Dear Mom and Dad,
Well, I'm finally in the holy land! That's because the shower has a hole in the bottom that doubles as their toilet...
After two weeks of less than perfect circumstances, things are finally beginning to settle down and look up! The weather was unseasonably cold and wet when we arrived and we had to scramble to get the necessary warm clothing and raincoats for bike riding around the city of Kunming. However, in my already weakened state of getting used to a whole new viral culture, I got sick and was kind of out of it for about a week and a half. I'm still sneezing and blowing my nose a lot due to either an allergen, or the dust in the air from the construction near our apartment.
This apartment was built in the 40's I think. (I later learned that it was built in the 70's!) It lacks the charm of those buildings that were built in the USA, like the do-wop backgrounds of New York. In short, its like a federally funded housing project, as most are here. However, there is a charm in that there are many planters, and there's a real sense of community here. The entire city is always animated with some sort of activity.
Construction is going on everywhere. There isn't a city block without something being torn down, or rebuilt. The Tao if nothing else, is change. :)
The deafening construction sounds begin at 9 in the morning and end about 1 in the morning. Its amazing to us what the Chinese put up with.
One of the more challenging aspects of our stay here is the "squat and drop" bathrooms. Fortunately, we're getting used to our bathroom's outhouse ambiance. As I mentioned earlier, the squat and drop is in what amounts to a shower. There's a cheap plastic shower head with pipes all around in a cement lined room.
We had some friends from the hospital over last night, and they agreed that it was an okay apartment. They wanted to see it just to make sure that we weren't being ripped off for our rent money which is $200 a month. That includes meals which are pretty good when they don't smother everything in this stinky orange oil. Other than that, I've been eating well, and have begun a serious diet to gain weight.
The couple with whom we live are really nice. He's a retired forestry service civil servant and she's a salty old Chinese lady. They're very sweet to us and we feel like their children. I tell them that Linda is their favorite because she is the "good" daughter and I'm the "bad" son. The gentleman speaks a little English and the lady speaks none, however, her communication is always very clear and whatever she's saying always has a context that we can pretty well understand after a few trials. Linda has a bedroom that is about three times as large as mine. That's because she's the good girl. However, I get the window. There is also a window between our two rooms. We haven't had a pillow fight or anything yet, but I'm sure we will sometime.
I'm working out again. In the afternoon, if I have time off from the hospital, I walk over to a nearby park. There are always a few hundred people there and so there isn't too much room by your self. But, I take a little corner and do my Tai Chi, or some martial arts practice.
They'd stop and watch anybody who was good at Chinese martial arts, but the fact that its a tall thin white guy, I can draw a crowd in 30 seconds. It motivates me to really get the stances right and do the moves with the appropriate intent which is easy to lose if your mind is wandering. On the other hand, it is difficult to discover new things in the moves if you're focused on how you look rather than what you feel.
Which leads me to a very difficult point here, that being that you're always the center of attention wherever you go. It is very disturbing after a while. They've all seen foreigners, but I guess it is rare in these parts. The moment you stop to talk to a vendor, a crowd gathers to see what's going on. Very disturbing.
Sometimes, I'll turn and stare them down, pushing them away with my eyes, and they'll walk away, but not really. They're just behind me, then they'll walk to the other side of me and watch what's going on from that side. NO personal space here... NONE. Add to that the fact that, every time you leave your house, you're surrounded by what amounts to a rush hour of bikes and taxis that honk more than they signal, and you can get very claustrophobic, very quickly.
A couple of days ago, I needed to have my bike's pedals replaced, as my new bike's Chinese-made quality didn't allow the pedals to last more than two weeks. I have a friend near my apartment who knows the word "Hello". That's qualifications enough to work on my bike, since that's what he does for a living. He put the two pedals on without a problem. When it came time to pay him, we joked around a bit about the price. Within 20 seconds, a crowd of ten had appeared, since their are people EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. After I was done paying him, there were 30 people watching me.
The hospital is a real experience too. The first thing that you notice is that it is the most filthy, dingy, dimly-lit, depressing place in Kunming. People here hack up phlegm and spit it on the ground in many restaurants. So, what I'm saying is that the hospital is even worse, even though they actually have spittoons strategically placed in the hallways. Once you get past the Turkish prison atmosphere and wondering if they keep it looking like this to prevent people from getting sick, you begin to see the people suffering from a wide variety of really serious pathologies. This is an amazing opportunity for us to learn the depth of our medicine.
In the acupuncture clinic in the states, we don't see too much Bell's palsy, congestive heart disease, or other things of this kind of nature. But that's all we're dealing with all day here. Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, we're in the Acupuncture department. We, being Linda and I. She was one of my study partners from a neighboring school in Santa Monica.
We have an excellent translator who's warm and funny and really enjoys his job as a doctor here. He is the anesthesiologist in their surgery department. He has been trained in both Western medicine and TCM. (Traditional Chinese Medicine). He does a lot of acupuncture anesthesia, and he has promised to let us do it when surgeries take place while we're with him. I hope to really get a lot from him specifically.
We've also been placed in the Bell's palsy department. There is a lot of this in Kunming, the city where I'm at. Nobody knows why. Anyway, we've got a lot of people with no muscle control on half of their face. And its being fixed with acupuncture.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, we're in the Internal medicine department which means Chinese herbal therapies. We are currently apprenticing under a Dr. Mo who's specialty is in diseases of the Liver, Gall Bladder, Stomach and Spleen, or Pancreas depending on how you look at the physiology. Digestive system, in short. He's retired, but the government talked him into taking on two apprentices so they could benefit from his experience before he no longer worked.
Our translator there is one of the two apprentices. We'll be with him for one month. This translator isn't as good as the guy in the acupuncture department, but fortunately, he's beginning to warm up to us, and understand our needs. That's good. The lines of communication are open and I feel very good about my future at this hospital.
My internet connection was a long time coming. Let's just say that there aren't a thousand AOL sign-on discs floating around here. In fact, there's only one company that I've found that serves Kunming for the Internet and the woman with whom you have to deal with to get on-line is like a DMV person on a really bad day. So, it took a while to get on-line. Now that I am, I find that ChinaNet's modem is only 14,400 bps (compared to the 28,800 that is standard in the US) and the connection is very unstable. Getting my e-mail used to take about 2 minutes, now its a fifteen or twenty minute job.
Love from the only guy with a laptop for hundreds of miles around.