One year ago today

… my father drove me to the Airport (and we were delayed in traffic, what stress!) and said good bye… I was leaving on my trip, my Big Project.

A year later, I reflect on my departure, on what I learned during my 8 months away. My solo nearly round-the-world trip, my life-changing experience throughout Asia and Australia.

Since I have arrived, I am working again at the practice in Fontainebleau with Guillaume Carteau (and now have my name on the door! – sorry poor picture taken with my mobile phone) at 8 rue des sablons, a quiet pedestrian area of Fontainebleau (phone number for appointments is 01 60 71 17 73)

Marjolaine Dey, at Fontainebleau

Marjolaine Dey, at Fontainebleau

I have also started teaching in a school of osteopathy in Paris: the CEESO (Centre Européen d’Enseignement Supérieur de l’Ostéopathie). It is great fun, I really enjoy spending time explaining things. I realise how passionate I am about my job, and how much I have matured since I graduated from the British College of Osteopathic Medicine. I have so many things to learn, it is very exciting.
My practice of osteopathy is evolving, with the techniques I am learning at school from my students and what I have learned in Asia. It seems I am getting good results with this approach.

I am also in the process of moving houses, to live with my boyfriend close to my work in Fontainebleau. Another good reason to be particularly happy. I have started playing the piano again, and have found a teacher close to my work. Re-reading my last post (“Home, sweet home”) I have not started playing tennis again, nor have I brushed up on my Spanish. For now, I am focusing on swimming, running and Tai Chi, as well as making myself at home, well, at home. Future travels and discoveries are in my mind, but for now I will stay put. I have committed to a year of teaching at the school.

It is wonderful to travel, especially by oneself, but I am finding it is even more fabulous to be home, surrounded by loved ones! My suitcases are empty, my backpack is resting and I am very happy in my new life within my old surroundings.



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Home, sweet home

It has been a month since I touched down in Charles de Gaulle Airport, and I have been very busy since… I was back at work 4 days after, so I had many boring administrative stuff to do.

Work is great – I really appreciate getting so many patients so quickly, and I am able to already notice that my way of treating is different.
When patients arrive, I first take a case history based on the questions I learnt at University. But even this has changed. I ask more questions, on different things. I link up body parts and organs using other ideas, I come up with creative questioning and more often than not my patients reply “oh yes I forgot to tell you about this” or “how did you know I had that” etc.
The diagnosis I make following my examination is basically the same – I am an osteopath and use osteopathic diagnostic tools combined with the allopathic way.

And then the time for treatment arrives, and there is where most of the change has occured. Sure, I still use harmonics, specific mobilisations, and manipulation techniques; but here and there I use some acupressure on specific points, or I work along the energy lines, and even use Chinese type percussion at the end of my treatments (some say it feels like I am beating them up, but it seems to decrease the treatment reaction).
Importantly, I don’t feel drained after a day’s work anymore. I don’t get my patients symptoms either (very often, I would finish the day with a headache, a bad back and a sore knee depending on what I had treated)

And then there is everything else. I feel so happy – seeing my family, spending time with my friends and being surrounded with familiar things. I can speak the language, I don’t get stared at and I can eat as much cheese as I want… really basic, but so important to me!

I also have a great sense of achievement, as I have completed my Big Project. I made the most of my time, and learnt some great things!
I am continuing to meditate and do Tai Chi here in France, and have looked into the Buddhist centres to meet some people, do a silent retreat in October and find the same style of Tai Chi taught somewhere in Paris.
I am also looking for a flat in Paris, but taking my time as I am made warmly welcome at my parents’.

I feel very priviledged to have undertaken this big trip, glad to be back in France, happy to work in Fontainebleau, delighted to be surrounded by those I love and very, very lucky.

I did get a reverse culture shock though, and flushing the toilet with drinking water still gets to me.

I am thinking about my next Big Thing, and some ideas are:
– teaching in a school of osteopathy in or around Paris,
– researching traditional therapy in South America and therefore brushing up on my Spanish,
– learning to sign French Sign Language,
– playing Tennis.

Not bad eh? For now, I am focusing on working in Fontainebleau, finding a flat in Paris and getting back into the swing of things.

A big Thank You to all of you for your readership and your supportive comments during my trip.

I will continue to update the blog when interesting stuff comes up!

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Final days in Indonesia

The end of my travels are approaching. I will be home on the last day of May, and getting back to work on une 5th.
I decided to take a holiday before going home! The main aim is to rest and make sense of all that has happened over the last few months!
The plan is to learn to dive in the beautiful clear waters of the Gili Islands, off Lombok and surf in Bali.

So far so good, I have finished my Open Water Course and moving on to the Advanced one, before probably attempting the “rescue course”, which is all about keeping calm under water and knowing what to do in the event of an emergency.
The ocean is a wonderful place and the ability to breathe under water a dream come true. I have done some snorkelling before, using a mask and snorkel to watch the marine life from the surface. But actually being amongst the thousands of multicolored fish, swimming between the bizarre coral structures and being amazed when crossing paths with the bigger animals: turtles, sharks, squids…
After each dive, we record on our dive log all the creature we saw, so I am learning a great deal about tropical water fish.
In the morning, a run around the island is a good warm up, I follow it by a session of meditation (generally Vipassana – the one I was taught by the Buddhist Monks at Wat Ram Poeng in Thailand,  December ’08) and once underwater I use my breathing techniques to breathe efficiently and calmly. I am finding that others run out of air way before I do.

Under water, all the senses are amplified. The heart rate tends to increase, and the breathing accelerates, which consumes more oxygen. The aim is to chill out, breathe efficiently and stay under water as long as possible.
I am glad I can use the techniques I have learnt previously to make my scuba diving more enjoyable and confortable.

Gili Trawangan is a small island, the dive school a small community of friendly people, and so word that I am an osteopath got around pretty quickly… I treated the owner of the Irish bar, my dive instructor, one of the staff, and diagnosed a few other people hanging out there! It is fun to help out and it is a good preparation for going home!

Surfing is a different matter, this time it is my practise of Tai Chi which comes into play. My balance is a lot better, so once I get up on the board, I find myself riding along comfortably. I feel the strength of the wave through the board and into my feet, it is wonderful.
Tai Chi on the beach is great, despite the many people who stare at me… It is very busy even early in the morning. But that won’t stop me!

I am also preparing my return to France: boring things like taxes and insurance, and fun things like where I will live and when I will meet up with the people I love!
I am enjoying the moment, excited for the future and very much looking forward to using all I have learnt in my daily practise of osteopathy.

To give you an idea of what’s I am seeing everyday, check out these guys – we were diving in the same school, and surf -nearly- in the same place 🙂


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Doaism and Hot Pot

I have been very busy, with a total change in my activities and lifestyle thanks to the arrival of my sister.

The Internship in the hospital went very well, I practised many different new techniques on fellow Chinese medical students and patients. My understanding of the human body was challenged more than once, and I take away an incredible experience.

I arranged to meet the Kung Fu master of my Tibetan teacher of all things Chinese from Lijiang (Yunnan). This man, master Liu, lives in the city which was devastated by an earthquake just under a year ago, at the foot of ChongChing Mountains (the most Chinese sounding mountain in the world). Legend has it that this mountain was the home of the first Daoist monk in China, some thousands of year ago.
Daoism is the main religion here in China, it is also a lifestyle, a way of life and a philosophy. All principles of Martial Arts, Confucianism, Feng Shui and even Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are based on Dao (also spellt or pronounced Tao) which literally mean « The Way ».

Master Liu is the “Abbot” of Daoist martial art, which originate from this sacred mountain. There are 5 main types of Kung Fu and Tai Ji, such as Shaolin, Emei mountain and ChongChing. He is the keeper of this knowledge.

 I met the master, his wife and one of his students, a French Canadian fluent in the local Sichuanese dialect who was to be my translator.
After a tumultuous journey from Chengdu, the province’s capital, to the master’s home by train, bus and taxi, I was asked to show the form of Tai Chi Chuan I have learnt previously. I have learned the 24-movement form of Yang-style Tai Chi, which was derived from Chen-style and is now practised mainly by old people as a way of keeping fit.

It took me a couple of weeks to learn by heart the choreography and I have been practising everyday since. It had been less than 30 days since my introduction to this ancient martial art, and the Abbot of Daoist Tai Chi asked me to do a demonstration? Of course, I could not say no. So I started by apologising profusely!

I walked over to a small patio, sheltered by blooming lilacs, as the master, his wife, his student, the maid, the gardener and his young daughter watched me. I had just rushed from the hospital and I had not had time to change, the journey was taxing and I could hear my tummy complaining from the lack of lunch. The nearby road’s traffic sounds – car horns, loud trucks, buses stopping and starting – and my shaky legs prevented me from focusing on the task at hand. On top of that, my onlookers were commenting my every move and talking loudly.
I started my routine despite not managing to centre my wandering mind. I knew the first few steps of the demonstration and the first impression were of utmost importance and I realised I was not doing them justice. I could feel panic and worry affecting my whole body, so I forced myself to pay attention to my feet and my hands. I smelled the air and enjoyed the light fragrance of spring. I felt the warm sun filtering through the trees on my skin. I touched the air and the slight breeze. I felt the ground underneath my feet. And I continued, this time totally into what I was doing.
I found myself moving effortlessly from one position to another, despite not having warmed up and having been sat down in various transport commodities for the last few hours. I glided around, I kicked, and I punched in slow motion. My spectators finally quietened down; it seemed a few birds have replaced their incessant chatter.

I put my feet together and returned to my initial position. A few deep breaths were my vehicle back to reality. I smiled to myself, I felt relaxed and happy by my little demonstration. I turned to face my loving public who were clapping loudly, despite my lousy demonstration. As I sat down to drink my celebratory tea, I realised how deafening the traffic actually was and wandered how I could even hear any birds!
The master asked me, via the interpreter, how long I have practised for. He looked surprised by my answer and congratulated me.
I was so scared to show him what I had learned that I forgot how hard I have been working. I have been feeling very passionately about my newfound sport/hobby and have been practising daily. He was happy to see I have worked hard and enjoyed myself.
He decided to show me some basic techniques of his style of Tai Chi, which are said to mimic animal gestures.

 After a few hours of practise, his face lighted up. It was time for a “Hot Pot”, a Chinese fondue. It is a very popular dish here in China. You need:
–          a big round table with a hole in the middle containing a gas stove,
–          a large group of enthusiastic (and preferably rowdy) eaters,
–          copious amounts of beer and cigarettes for everyone to share,
–          a large amount of random foods,
–          and much tea.

The meal goes like this: whoever is inviting (and paying the bill) gets a menu, and chooses what the guests will eat. He (because it is generally a man!) also orders beer, spirits and cigarettes. Meanwhile, impeccably dressed young women serve tea to all those at the table. That night, it was about twenty of us; including 3 women.

 Everything on the table looked tiny: plates, bowls, cups, glasses and spoons (… even the people: I am at least a foot taller than any of them!). The large hole in the middle of the table was filled by a huge hot pot of boiling broth. It was divided in two sections: in one was clear broth and in the other was red broth: the soup made with plenty of chillies!
And the party began. All the small glasses were filled with beer, and we all clunk our glasses with the master. I drank a sip before replacing my glass on the table. All my neighbours did the same, except their glasses were empty by the time they touched the table. To be polite, one must down the first glass. I quickly rectified my mistake and the content was gulped down. My glass was promptly refilled.
Another toast! To our host! Cheers all around, everyone stood up. Yep, cheers to free food! Again we all down our glasses and slammed them back on the table. Again a refill.
A toast to the white people! My translator and myself clunk our glasses with everyone, and down yet again. I noticed that the Master is downing glass after glass of soy milk. A wise man indeed.
My last meal had been breakfast, I trained for hours in the sun and I started to feel dizzy. The master noticed and ordered the others to stop refilling my glass and offered me some soy milk. I accepted gladly.

We had so many different types of food I did not recognise, including local fresh fish, bits of animals we tend to not eat in the West (including chicken feet and marinated duck head) and even fresh water “sea food”. The crowd thought I was very bravo to try the foods and downed a glass for each piece of kidney, liver or unidentified animal part I ate. I gulped it down with soy mil, tea and the occasional glass of beer when the Master got distracted.
We ate for hours, as the food just kept arriving. All the guests but the Master and myself were completely off their faces. Most were now convinced that I could understand Chinese and spoke loudly to me.
After many “doi-doi-doi” and “ah-ah-ah” (both yes-yes-yes in Chinese) we finally left all our drunk friends and got ready for our early start tomorrow. What better time to study Tai Chi than 5am the following day.

A few days later, I flew to Shanghai to meet with my sister, leaving my backpacking lifestyle behind. She is in China for three weeks, two of which are a business trip and the other a holiday in Beijing with me.

Once we part ways, I will leave China and head over to Indonesia, to discover their ancient manual therapy and over there it will be easier to keep my blog updated.

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Internship in Tuina at the hospital of Traditional Chinese Medecine of Chendgu

After a week spent learning all sorts of new Chinese skills, I headed to the Sichuan Province with the idea of meeting the Father of my Chinese Tibetan teacher. However, it soon became apparent that Shanna had forgotten an important detail: my Chinese is very poor and her Father only speaks Mandarin, Tibetan and the local Sichuanese dialect.
Sure I could stay with him, she said, and learn from him, but the language barrier might impair this somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge and I am loving having to mime everything, but living with a ninety year-old you cannot even make chit-chat with might become slightly frustrating.

So I decided to make my first stop the Traditional Chinese Medecine (TCM) hospital in Chengdu, the capital city of the province of Sichuan. After a good twenty minutes of getting lost on the student campus, I gave up and walked out… only to finally find the foreign student department. I met “Ricky” who is in charge of the foreigners who wish to study TCM. He offered me a cup of tea before starting a formal interview, asking about my qualifications, my work experience, my hobbies and even my background in Chinese culture and my reasons for wanting to study in the hospital.
I must have made a good impression, as the head of the department suggested an internship within the Tuina department. Mornings would be taken up doind rounds with a senior doctor and a translator and in the afternoons I would get to enjoy some theoritical lectures in Chinese translated into English by his good self. I could even start the following morning.

On my way back, I bought a book about Tuina, as I had not heard the term before. It turns out Tuina is as close to osteopathy as one can get, besides the fact it is mainly based on the meridian system (as is acupuncture and all of Oriental Medicine)

The basic principles of Tuina

– To establish a working diagnosis using TCM principles,
– To treat the cause as well as the effects or symptoms,
– To relieve obstructions ad stagnation of Chi and blood, i.e. to restore smooth circulation, and  
– To restore function of body’s self-regulation of Chi and blood, to restore resistance agains pathogenic factors
– To restore movement throughout the body system and getting rid of stagnation, by:

— relaxing muscles, relocating joints,  manipulating tendons and flicking nerves,
— lengthening and stretching spasmodic or shortened muscles,
— increasing the range of motion of joints through passive movements and mobilisation,
— increasing the pain threshold and breaking down the pain-spasm-pain cycle after injury (this vicious cycle is a concept of Western medicine used in modern TCM textbook. It occurs after a painful injury: the muscles surrounding the affected area go into spasm, therefore compromising the blood supply and drainage of the area. As the metabolic wastes are not cleared away, this generates even more pain, which in turn stimulates the muscles to go into more spasm, and so on),
— enhancing local circulation of blood.

The theory behind Tuina
1. Balancing Yin and Yang
In order to achieve optimal health, the opposing forces of Yin and Yang must be in balance (this is also true of all phenomena in the world and the universe) – check out this previous blog entry for background information on this.
The aims are to restore the relative dynamic equilibrium and remove pathogenic factors by dredging the meridians (=making the lines that channel energy deeper and wider) therefore promoting the circulation of Chi (=Qi) and blood.

2. Regulating Zang and Fu Organs
In Chinese medicine, the organs are divided into three categories:
– Zang organs, which do not come in contact with foodstuff and produce and store Chi (heart, lung, spleen, liver and kidney)
– Fu organs, which receive, digest, transport and transform foodstuff (small and large intestine, stomach, gall bladder, bladder)
– Extraordinary Fu organs, which are a mix of Fu and Zang (brain, marrow, bones, vessels and uterus)  
The aim is to regulate all organs, therefore inhibiting hyperactivity and stimulating underactive organs (called tonifying).

3. Encourage flow within Meridians and Collaterals
Meridians are the channel through which the vital energy, of Chi travels.
The aim is to circulate Chi and blood, therefore nourish the body and stimulate the immune system, to increase protection against pathogens.

As a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it considers the body as a whole, and may be used in combination with acupuncture, herbal treatment, cupping, dietary advice, lifestyle advice, etc


During my mornings at the hospital, I visit both the in-patients and out-patient departments. The hospital -as everything in China- is gigantic, and I am told 4000 out-patients  get treated here everyday. Inside, it is completely chaotic. Seriously: Doctors, nurses, pharmacists rushing around the patients, their family and pets. Plus the random soy-milk vendor, a musician and a couple of chickens.
I am taken to a small consultation room, furnished with hard wooden plinths, several small stools and a very old X-ray reading lamp in a corner. The walls are dirty, mould is creeping in the cracks of the ceiling, the windows are open and a cold, chilling wind penetrates the damp room. Bars block the windows, and a neon light flickers intermittently.
The translator and a string of Chinese medical students string in after me. Enter three old ladies, speaking animatedly, followed by their husbands and family friend. One of the ladies sits down in a corner and starts knitting, whilst another takes her jumper off and lies on the plinth.
The female students all hush up when the impressive famous doctors walk in. Their loud voices can barely be heard above the cacophony of the patients, who seem to have come to consultation more for a good gossiping session than a treatment.
But somehow, things start getting organised. The doctors ask questions, palpate, and feel pulses. The translator struggle to keep up with the stream of information. Very quickly, needles fly everywhere and into the patients’ backs, arms, necks and legs.

Hygiene is a very touchy subject, and I only dare to bring it up after a couple of days. For example, the doorless squat toilets that both patients and staff use have no sink. The consultation rooms don’t have access to soap and water or even disinfectant hand wash. Some alcohol spray is sometimes used on the skin before insertion of the needles, but this is not systematic.
And for the more outrageous part: the needles used for acupuncture are indeed re-used many times, apparently after sterilization. In reality, doctors don’t pay a lot of attention to it and I see used needles being put back into a box of fresh ones.
I don’t know what the chances are of contamination, as these extraordinary needles penetrate the body but rarely draw blood. But I know that I personally would not run that risk!

And then the Tuina begins on a 40 year-old woman, complaining of progressive onset tinnitus in one ear. How funny that the first patient I see receiving treatment here suffers from the symptom I studied for my dissertation!
The examination reveals a thready, wiry weak pulse, a yellow-coated tongue, a dry mouth with bitter taste and stiffness if the neck.
The translator lets me know that the symptoms are typical of excessive dampness and heat in the live and gall bladder, caused by a weakness of the kidney.
The diagnoses here are divided in two parts: the branch of the disease (the symptoms) and the root of the disease (the cause or aetiolgy). It is important to relieve the branch of the disease, and clear the root or cause. Of course, the excess “Yang” typical of this woman’s symptoms are not familiar to us Westerners, but I am finding it fascinating to learn about this 7000-year-old medicine, which has proven its clinical efficacy both in Western research journals and empirically over the last few millenia.
The treatment is today focused on tonifying the kidney, by working on remote accupressure points around the ear and head. Some of the techniques used are familiar, other are very different to what I know.
But what is striking is that despite the flowery diagnosis, the practitioner works in exactly the same areas I would have worked on, had this been my patient.
He works on the neck, mainly increasing the mobility segmentally, loosening the muscles and flickign certain tendons. He also works on the scalp and around the ear. Many techniques focus on the face, throat and upper chest.
I get a wonderful realization: despite coming from completely different philosophies, both this practitioner and myself are working on this patient to attempt to relieve them and improve their health, and regardless of where we come from or how we explain things, the human body works the same way everywhere.
So over the next few days, I focus on the specific new techniques and the areas worked on the relieve pain. I believe that with observation and my own experimentation, I can integrate some of the oriental way of thinking into my own practice, and hopefully get even better results for my patients.

The following day, I am directed to the in-patient building. And this is quite something. It is a beautiful modern hospital, with clean airy corridors and rooms, no hussble-bussle and even flatscreen televisions in the three-bed rooms with en-suite bathroom.
I am introduced to the “famous” doctor, a tall guy with soft facial features and an easy-going smile. We follow him around, and he tries to impress me with sme joint clicking: manipulations of the lumbar spine. After the treatment, he asks me whether I have any questions. I smile and tell the translator that I am interested in which vectors he used for his technique, as I use a different one. His face lights up, and he asks me to demonstrate it. A Chinese student volunteers and lies on his side on a plinth in one of the hospital bedroom.
I start setting up, whilst the Doctor, his assistant, four medical students (who, it seems, have materialized out of thin air) and the three patients whose room it is stare at me. No pressure!
When the patient is ready, I look around, make a slightly theatrical gesture and thrust down. A beautiful, clear “pop” emerges from my cobaye’s back, and all the spectators mouthe their appreciation. The student gets up, and someone else lies in their place, wanting to be manipulated by the giant white woman.
Here starts the beginning of a manipulation frenzy, where the doctor and his assistant showed me a new manipulation technique for each one I showed them. Everything got a whack: neck, back, pelvis, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and feet. And in every axis known, in many directions. We enjoyed some banter, approved the techniques we all knew and learnt the ones we had not seen before.
I learnt some incredible shoulder manipulations, as well as hip and knee ones. They learnt a great elbow technique and the amazing CT prone, which are some of my personal favourites.

Over a short period of time, I learnt many new techniques (of both joint manipulation and general soft-tissue mobilisation), new treatment plans (where to treat certain diseases) and a whole new method of approching the body (in the afternoon lectures, which are fascinating)

This weekend, I had great plans as I don’t have class… visiting, sight-seeing, etc, but I am physically and mentally exhausted after all that intensive learning. Instead, I have enjoyed a lie-in, a lazy breakfast and now going to stroll in the People’s Park to enjoy the sun and a cup of herbal tea with the locals.

This week I am continuing my learning in the hospital, and taking some Tai Chi lessons with a great Toaist master, who lives in the mountains outside Chengdu.
My reward is approaching: next weekend I am meeting my sister, who is on a business trip, in Shanghai. I have not seen her in over six months!


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Training with Tibetans in Lijiang, Yunnan

After training in Tai Chi in Yangshuo, I took a couple of days to rest from my intensive training in Kunming, also known as the city of Eternal Spring. The weather was beautiful, and it was dry, which was a beautiful change from Yangshuo.

I moved on to Dali, a pretty old town, loaded with tourists. I was expecting to only stay a night or two, enough time to see the historic temples and the wonderful mountain scenery… except I got bad food poisoning and stayed in bed for four days. The manager of the hostel was great: I was upgraded to a great room with a TV! I guess he felt bad that I got ill from the food from his kitchen… I caught up on world news thanks to BBC world, and am now up to scratch with so-called “new” American foreign policy and floods in Indonesia.

Once I got better, I traveled to Lijiang, in province of Yunnan, despite what other had told me about the over-touristification. Indeed, the historical old town has been taken over by tourist stalls and swarms of Chinese “foreigners” invade the city every morning. I did get up early for my morning jog and Tai Chi, and loved the cobbled stones, the crazy streams that run throughout the town, and the maze of streets. I found the park, and pretended to be a local so as not to pay the 80RMB fee (about 8 Euros). Unfortunately, there were no old ladies practicing Tai Chi, so had to find a deserted back alley to go through the moves without herds of photographers crowding me.

In China, people love to stare, especially at white people. I regularly get photographed or filmed when I am walking about town and doing random things, such as eating or doing Tai Chi.
It took me an hour to find my way back from the park to the guesthouse.

Later that day, I visited the “blue papaya”, a restaurant in the Old town, which advertises its links to the so-called “Lijiang Cultural Exchange Centre” boasting courses in Chinese medical massage, Tai Chi and calligraphy. But as I tried to mime to the waitresses about this, they tried to kick me out. I persisted and it paid, as a phone was handed to me, and a very kind English speaker explained that indeed there was such a place, and if I wanted, I could be escorted to the premises immediately.
And so I was. The puzzled waitress asked me to follow her, and took me through the cobbled labyrinth of the old town. I tried to memorise the way, but lost count after we turned a dozen time. We walked into a shop, and she invited me to sit down. The television was showing a soap opera no-one was watching, the radio screaming a random Chinese pop tune, and the kettle was boiling. My attention turned to a man standing up, biting on a paintbrush.

When one travels, one is bewildered at the amount of utter random events that may occur. This man was completely armless! He was writing some Chinese characters, and he did so by holding the brush with his teeth, moving his whole body the way a martial artist would, to paint beautiful ideograms. I got lost in his ability to move to quickly for such a podgy short man, until a handsome Chinese man tapped on my shoulder, and motioned me to follow him. The waitress, my first guide, nodded in approval and promptly left. I followed the man, who addressed me in Chinese. I apologized in English for my lack of Chinese, and it seemed he apologized in Chinese for his lack of English. We walked quickly out of the old town, and into a residential area on a nearby hill. The altitude here is around 2500m, and this fit young guy was basically running up! I struggled to keep with the pace. He later told me (via an interpretor) that it was him who was struggling, and he was just following my lead.

Shanna welcomed me into her home and school of martial arts, amongst other things. We immediately clicked, and spent the whole afternoon talking about Chinese Medicine, martial arts and Chinese culture. Fascinating.
She is Tibetan, daughter of a wealthy Doctor of Chinese Medicine, escaped Tibet and the Chinese repression. She owns the restaurant in town, and is a confirmed internal martial artist and Chinese massage therapist. She knows many doctors around the province of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet.

She invites me to stay in the school, and Adu helps to get my luggage. Adu is training in Chen-style Tai Chi in the school, he also helps running errands. We mime random things, laugh a lot and decide to become each other’s teachers. He teaches me the word for dog (go), small dog (sho-go) and big dog (da-go). There are many dogs in China, and they bark constantly. I am now used to this constant background sound, which has become the soundtrack to my life here!

Over the next few days, I spend hours discussing with Shanna and her boyfriend about the very subjects I have come to China to learn about: Tai Chi, Traditional Medicine and Xi Gong. We get on, and we exchange massages. The food here is delicious, the bed is comfortable (there is no heating, so it’s only about 10 degrees in my room, but I am starting to get used to it, and the duvet is from Tibet, so it is geared up for that kind of weather!) and I am learning lots.

My days here are divided up by practising Tai Chi, giving or receiving treatment, walking around the countryside, learning about the theory behind traditional medicine and eating delicious food! I am very much enjoying my time here. I am also learning Chinese language and calligraphy. Starting with my new Chinese name: ma-yu-lan, and going onto everyday words.

This afternoon, I am going to meet a 90-year old doctor, who is willing to treat my shoulder and teach me a thing or two about manual therapy. He is a friend of Shanna’s father, and despite being retired, is happy to give me some of his time.
Shanna also suggested I go to Chengdu’s hospital, where friends of her father work, and I could follow some classes there. She has also invited me to meet her Father and Daoist practitioners, who live in the mountains of Sichuan. I am not sure whether I will have time for this though, as I am meeting my sister in a few weeks in Shanghai, and going to these remote places would take me a lot of time.

I have published more photos, check them out on facebook (you can access them even if you are not a member by following this link)

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Acupuncture in Yangshuo, moving on to Yunnan

A Chinese doctor was recommended to me by another student in the martial arts school I train in。 I phoned and got an appointment for that same evening。 As I walked into the clinic, a short woman dressed in a white coat waved for me to sit down on one of the couches。 She was busily examining the ankle of a young white guy, who was surrounded by two white women. The lobby was busy: old newspapers, discarded flyers, dishevelled books, rotting fruit peels, and pushed against the walls the odd furniture, presenting a couple of preserved medicinal snakes。 The mildewed walls were covered by posters of Chinese-style anatomy,with meridians and pressure point。 In one of the corners, a small dog was comfortably asleep。
The patient seemed to be presenting with a rather large ankle, at a glance what seemed like a bad inversion sprain。 No bruising, just swelling。 The Doctor theatrically waved her hands around the diseased ankle, and lay her thumbs on the oedematous joint。 “AH!” she exclaimed, making the two white girls jump。 We were waiting for an explanation, but it did not come。
Dramatically, she looked right into the eyes of the guy, and pushed her thumb right into the inflammation。 This time, he let out a small scream。 Her only answer was a satisfied grin。 She prodded the ankle some more.
“The bone! The bone!” she finally started explaining “it has moved!Ah!”
I had to laugh, and pretended to read a torn piece of paper I found on the sofa instead。 She stood up and went over to the snakes。 The four white people all looked at each other with inquisitive looks… surely she was not going to use those dead snakes? On top of one of the jars, she found a small box and returned to her kneeling position。
“First, we move bone, then we make swelling no more” She started digging both her thumbs into this poor man’s ankle, before grabbing needles out of the small box and tapping them into the ankle。 She inserted five needles into various points, then grabbed some electrical appliance she hastily plugged in。 At this point, the patient was whiter than a ghost, and seeing the cables he turned to a delicate shade of green。 Silently, she first mimed out what she was about to do, in an attempt to calm the guy‘s nerves。 Quite the opposite happened: the gestual description of the imminent electrical treatment filled the man with apprehension and pure fear。
That, of course, did not stop her, and she connected the lines to the needles in his foot with enthusiasm。 Very slowly, and again looking into his eyes, she turned the switch on。 We were expecting some giant electric shock, a massive scream and maybe a heart attack, so we were surprised to hear only a slight buzzing。 She adjusted the dials mysteriously, looked over at me, grinned again, and walked over to where I was sitting。
“Where is pain” was a simple, direct way to get to the point。
I had a moment’s hesitation, as the buzzing was going, the dog stirred, and the mad chinese woman, the three white people, two snakes and the man on the poster were all staring at me.
“Uh。。。” I collected my thoughts ” I broke my collarbone two years ago, and I still have trouble with it。 I wondered if you could help me”
And there we were, talking about my shoulder, the other people chipping in questions and comments (Tai Chi, that‘s interesting。 How did you break it? What’s your name? My ankle hurts)

She did her theatrical hand waving, then proceeded to prod my shoulder. When she found an area of pain (that’s quite easy on my shoulder!) she would get her finger as deep as she could and smile. She seems to get a lot of pleasure out of the experience.
She babbled something vague about bones and ligaments. I was disappointed because I wanted her to talk about meridiens and energy lines. I should have known.

She took me upstairs, leaving the dumbfounded foreigners in the lobby, the electrical needles still buzzing away. I lay on my front on an old massage table and the doctor showed me the needles she was going to use for my acupuncture treatment: they all came from sealed packets. She shows this to foreigners, because it is a common practise to reuse needles. Since the Chinese governments denies that HIV/AIDS exists in China(amongts other blood transmitted diseases), a lot of the basic hygiene rules we have in Europe are not “relevant” here.
One of my friends from school told me that their acupuncturist asked them whether they wanted “re-used” needles, as this would make the treatment significantly cheaper. They ran away before the doctor could utter another word.

She started putting needles in my neck and shoulder. Some hurt more than others. When I swallowed, it made those on the side of my neck move, creating horrendous pains down my arm. After about 30 minutes, she removed them. Taking them out was actually the most painful part, but all in all bearable. As I walked away from the clinic, I started feeling shooting pains from the area of my clavicle that was broken down to my arm. The following day, I could not move my arm at all, and the pains were close to unbearable. They reminded me of the pains I had at the time of injury. I also developed a fever, and felt nauseous all day. I called the doctor to tell her, and she said these treatment reactions did sometimes occur, but we cancelled the appointment I had booked for that afternoon anyway. I practised my Tai Chi with my left arm only, and spent the rest of the day in bed.

I called her again a few days later, and she said she had not expected such a strong reaction. I could still not move my arm very comfortably, and I was still feeling under the weather. I talked to the teacher about it, and she recommended that I did not return to see her. Instead, I did some exercises, and continued my practise of Tai Chi.

A week on, my arm is fine again. NEither worse, nor better. My Tai Chi however, is much better! I am happy to announce that after 8 days of intense training, I have memorised the full 24-form, the basic choreography of Yang-style Tai Chi. I am very happy, my teacher is very happy, which also means that I am getting out of Yanghsuo, and its cold, humid climate.
Exactly two weeks after arriving at the school, I leave for Kunming, in the Yunnan province, for a milder climate. It is warm, dry and sunny! Yipee!

This morning, I went to practise in the park with a bunch of old ladies. It was absolutely fantastic. They were completely gobsmacked that I could do the whole form, and laughed with me afterwards. Many chinese people stopped to take pictures on their mobile phones, and even film the weird white girl who trains with old ladies.
I will put some photographs on line as soon as I can.

Spot the white girl... far right!

Spot the white girl... far right!

The plan for the next few days is to climb a few mountains, then head to Dali, still in the province of Yunnan, which is backpacker/expats’ heaven. There also happens to be many school of Chinese massage offering courses to Westerners. Onwards and upwards!

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