Category Archives: china

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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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:
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

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!



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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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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