Do You Remember?
Memories help us recall what we learned in life. At times they provide a sanctuary where we can retreat to relive cheerful moments. Other times they remind us how to handle future events. During our 12-show run in Philadelphia, I pondered how memories can affect people.
“Beautiful show,” audience members would tell me after curtain call. “This show is absolutely amazing. The best. Thank you.”
They say it with such enthusiasm, such joy, that I can’t help but burst with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that the performance created an unforgettable memory for them.
I usually neglect my memories and never know how much I actually cherish them until they rise to the occasion. Family, friends, and even strangers I meet on the road ask me, “Isn’t it exciting to go to so many different places to perform?” Indeed, it is rather exciting and adventurous to travel to so many different countries. Yet it’s not the traveling to new places that I anticipate, but the memories that some places hold.
In my first four years with Shen Yun, my touring company returned to Seattle four years in a row. By the fourth year, we were good friends with the union; one member in particular, a man who rode his bicycle around the theater basement, was quite familiar with our company.
One day, he presented me with two bags of Lay’s ketchup chips. “You guys left these here last year and I had a feeling you’d be back,” he told me as he handed me the two bags. “You also left a liter of aloe juice but I was afraid it’d go bad, so I drank it. Sorry about that.” That little action from the bicycle man (as we call him) left a deep impression on me.
This year so far I’ve been to both familiar and new places in America. We had gone to St. Petersburg, Florida last year so when we arrived again this year, a flood of memories came rushing back. A particularly embarrassing one involved a failed stunt that thankfully only two members of my orchestra—and an usher, shh!—witnessed.
My friend and I, having finished lunch, were walking back to our dressing room from the lobby. There was a rope barrier blocking the exit of the area where we dined and out of sheer boredom I decided to impress my friend by jumping over the rope (which was a whole four inches off the ground). So I skipped, leapt, and flung my arms sideways like a graceful swan preparing to take off.
The graceful swan landed on her face, taking the rope barrier down with her. I don’t know what happened; perhaps I misjudged the distance of the rope from the ground, or maybe I just didn’t lift my foot high enough. Either way, my friend doubled over laughing, and another orchestra member was holding a coffee cup over his mouth in a futile attempt to conceal his laughter. What I failed to notice at first was an usher standing in the opposite direction, also trying her best not to laugh at me.
I wanted to tell her, “It’s okay, I enjoy making people laugh. Have a good day.” But I just shuffled off, desperately holding on to what dignity I had left.
So as I walked through the lobby again this year, I chuckled to myself. Although the friend I was with last year is now in another touring company and both the rope barrier and usher were nowhere in sight, I stood at the exact location for a minute or so and relived the humorous event in my mind.
Not all memories are happy memories. Life would be boring if we couldn’t tell the difference between bitter and sweet. This time in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I had an emergency wisdom tooth (and an affected molar) surgically removed.
“If I remove your two teeth today, you won’t be able to perform tonight,” the surgeon told me.
“No, I can,” I assured him.
He laughed. “No. You won’t.”
Well, I had no choice. I had to take them out ASAP and I couldn’t miss the show. So he pulled out my two teeth—he had to go digging in my gums for the wisdom—and I spat out blood and had a slight headache while performing that night.
I nursed my aching jaw for the next three days. If I ever return to that beautiful, wood-paneled theater in Fort Lauderdale, my jaw will instantly remember the hardship it encountered there.
In Beaver Creek, Colorado, we experienced the world’s smallest pit. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, we watched a riot on television that was taking place right outside our hotel. In Stockholm, Sweden, we found a viola exercise book left by another Shen Yun musician years ago. In Sydney, Australia, we gave our first 10 a.m. performance to a bunch of school kids. In Mexico City, we performed to an audience of over 5,000. In Busan, South Korea, we overcame a trial in which the Chinese Communist Party tried to cancel our shows there; our performances were a success, despite our having only six hours (half the time) to set up. In Philadelphia, there was one audience member who clapped her hands in delight as the Buddha appeared to banish the evildoers in the piece A Child’s Choice. Watching her joy, I couldn’t help but also smile.
These are just a few events linked with certain places in my mind. And just like how a specific location brings back many memories for me, I also hope that our audience members around the world retain joyful memories after watching the performance. That is, after all, part of our mission—to revive traditional culture and share it with the world, something we believe can have a lasting effect.