Monthly Archives: March 2009

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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Tai Chi School – Yangshuo

Yangshuo of Guangxi Province is a quiet village town by Chinese standards, bursting with local tourists, souvenir shops and fantastic restaurants. Away from the commotion, the Long Tou Shan Martial Arts School seems surreal in its pristine environment. The moutains surrounding Yangshuo are quite incredible, random peaks covered with lush vegetation in all shades of green.
I am boarding in this school to get some basic knowledge of the art of Tai Chi. Check out their website: www.longtoutaichi.com
The two teachers are both women, and both masters in their art: Mei and Master Tang. They teach in Chinglish, and make themselves very clear to students of all nationalities. They are very patient, and will show you a move over and over again until you get it just right.
Tai Chi is an internal martial art, and teaches you to control your own vital energy, or Chi, whilst teaching you the bases for self-defense. More info on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi_chuan

The view from the training space

The view from the training space

It is early days for me, so I am simply learning to “hold the ball” and the dance moves… coordinating legs and arms is more difficult than it seems!
My legendary shortened hamstrings are also getting a good work out, as they get stretched 3 times a day.

My daily routine goes a little like this:
7am – wake up, meditation or jog (depending on weather and mood!)
8.30am – breakfast (either rice and seeds, or noodles… yum!)
9.30 to 11.30 – Morning Tai Chi training
Noon to 3.30pm – lunch, then time off. Generally spent reading (Wild Swan: three daughters of China, auto-biography of/by Jung Chan), studying my books (The philosophy of Numbers in Traditional Chinese Medicine or Chi Nei Tsang Techniques Manual) or even sometimes chatting with my fellow students!
3.30 to 5.30pm- Afternoon Tai Chi Training, often followed by a 30 min run
6pm – dinner, followed by time-off (shower, reading, chatting, interneting…)
9/10pm – well-deserved sleep!

The other students here are great: similar minded, mostly health-freaks, alternative by nature smart people! We have interesting discussion about East meets West, medicine, Yoga/Tai Chi!

One of the training areas

One of the training areas

It all sounds too perfect! The problem is that the weather here is both cold and damp. The humidity coupled with the draft and the intense cold makes it very difficult to even walk across the courtyard. Obviously there is no heating in my box-sized bedroom, which tends to be colder than an ice-box. I refer to it as my personal fridge. Of course, once in bed, one is used to warming up the covers and in a few minutes feeling very comfortable.
Not here: the percentage humidity is so high that everything is constantly wet. Clothes of course, but also bed linen, pillows, sleeping bag. Getting into bed feels like a bad dream: the thin mattress might as well have been left under the rain, and when pulling the duvet over me, it’s like having a cold shower all over again.
Under this moisture, my knees start shaking first, despite my two pairs of socks, thermal tights, trousers, at least one short-sleeved and two long-sleeved t-shirts under a thick jacket, as well as the obligatory pair of gloves, a scarf and a hat. At this point, I start feeling my knee caps: they start making a rhythmic sound as they bounce on and off my femur. It is then my entire long bone that makes itself known: I can feel the femur precisely, the articulation with the pelvis, the contours of my hip joints… I then feel my tibia and fibula, and every single bone in my ankle, followed by my metatarsals, and all the tiny bones within my toes.
I try to visualize myself on a beach, somewhere warm. I imagine rays of sunshine warming up my body. I generally succeed in limiting the bone-cold from entering my spine, and even make it regress down into my feet. But there is the biggest problem: I have not had warm feet in bed for the last week. Please don’t tell my grandma Jeanne, she would cry if she knew.
My body gives in to the cold, and tiredness takes over, so I pass out and wake up when my alarm goes the following morning. I try to move my toes, but by this time I cannot feel them. I get out of bed, and use hot then cold water alternatively to bring them back to life. When the blue shifts back to white, I dry them very carefully and put some clean socks on – but they are damp because of the humidity. D’oh.

Nevertheless, I am enjoying myself here, and the tuition is good. But if the weather does not change, if the humidity keeps up its current levels, I am not sure how long I can stay in these conditions. Within the short time period I have been here, three people have come and gone due to weather and extreme conditions of living here.
The food is great, the company is awesome, the teachers are fantastic… but the rooms and bathrooms are wet, unheated and mostly unsavoury. Actually, for China, this place is relatively expensive too!

Training...

Training...

Time will tell… There are many other places I can continue my studies in, that may be a little more comfortable, or at least better value for money!

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Guangzhou – old Canton

Settling in to China and its hussle-bussle. My new adventure started as early as Singapore, when I was the only white person in the Airport: it was 4am in the budget terminal. I boarded the plane, and already got stared at by the flying attendants, the passengers, the children… “I am going to have to get used to that again” I thought as I sat down on an empty row of 3 seats. I was able to sleep in a fully horizontal position through the four hours of my flight, which I considered as a good omen for my on-coming travels.

Guangzhou security made my going through customs the most painless process ever, and happily wondered to the luggage collection area. Police, security, armed guards are everywhere. Not only in the airport, but on the bus, on the street, in shops… Not sure whether that makes me feel safe, or quite the opposite!

The only review for the hostel I booked online was that it was “clean” and it sure is! I even booked myself the luxury of a single room en-suite, as I figured I would want some peace and quiet. And my first night – and its 15 hours of sleep – justified my need for my own space!
I have been out and about to explore the city, before making my way to Yuangsho, where I will be studying Tai Chi and Chinese Massage.

Everything in China is huge! Here a minor road...

Everything in China is huge! Here a minor road...

In the mean time, I am getting used to Chinese food… Yum. After three days, have only gone to Chinese-only, no white-faces or English menus type places, with much miming and pointing involved, and have tasted delicious noodle soups, wonderful shellfish (that I actually later threw up, but they were tasty nonetheless), and incredible dumplings. Also fresh pineapple, lychees, rambutans, and funny looking fruit I had never seen before. And not a single meal for more than a Euro.

Delicious Chinese Food

Delicious Chinese Food

It is incredibly cold – I was told it would be between 20 and 30 degrees, but a very cold front has settled in, and at night it gets to nearly freezing temperature. Shame I don’t have any heating (but I got some extra blankets) I have had to buy a big wolly hat, wear all my clothes at once, and have to keep walking to get warm! What a change from Australia and its soaring temperatures. Glad I made the most of the beach when I had the chance!

Spring... but really cold!

Spring... but really cold!

I have spent quite a lot of time resting, either in bed or in the lounge in the hostel. The rest of my days have been largely occupied by wondering aimlessly in the streets, going from markets to malls, giant supermarkets to McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks. From small, flowery back alleys to giant highways and crazy traffic.
Oh and giant parks!!! What a wonderful feeling to be walking through green spaces, where music blares from every direction, and people share simple things. Couple dance to Chinese salsa in one place, other to ballroom dances in another corner… Terrible singers join efforts to form a choir and sing at the top of their lungs, before youngsters playing Chinese keepy-uppies (with a small weights feathers, resembling a badminton ball) or grumpy old men and their board games.
Young women chase me to clean my hiking boots, whilst others stare blankly at me. My new hat helps to stay more discrete, but my blue eyes are a give away… I sit down to take it in, breathe in the mixed smells of freshly cooked food and ripe pineapple, the distorted songs and mixed music, the laughs all around me… And somehow, just for a few minutes, I feel part of it. The ambiance gets to me, a smile creeps onto my face. Deep breaths help to get this feeling of peacefulness run through me. It follows me around wherever I go, I feel good here.

Park entrance

Park entrance

Today, I went to get myself a new simcard from a Chinese network: China Mobile. It apparently has good reception and very competitive prices. I went to the shop, and showed my old simcard and some miming to get my point across. Sure enough, a list of phone numbers were shoved in my face, with a price next to each one of them. I had heard of this before: because numbers have such an importance in Chinese culture, the price of the simcard depends on what digits are in the phone number. Typically, 6 and 9 are very lucky, therefore are very expensive. Some number with 6-6-6 and 9-9-9 were five to ten times more expensive than the one I chose, a modest 136 222 01 446. Since 4 is the number associated with death, and I chose a number with double four (to the amazement of the shopping assistant, who kept pointing to the many 6 or 9 numbers) I got a pretty sweet deal…
Actually, if you had +86 (code for China) to that, you get the full deal (+86 136 222 01 446), and I can receive text messages from abroad… hint hint….

I also met some cool people in the hostel, who are traveling West also, so we may share a bit of our journey together.
So far, China has felt safe, with most of the people encountered generally helpful and kind. I am looking forward to more amazing food, and tomorrow will go for my first real Chinese massage – performed by a blind practitioner.

Street of Guangzhou

Street of Guangzhou

ps: as predicted, I cannot log in to my blog from China, so thank you Alice for putting this online for me!

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