In March of 2002, blond-haired and blue-eyed Laura Marable journeyed from the big city of Philadelphia to Siping, a small city in Northern China. The American woman crossed the ocean to study the traditional form of an ancient martial art. She stayed, settling in Dengfeng, Henan Province, the wife of a local farmer and master of kung fu.
In Wangshan Village, Dajindian Town, on an early morning in October 2005, as a reporter neared a rural courtyard, an American female voice called out, apparently summoning a stubborn dog to breakfast. She stood near the door of her modest village home. Now known as Laura Marable Wang, she was dressed in casual sportswear, her hair curled up tidily behind her head. Her appearance displayed not only a practical sensibility suitable to rural life, but also a certain athleticism.
Sitting within the tidy, sun-drenched courtyard, adorned with many images of Sakyamuni (the founder of Buddhism), Laura smiled often as she spoke of China. "I still remember the first time I saw the Song Shan Mountains," she said. "I felt like I had made a long journey home and my heart was at rest."
Love of Man and Nation
Laura explained that she has long held a special appreciation for China and the nation's 5,000-year-old culture. And before she came to these shores, she had for five years studied kung fu and Chinese techniques of meditation. Her original destination was Siping Normal College in northeast China's Jilin Province, where she would study the storied martial art. She never suspected that it would be there that she would meet the young man who would later become her partner in life and kung fu.
Wang Xinpeng then taught the fighting form at the college. He first drew Laura's interest with his honest character and his exceptional mastery of kung fu. She recalls later thinking that their meeting must have been predestined, for soon they fell in love. But, perhaps understandably, Laura initially had some reservations about returning with Xinpeng to his hometown. "He saw me thinking hard when he asked me, and he said, 'Don't think! No think!' So I did not think... I said 'okay.'"
And so, during a winter four years ago, Laura added a Chinese surname to her own and followed her husband to settle in his hometown near Dengfeng, a small city famous for its Shaolin Temple, and thus known in China as the "Home of Martial Arts." There they established their own martial arts school and proceeded to realize a common dream.
The Fighting Farmer's Wife
When the big news spread through the village that Wang Xinpeng had married a "foreign lady," Wang's parents were happy for him, but at the same time they were concerned. The older couple thought that perhaps their new American daughter-in-law may not easily adapt to a hardy rural life. But as the weeks passed, Laura-who had never before done regular manual labor-learned, adapted and grew stronger. Her parents-in-law taught her how to plough fields, cut wheat, gather corn, pick cotton, raise chickens, feed the hogs and much more.
Laura often helps her mother-in-law with her farm work.
Now Laura skillfully carries a shoulder pole balancing two heavy water-filled barrels at each end. Like a native, she plies the fields picking cotton while chatting with her fellow villagers, and each day she lugs buckets of cabbage down to feed the hogs. She has proven to be a strong worker and a good wife, and her in-laws no longer have any doubts her strength or character.
Now happily married for four years, Laura and "Peng" (as she affectionately refers to her husband) teach kung fu to primarily foreign students, and occasionally the couple will spar together. Their affection for each other is even evident when they trade punches, kicks, and practice battle techniques with sword or spear. After one particularly rigorous session of friendly combat comes to a close, in Chinese Laura says, "Hug me, Peng."
Laura and her husband keep four canines: two bred as wolf-dogs; and two lap dogs. These four-legged family members guard the courtyard and occasionally provide amusement. Laura lightheartedly named one of the demi-wolves "Wang Feihong," in honor of the well-known Chinese martial arts master. Another demi-wolf, "Xiao Hu," understands much of her English. Laura holds out a stick and commands "Inside!" Xiao Hu obediently heads into his doghouse.
Laura dines alfresco with the neighbors.
Fun, Food and Future
Laura says that she has fallen love with the land. Here the couple have their own fields to farm, and happily exist with no serious worries in life. During her leisure hours, Laura will often log on to the Internet to chat with friends and relatives back in the US. And she is writing and illustrating an English-language book on her experiences and China.
She enjoys strolling the city boulevards of Dengfeng and sampling gourmet food. At home she sometimes prepares Western food for her husband, but she says she personally prefers Chinese cuisine. On her menu is often pork fried with sugar and vinegar dressing, sautéed chicken with chili and Peanuts, and varied spicy hot pot dishes. She says the rural life has increased her appreciation for the honest value of hard work, and she has developed a stronger sense of community.
When speaking of her future plans, Laura is confident. She expects that she will return with Xinpeng to the US to establish a second school. "We hope that we will be blessed with a successful school here and that we may be able to journey to America to bring the rich and wonderful culture to the people there," she explains. "We wish to preserve and protect the art, and educate students in the history and teachings of Shaolin kung fu."
When asked if she is ever homesick, quite serious, she says, "No. This is now my home."
Punches,kicks,and a happy marriage.
(China Pictorial February 23, 2006)