Monthly Archives: February 2009

Leaving Australia

For my last week in the Land Down Under, I am taking it easy: staying on the East Coast to learn how to surf. A bit of a mission, as any sport, one must not only develop the correct technique, but also the right muscles to be strong enough to stay in the water for hours on end.

I settled on Port Macquarie after my first lessons in Byron Bay. Even though it is the legendary surf city, I did not like the atmosphere there. And I got started in a quiet family town instead. The instructors are very competent and patient, and have managed to get the basic concepts of surfing across to me. Now it is down to me to practise to get better.

So today I rented one of their boards, and paddled out beyong the break. I still struggle to choose the right wave, and then get enough speed whilst paddling to ride it. Once on the right wave, at the right speed, comes the right timing to “pop-up” on this small piece of foam. In one, swift movement, one moves from lying on their front to standing up and looking cool.

The best part is that it is really fun, and you rarely get hurt. Well actually, after my first surf lesson, one of the girls complained of shoulder pain and had stopped to rest after a few waves only. When I say her face, I offered to take a look at it, so I carefully removed the upper part of her wetsuit, to discover a shoulder that brought back many bad memories.
I quickly checked for dislocation, did not seem like it. Nothing wrong with the actually shoulder joint… The clavicle, however, looked terrible. It all came flooding back to me: the fall I had at football, my world turning upside down on seeing the Xray (and the three fracture line), having my Mum help me dress myself, not being to work and of course the incredible pain I endured for weeks. There it was, right in front of me. On her first wave, she fell badly on the tip of her shoulder onto the hard sand and broke it.

Anyway, I still got onto my board the following day, not afraid of injury for myself, and actually loving this fun “rehabilitation” of my left arm. It is still not as strong as the other one after it was fractured and badly healed two years ago.
I was feeling on top of the world as I was paddling out with both my arms in an elegant and cool manner. Got through the high surf, and sat on my board as surfers do. For company, a tiny blond Dutch girl and the Pacific Ocean.
When watching the waves, something caught my eye. A movement, just a few meters away from me. The water is very murky because of the floodings and excessive precipitation in the area. Perfect Shark Conditions. Many bullsharks (nasty ones) are spotted everyday arounf the beaches that I surf on.
So when I saw a massive fin get out of the water, I got very scared. I kept staring in that direction, to try and see what it was. I told the Dutch girl, and she started scrutinizing the water also.

There it was again: a massive fin, on a giant dark grey body. First rule when you’re on the water: don’t panic. Second Rule: get back to shore safely and securely. Don’t look like you are an injured seal, or a weak baby dolphin.
But I could not stop staring. Somehow my gut told me to keep looking. And there it was. Two other fins. And another. Dolphins. They must be dolphins. Sharks are loner, they never hang out together, and W-O-W they don’t jump out of the water to play in the ways.

Staring out, on my red board, blue sky and sun shining onto my black wetsuit, feeling on top of the world and laughing with the dolphins. I looked until they disappeared again. I paddled to catch the next good wave and went all the way to the beach, with a huge grin on my face. A quick sip of water and a chat with the lifeguard later, I had the confirmation that they were dolphins.

So I went back out, paddling hard to try and see them again. But there was nothing. Slightly disappointed, I focused on the waves, and paddled to get the next big one. As I looked over my shoulder, a huge grey beast with a large dorsal fin was on my wave! This beast was surfing my wave! The surprise actually knocked me off my board and I drank a few cups of sea water as the wave crushed me onto the bottom of the Ocean.
But it was worth it. It was just an arm length away, and it was beutiful. I rode back to the beach on the next wave. I could not stop laughing at the image of the dolphin enjoying the waves.

I laughed with the instructors and the lifeguards, who were disappointed it had not been them on the board. It was incredibly special, and I feel very lucky to have experienced this! As the Australians say it: Surfing is Awesome!



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The Philosophy of Numbers in Oriental Medicine

I am currently reading a book named “go with the flow” by Zuisei Yokoyama, which describes basic philosophies on which Oriental Medicine is based by counting from 1 to 9.  A simple concept, highlighting the symbolism and importance of numbers in medicine. Here are some of the basis of the 4,000+ year-old medicine.

Holistic Approach
In the East, the first and utmost important point is to treat the person, and not simply the disease. Since any given area can only exist or have a meaning within the context of the whole.
E.g. a large intestine cannot survive by itself, nor can it even exist without a mouth to feed it, a brain to supply information to it, a circulation system to drain it etc. It exists within its local environment (the abdominal cavity, inside a body), with its neighbouring organs (small intestine, stomach, kidney, liver…), its nervous system (brain, nerves…), its content (water, food from diet), and of course the person attach to it (their emotion, state of mind, genetics, culture, upbringing…) It seems absurd that if the large intestine is in a state of dis-ease, only it should be treated. The whole person must be taken into account.

The Eastern way to approach disease, is that one effect may have many causes, therefore what is important is to find the root of the cause, as well as finding the pattern of imbalance, thus providing a framework for treatment.

The Human Factor
Importantly, Chinese doctors do not shy away from what they call the human factor, which may be referred to as one of the aspect of what we call the placebo effect, or the power of suggestion. An aspect of this type of medicine is giving responsability to people, and empowering patients with knowledge about their own body. Furthermore, giving them ways of dealing with their situation better and get back to health.
The practitioner counts on many different methods to help them fight the illness and return to health. Apart from diagnosis and treatment, the three essential human factors are: personal contact, the power of touch and the feeling of fellowship. Doctors are trained to develop these qualities as part of their medical studies.

The Yellow Emperor
The Su Wen and Ling Shu are the two books of the foundation of Chinese Medicine, mythically said to be written by the Yellow Emperor Huangdi 28 centuries BC, that’s nearly five thousand years ago. It may have actually be written 500 years BC, but the traditions are now over 4000 years old. In part one, there is a dialogue between the Emperor and his doctor on principles of medicine, the main ailments and their treatment, using herbs and acupressure. Part two is mostly dedicated to acupuncture.
At the time, acupunture may have been performed with stone fragments, before the arrival of needles.
The five basic rules of good health are the following:
1. proper diet (according to the 5 elements of food)
2. proper sleep (according to the 4 seasons, the rhythmic sleeping pattern according to the sun)
3. proper elimination (bowel mouvement, urination and sweating)
4. proper exercise (Xi Gong, known widely in the West for one of its choreographies: Tai Chi Chuan)
5. proper sex (which should include happiness, joy and positive thinking)

With Su Wen and Ling Shu being compared to the Hippocratic Corpus, but 2000 years before Hippocrates was born, they were both based on empirical studies of humans and comparative anatomy, but are difficult to understand with the knowledge that we now have of the human body.
However, acupunture is a truly recognized form of treatment in 21st Century medicine, so the Yellow Emperor must have gotten something right…

Yin and Yang
The Universe, the Earth, and people are all made up of vital energy, which can be subdivided into Yin and Yang. The Tao theory goes that it all started, a long long time ago, when there was only Chaos.
Then obviously, and out of nowhere came Tao! The foundation of everything. All was darkness, until the day when the sun rose and started shining. Darkness is referred to as Yin, and light as Yang.
Out of the night came day, and day transforms into night: Yin and Yang are always changing, evolving: they are distinct, but cannot be separated. This is the initial principle of the dynamics of life: dual power.

The body can be divided, subdivided and again subsubdivided into yin and yang. For example the interior is yin, whereas the exterior is yang: yin is the material foundation of Yang, whilst Yang is the manifestation of inner Yin. Got it?
It’s not actually that difficult.

distinct, yet linked

Dual power: distinct, yet linked

All things have two aspects: time has night and day; species have male and female; temperature can be hot or cold; weight light or heavy. The body itself has a front and back; a lower and upper; an inner and outer. These are different, but inseparable.
Illnesses too may be categorized: weakness, slowness, coldness and under-activity are Yin; whereas forceful movement, heat, over-activity are Yang.
When one increase, the other decreases. They balance each other out. Health is an equilibrium between the two opposites. Perfect health, and perfect balance in basically unachievable, but it must be a long life goal.

Hill + inside/under + cloud

Yin: Hill + inside/under + cloud

The ideogram for Yin is actually the sum of three concepts: on the left hand side, represents a hill (roughly shaped like a B, or a German Eszett). The upside down Y a roof, which may represent staying inside, something dark, gloomy or stuffy. The squibbly bit bottom right represents a cloud.
After Chaos and darkness, came light. The hill becomes visible as light starts shining on it. What is behind the hill, the shade, which is still in the darkness, contrasts with the light starting to shine. It is Yin.

As day progresses, and the sun rises up in the sky, there is always one place that will be in the shade. As the sun goes down, all will return to darkness and Yin.

hill + sun + rays of light

Yang: hill + sun + rays of light



Yang is also made of 3 separate entities: the hill (as in Yang), which is the reference point to determine what is Yin and what is Yang in this image.
The Sun, at the top of the ideogram. Once represented as a circle with a dot in it, it transformed into the 2 squares on top of each other.
And the last one represents the rays of the sun, shining on the hill!
So it means the bright, light, sunny side of the hill: that is Yang.

Yang came out of Yin, out of darkness came light. It is impossible even to define Yin without Yang, as is Peace without War.

Except there is no value system in the Tao philosophy: neither Yin or Yang is seen as “good or bad” or “positive or negative”. To function, the Universe needs a balance of both.

And that’s how far I have gotten to so far. I am also learning how to write different ideograms, it is very interesting and helps to understand the principles behind the concept.


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Preparing to leave Australia

Today, Friday 13th 2009, has been a particularly productive day, starting around midnight, as I was giving Qantas a call (really badly managed call centre, basically impossible to get through during the day, but 24/7 service so I call them at night). I have decided to forget all the negatives from this call and retain only the most important: I now have a ticket from Sydney to Singapour, at the end of February, in exactly two weeks.
After a short week-end stopover, I will be heading to Guangzhou, China. This morning, I went to the Chinese consulate to get my visa!! It is so beautiful! It is as if I have passed some kind of exam, and I am now allowed to enter Chinese territory (thank you Mastercard, for paying for it!)

Landing in Guangzhou, formally known as Canton, on March 2nd. It is in the South East of China, a stone’s throw away from Hong-Kong. The sub-tropical climates are not dissimilar to Thailand, and the north of Australia.

Guangzhou, Province of Guangdong

Guangzhou, Province of Guangdong

From there, I will travel to Yang Shuo, in the Guangxi Province, to get to a school of Chinese martial arts. Google tells me it is just over 500 km North West, on what seems like a very windy road indeed. LongTouShan Martial Arts School was recommended to me by a fellow Thai massage therapist I met on a course in Chiang Mai. The school is set up in a small town (rare occurence in China, where any town is a super metropolis) in the middle of the countryside: lush forests, beautiful mountain ranges and lots of outdoor activities available. “Spring in Yangshuo is a good time of the year to visit. Spring last from March to May. In March the day temperature can be chilly but as soon as April comes, the temperature goes up to a pleasant 20°C (70°F). Typically it is dry and although there’s occasionally a shower, this is the time of the year when Yangshuo’s limestone mountains show some of it’s real beauty. Clear skies and sunshine, now the mountains look like paradise.” Yanghsuo travel guide.
There is unfortunately/fortunately a heavily developed expat community and many travelers come through here on the Li River. This is good, as it is easier to get around (the locals are used to the White Giants who can’t speak the language) and many courses (martial arts, massage, cooking…) and activities (hiking, rafting, rock climbing, kayaking…) are available, but not so good as it is not so authentic. (Check out this expat website for more local info)

All in all, it will be a great place to start my Chinese adventures. I will start with Tai Chi and Chinese massage, and see how I get on from there. Depending on how I like the place, the people I meet and the teachers, I will decide how long I stay. The great news is that at the end of April, my sister is coming over to visit and I am delighted to start planning our trip!

This should be my Tai Chi instructor!

I have been reading about Chinese Medicine, and Oriental philosophy; as well as current affairs on China. Another wordpress blogger says that most blogging websites are not available from China, so if I am to continue blogging, I will need to email my stories to someone outside of China, and they can publish them online.
The Chinese Government has put into place what has become known as “The Great Firewall of China” and stops the Chinese people from accessing certain websites. I understand that the Firewall is constantly changing, so during the campaigning for the Olympics for example, there was a certain laxity, but all websites concerning the Tienanmen massacre of 1989, democracy and freedom of speech in general, or anything relating to Tibet are completely banned(and now that I have mentioned these, my blog is definitely banned in China). Other websites are partially banned, as I read on someone’s blog: they could access the sports and entertainement pages on the BBC website, but not the news part.
Certain foreign companies, such as Google decided to create government friendly search engines and programmes, to avoid being completely banned. This has created major protests in the West, as it is seen as a form of encouragement and therefore collaboration. There was an interesting article published in the New-York Times a couple of years ago, for those who have time (it’s 10 pages long) and want more background information.

I am looking forward to China immensely, to see for myself the effect of such a violent, so-called communist dictatorship and the contrast with the peaceful, awe-inspiring four-thousand year-old medicine.

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Search for Bush Medicine: Living in Beagle Bay

Beagle Bay is a small community of about 400 people, about 100 km of Broome, in Western Australia. One of the teachers at the local Primary School gives me a lift, after sunset on a rainy Tuesday evening. The beams of the car are not particularly well designed, as they do not seem to light the potholes, mud parts, corrugations or boggy terrains that we encounter on our 2 and a half hour journey. I was in the passenger seat, and in a good position to see we had absolutely no visibility. Our driver seem to guess the way, making last minute decisions about swerving right or left, changing tracks and going through major puddles (small lakes).

The dirt track to Beagle Bay, with the very helpful sign about halfway. In case you had not noticed before.

The dirt track to Beagle Bay, with the very helpful sign about halfway. In case you had not noticed before.

 As we got out of the car, I was shaking, but relieved to have made it, finally! It had not rained since we last attempted the road, and it was much drier than a few days previous. Over the next weeks, my objectives are to find out about the medical care within the community, and study the books of Chinese medicine I brought along with me.Beagle Bay was first established by a French Catholic priest, who rocked up on the beach at the end of the 19th Century. The local aboriginals, the Nyul Nyul, who were sick of people trying to colonize them, would have killed or scared the ghosts away (white people were thought to be ghosts!) if one of the elders had not had a vision… The aboriginals are always seen as a pacific, gentle-natured culture, but that was not always the case. There were many wars between the locals, and when the whites started invading their homeland bringing diseases and death, they retaliated by being very violent indeed.This elder was a wiseman and medicineman. He had a vision that the spirits would visit: a man and a beautiful woman. When the priest arrived on the beach, knelt down and prayed to a small figurine of the Virgin Mary, the elder stopped the young soldiers from attacking the beach. Mary was the spirit he had seen in his vision. The priest and his followers were welcome to the community and a big feast was organized.Over the years, the settlers learnt the Nyul Nyul language, and taught French and Latin to the locals (very helpful). They founded a school and started brainwashing the children…During the Great War, a handful of German Priests were in Beagle Bay. When the ever so Christian non-German priests decided to give them in and throw them in prison, they started building a Church to prove their goodness… Using only local materials, they decorated the inside with shells from the sea.


Beagle Bay Church - Il ny a pas un chien... ou presque

Beagle Bay Church - Il n'y a pas un chien... ou presque

 The problem with Catholic missionaries, is that they generally beat culture references out of people, and therefore medicinal knowledge tends to disappear, slowly but surely replaced by Western style medicine. Beagle Bay is no exception. My first night out, I socialize with the locals and some of the white teachers. The beer is flowing, as we munch on sushi, dugong stew and deep fried spring rolls. Bugsy plays Country Western music late into the night. The mix of cultures is exceptional. All the white people live in houses around the Church and School, and only 3 of them socialize with the locals. I have a fantastic evening laughingaway, singing along even and getting to know the local ways.
The night after, I meet the white fellas. Different ambiance altogether: here, everyone is whinging about school, getting back to work, the weather, etc. Some people ignore me, as I have not been formally introduced, and I am staying at an unmarried man’s house… What a disgrace!

As I meet and greet people during my first week, I get people to chat to me about the community and its health issues. Most aboriginals don’t want to talk about it. Thankfully, my host Greg facilitates the process by talking directly to those who trust him.

One of the teachers at the school knows Bush Medicine – remedies found in the Bush. We go on a small walkabout, and he talks me through trees, flowers, leaves, barks. This is used for treating colds. This is a contraceptive plant. This tree sap soothes toothache. These leaves in a tea bring sugar levels down. He is very open and happy to talk about a variety of conditions and remedies.
He shows me “bush tucker”: comestible plants one can survive on when in the Bush. How to recognize plants that show water is close to the surface. We also talk about black magic, sorcery and the like.
When we move to manual therapy, he is a bit uneasy. He knows someone who uses his hands to treat, he has seen it happen, but he does not have the gift. He explains that his grand father was a medicine man and healer, who died as his mother was heavily pregnant. My new friend was said to be a “spirit baby”, a form of reincarnation. When he was born, he was praised and treated with much respect. But as he developed, he did not develop any of the faculties his grand father had. He learned about Bush Medicine nonetheless, but later moved away from his family. When I approached this subject, he shut down a little. He had been a disappointment. He was not the spirit baby that his piers were waiting for.

He suggests a medicineman who lives further North on the Peninsula. Unfortunately, all the roads are closed, as there has been a lot of rain recently. Moreover, it is currently “Law” so he is not available.

This is man’s business: it is boy’s initiation. The boys go out in the outback with the medicine man and a few elders, and are taught basic Bush skills. How to find the right trees for making boomerangs, how to hunt and fish, how to fight, how to find food and water, and the stories of Dreamtime: the songs, legends and dances. At the end of Law, a big ceremony is organized when the boys return to their family. The feasts are said to be exceptional.

My new friend, his son and the traditional shield and ingraved pearl shell
My new friend, his son and the traditional shield and ingraved pearl shell

We talk some more, about my research and my personal quest. He tells me that unfortunately, there are very few “medicine women”, and that a traditional male medicine man could not tell me much about Bush medicine and healing, as he must keep it secret from others, especially women. Like many traditional societies, Aboriginals keep men and women separate. Their culture is based on survival, where each member of the family as their own role. Some hunt, others gathers. Some stay with the children and elders, other gather water. Some treat and heal, other tells stories and dance. They believe that each person has their own talent, and it is a lifelong quest to look for one’s talents and use them for the use of one’s own benefit and the families survival. That is why everything is shared: all food, water, stories, and nowadays: money.

The locals who have integrated into Western society then face a big dilemna: keep ties with their family and therefore distribute their wage, share their house and car; or cut away and make the most of our consumer society?
Most of them cannot keep their motivation, when they see that their money is transformed into alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. When they witness the fruit of their work destroying their family, many stop working and return to the government minimal indigenous income.
Others volunteer, give their art for free, or give all their money to the Church, as they do not want to have to deal with the family politics involved with earning a decent wage.
At the weekend, I indulged in the local past time: driving 4-wheel drives and fishing! A very rudimental “reel” and a huge hook with a piece of squid did the trick. We drove around for hours in dirt tracks (and yes, I mean in, rather than on!), clearing them before we could progress: trees, branches, logs impaired our expedition.
Learning to fish the local way
Learning to fish the local way

 Over the course of my stay, I met the local clinic manager, nurses, and locum rural general practitioners. Most of them told me there were many forms of Bush Medicine used in everyday life, especially using local plants, but most of them know nothing on manual therapy.
I was told that elder women helped the young mums in prenatal care and during delivery, but it stayed very vague. As a foreigner to the community, the locals did not have much trust in me, and suddenly forgot everything they knew. I did feel a little like a police person doing an investigation on terrible crimes, especially when the “witnesses” kept contradicting themselves, covering eachother and telling outrageous lies.

But I continued my research, and when I was downhearted, I studied even harder my books on Chinese Medicine. Of course, there is still amazing medicine out there, in the oldest culture in the world, but to find it, I would need at least 6 to 12 months of integration in a rural, faraway community before I could get straight answers to my questions. This time of the year, because of the Wet and the initiation, it is simply not possible. And what would I do for 6 months? I would go stir crazy just sitting around, and with my visa, I cannot work or even volunteer anywhere…

Onwards and upwards. I packed my bag, but left my disappointment behind. I met so many wonderful people, I shared incredible evenings, and worked hard on my books. It was time for me to go, and return to town.

Helping to prepare for the final ceremony of law
Helping to prepare for the final ceremony of law

I wanted to leave my mark… so I helped one of my new friends to prepare the boomerangs for the end of initiation. He chose the tree, made the object into its shape, and I got to paint and decorate it. This boomerang will be given to the boy -now a man- and he will cherish them for his whole life, as the symbol of his manhood. Never will he know that it was painted by a white woman! Haha!


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