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How to Speak Chinese, With Your Hands

Dear Mom and Dad,

At the five week mark of my journey into the mysteries of the Orient, it seems that I've figured out how to get what I need, even if that includes various gestures and mimed movements. Whoever said that funding for public schools' drama departments is a waste of money never had to go overseas and try to communicate without the luxury of words...

Of course, the president of China is schmoozing with the man that the Chinese call "Ka-lin-ton" right now. I see the pictures on the news. They devote at least fifteen minutes of coverage to this event every night on their national news. Fifteen minutes isn't anything unusual here, they do most stories at about that length. I can't really understand what's being said, but I did see a smiling Newt Gingrich getting some attention from the Chinese President today. It was a photo-op, and Newt's very adept at really holding that smile as long as necessary. Amazingly, the Chinese president did as well. It was amazing to watch how quickly they both fell into that whole act. I guess they took high school drama too...

Hey, its cold here. Its probably in the 30's outside, overcast and intermittent rain. I've got a heavy coat, gloves and a plastic parka for use on the bike when its raining. Taxis are cheap here, about two bucks to get across town, but it's kind of politically incorrect. Well, not as politically incorrect as, say, speaking your mind... let's just say it isn't usually one's first choice for transportation for some reason.

I ran into my first Tai Chi master yesterday. There were some people playing push hands in the park yesterday as I rode by. I knew that they were trying to push each other off balance using Tai Chi principles. I got close enough to be invited into their little competition. They brought forward the guy whom I hope was their teacher. I hope he was, because he kicked my ass over and over again. Actually, those are stronger words than are appropriate. We were trying to make each other lose balance and step away. He was great.

When sparring with others, there is always an open door somewhere. Everyone has a weakness in their system of combat. I couldn't find any doors with this guy. Not one. Whenever I tried to take him, he slithered out and turned it on me. This is the first time that I've ever truly been witness to real Tai Chi in the martial arts context. He was incredible. We sparred for about fifteen minutes.

Occasionally, he'd get a little slap to the face in, and the audience, which grew to about 40 would all laugh. I could never get him to lose his balance, but I could get some facial slaps in without too much of a problem. When I slapped him, I got just as much support from the crowd.

I told him that I'd love to study with him, but knew that it couldn't be, because whenever I'm in public doing anything other than riding by on a bike, I get a crowd surrounding me very quickly, and its impossible to do any serious practicing of martial arts under such circumstances.

I really can't work out very well here. Too many people watch. It's a hassle. However, it was a pleasure to really be put in my place by this man who said he was 62 years old. He looked like he was in his early fifties, maybe late forties. I really wasn't humiliated or anything. Whenever either of us got a strike in, there was always a salute and a bow afterwards. The vibe of the contest was very warm.

My Mandarin is coming along in leaps and bounds. I'm able to express myself better and better every day. However, I'm still unable to understand the locals very well. Very difficult, especially considering the thickness of the local accent.

I tell people to speak clearly and slowly. It is very difficult for most. I don't know why, but they just can't communicate with any consciousness regarding their speech. I think that Americans have the same problem. Former radio announcers don't have that problem. We're used to keeping one ear on our voices to constantly monitor the pacing and clarity.

I've fine tuned the hospital experience to better suit my needs. I still hang out in the Bell's Palsy acupuncture department, but I'm free to leave with my translator whenever there's something else better going on. In fact, because my translator is so friendly and popular in the hospital, We're pretty much welcome wherever we go...

We've already done two surgeries. One, including acupuncture anesthesia. Pretty cool. The translator is also the hospital's anesthesiologist.

There are many interesting departments here, but the trick is to find one that you like where the doctor is open to you being there and will talk with you, teach you what he or she knows. The other trick is finding a doctor who knows something. We were in the dermatology department last week, and although I did learn a few things, the doctor was not someone whom I felt was going to add to the way I look at Chinese medicine.

However, in the orthopedics department, there's this salty old gentleman who seems to really enjoy having us there. When I ask questions about his treatment principles, he takes great joy in writing down diagrams in explaining the answer to me. These diagrams are in his scribbly Chinese characters, so I have to ask a lot more questions once he does write things down, but its an excellent experience for me. He teaches like I like to learn. I'm not so focused on specific herbal formulas that he writes, but the principles that take him to that formula and then guide its creation. That's the important part. And he's well versed in those principles. His knowledge of TCM theory is excellent.

Today we visited the psychology department and talked at length with the psychologist there, a spittin' image of a Chinese Joyce Brothers. She was very interested in my take on Chinese medicine applications in the discipline of psychology after we discussed one of her patients.

Now, if I could just convince the warm weather to return. None of the houses have heaters here. Its always cold. I hang out at the Holiday Inn and drink a cup of three dollar coffee everyday. I'm getting my money's worth. I'll spend a couple of hours nursing it and studying in their warm, clean, quiet restaurant. Its the only thing that keeps me sane here.

Finally this...

Its amazing to me how different cultures have different standards of beauty. It turns out that in China, fair skin and deep set hazel eyes are considered quite attractive. Body hair is exotic and exciting. A receding hairline is a sign of intelligence and people have been known to have their noses enlarged to look Western with plastic surgery.

Whereas, in the states, I'm a balding Jewish geek with a huge nose and too much body hair. In China, I'm Mr. Universe. Is it any wonder that I'm beginning to warm up to this place?

Love from your wickedly handsome son.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 31, 1997 8:38 PM.

The previous post in this blog was The Kunming Street Artist/Begger.

The next post in this blog is Wang Dai Fu, Man About Town..

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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