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Immortal Li

It was a custom that every student, when entering Sifu Ho Fatt Nam’s school to practise Shaolin Kungfu, would offer a joss stick to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Taoist gods on the altar, unless the students were Christians, Muslims or following a religion whereby such rituals were not permitted in their religion.

I was not against such practice but at that time, I was too arrogant to do so. I remember telling myself that I went to my sifu’s school to learn kungfu, and would have nothing to do with any religion.

On some occasions, Immortal Li who descended into my sifu’s body to give advice and to help people, would stay on longer to chat with Ah Heng, my sifu’s assistant, when devotees who came for help had left. When I attended kungfu classes earlier than usual, I would have an opportunity to see Immortal Li.

It was a few months after I had started learning from my sifu. At that time, I had some personal problems. I joined Ah Heng who was then chatting leisurely with the Immortal. As if by arrangement, Ah Heng suddenly besought the Immortal, “This is Ah Wong. Perhaps Immortal please give him some advice.”

Immortal Li looked at me sternly.

“He is a non-believer. I don’t want to waste my time on him,” the Immortal said.

Ah Heng was taken aback.

“He is a student here. He is a believer,” Ah Heng pleaded on my behalf.

“No, he is a non-believer,” Immortal Li emphasised.

I just kept quite, not knowing what to say.

“Why do you, Immortal, say that he is a non-believer?” Ah Heng pleaded again politely.

“You don’t believe me!” Immortal Li turned to Ah Heng with rounded eyes and raised voice, appearing to be angry.

But I knew the Immortal was not angry. I could see the Immortal hiding a smile.

“He has been here for many months,” the Immortal continued. “But each time he comes here, he has not offered a single joss stick. Not even once. If you don’t believe, you can ask him.”

I was shocked. “How could the Immortal know?” I asked myself.

I attended classes any time I liked. My attendance was irregular, not planned and not fixed. Moreover, no one ever cared whether any student or visitor offered any joss sticks to the gods.

Turning to me, Ah Heng asked, “Is it true?”

“Yes,” I nodded my head.

Ah Heng was quick in my defence.

“He is relatively new. He is English educated and does not know much about Chinese culture. Please, Immortal, please forgive him.”

The Immortal could not hide his laugh any longer.

“Offer some joss sticks,” the Immortal ordered me.

I was very happy that the Immortal did not reprimand me. I quickly did what he told me.

After offering joss sticks all round, I sat at the table close to the Immortal.

“Now,” Immortal Li said, “What advice do you want from me?”

I was at first hesitant as my problems were personal.

“He has some personal questions to ask me,” the Immortal told Ah Heng, “Please leave us alone.”

I had a long talk alone with the Immortal. It was so long that I did not have my kungfu training that day. Immortal Li answered my many questions, and gave me excellent advice, for which I am very grateful.

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The Eight Immortals

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