi for years, including various stints in China (one as long as 6 months), and she told some stories, including the one about how she went over there to study with a particular master and found that he didn’t like her, didn’t like women, probably didn’t like foreigners — he clearly could teach her a lot of stuff, but she wasn’t welcome and he made sure she knew it. But she was determined to win him over, so one day she came early, picked up a bamboo broom (bundle of bamboo sticks tied together with the leaves left on at one end of the stalks), and started to sweep the leaves from the courtyard where they were going to be practicing. The master came up, clearly unhappy with this, said something in Chinese that she didn’t understand, and took away the broom. Hmmm. Then here he came with a different broom, with a very short handle, and indicated that she should sweep the courtyard with that, which was a lot harder, because you had to bend over so far to do the work, but she did it.
When the translator showed up, he told her that the problem was that the long-handled broom was only for men; the short-handled one was a woman’s broom.