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.
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!