Unexpected Celebrity in China

Media Watch

Our man in China: Lahar in Seattle sent us this story about her friend Vimukta.

British-born Vimukta (aka Martin Mellish) has been joyfully living in Chengdu, China, for several years. Friends will remember him from Rajneeshpuram and also Pune 1 days where he was a guard. He is well-known in the Tai Chi community and is the author of A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook: Spirit, Intent, and Motion.

He has won five medals in Chinese Tai Chi competitions (two of them gold) and regularly appears on local and national Chinese TV programs: “Subjects on which I am supposed to be an ‘expert’ include Tai Chi, Western perspectives on China, and (with his Chinese wife) the joys and sorrows of being in a relationship with someone from a different culture.”

On June 25, 2012 an article about him was published in China.org.cn that made him unexpectedly a minor celebrity:

china.org.cn logo

Foreigner helps get ambulance out of traffic


US expat Martin Mellish directs traffic to get ambulance through

Martin Mellish, 61, unexpectedly became a celebrity recently.

Walking in the street, dining in a restaurant or visiting a scenic spot, he would find himself being recognized by strangers who would greet him with a friendly “hello”.

They would say ‘You are the laowai (foreigner) who helped an ambulance,'” said Martin, a US citizen teaching mathematics at a high school attached to Sichuan University in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. Cycling on his way to Chengdu No 12 High School, where he was scheduled to give a free English lecture on June 12, Martin happened to see an ambulance with its siren on trapped in a crowd of cars under an overpass near downtown Chengdu’s Jiangxi Street.

All of the cars were following the ambulance closely, and none of the drivers in them seemed willing to make way for the emergency vehicle.

“There might have been a patient onboard or the ambulance might have been fetching a patient,” Martin said. “If the patient was suffering from a heart attack, one minute meant survival. I thought I would feel bad if I did not help.”

Tossing aside his bicycle, Martin ran to the ambulance and began shouting loudly in Chinese toward a taxi beside it. The cab driver paid him no heed, so Martin used hand gestures to show that he wanted the car to back up. He next ran over to a black car that was moving to pass the ambulance and again used both Chinese and gestures to tell its driver to go back.

About five minutes later, the ambulance broke out of the heavy traffic. Martin rode away from the scene on his bicycle, leaving many drivers to think that he had only provided help because his car had been trapped.

Vimukta directing traffic

Martin did not tell anyone about the incident and his wife, Zhou Shanbi, did not learn of it until a video capturing his unselfish actions was shown on local TV that night. The video, made by a passer-by, was uploaded on the Internet and quickly became popular. Martin said he did not expect so trivial of a matter to attract so much attention.

Martin was born in Britain, obtained a master’s degree in mathematics from Cambridge University and later emigrated to the United States. At the age of 27, he worked as a door guard at a temple in India. His boss, Swami Krishna, a monk in the temple, told him that he was responsible for ensuring safety of the temple and the people in it while he was on duty and that, during his off hours, he should try to help people on the outside who were in need. “I have remembered what he said ever since,” said Martin, a Buddhist who visits a temple in Chengdu every week.

Martin also enjoys shadowboxing. He said he has visited China three times, coming either as a student of that exercise, on which he has written a book, or as a tourist. He made his first trip to the country in 1996. More than 10 years later he decided to settle down in Chengdu.

“I love Chinese culture,” he said. “The day before I was due to leave in September 2010, I hated going back to the United States and surfed the Internet to find a teaching job in Chengdu.”

Every week, Martin, who learned Chinese by his own, delivers 20 mathematics lectures in English for high school students who eventually want to attend school in the United States or Britain. “Like a legendary ancient Chinese scholar, Martin is always in a peaceful state of mind and never loses his temper,” said Zou Hong, one of his students. “He does his best to motivate students and find poor students’ strong points.”

Martin met his wife in February 2011. She was then working on embroidery in a shop near the school where he teaches. Martin was impressed with her work and started sending her flowers on holidays. When she was in Laos during Spring Festival this year, Martin took a train for 13 hours from Thailand to see her. Moved by his sincerity, Zhou, a divorcee with a 1-year-old grandson, married him in May this year.

“I do not speak English but get along very well with Martin, who is considerate and never fails to keep his word,” she said. Zhou has her own home near her shop and Martin lives near People’s Park in Chengdu, where he practices shadowboxing.

“We start to miss each other if we haven’t met for three days,” Zhou said. “We feel as if we were meant to be together.”


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