24 March 2011
So right after finishing my visit to the Master (i.e Bruce Lee’s) house, I decided to go to another ‘house’ belonging to the Master’s master – the final abode of the late Ip Man, who was Bruce’s teacher. Ip Man was a practitioner of the martial art Wing Chun, a Southern Chinese fighting style from Canton province. As far as reputation is concerned, Ip and Bruce are somewhat symbiotes – Ip produced a martial artist out of Bruce while Bruce’s fame produced a legend out of Ip.
How to get there
Unlike Bruce’s house which is clearly marked on the map with a proper address, finding Ip Man’s grave isn’t too straightforward. Its general ‘address’ would be the ‘cemetery next to Fung Ying Seen Koon (蓬瀛仙館) Temple’. Follow these directions:
2) Walk to the end of the overhead bridge and go down the stairs on the left. Walk through the tunnel and at the end, turn left.
3) From the tunnel’s exit, you should now be outside the temple’s main gate. Walk straight towards the temple’s direction (NOT entering it), passing by its main entrance, continuing until you see a junction (second picture below). The path on the right slopes upward to the temple (don’t use this path). Take the path on the left as shown in the second picture:
4) Walk straight all the way – you’ll see some small houses on your left and some graves on the right. Keep walking until you spot a staircase with yellow railings on your right (and a school right in front). Walk up the yellow stairs.
5) As you go up, you’ll pass by two grammatically mistaken signs telling you that the Grandmaster’s grave is right ahead. Keep walking.
6) You’ll see this stairs below, take the stairs up:
7) You’ll finally reach the grey graye (hehe); it’s really big:
Again like in Bruce’s house, the same jumbled mix of emotions kicked in when I reached my destination; this time though, the fear felt heavier since I was at an eerie and quiet place. The sight of the school just before I went up the stairs and its cheerful students running around the corridors gave some earthly relief and balance to the tombs’ morbid feel.
That aside, I couldn’t help but feel sorry not only for those students but in fact the people of Hong Kong in general; they and their buildings are crammed up by the own boundaries of the place they call home. In fact their cousin-rival Singapore suffers from the same predicament but Singapore obviously feels a lot roomier, and to add irony to injury, Singapore is smaller than Hong Kong.
I was reflecting and thinking by Ip’s grave, standing next to the eternal memory of the man who shaped Bruce Lee, who in turn revolutionised the martial arts and played such a large role in my life (so large that his Jeet Kune Do made me quit Christianity). I felt starstruck; with two movies propelling Ip to posthumous fame, coming to this place was quite the thing to brag about to his new fanbase (my old account’s Facebook album received quite a number of likes, some coming from people whom I don’t know).
Just to add a little sentimentality, I took out my phone and played a movie clip in which Ip and his top student Wong Shun Leung fight large waves of rival Hung Gar students. This had a can-you-believe-it surreality, a movie of a man next to the man himself. Speaking of his ‘biographical’ films, I was familiar with who he was 10 years before the films’ production. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematic and artistic flair that Donnie Yen displayed on the set, I felt a little uneasy about how his Ip Man was portrayed.
Firstly, Donnie said in an interview that according to Ip Chun, Ip Man’s son, the real Ip was very sarcastic in conversation but the reel Ip was an unrealistically polite and humble man in spite of his godlike skills. Secondly, he did NOT fight a Japanese general or British boxer – these are just movie plots to make an interesting film out of an otherwise historically obscure person. Thirdly, following from the second point, the reason that these fictional duels were made, I believe, was to create a folk legend out of Ip – very common among Chinese filmmakers who want to raise Chinese national and racial patriotism (and make a quick buck out of it because these portrayals of pride are instant hits among Chinese audiences worldwide). They did the same to Wong Fei Hung and Huo Yuan Jia; now it’s Ip’s turn. The same recipe is applied to different stars – the hero is of course a Chinese man who fights conveniently stereotyped foreigners (most often the Japanese or Caucasians) who try to invade or insult China. A plot is now woven out of thin air in which the hero inevitably wins in the end, giving the Chinese some distraction from the historical humiliating defeat that China suffered to Japan in WW2 and the Western powers during the Age of Imperialism.
In the movies, Ip Man saves the flag with his fist but this is pure fiction – in reality he was a policeman, not a warrior patriot. While the fiction is ‘beneficial’, giving a lot of fame and credit to Ip and his Wing Chun clan, a lie is still a lie and should never be allowed to mass propagate. It’s very disturbing that the Chinese in general willingly and ignorantly believe what they see in the cinema. It was quite amusing and at the same time ‘facepalmy’ that many of my fellow Chinese friends posted heavily on Facebook about Ip Man’s heroic ‘history’, getting all proud over four never-happened-before hours. I guess that as long as the hero is Chinese, it doesn’t matter whether the story’s real or not…
Before I left, I paid my respects the traditional Chinese way, i.e. bowing three times, and thanked Ip’s soul for his contribution to the martial arts and Bruce’s growth. I also asked for forgiveness from the souls ‘resting’ at nearby graves lest I had ‘disturbed’ them while on the way up (I did this because I was still feeling that paranormal fear at that time, admittedly). Then I walked back to Fanling MTR station to proceed to my final Bruce Lee site for the day.
I wonder if Ip Man would’ve agreed with what I said in the previous paragraphs about not exaggerating his life. Would he reject untrue movies which extol his character, on the basis that integrity and truth are more important than fame and self-gain? Or would he bask in glory to promote his martial art?