One night while biking through Da’an park in Taipei, I spotted a group of elderly people practicing what seemed to be an exercise similar to taichi, an ancient Chinese art that combines slow, deliberate movements, meditation, and breathing exercises. A woman noticed my interest and beckoned me to come. I had practiced taichi two years prior and so I decided to join them, given that I probably won’t have this opportunity back in California. As an older man led the group, the woman eased me into the forms while I mirrored her movements.The movements were slow and fluid; there was a structured pace for the breathing as well. The man continued to guide us through hand movements, a breath flowing with each extreme as classical Chinese music drifted through the park. Despite this being a low impact work out at best, I was soon drenched with sweat.
I soon noticed the age of the people around me, the youngest was a woman in her 60’s and the rest looked well above that. And then there was me, a 20-year-old junior in college. I wondered, why was I the only person under 60 here? And what will happen to the art of Qigong after this generation dies?
In that moment, I remembered something my Chinese teacher from high school taught me: that nearly every nation in the world has adopted the American/Western culture, which is also the same reason why I never experienced culture shock in Taipei, Tokyo, and Kuala Lumpur because they each adopted modern qualities, similar to the Western cities that I was accustomed to. While Western culture does promote development and provides some level of social mobility, it fails to preserve the very culture that took place in Da’an park. If you imagine culture as a flame that has been tended to over thousands of generations. Each generation ensures that the flame stays alive, but overtime, the flame has become neglected. It begins to grow dimmer- and eventually dies off, which is potentially what could happen to ancient culture as people begin to adopt to Western cultures. While many of us view the throwing away of old traditions as innovative and evolutionary, it also dooms that culture to death.
I felt an intense wave of sadness wash over me as I realized that this is not an isolated incident, but rather an all encompassing threat to many ancient cultural traditions. As a first generation American, it isn’t deniable that I am Persian, but despite my efforts to educate myself on Persian culture, I still feel that there is a growing distance emerging between myself and my heritage- a distance that will only continue to grow. By the time I have my own children, my children could become so far removed from their Persian background, that the only tie remaining will be their last name.
As my mind returned to the Qigong, I did a few more rounds of forms and decided to conclude it early since these old people would probably go for a few more hours and I had Chinese homework awaiting me. I hopped back on my bike and rode away from the park and back into the city.