1 billion brothers: China Odyssey
It is difficult to pinpoint the seed of an adventure. Certainly the China Adventure began before I arrived at the Seattle airport. But it was Seattle where Olin and I forged our initial alliance and flew off in good faith to a country unknown to us, a series of promises, and a professional commitment.
We fly from Seattle to Tokyo over Alaska. The mountains are snowy and rugged, and oxbow rivers wind through them. We get to know each other and each other’s work and what impelled each of us to come to China to study tuina. We both saw the ad in the AMTA Journal, had talked to Ken Lubowich, found him engaging and convincing, and signed on for this study tour. Olin of Columbus, Ohio and I of Bozeman, Montana were the only tour members flying from Seattle, and had written and talked before meeting at the airport.
Tokyo’s Narita Airport looks like any large American airport. I am pat-searched in a security check; I sound like Christmas going through the metal detector. Ken finds us at the Hong Kong gate as planned. He is younger than I expected. He is very pleasant and concerned about everyone until we are all rounded up. The other people seem quite nice. There are some older ladies: Isabel, an osteopath, and her sister and assistant, Irene; Pauline, who does massage and applied kinesiology; Jean and Barbara, massage therapists; a younger woman, Cathy, who is about to graduate from medical school as an osteopath; Ron, a massage therapist in his late 30s; Liz, an extroverted massage therapist from San Jose; Jake, an orthopedic surgeon and resident Marlboro Man; Olin, and me.
We flew 10 hours to Tokyo; it is another six hours to Hong Kong. I violate every tenet of the Argonne Lab anti-jet lag plan and sleep most of the way to Hong Kong. There is an intense crimson sunset with Mt. Fuji and the plane’s wing silhouetted against the sky. We land in Hong Kong and take the bus to the YMCA. There, I have the room of honor, a room of Ken’s and Li ‘s suite. We have a large sitting room and two bedrooms. Our group meets in our room to make plans for the tours we want to take tomorrow. We are up until 2:00 a.m. local time–I have been up for 27 hours now. Our room has a beautiful view of the harbor and skyline, with huge lights naming famous watches, cameras, stereos, zippers: Citizen, Ricoh, Hitachi, YKK. The flight was grueling, especially to my knees. Olin and I watched The Golden Child and were too movied out to catch The Color of Money right afterward. I slept right through The Little Shop of Horrors on the Tokyo-Hong Kong 1eg. I thought I was dreaming when the attendant came by in the middle of the night proffering fish dinners; slept through that, too.
I wake fairly refreshed after about three hours’ sleep. The early morning is very cloudy and misty and looks like a great day for amphibians. Olin and Jake and I have signed on for a tour of Hong Kong’s New Territories, and we and several others are scheduled for a harbor cruise 1ater this afternoon.
I am gratified that everything I painstakingly selected for the trip is working out optimally. I have the right shoes, socks, shirts, pants — lightweight and compact was definitely worth the effort at selection. All the harbor skyline 1ights were on at 2:15 a.m.; now, at 6:00 a.m., they are off. I wonder when they shut them off….
The air conditioning system here is uncanny. Also welcome. All the room lights and air conditioning go out when the door is 1eft open. There is no recourse to the switches. The lights and air conditioning will return when the door is closed, along with control of the switches.
The Y is also equipped with the most industrious travel agents I’ve ever seen. They are Peter and Andrew (not brothers), and they are up with us until after 2 a.m., helping us organize our tours of Hong Kong. They are apparently a large part of the key to Ken’s organizational success.
It is Saturday; we bailed Friday, at least 17 hours of it, somewhere over the sea. After the 24-hour flight, all I want before morning is a few hours of horizontality.
I wake at my usual 5:00 a.m. and roll over till 6:00. I take a walk in the windy morning to the promenade along the harbor that is the view from our suite. The city is very beautiful and modern. We are on the Kowloon side. The traffic is electric but orderly. People on the street seem reserved and purposeful. People of all ages jog and do t’ai qi along the promenade. Hong Kongers have the highest life expectancy in the wor1d — 76. We meet in the lobby at 8:00 for the bus tour of the New Territories. The tour is disappointing, because in four hours, there are only two stops, both at curio villages, and a lot of pictures just go by. Hakka women that I had hoped to discover in alleyways were on hand all right — all over the curio villages, demanding $2 to take their picture. We oblige. Olin gets a deal on a Mao cap and post cards with his Hakka woman picture. One of the stops was a climb to the view of the Hong Kong-Mainland Frontier, which in 1997 will be a historical memory. We photograph it prodigiously, along with the Hakka women and an old man with his painting.
In the afternoon, most of our group chose the harbor cruise, which was worthwhile only for the sampan villages, where thousands of boat dwellers live, hang multi-colored laundry, and wave at cruising tourists.
Olin, Jake, and I took to the streets to find a Vietnamese restaurant Ken recommended at Nathan and Jordan Roads. There must have been a thousand restaurants at this widely jogging intersection, but not the one we were looking for, and no one we asked had heard of it. We brave Malaysian food, and are the only gringos in the dive. The food is all right but very greasy.
Later, Jake and I brave a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner, and wrestle curried cervical vertebrae of chicken and crab shells until frustration sates our appetites. Only Jake is given a menu, no matter how many times I request one. To get tired, we walk to the Temple Street Market, a huge outdoor night f1ea market, bustling with order within chaos and stuff you have to know you need to find what you’re looking for. It works; we’re exhausted from the flight and the day, and tomorrow we fly to China; Monday we have to be prime for our program of study. We have some kinetic medical discussions; Jake is helpful with diagnostics, and I believe I am helpful at splicing the Medical Model.
Hong Kong is a shopper’s haven; there’s little else here. One happy event, however, was our trip to the Space Museum and Planetarium. Jake and I wandered in, believing there were no evening shows, just to see the museum. As it turned out, a planetarium show was about to begin, but was sold out. We turned back to the museum section, disappointed, and someone ran us down and handed us two tickets. Apparently someone had given them up for the foreigners. We watched the Omnimax show of the American astronauts preparing for a space shuttle voyage, and a brief rundown of the spring sky over Hong Kong.
April 5. We fly to China. We are supposed to fly to Nanjing, with a stop in Canton. We wait in Canton for a few hours; the flight to Nanjing is questionable. We fly, then halfway through are told (by Ken) that we are not landing in Nanjing, but in Hangzhou. The flight is very rough and I am not feeling well. Ken, seated just in front of me, turns around and says, “Are you well enough to hear this? We’re not going to Nanjing.” We were just about to land, when the Nanjing airport withturned out its lights and closed down. Our pilot swooped back up like a reverse kamikaze ace, and we flew on to Hangzhou, where we waited at the airport for further instructions for several hours. We could wait and fly to Nanjing in the morning, weather permitting. We could take the train from Hangzhou tonight or tomorrow. The Chinese do not fly if there is any chance of inclement weather. Ken gambles on the weather, we take a hotel, and plan to fly to Nanjing tomorrow. The hotel is nice; there are beds and showers. Liz and I share a room, a precedent for our careers in Nanjing.
April 6. We fly to Nanjing, and are met by staff from the TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] college. I have not eaten since snacks at the Hangzhou airport the night before; the hotel restaurant was closed when we arrived at 10:30 p.m.. We are assigned dorm rooms. Liz and I are on the sixth floor. She’s glad, because she had hoped to lose some weight. Plans for lunch, lectures, and our curriculum are revealed in stages. Lectures start this afternoon; we have missed a day and have time to make up. My camera is not functioning; it took a blow in Canton, and is acting berserk. This is very disheartening. Ken, fortunately, foresees this, as he does everything, and has an extra camera I can use for a few days.
I have difficulty adjusting, and seek some tonic in prosaic details, such as doing laundry and buying stamps and post cards. All of our known mechanisms of interaction are inoperable here. It is difficult not to have a sense of personal failure when communication is so difficult because of language and cultural differences.
Our calves stretch to meet the demands of life on the sixth floor and all the walking we do around Nanjing. Initially, I wake around 5:00 a.m.; later I sleep until 6:00 or 7: 00. We work on clinic patients from 8:00 to 11:00, have free time from 11: 00 to 2:00, and attend lectures from 2:00 to 4:00. Our dorm room is rustic, a little disappointing. There is no cold water in the sink or hot water in the tub. The toilet permits one half-hearted flush in the morning, then plugs up. We are told not to put toilet paper in the toilet, but to use the wastebasket, which Liz and I steadfastly refuse to do. The poor maid comes every morning and empties out the bowl; we have no idea where she deposits the tissue and waste, and the cycle continues. There are a few televisions in the dorm, but fewer functioning toilets. Our shower drips out a few gallons an hour, and is hand-held. Aside from the plumbing, the room is not unpleasant, not especially clean, not in the least decorous, but we only camp here anyway. Liz is no slob about herself, but was raised in the absence of wastebaskets. She leaves wrappers and tissues wadded in situ wherever she needed them at the time. She is thoughtful in other ways, and we do most of our coming and going together, take jaunts to the Jinling, the western hotel, and walk the streets.
The dormitory dining room serves lunches and dinners we can order from a “menu,” but most of the different meals look and taste alike. The tastier ones are deep fried and induce colitis, and the more digestible ones are bland to tasteless. We often go to the Western restaurant at the Jinling for relief, a moderately expensive habit. Sometimes we brave “street food.” The Academy, the Jinling, and the street vendors we come to recognize are all situated along a stretch of Hangzhou Road, which comes to look 1ike the old neighborhood after a few days of walking the stretch to the Jinling.
Ron and Cathy are the real adventurers when it comes to street food, but their bravado is outclassed by their chronic reports of constipation, diarrhea, and enteritis. In fact, a notable preoccupation with bowel movement consistency and nasal and throat discharges is present at most group meals.
I have settled on a favorite breakfast of little round sesame buns filled with a sweet filling, rice gruel, and chocolate that I buy at the Jinling. Offerings I pass up are fried dough, pork-filled dumplings, eggs, and a form of sesame hardtack. Green tea with sunken or floating leaves is the ubiquitous beverage in China, and is somewhat insipid, but the only potable liquid available. Very few of us have not complained about the food. I maintain that it is fashionable, and indeed, expected, to gripe about dorm food; it has a certain categorical notoriety in our culture.
In the clinic, which is just a three-minute walk from our dorm (we pass a gate with a house that we walk right through if the gate is closed), Drs. Zhang and Xi put us to work on patients presenting a multitude of ailments from wry neck to diabetes. We rub, roll, manipulate, make little S’s with our thumbs along spines. Superficially, all the treatments appear similar for all complaints, but actually, each one is tailored to the patient, and we 1earn many strokes as each is introduced for a particular case. The doctors and patients and their children are very friendly with one another, and personal care and caring are always apparent. There might be 30 people in the treatment room, which has four massage tables and some chairs. The tables are simple: wood, no face rests, sheets that last at least all day. Patients are fully clothed when we work on them, rolling up cuffs or dropping drawers as necessary. They wear layers of heavy clothing, thermals, several shirts sweaters, and at 1east one jacket per person. We work on whatever cases we want to, or on whomever Dr. Zhang pulls us over to work on in order to demonstrate a new technique. We drink green tea, chat, and accept our roles as extraterrestrial doctors a little clumsy at tuina, the system of manual therapeutics we have come to study. One patient says I hit all the right spots with just the right pressure. I beam. Dr. Zhang says I have great strength in a small body. He is built like a windmill, short, rotund, with huge arms that barely touch his sides. Sometimes he works on two patients at once, one with each huge and powerful arm. He’s wonderful with all the patients and the children.
The atmosphere in the clinic is always warm and unaffected. The doctors devote all the time needed to each case. We see about 10 patients each morning. No one leaves unsatisfied. Patients are very verbal about getting their needs met–they will say they need more or less pressure, where to work on them, when they feel better. Diagnostics are vague and generic. Vertigo that could result from a brain tumor is treated with tuina; so are diabetes, polio, and injuries that would probably benefit from minor surgery. We witness treatments with acupuncture, cupping, and moxibustion, all of which seem to bring people to some point of progress. I remain distrustful of some of these methods, but can’t help believing what I see. I also believe there is such a thing as conditioned recovery response, meaning that patients are culturally conditioned to believe they are better after such treatments, just as they are conditioned to seek them out, believing they need them. Maybe they do. Maybe they are more in touch with their own qi than I can yet fathom being.
We call Dr. Zhang the Little Butcher, because of his build and his continual gi1t-toothed smile. He appears able to 1ift anyone for a spinal manipulation.
Dr. Xi is gaunt and gently phlegmatic; he has very angular facial bones and high eyebrows. He works with a quiet strength I really admire. We go to him; he never tugs us over to patients the way Dr. Zhang does, but he is very warm toward us.
Our interpreters are Jin, Tu, and Tao. They relay what the patients and doctors say to us and each other, and everything we say to and ask of them. They also interpret in our lectures. They are very pleasant and friendly, and seem honestly to enjoy working with us. I grow very fond of them. Without them, there would be no program for us here.
Between 11:00 and 2:00, we wait for slow 1unch service in the dorm or at the Jinling. This hotel is strictly for foreigners and overseas Chinese. It serves poor but palatable Western food, which, I have come to appreciate, is better at its worst than Chinese food at its worst. The hotel also has a revolving bar on the 36th floor where Liz and Jake and I have spent a few hours watching the city lights and listening to jazz. According to one guide book, the Jinling is the main tourist attraction in Nanjing. It’s certainly a beacon for us. Sometimes we walk during our lunch break, just hit the streets, trying to take aim. Usually we find our way back, but once Olin and I were lost and were running late. We showed our school address card to someone, a crowd gathered around us (there are always crowds in Nanjing, but this one wasn’t moving and we were in the middle), and someone walked us back to the Academy. Sometimes we shop, or I watch Liz shop. Sometimes we nap, write postcards, or play ping pong. Jake’s ambition is to take on a Chinese at ping pong. Mine is to keep the ball on the table. From 2:00 to 4:00 we attend lectures on tuina. The doctors from the clinic demonstrate techniques and discuss applications and indications for tuina. Our interpreters coordinate fantastically well with the 1ecturers, and the information is comprehensive and applicable immediately in our clinic work. We practice the difficult rub-roll on little rice-filled pillows at our desks, and on each other. Olin is a natural. The rub-roll is difficult, but once in a while I feel I’ve got the hang of it.
We have free time until 5:30, and often walk at this time. The foreign language bookstore is a good place to buy books and tapes. We walk through the side street markets, along the river and canal, and through the Jinling’s malls, looking at travel books and art.
Almost every evening at 7:00, there is some sort of planned culture event. One evening, some watercolor artists came and demonstrated their styles and techniques. Ken solicited commissioned works for them, and I ordered a painting of a tuina subject. Another evening we had a troupe of local singers and dancers who were extremely good. They ended the evening with an open dance, with Chinese rock on tape. Another evening, the college director delivered a lecture, interpreted by Tao, on the history of Jiangsu Province, where Nanjing is located. The highlight was watching Cathy, Irene, Jean, and Barbara nod off to sleep in quick succession. After culture night, we walk, play ping pong, or retire to write post cards.
Across the hall from Liz and me lives Gene Gudmunson, a native of Miles City, Montana. I call him Miles. He currently lives in Chicago, and is a chiropractor and acupuncturist. He is enrolled in the international acupuncture program at the College. Miles is a monastic sort, introverted and not awfully sociable, but very pleasant and helpful to Liz and me. He tells us the ropes of the College and living in Nanjing, which he loves dearly. The guy has terminal Nanjing. He’s been here three months, and plans to stay at least another four. One night he takes Liz out to show her the city. He volunteers his time teaching English at the College. He has a real affinity for China and an honest empathy for the Chinese, which necessarily accompanies a gently contemptuous impatience for the Americans who complain about the conditions in the dorm and the food. He understands how not to compare conditions to standards, and I admire him for it. The conditions we have are magnitudes better than what the Chinese students have. Our toilets don’t flush regularly, but our Chinese counterparts have chamber pots and no maid service. Miles tells us that the medical faculty we work with are doctors that the Chinese students aspire to study under. The very best of what the College has to offer is laid out for the international study programs. Miles is a serious person, healer, and scholar. Unattractive on a Redford scale, he is a very sensitive person, and Liz does well at drawing him out, and her efforts f1atter both of them.
April 10. We tour the Physical Culture Center, an impressive facility where China’s athletes train in dance, sports, and gymnastics. They perform some very impressive exhibitions for us. I wonder what they do when real dignitaries come. Everyone is very informal and very proud. There is a visible pride shared by our instructors, interpreters, the college director: they really have something to share with us, and they are sharing as friends. The team sports exhibit a highly cooperative competition. Self-aggrandizement is nearly absent — maybe traceable in the individual gymnasts, but even there, I see a refreshing humility rare in American athletes. Some of China’s Olympic athletes are training here. We return another day and have the privilege of treating some of their muscle injuries.
April 12. We tour the Buddha Caves outside Nanjing, and walk up to a small vista point, the first semblance of wilderness I’ve seen in China. For a couple of minutes there is no sight or sound of other people, a very rare occurrence . The walk is nonetheless heavily trafficked, and there is considerable picnic trash lying on the ground. Some of the trees are in blossom. The monastery itself is somewhat garish, with gold-painted Buddhas. The monks sing and show us around the pictures for sale in the dining hall, chant, and generally try to carry on their idea of religious life in public. Next we go to a nine-story pagoda which we climb and enjoy the view, and to the Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum, a wonderwork of stairs and intricate roofing. Jake takes a couple of Polaroid pictures, and a crowd forms to watch them develop. Then we’re off to the Ming Tombs, not much anymore except for the colossal animals in the tomb alley. We are taking in the major attractions of Nanjing in a day between school sessions.
April 13. Ken arranges for a college bus to take us to Xuan Xi Park and the zoo, where we see pandas and some poor1y kept animals. The padd1eboats look like fun, but there is no time to take them out. On the way back, the College treats us to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant. The food is bland, but better than the dorms.
April 15. There is something about everyone here that I am tested by. Liz is a positive challenge in personal and professional ambition; others challenge me to overcome negative aspects in one way or another. School is a test in itself, staying motivated in the light of routine. Clean towels here are almost a distraction, they’re so welcome. Dry towels are something •to write home about, literally. Hangzhou Road looks 1ike the old neighborhood now. It’s draining having to stay occupied, get tired enough to sleep, constantly be in company of people I didn’t choose, constantly be with people period. Hangzhou Road becomes familiar in smells, slights, faces. I feel expected on the strip from 11: 00 to 2:00. Street vendors’ pots smell of sesame oil, a pungent, burning kind of smell; overboiled eggs, and dust-swelling crowds. I learn that bicycles will stop for walkers, busses won’t. Once we almost lost Jake to a turning cab.
A couple of days ago, Dr. Zhou Shaou Sheng, a friend of Ling’s and Long’s here, got in touch with me through one of the acupuncture students about meeting at the Jinling for tea. Liz, Jake, and I met him. I bribed our waiter, Xiao Ping, with a ballpoint pen to see Zhou into the restaurant. He brought his friend and interpreter, Lucy, who is with CITS (China International Travel Service). Zhou really wants to come to America, and we have no idea how to help him or how to effect necessary introductions. Ken emphatically will not help, saying we wouldn’t believe how many people ask him to get them to America. We believe him. We wouldn’t want to live in China either. Tonight, Zhou and his wife have the three of us to dinner at their home. They have the typical two rooms, around 200 square feet total, with beds and dining area together. One of us must sit on the bed at the table for lack of chairs. There is a small refrigerator, a floor brazier for cooking, and a chamber pot. Clearly Zhou’s wife has spent a great deal of time preparing this feast, which includes a lavish layout of duck, goose, chicken, eel, fish, vegetables, rice, preserved eggs, and spicy peanuts. The home is immaculate, has cement floors and stained plaster walls. The food looks beautiful, is arranged in an artistic fashion, and very unhappily, I’m afraid to eat most of it. Jake braves the preserved eggs, Liz eats some eel, and I eat chicken, vegetables, and a lot of peanuts, so that between us, we manage to pick at almost everything and not be too insulting, we hope. Sesame oil permeates the air. The house is co1d, the door is open. The door faces a courtyard and 1ike dwellings. I laugh at Jake trying a door he thinks leads to a bathroom, passing the chamber pot. We bolt after dinner for the Nanjing Hotel to use the bathroom. I don’t have a mechanical problem using the chamber pot; it is the idea of having to be cleaned up after. It’s nothing to them, I know, but it’s something to me. At the Nanjing Hotel, which accommodates wealthier traveling Chinese, Jake gets his hair cut, and we all have stale cake, thin ice cream, and off-taste coffee with evaporated milk. Everything has under-tastes, after-tastes, off-tastes–it wil1 be good to get to a safe salad and familiar flavors again.
April 16. Maybe conversion cannot occur at the source of infusion. Actual witnessing of the acupuncture phenomena doesn’t seem to sink in; it still seems needlessly painful and barbaric to me, even though I see patients laid out placidly and serenely, and somehow getting up and doing better afterward. My resistance has yet to be disarmed. There are no control studies showing the effects of acupuncture vs. the effects of doing nothing or using another modality. Cathy had diarrhea, received acupuncture to her hand, the diarrhea went away. She’s essentially healthy, and Jake and I believed her condition would have cleared up with no treatment, or with a less painful one. Her hand was sore for most of the day. She may also have been susceptible to conditioned recovery, which I suspect many of our patients are. Tomorrow is our last day in the clinic and I want the energy available to put in some quality time. The tuina we have done in the clinic has gone very well, and has been the best part of our time spent here.
We tour the herbal pharmacy at the affiliated hospital, where we worked yesterday. There is also a Western section of the pharmacy. The herbal pharmacy was fascinating–the labor intensity just to keep the herbal inventories organized is overwhelming. There are over 1,000 herbs–dried insects, bark, berries, leaves, molds, animal organs, etc. Five years’ training is necessary for the herbal pharmacists. The pharmacy stocks only the 1,000 most commonly used herbs. They come as dried, powdered, teas, and pastes. They are grown naturally and processed in factories. Sometimes they are chemically treated, or fried, ground, stewed, sun-dried, or baked. Ginseng is now grown in greenhouses; otherwise it would be too expensive for extensive use.
Western pharmaceuticals are available in the western sector of the pharmacy. The doctor, not the patient, chooses whether traditional or Western drugs are indicated. Tuina doctors prescribe remedies for muscular and external problems; internal doctors prescribe for internal disorders, either traditional or Western remedies. Traditional remedies are stressed at the affiliated hospital where we work. I notice that diazepam (Valium) is on hand in the Western pharmacy, as well as a selection of vitamins. I cannot help wondering why diazepam, of all things, is available in the Western pharmacy. Surely if TCM is good for anything, anxiety should be easy for its many holistic remedies to deal with. I receive the vague Western-style answer, “it that’s what the doctor wants. . . .”
My energy is low from lack of sleep and food. I don’t understand people like Miles who can survive terminal Nanjing. We have three lectures today to make up for our late arrival and early departure — we must 1eave for Wuxi on Saturday in order to catch a boat to Hangzhou Sunday. My back bothers me only infrequently; I’m close to total physical denial stages.
I know people who believe profoundly in the efficacy of TCM and in the habitability of Nanjing. Maybe it takes the gift of faith. I wonder what impels Zhou Shao Sheng to want to come to America, when he’s here where he is employed, considered good at what he does, and working within his own belief system. Everyone here seems to have a wider dream. It is unusual, but I have had no dreams I remember since I’ve been here. I miss saddle soap, diverse food, and sun. The John Denver song with “Sometimes I think I ’11 never see the sun again,” keeps going through my mind. My white shoes are beyond filthy; they look like the color of the streets of Nanjing.
I had no leather cleaner, but I washed my shoelaces every night. This stymied Miles, who said, “You probably have the only clean shoelaces in Nanjing.”
Bundling up is a way of life here. I wear two shirts, two sweaters, and a jacket everywhere. We work through blanket thicknesses of thermals and clothing on our patients. We drink the same green tea for warmth and liquid day after day. I am always cold.
Every morning, the maid delivered a quart thermos of lukewarm green tea, with leaves floating on top, outside our dormroom door. It was years before I would ever drink green tea again, and a year before I would eat Chinese food once I was home. Any Chinese restaurant boasting “authentic” was out of the question.
Some years back, Miles tells Liz, a government campaign was initiated to eradicate flies. People were given rewards for every ten flies they brought in. Some people began breeding flies for the rewards, but somehow the number of flies was reduced to nearly nil, even with all the meat butchered in the streets. Next, they decided to get rid of the birds, because birds eat grain and seeds. With the birds dwindling, the flies again proliferated, but now their numbers are again quite low. I’ve seen very few birds around Nanjing.
April 17.We’ve seen a few really banged up, swollen knees resulting from bicycle-bus collisions. Acupuncture and tuina or just tuina are applied. There is no ice. A western doctor was unab1e to offer further help on one knee we are treating. The patella is dislocated and obviously very painful. The patient will begin daily treatments for at least five months. Acupuncture was not indicated in this case because the problem is bone-related; acupuncture is indicated only in soft tissue, muscle, ligament, and organ problems.
Tonight we are attending the Beijing Opera, and Liz and I decide to have our hair shampooed and blow-dried, a real treat after the all-day hang-dry in the humidity method. Ding recommends a local beauty shop, and Miles gets us there. Inside, a crowd gathers to watch us have our hair washed. The place is full–there must be more than 50 people in the large shop. At first, we are given the typical preferential treatment of foreigners, and taken ahead of other waiting patrons. Our hair is shampooed, and we are left sitting for a long time, during which we watch in horror as a girl has her hair bound in a ponytail and lopped. Our hair will soon be dry, and we don’t want to wait around; our lecture will begin in an hour and a half. We pay 40 fen each for the shampoos, leave the shop with our hair wet and uncombed, and bolt for the Jinling, a block away and across the street, where our hair is trimmed, styled, and dried by a competent professional designer for 15 yuan.
Our closing ceremony at the Academy is friendly, nostalgic, and again, emphasizes the historicity of our being the first international tuina class at Nanjing, although the College has a longstanding reputation for its international acupuncture program. I look forward to marketing my new material and expanding my business.
The Beijing Opera is a special treat, as it comes to Nanjing only once in several years. I enjoy the production, aided by Tu’s narration. The costumes and make-up are fabulously flamboyant, as is the high, wailing pitch of the singing. The smoke is thick in the opera house, which has simple but elegant curtains, no sets; the production’s flamboyance is dependent on costume and symbolic objects. The seats are hard. The audience appreciates a good aria, and cheers and applauds their favorites. They also talk through most of the performance, so Tu’s translating and our curious chatter is not conspicuous. The Chinese operatic tradition apparently predates Verdi by at least 700 years.
Tomorrow we leave by early bus for Wuxi. I wish I were running to the Great Wall and Guilin in a day and going home tomorrow evening. At the same time, I feel as though I’m leaving Nanjing just as I’m getting the hang of the place. Miles showed Liz and me a great jiaouzi (boiled dumpling) place for lunch, a real hole in the wall, where we filled up for about 50 cents apiece. It’s like 19th-century America, only with 5 million people. It’s starting to warm up. Bao says it is summer in Guilin. That sounds good.
April 18. Our departure from the College is sentimental — our teachers and interpreters will miss us, and we will miss them. Again, a sense of ceremony and history is with us. We ride the bus for five hours, passing tea and mustard fields, farmers tilling with wooden rakes, carts that share the road and defer to our bus’s horn. We make a potty stop, and locals gather around to gawk at us as we line up to negotiate the squatter. We arrive in Wuxi in the afternoon. Wuxi is an attractive city, we have a comfortable hotel — lavish after our dorms, and the food is relatively good. Liz and I sing God Bless America as we dress in the morning. Wuxi is to Nanjing what Te Anau is to Houston. The afternoon of our arrival, we don shorts and take a luxury cruiser along Lake Taihu. The lake is pretty, dotted with little islands, all with curved-roofed gazebos and tourist shops. We visit a city park, there is a pretty blossom-flanked promenade along the lake. At the Wuxi Friendship Store I pick up a small hard-sided suitcase for 15.5 yuan, about $5.00, to tote my books and gifts. Dinner is good. Our room has TV and stereo with Western music, very welcoming by now. And Wuxi is very warm.
Tomorrow we get an early start to tour Suzhou, then take a night boat to Hangzhou. The touring is like play after our work in Nanjing, but a little lonely without that sense of purpose, too.
As we passed field after field, I wondered if the farmers bearing shoulder poles knew about qi — do they practice shiao lin or receive tuina treatments — do they have a centered understanding of where their energy comes from, or do they just work. We worked in a city clinic; this is rural China. Eighty percent of the Chinese population is rural.
April 19. It is Easter. We are in Suzhou. The bus ride from Wuxi is like all bus rides: constant honking of horns, near misses with bicycles and other busses, passing farm carts that resemble rototillers with wooden carts at the back.
Suzhou is a major textile center. The Friendship Store here is especially good for silks. I get a full-length hand embroidered silk robe for 43 yuan, about $15. We visit the Leaning Pagoda of Tiger Hill. Olin is depressed, I buy him some sunglasses. We walk through a garden that dates back to the Ming Dynasty; there is litter everywhere, but the grounds are pretty and border a lake.
In the evening, we board a night boat for Hangzhou. It’s a 13-hour “cruise” down the Grand Canal. We are in tiny berths, with two bunks, four of us to a berth. The landscape out of our window is unvarying, except for the seemingly infinite variety of boats we pass. The berths are so small that we can lie on the bunks, or two of us at a time can stand between them. There is no head clearance for sitting. The dining area affords sitting space, at least, and we pass some time playing hangman there. One of the boat’s engineers has a trashy guitar, and Cathy plays it and we sing a few songs, mostly variations on “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “500 Miles.” Jake solos as usual. He has also brought a surprise bottle of Drambuie from the Suzhou Friendship Store, and we indulge in a few shots. We try to sleep, despite the constant boat horns and motors throughout the night.
April 20. We are docking in Hangzhou. Hangzhou and Suzhou are supposed to be paradises on earth. I believe this is a product of provincial, untravelled Chinese chauvinism. There are five million people in Hangzhou, half a million in Suzhou. The declarer of these paradises had never been to Montana or New Zealand. Hangzhou is actually more populous than Nanjing, but is more orderly and cleaner. Our hotel, the Xin Qiao, is nice after the tiny boat berths, but not as luxy as the Taihu in Wuxi. Actually, Hangzhou has an almost small-town appeal. It is built around West Lake, the pride of China, and has nice shopping, although at this point I am tired of the Friendship Store circuit, and the local stores don’t offer the quality that is worth carrying home. We ride a boat around West Lake. It has a golden griffin for its stern and prow. We walk around the isles where there is a chain of lagoons and lots of tourist shops along the paths. Although the day is sweltering, people are bundled in their usual layers. I gave Bao the sweater I bought in Nanjing and my green parka to cut back on weight. We shouldn’t hit more cold weather, and I have my other sweater and my Academy sweatshirt.
There are low mountains, or rolling hills behind West Lake. It isn’t Lake MacDonald, but very pretty for an inner-city lake.
Olin and I have been analyzing the interpersonal dynamics within our group, what we’re here to learn from each of them. Our tolerance for structure is waning. We’ve been spoken for and taken to the bathroom for weeks now. We met a German party traveling without a guide. I don’t know how they do it, but they seemed to be having a good time.
China is incessant bus horns, bicycle bells, walking people, bicycling people, traditional, informal, unpredictable, hospitable, reserved, paradoxical in that it is expectant of change yet not expecting of any sequences of interaction. It’s a rich program, self-secure, self-sufficient, yet actively accumulating new elements. Life is precious here; the idea westerners often have that life is cheap just doesn’t hold up. The whole structure of Chinese order is designed to preserve, protect, and enhance life. People are very protective of their children (and their child-brained foreigners: I was climbing up on some rocks in a city park in Wuxi, and three Chinese hovered protectively around me all the while).
This evening we are treated to a performance of the Hangzhou Teenage Acrobatic Troupe. They are phenomenal. They are what being centered looks like. Their feats seem biomechanically impossible. They are varied, beautiful, creative, and very heartening.
I take an early morning walk to West Lake Park. It’s a rare walk alone; I remember that I’ve done very little alone since being in China. The air is still cool, a welcome sensation, as it will be sweltering later. In the park, groups of two to 25 people are doing t’ai qi, slow powerful stretches in a regular, animal-imitating form. Many of the people are elderly. There is a serene grace to them as they perform their routines; this is true Quiet Power. Other people work out with swords, do karate, stretch, play badminton, all while the city and the traffic go by outside the trees that border the park. I enjoy this so much more than the American exercise spas. There is no music, no force, no speed, just quiet power in motion. People in the park. Liz and I have already acknowledged the specter of separation anxiety. Tomorrow the group disperses, and I’ll miss her, Olin, and Vicki.
We tour the Lingyin Buddhist temple, which has stone Buddhas cut into rock caves. It is Tuesday, and there are thousands of people here. I need a wilderness experience and take off from our group to climb the inviting rocks around the temple area. The Buddhists must have incorporated commercialism into their cosmology; the place is like a shopping mall. The Chinese look on with great curiosity as I am perched on a gazebo wall, writing. Some girls look over my shoulder as I write, apparently fascinated. They probably regard my ability to write my language with the same awe that I regard theirs. I wander around, come down, see no one from our group, walk, pressed among throngs of Chinese, and get the first unnerving scintillation of being lost in China.
I am at the gate at the appointed time, and still see no one I know. I go from the gate to the busses and back, countless times, for 40 thirsty minutes, and decide my group has left, assuming I’d get back, and I hitch on with another American tour group departing in their own bus. They are Americans living in Pakistan, working on the power plant at Lahore. Their company is refreshing. The women say they would do the same thing in my place. They take me with them on an excursion to a tea plantation and back to my hotel; it is fortunate my journal with the name of the hotel was with me. Meanwhile, Tao and Bao have taken a taxi back to the temple to look for me. I am told they will look there until they find me, which seems absurd to me, but This is China. Isabel insists that we take a taxi and go retrieve them, an idea I try to insist is impractical, since they would surely have left by now, but I was the cause of the trouble, and I go along. Of course by the time we get there they have left to return to the hotel, finally confident or at least hopeful that I’ve made my way back. It is a humorless comedy of errors, and we are reunited at last, in time for lunch. I felt quite resourceful, but had to fasten my flack jacket against Jake’s aggrandizement of Bao’s concern and Isabel’s heroism. I just think it’s metaphysical that I missed them in the first place.
I have a bad sore throat and a budding sinus infection. I take Western remedies, Ampicillin and some cold capsules that work. Tomorrow a reduced contingent leaves for Beijing. I have organized my packing; the small suitcase I bought in Wuxi is just right. I call Barry, and find that I have a Northwest ticket home, good news. Morale is rebuilding slowly. I miss my camera terribly.
Half of us eat Western and half eat Chinese food tonight. After dinner, Olin and I take a walk around West Lake and process some of the dynamics of what has gone with the group. I regret a lot of misconnections, lessons I’ll have to meet again. At least we think about them, talk about them. Vicki has been very sweet. I think she feels that I’m an ally from outer space. Tomorrow she and Liz and Olin will fly to Hong Kong and I will fly to Beijing with Isabel and Irene, Jake and Bao, now an established dyad, and Ron and Cathy. I’ve heard that it’s warm in Beijing; the Americans from Pakistan said it was freezing there last week; one more unknown won’t sink me.
April 22. After waking with what feels like a cotton plantation in my throat and some mild cramps, we’re on the plane to Beijing. There are some teary goodbyes with those who left for Hong Kong. I’m allowed to carry both my bags on the plane. I’m in higher spirits today, happy to be embarking for the Great Wall, Beijing, Guilin. See it all now; I don’t think I’ll be back. We arrive in Beijing, and signs in English welcome us. Children on the conveyor ramp say hello and goodbye in English. I hate to say something so blatantly chauvinistic, but Civilization At Last is my first impression.
We drive from the airport to the Beijing Dong Fang Fan Dian Hotel (I’ll really need to carry matches to remember this one) along a tree-flanked highway accommodating cars, bicycles, pony carts, and trucks in relative harmony. No horns honk, and there are very few near misses. The flight from Hangzhou was just one and one-half hours, and very smooth. The architecture in Beijing is massive, monolithic, imperial, and under extensive construction. The city seems clean, organized. There are 10 million people. The shops seem somewhat cosmopolitan and geared to foreign tastes. I share a room with Irene; she is very pleasant, but she and her sister Isabel are obsessed with wearing the right jackets and Isabel constantly comes in to tell Irene what to wear. They have always had a room together, but now Isabel shares a room with Jake to avert awkwardness for any of the younger women. I stick with them; Jake is off with Bao, and Ron and Cathy are off to do the town.
Isabel, Irene, and I try to take a taxi to the foreign language bookstore. We sit in endless traffic and fumes. There are no meats cooking in the streets as there were in Nanjing and to a lesser extent in Hangzhou. There are vegetable vendors, fruits, endless shops with gaudy cheap sweaters. There is considerable variation in people’s dress. The only two influences of Communism I have so far seen are that prices are regulated and you are able to buy goods in hotel shops without worrying about being ripped off; and, Bao tells, us that Chinese are not free to move at will to other cities without first securing husbands (she didn’t say or wives) or jobs in the new city. Bao says that otherwise everyone would move to the cities.
Despite the huge urban populations, 80 percent of the population of China is rural. It is warm in Beijing, not sweltering as it was in Hangzhou, but certainly not cool. It’s sunny and hazy, with none of the famous April dust storms in sight. Traffic congestion seems to be chronic; we’ve been inching along since 4 p.m., and now it’s nearly 5:00. We hope the bookstore will be open when we finally arrive. As in Nanjing, busses are packed to standing capacity like pickles in a jar. I have not ridden a bus in China, or tasted eel, or jellyfish, or preserved eggs.
People move mattresses, couches, everything on flatbed carts hitched to their bicycles. I’ve never seen a couch in a home, but several on the backs of bicycles.
Out taxi driver is resourceful, and gets us to the foreign language bookstore, which turns out to be a write-off after spending most of the afternoon in the taxi. There are no instrumental music tapes, and the books we are interested in are not there. Then, the quest for sanitary napkins. First, we must call Jake and Bao and tell them we are running late, but to wait for us for dinner. We request a telephone, and the clerk repeats the word “telephone.” I ask WHERE is the telephone; he says, “telephone.”
Evidently, the happy clerk was thrilled to be able to use the one English word he knew, and he repeated it with joy. We experienced several occasions of what some other international students had termed “language rape.” We would be walking down the street, and a Chinese person would stop immediately in front of us, very nearly nose to nose, and demand that we say something in English. Nanjing received very few foreign visitors in those days. It was a proud occasion for a native of the city, and he would tell everyone he knew that he had met and spoken with a foreigner.We finally get a phone because our taxi driver makes an angry gesture toward a phone we couldn’t see and the clerk hands it to us. The hotel desk neglects to deliver the message, but no matter; Jake and Bao are also delayed in traffic while trying to secure our tickets to Guilin. We ask a customer who speaks a fair amount of English where there is a pharmacy, and the taxi driver gets us there . We don’t see any sanitary napkins, but Isabel insists that we should ask, and she has a phrase book. She does not find where the word for “sanitary napkins” is in her book, and resorts to words for “genitals” and “blood,” and gestures with her hand under her crotch. The scene is hysterical, and the pharmacy has no sanitary napkins, but the pharmacists have a decent laugh. The taxi driver knows what we’re talking about, and herds us into a department store — where the pads are sold in the lingerie department — and negotiates my triumphant purchase. I thank him profusely and give him a Kennedy half dollar, which he admires all the way back to our hotel.
Once someone stopped an inch from my face and asked me in intelligible English if I was blind. I asked one of our interpreters why he would ask me this, and was told that he had probably never seen blue eyes before.
At dinner, Bao tells us that our passage to Guilin is uncertain. There are various bureaucratic reasons why. In China, you may purchase tickets from one point to another only at that originating point, i.e., tickets from Beijing to Guilin must be purchased in Beijing; there is no such thing as buying tickets for an entire tour in, say, Nanjing. This is China. The College is basically at fault for not having sent Bao to Beijing two weeks ago to purchase these tickets to Guilin for our use now. So, we may be in Beijing for five days and not see Guilin, which would certainly be disappointing. There is the possibility of flying to Canton and taking the train to Guilin. The director of the Beijing TCM College is doing his best to secure our plane tickets. In the meantime, tomorrow is our excursion to the Great Wall. Tonight we visited the Friendship Store, disappointing for not coming close to the quality of the store in Suzhou, and the Beijing Hotel shop, disappointing for not accepting credit cards. I am out of cash.
April 23. Quarter moon over Beijing in the early dawn. Moon and sky fade to haze. Our view is mostly smokestacks, buildings. Bicycles are in the street by dawn. Today we are going to the Great Wall, the pride of China, the only manmade structure visible from space. Tonight we are supposed to confirm our passage to Guilin. Irene is very sweet but she snores. Less than two hours out of Beijing we are in view of mountains and the Great Wall winding through them, visible from both sides of the road, forever. We climb a segment of the Wall, a decent hike. Part of it has steps, part is just stone, a lot of it is very steep. It would be very slick if wet; happily, the day is sunny, clear, and dry. The terrain is chaparral-scrub, rugged and rocky, with short piñon-type trees. The Wall is one of few built structures — maybe the only one besides Stonehenge and Notre Dame — to inspire me with real awe. The massive work goes on for 2,000 miles; it is nearly 2,000 years old. There is no “next ridge.” The mountains are not really high, but rugged and impressive, more so because the Great Wall slithers over them, an ancient symbol of impenetrability, in some of the oldest hills on the earth. Here come some Chinese boys with a ghetto blaster. Just journaling here on the Great Wall. It is Thursday. The Wall is a popular Chinese playground. Two thousand miles of graffiti. I wonder how much of it anyone has walked. I think the Wall reminds me of something else: recovering from 1,000 years of solitude, isolation, loneliness.
We spend more time in the souvenir shops than on the Wall. Life with a tour group. Pink- and white -blossomed trees grow up the slopes below the Wall. Seeing the Great Wall even from a distance in the bus is thrilling, like seeing Stonehenge from the highway. We make yet another stop at a souvenir village before we go to the Ming Tombs. Here are real hawkers, Tijuana style, barking, “hello, hello,” proffering tablecloths and jade. Cathy says China is one big flea market. The best line of the trip, though, belongs to Isabel, who says we were in Nanjing ten days before she knew the busses had seats. We proceed to the Beijing Ming Tombs, more elaborate than the Nanjing set–these Mings buried themselves around. The shop at the tombs is excellent, and they take VISA, and I get my ink pots for my chops.
A chop is a small soapstone block carved at the bottom with the ideographic representation of the owner’s name. It is the Chinese equivalent of the Egyptian cartouche. They probably didn’t know what to make of my name, but I think they applied the phonetic equivalent of Lauren and came up with the ideograph for “green river,” which in Chinese would have a sound similar to “Lauren.”
The lunch is also excellent. I am reminded that the Ming Tombs are also here, and set out to see the vault. These include excavated chambers, which, as the China Survival Guide quips, are only slightly less engaging than a bank vault. The tomb alley is dramatic and more extensive than the one outside Nanjing. When we return to the hotel, Bao has to solve the problem of whether we are to take a train to Guilin tomorrow, fly there Saturday, or stay in Beijing forever. We are also to call Northwest tonight and confirm our tickets home. I tried to call Rachel Knight at the Sheraton; she was in Singapore. I sent her a note wishing her a Montana hello.
We call Northwest, and I’m confirmed to Seattle. I can pick up my tickets when we arrive in Hong Kong Monday. We are still unsure as to how we are getting to Hong Kong, but Bao says there is no problem, there are many ways to get to Hong Kong. I’m slightly distrustful, knowing that she really doesn’t want us to leave, but she’s come through so far. The only really unfortunate thing is that we are unable to get plane tickets to Guilin, and will have to take a 30-hour train trip to get there. Bao, Jake, Ron, and Cathy talk of playing Mah Jong on the train. Isabel and Irene are not going to Guilin. I brace for a 30-hour reading and writing stint and pray there will be visible scenery. Two nights and a day on the train. Our reservations are for “hard sleepers,” which means about 30 cots to a section, with free smoking. Guilin had better be really good. Read my acupuncture book, review my tuina notes, turn disadvantage to opportunity. With Irene gone, I’ll be on my own within the group. Olin and I had noted at one point that everyone in our group is self-centered and into themselves and each other if the reflection makes them look good. We were the vampires, we didn’t have reflections other people could see themselves in the way they wanted to. Ah well. The Great Wall was inspiring. I’ll get to see Guilin, even if I have to ride a train with two young-and-in-love couples to get there. Today I wrote in my journal on the Great Wall. The scenery of Guilin is unique; the personnel is interchangeable throughout life, and will recur in other units until I’m finished learning from it.
April 24. A grey Beijing morning. Today we will do the major sites—the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. Late tonight we begin our two- night-and-one-day train ride to Guilin.
I am journaling at the Summer Palace, our first stop in our one-day Beijing tour. Yesterday was taken up with Bao getting the tickets to Guilin settled, taxi rides, shopping. Tomorrow will be spent on the train to Guilin, unless plane tickets miraculously come through.
The Summer Palace features lots of ornate Ming furniture. Nothing Victoria and Albert didn’t have. Incredible crowds. No time to experience, just see, go, integrate later. The palace buildings are massive and ornate, with intricate carved ceramic details. The buildings are all above and around Kunming Lake, lovely with islands, boats, and arched bridges. The place is massive, ostentatious, glitzy, glamorous — designed to relieve the empress dowager of the tedium and boredom of the lives of the laborers who built it for her. The Chinese and English have a lot in common historically. I sit on steps to write, wait till the group passes me, catch up, pass them, write some more. It’s a pretty place.
Praise God! We just came into plane tickets to Guilin! No two-day train ride tonight. While Bao goes back to the train station to cash in the train tickets, the rest of us walk through the Forbidden City, known to the Chinese as Gugong Palace, in a cold rain. The palace consists of one hall after another, connected by a network of courtyards. It was built by Ming and Qi’ng, emperors in the 15th century. Its magnitude alone is impressive; there is so much gilt and so many intricately painted ceilings, but all the halls look alike. They are named things like Hall of Heavenly Peace, Hall of Harmony, all distinct in function, but they do all look alike, and I don’t feel any spiritual connection with any of it. The colors are typical of all imperial architecture here: gold, red, lapis blue, criscola green, maize. The complex was the emperor’s headquarters and admittance was punishable by death. It is laid out over such an expanse that it is virtually like a city. Most of the buildings are closed off, but one can look in and see bits of Ming regalia. The walk through the halls and corridors and courtyards is probably impressive to the Chinese. The huge portrait of Mao at one end of the Palace is a major meeting place, and we await Bao in the protection of its archway. We take turns going out in the rain to take each other’s picture under Mao’s portrait. Bao arrives on time, and has hot dinners waiting for us in the van–the most welcome food I’ve seen in China yet. We all wolf down our dinners of spaghetti and pickles with chop sticks, and head back to our hotel to dry out before our final trek to the Friendship Store.
This time the Friendship Store looks better, because I check out the book selection. I buy them out. A beaded bag for Nancy, a panda shirt in a 44 for Barry, a camisole, more chocolate, and a lot of books on TCM, and some very beautiful Chinese literature. By the second largest miracle since our plane tickets coming through for Guilin, everything fits in my faithful little $5.00 suitcase. I had also bought some traditional Chinese music tapes at the gift shop at the Summer Palace, which accepted VISA. All I need now is a tractor beam to beam me and my compact but weighty bags onto the plane. At least it’s a plane. Tomorrow we should be on the enchanted Li River, viewing the famous pinnacle mountains of Guilin that appear in so many Chinese landscape paintings. Our weather was beautiful for the Great Wall, rainy and cold today for the Forbidden City, and I hope we recover the sun in Guilin. At least we’ll have two full days there, instead of one there and one on the train. Of course if we can’t get a flight to Hong Kong Monday and have to fly out Sunday, time will be shortened by a day. We can’t check out the flight to Hong Kong until we arrive in Guilin. This is China.
Irene and I engineer our packing until nearly 1:00 a.m., and we have to be up at 5:00 to leave for the airport. Irene and Isabel will be flying on to Hong Kong tomorrow; only Bao, Jake, Cathy, Ron and I will go on to Guilin.
April 25. Even for the weight they add, I’m glad that I bought the books I did in Beijing last night. I bought some poetry, prose, Chinese massage, and the acupuncture charts. The 1iterature is beautiful, from the passages I’ve scanned so far. It may prove to be very tonic in Guilin and Hong Kong. The literature may also be the key to discovering China on my own wavelength, unlike the process of trooping through palaces, and bridge some of my integration processes. Discovering new writers is very rewarding. Reading Gu Hua, I feel an affinity for the mountain people of the provinces bordering Guilin. Reading Pagoda Ridge deepens my experience of Guilin already. I read throughout the entire flight to Guilin.
We fly first class to Guilin–they are the only seats we could get. The 1eg room is exceptional; I can stretch out and not reach the cabin wall. We are given fresh fruit with our breakfast. There will be 16 hours to feel neglected in steerage on the way home; I’m going to enjoy these 2 1/2 hours.
It is summer in Guilin.
We fly over spectacular pinnacles and lakes, which turn out to be river inlets. It seems as if everyone has a backyard mountain. Our hotel is musty, feels almost fungal, it’s so humid. The city looks poor; it’s amazing that more tourist money isn’t in evidence. The tourists certainly are.
We rent bicycles in the afternoon. I feel really at home on the bike, and negotiate the flow of traffic with more ease than I expected. Another reason the ride is so pleasant is that we are all able to individuate again; the dyads are temporarily suspended, at 1east until we dismount and walk up to some caves. We ride along the river, down lanes bordering a commune, past farmers with shoulder poles, commune workers on trucks. We climb a few stair-like mountains to some caves to cool off; it really is sweltering. I’ve gone through three t-shirts and a pair of borrowed shorts.
Back at our nearly seedy hotel, the toilet doesn’t flush, though Jake finds that five assaults on the handle will help. The shower head is back to hold your own. In our room, Cathy and I look through maps and her 1985 guide book. The price of this hotel, the Osmanthus, has tripled since her book’s publication. We decide on the Li River Hotel for dinner, as it is recommended for the “less adventurous” in Cathy’s book. It is quite mediocre. The happy couples go off to the Friendship Store, which they report is a dive, and I take a cab back to our hotel, shopped out. I meet a nice couple from Idaho in the lobby, and we’re like old friends. Tomorrow we take an all-day cruise along the Li River. Just now, 11:00 p.m., there is pink sheet 1ightning raging all over the sky, and a wind has just howled up. We might get to see the mountains at their mist-riddled best tomorrow. Dust is blowing, it could rain any moment, and, praise God, it is cooling off. The lightning opens the sky like a chasm that could almost be the source of Guilin’s landscape. The wind is echoing all sorts of strange frequencies. The night market vendors are packing up and the streets begin to empty. The rain commences, and thunder peals occasionally from the pink lightning. It is raining hard now.
April 26. The morning is rainy and windy; at least it should be cool on the boat. The rain lets up for our Li River cruise, and it remains cloudy and cool. I spend time on the boat trying to balance and integrate my whole China experience, for today is our last full day in China. Tomorrow, we will tour Guilin a little, then leave for Hong Kong in the afternoon. I am trying to integrate the experience into my work, philosophy, spiritual growth, and world view, and to understand the challenges I came here to meet.
Wince. In his gracious mercy, God has long since called me from the tomb of false philosophies and spiritualities to salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.
A Swedish woman named Helen is travelling alone and is surrounded by Chinese at her table on the riverboat. I invite her to join us, and we become friends. The scenery really is beautiful. The cruise lasts six hours. The scenery reminds me of Gates to the Mountains, outside of Helena, on a larger scale. The mountains are heavily treed and rocky. Swallows skim the water. We see countless sampans with the characteristic cormorants and fishing baskets.
Fishermen placed rings around cormorants’ necks to keep them from swallowing the fish they would catch.People fish, wash clothes, sometimes wave to us. The sampans consist of a few large-diameter bamboo poles lashed together, propelled with bamboo poles. Most have room for one fisherman and his basket and birds. We see a few covered family sampans, too. They are covered to squatting, not standing height. Some boats are moored at the mouths of caves, where the fishermen sometimes live in this region of Cantonese China. There are small, occasional waterfalls. Helen is going on to Kunming from here, where she says there is even more splendid mountain scenery and fewer tourists. We pass bankside villages, herds of water buffalo, a little park, an occasional small house and garden. Narrow islets are incredibly green. People harvest greens from the river, raise ducks on it, and harvest river life –snakes, crayfish, snails–most of the elements that characterize Cantonese cuisine. I don’t know how many people live on the Li, but it is definitely the source of life for many. To its people, it is the water, the source of their food, and their transportation. Our lunch is a platter of snails that I associate too closely with shistosomiasis to eat; various fish dishes typical of the Guilin area, pork, chicken, river-grown greens, rice, and turtle soup. I eat some rice, some pork, an orange.
The cruise ends at Yongshuo, a flea market and fleabitten resort that understandably attracts fewer tourists than Guilin. We have just under an hour at Yongshuo before a bus returns us to Guilin. Ron and Cathy miss the bus or opt to stay the night in Yongshuo. Bao gives me 30 yuan to take Helen to dinner so she and Jake can spend their last dinner together. Helen and I have dinner at my hotel, then take a three-hour walk, and I help her bargain at the flea market. I wish I could have done so well for myself a few weeks ago. Helen is very bright and pleasant, is a biochemist. I gave her some names in Nanjing to look up, in case she decides to visit the furnace. Tomorrow morning we will visit the Reed Flute Caves and some other sites in Guilin, and fly to Hong Kong in the afternoon.
April 27. It is cloudy again, and still pleasantly cool. No sign of Cathy and Ron , but they are always all right. Bao and Jake and I tour the Reed Flute Caves, a cavern. The finest features are the pools with their crystal-clear reflections of the formations, enhanced by the addition of colored lights. Kitchy, but pretty. From there we go to a steep-stepped mountain, Fu Po Shan (Wave Curbing Hill), which affords a 360° view of Guilin and the surrounding countryside. The mountains in the background appear shadowy, while those in the foreground are very green. Swallows fly overhead. The morning remains pleasantly cool, but the climb is warming. Several mountains nearby have steps and gazebos on top. We return to the hotel and find that Cathy and Ron have returned, packed, and left again, but they meet us for 1unch, and afterward, Bao takes them to the Caves. Jake goes along; I stay behind to clean up, rest, nurse a headache, and journal. The caves were nice once. Ah yes, after our visit to the caves, we took a bamboo boat back to the taxi. It was a rickety ride, and Jake feared for his Leica, but we all stayed dry.
Would I return to China? I don’t know–there are more hassles, fewer amenities, prices will rise as time passes. There would be old friends at the College, but Nanjing is hardly a place to return to unless I undertook another course of study there. The weather might be more pleasant in the fall. For the rest, the countryside doesn’t really compete with New Zealand, Switzerland, or Montana, but one has to see it once because it is China. The streets are safe and full of people who are living through layers of growing pains, but so are we all. Ron saw a dentist drilling a patient’s tooth on the street around 11:00 p.m., using a foot-pedal-powered drill. I wonder if the patient has any concept of preventive dental care. I doubt it. The country is behind the America that existed before I was born, and it evidently is interested in catching up. Children prowl the night streets beckoning, “Change your money, change your money?” Hawkers proffer mass-produced goods from somewhere. Free enterprise here is predatory and descends directly from tourism — the same source of the new values that are wheeling China into the 20th century by pushcart.
Traditional medicine is one good thing they are hanging on to; it is not being supplanted by the assumed superiority of Western medicine. The valued traditional ways, such as TCM, are held out as China’s offering to the world. Someday perhaps we’ll thank China with decent plumbing. But flush squatters tell the real story of syncretism: progressing hygiene combined with the pro-gravity, natural ways. The Chinese seem not too modest about tissue issues–older people drably dressed, which I associate with traditional values, squat in common squatters without doors as if it were perfectly natural, which, of course, we’ve forgotten, it is. The growing popularity of learning English has less to do with mercantile advantages than with simply wishing to expand their world perspective, and we are the chosen models.
I have met Australian, French, British, Swedish. Russian, and Indian students and tourists here, and they all speak English among the Chinese and each other. All Chinese phrase books are English-Chinese. All foreign language learning cassettes and books for Chinese speakers are for learning English. No French, no German, no Russian, all English.
My Nanjing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (printed in English and Chinese) sweatshirt draws a good deal of deference, introductions, questions, and conversations. Some peoples’ English is quite good, but even if someone knows only a few words, I have to reflect that neither I nor anyone I know except Bob Murray speaks a word of Chinese. If I did return, I would definitely study the language first. We owe that much to these patient hosts, and it might break up some of our own arrogance. Miles speaks a middling amount of Chinese, and understands quite a bit after three months, and he has more respect for the Chinese than most of us. I hope the Chinese will not only sustain their own self-respect as they receive more hordes of westerners, but also refrain from becoming contemptuous of them as they cater to our ways and endure invidious comparisons of our standards to their conditions. The Chinese are very open, candid, bald-faced, soul-honest. I hope they will not abandon these attributes in favor of Western-style reserve and filtered feelings. It seems so ignorant, the time-honored idea that “you never know what a Chinese is thinking.” It’s all over his face, and he’s thinking exactly what he is telling you. We are just accustomed to subterfuging our communication and unaccustomed to innocent candor. Westerners are used to masking what they mean in what they say; the Chinese tell it straight and we have trouble believing them. They harbor that natural simplicity that we sometimes call honor and sometimes naiveté. Basically, I believe they simply are ingenuous people. They have nothing to gain from dishonesty, and it has not become part of their standard mechanisms of interaction. Maybe this is what I would least like to see displaced by Western values, and what I would most dread finding if I returned years from now, even if it did make for more familiar transactions.
What was my central experience here? Myself in China. Myself the elated, the wanderer, the impatient, the lonely, the healer, the observer, the adventurer, the conservative, the chronicler, the romantic, the dancer, the finicky eater, the creative, the passive, the leader, the deferential, the friend, the loner, giver, receiver, resourceful, fearful, pioneer, homebody, scholar, skeptic, invisible and magnetic, charming and melancholy, receptive and incredulous. I journaled on the Great Wall, on the steps of the Summer Palace, on buses, mountains, temple walls, in gardens. I sang to my patients, and my hands transcended our disparate languages. I survived a very structured group experience and absorbed what I needed of it. I never watched television. I tried to be faithful to my own values and open to other ones. When I felt there was a conflict, I tried to remember, “This is China.” I tried to endure the unchangeable and create inner options that I needed. I tried to live the song, “I want to be as good a friend to you as you are to me” with respect to China. I hope to grow more accepting of people and places for what they are instead of trying to impose my own terms. China is certainly good practice. Traditionally, it is where souls come to meet their lessons.
This is China. It is not Burger King; you won’t always have it your way. You won’t anywhere. The Chinese seem to have the concept down that “you” is a vastly collective, cooperative entity that is inseparable from “I.” I don’t know whether they can comprehend self-centeredness on the scale that westerners are accustomed to. One-child family children will not grow up here as “only children” in our sense. They will grow up, I predict, valued and respectful of their peers as significant others and equals. Rather than studying the effects of not having brothers and sisters, we should be trying to learn how the Chinese extrapolate the fraternal identity to their billion-plus neighbors.