Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy in China

Now that the jet lag from hell has passed and so has the Christmas week from hell (2 damaging winter storms and no electricity), I am finally in a position where I can write about one of my positive experiences in China. I know you have all been holding your breath...
After I mostly recovered from what was finally diagnosed as "Common Cold" (which required going to the hospital and sticking my hand in a small hole in the wall so that someone I couldn't see on the other side of the wall took a blood sample and while that was occurring my translator told me she loved "Twilight" and really wished she was a vampire)and before Sally really came down with what would prove to be her version of "common cold," we made dinner plans with two twins who Sally had met in the hospital. Jin and Yu are both medical students in the university that is next to the Tianjin First Teaching Hospital (aka Rehabilitation Mansion); Jin (which means gold)is focusing on acupuncture and Yu (which means jade)is focusing on Chinese herbs. They decided they would bring their friend "Andy" along, not only because he is a very good friend, but also because his English is stellar. The five of us (twins, Andy, Sally and I) met outside the hospital just after dark on one of our last nights in Tianjin. Jin (who takes his role as the "older brother" very seriously) had prepared several dinner options for us to choose from. We chose to go to "Hot Pot," a very popular phenomenon which I will describe now below:
Hot Pot is such a good restaurant idea. There is a restaurant (our little establishment actually seated probably more people than the population of Hot Springs) with regular seeming tables. The thing that is not regular is that there is a burner in the middle of the table, with an electric heat source under the table which is turned on as you are seated. The server brings a large round pot that is divided in the middle with a curve shaped divider, so that if you look down upon the top of the pot, it looks like a yin yang shape. A basic broth with Chinese herbs and spices is brought, and heated in the pot. The diners choose from a very extensive list of ingredients available to order- all forms of meat, veggies, herbs, eggs, mushrooms, seaweeds, you name it. Condiments and dipping sauces too. Once ordered, the ingredients are soon brought on a cart that is wheeled to your table. The diners cook their own soup, adding ingredients as they wish to cook in the broth, and eating it as the ingredients are cooked. Cooked meats, veggies, quail eggs, funguses and such are extracted from the "hot pot" with chop sticks and dipped in special sauce to enjoy. The cooking, eating and socializing process goes on and on until the people just can't eat anymore. Special candied hawthorn fruits are available for good digestion.
Our hot pot dinner with the twins and Andy was one of the more fun dinners of my life.

Jin ordered so much food I can't even recall it all- lamb, beef, pork, fish, all manners of veggies and mushrooms and herbs, 2 dozen hard boiled quail eggs, bamboo shoots, Chinese yam vine root, I don't even remember all what. I do remember that it was wheeled in on a double decker cart and Sally and I didn't believe it was all for our table. We cooked the soup so that one side of the pot would be vegetarian and the other side would have all the meat. Sally was happy. We wanted some mellow rice wine, which the restaurant didn't have, so younger brother Yu, who was basically the sweetest guy ever, ran to the supermarket next door to buy us the wine we wanted. The conversation was very interesting, and focused on the twins' and Andy's studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Andy is finished with that and now working toward his Masters degree and eventually a PhD in neuroscience). We discussed topics such as the differences in Chinese medicine in China and in the States, and how Andy literally lives in the lab at his school (sleeps on a lab table), and marijuana ("what is that?" they sincerely wanted to know...). The mood was so good and the fellowship came so naturally that we all marvelled at how special the dinner was and how it seemed like we had been friends much longer than we had. I, of course, got a little silly and tried to make Yu laugh a lot, which worked, and that was supremely fun. The dinner and the fun went on and on and on. We ate and ate and ate. We laughed and laughed and laughed. At one point I looked over at Sally and she looked like she was going to explode or fall asleep, but she was too happy to do either so we ate on. After the dinner, we goofed off together in the elevator and outside, all laughing and announcing over and over what a special dinner it had been. Our hosts were so kind and generous and genuine. It was pretty much a redeeming experience of Tianjin for me (outside of Jenna's good health and strength improvements). We will remain penpals with Jin and Yu and Andy and host them if they come to the states, which might really happen because Andy is in the process of applying for neuroscience research internships here and Jin wants to practice acupuncture. (Yu, as the younger brother, will stay home and take care of his parents as they age). What sort of special American dinner could we treat our friends to if they come? My ideas: Bar-B-Que, Hooters pizza and beer( Brew and View?), or Mountain Magnolia Inn. Any other thoughts?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice greetings

Warm Solstice wishes and welcome Sylvia Sparrow!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Funk Resolved

So, I must finish the story of my special case of Chinese Funk. I kept not feeling better and experiencing general malaise with a side dish of intermittent low grade fever. Jenna's nurses caught wind of my condition and sent me warning through Sally that I had better get myself over to the hospital (outpatient) to get checked out for H1N1 virus. Sally lined me up a translator to meet me there and I took a cab over. The translator, who was a young woman we knew quite well and liked, was waiting for me. She ushered me past a long line of people waiting for medicine at various windows to a quiet glass window where I paid a man some money and he sent me back into a room with doctors. They did the typical- "show tongue," "show throat," take temperature, listen to lungs. Then they sent me through another hall to a hole in the wall. I was instructed to put my hand into the tiny window so that a (not visible) person on the other side could get some of my blood. At that point, I started to feel a little freaked out. I guess the translator could sense that because she tried to distract me with what she must have thought was pleasant conversation. She inquired as to whether I had seen the new Twilight movie "New Moon," and then she said " I would really like to be a vampire" as my blood was being extracted into the tube. This did not comfort me in the moment.
While we waited for the blood test results, we went back to the first window, where I paid the man more money. Then back to the doctors' room through a drafting waiting area, where some people were curled up sleeping in big blankets and others were smoking cigarettes. The translator informed me that I had inflammation inside and they were prescribing an herbal formula plus some pharmaceudicals. When I asked if I had H1N1, everyone laughed and finally someone said "No, you have Common Cold."
I paid for the meds and left. As I was leaving, the translator told me about 5 times that I should avoid visiting Jenna and that Sally should too, because she might be carrying the virus I had and since Jenna is suseptable to infection, we should protect her from exposure. Sally had no signs of sickness, and we talked it over and decided that if she showered and changed into clean clothes just before leaving and wore a mask, it would be fine for her to be with Jenna. So the next day we ignored the translators' advice and Sally went ahead in. Well before noon she was kicked out of the hospital and told not to return until I had been without fever for 2 or more days. She was told that she was carrying the virus and even if she wasn't sick, she probably would be soon. She would put Jenna at risk. We were so pissed off. What about all the nurses and PTs and docs and massage therapists and such who treat all kinds of people everyday and come around Jenna? Are they somehow safer than Sally? We had to abide though, and arranged for two English speaking young ladies from China Connection (the agency who arranged the program for us) to come be with Jenna for a good part of each day until Sally and I were allowed back. At least she would have someone to communicate with even if it wasn't her sister or her good friend.
As for the funk, the next night I finally broke a sweat and the sickness started to leave. No more fever and I regained my energy, but I kept coughing like crazy and being congested as hell. I realized after days of this that it wasn't going to clear up until I got home and breathed clean air. And that is exactly what happened. As soon as I got home it quickly cleared up and now the funk is virtually gone. As for Sally, she come down with a Common Cold about 2 days after my special diagnosis. We didn't tell the people at the hospital though, because we couldn't handle them rubbing it in. I blamed her absence on "cramps," which didn't go over so well either, but at least no one could say, "We told you so..."

Emerging from the apartment for the first time "after the funk"

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Home is the place where I inhale fresh cold air and the water appears clean. There are trees and beavers who eat them, and I buy frozen pizzas at the grocery store. I work for a company called The Dirty Hoe, and for Christmas they give each crew member her own "You Go Girl," a lavender colored rubber funnel that you can pee into, thus eliminating the need to swat or sit to do your number 1 business. Ahh, home sweet home. It's great to be back.
But people let me tell you something. I have Jet Lag something fierce. I mean it is brutal. The fatigue is so compelling I feel nauseated, and I cannot seem to formulate a thought. I am finding myself excrutiatingly hungry at the most inconvenient of hours, and sleep is disturbed by waking up... I realize I have never truly suffered Jet Lag before. I didn't get it on the way over to China but I got it now.
I have more to write about China, but I want to be at least partially remotely cohesive to do the stories justice when writing them. Maybe tomorrow. One thing I will report now is that a mysterious someone has been commenting on this blog, and when you click on his/her name it links to some weird Chinese nudy girl. What the fart? Also, international site visits (to this blog) from all around the world have increased exponentially since I went to China. What is that?
Thoughts, comments and answers are welcome here. And I will give you more stories from China soon.
With delirious affection,
ps This is a photo of the front of the restaurant where I saw all that weird stuff going on out back (cutting the meat in the alley, the cook blowing the snot into his bare hand...) It looks deceivingly normal from the front, no?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Funk

Sometimes getting your funk on is good, like for example when you are cutting a rug to "She's a Brick House" (gag me) at your uncle's wedding. And sometimes getting your funk on is just downright funky, and I don't mean in a good way. It started innocently enough about a week ago. I had been in China 2 weeks and was rockin' it. I woke up Sunday with a case of "not quite right," but I went to Beijing to meet Sally anyways. Later that night, "not quite right" progressed to an achy fever and a case of "if I move I am going to puke my insides out." Not fun. But the next morning I was pretty much back to "normal." The next day I was still "mostly ok," and took my chances going on the day trip to the mountains. Well the next morning I woke up with a case of "I have a little sore throat, but nothing major." I wore my mask, got acupuncture, drank herbal concoctions that explain the extra hair which is now on my chest, etc. That ailment lasted 2 days, until this morning when it evolved into a full blown case of the "Chinese Funk."
What I am calling the Chinese Funk is nothing more than a head cold. But supposedly it is diagnosed as a "wind cold invasion " instead of the typical American "wind heat invasion." According to one of Sally's Chinese teachers in acupuncture school, a true "wind cold" really only occurs in China. It is true that anything anyone in my family has complained of the entire time we have been here, the response in the hospital 100% of the time has been "too cold." Stomach ache?- "too cold- wear more clothes." Head ache?- "too cold, wear more clothes" Hip pain?- "maybe you should wear more clothes." And on and on. Last night walking home from the hospital, Sally and I experience the epitomy of a "cold wind." It was nothing short of horrendous. It has snowed earlier and the sky was grey, but at about 5:00 huge winds blew in from god knows where, clearing the sky, lowering the temperature, and blowing all manners of dust, leaves, dirt and Chinese funk around the streets. 5:00 traffic was insane. Bike riders and walkers had dirt blowing in their eyes, things were falling and breaking. It truly felt crazy. And this morning I felt like crap.
Crap or not, we still have to eat. And with Sally being the only one of us healthy enough to accompany Jenna in the hospital (Mom and Dad are homeward bound), it was up to me to obtain some groceries today, as we ate nasty smelling and tasting leftovers last night because we missed seeing the restaurant we were going to eat in (the windstorm had dirt in our eyes.) I decided that an early morning trip to the supermarket wouldn't be so bad- maybe I would miss the crowds. Not so, dear readers, not so. That turned out to be the largest damn supermarket crowd I have ever been a part of. All manners of Chinese people (including one dwarf and one overweight man) playing bumper carts in the produce section, digging their way through bins of fruit to select only the best; stink from the fish department, where the meat is laying out in the open and there are also racks of all manners of fresh seaweed for sale and tanks of live fish available for slaughtering now or later; meat counter ladies yelling promotional information through microphones; long chaotic lines extending in every direction to have your produce weighed; a man yelling angrily at a check out girl; the man's friend dragging him away while he still yelled; long lines for check out and a lady tried to butt in front of me in line while I hold my own; bright bright florescent lights and so many people. I had to breath through it the whole time to keep from getting dizzy on myself. Supermarkets can be so weird when one is under the influence of the Chinese Funk.
But all is not lost here... This morning I thought maybe my next book will be called Through Viral Lenses: Seeing the World while Under the Influence of Foreign Pathogens (Alternative Title: Gettin' My Funk on: Making the most of Foreign Travel with a Fever). The book will open in the Chilean Altiplano: I am under 200 layers of woolen blankets in an unheated house in an abandoned village. It is midnight and mid winter. I am alternatively puking into some sort of vessel and crying out for my mommy. My companion, SJ-S is alternatively trying to snuggle with me and throwing my puke from the vessel out the front door. I would like to puke under the open sky, but because of "la puna," my severe altitude sickness, I do not have enough air to make the trip from the bed to the door.
Or maybe the first scene will be in a Mc Donald's in Krefeld, Germany with a near-crisis tampon situation.
Either way, the book will also cover hallucinating with food poisoning in Peru and Day of the Dead in Mexico while under the influence of the fever of a flu contracted from a Mayan lady who beat me with a bundle of herbs in a "temascali" (sweat lodge of sorts) ceremony. I might throw in a piece about a Guatemalan fever and maybe even some domestic tales, like having delirious food poisoning at my grandfather's funeral in Dayton from eating that last minute organic peanut butter sandwich on the way to the airport (damn that organic peanut butter...) Each anticdote will draw on highlights from the last to tie the stories together. I will end with shopping for produce with the Chinese Funk, which I most likely picked up from Dad or Mom or Jenna or maybe it was someone like that cook in the alley that our apartment overlooks. He walked out the back door of the kitchen the other day, blew his nose into his bare hand and then flicked gobs and gobs of visible snot off his hand and into the street. Then he wiped his nose many times with the backs of both hands, and then he stepped back into the kitchen for more cooking (minus the assumed handwashing.)
I knew there was a reason I like to live tucked back in the NC hills where the humans are few and far between and the supermarket is not crowded first thing in the morning (or ever). I love it back home. Where are my red shoes???

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What tiny slice of this place fits into my frame of reference?

Today Sally and I paid the big bucks to hire a driver and an English speaking guide to take us out of the city to a place where the Great Wall goes through the mountains and then to another mountain called Panshan. Through the windows of the backseat of the shiny black 4 door sedan, we witnessed the hazy, foggy concrete and metal city of 12 million fade into blue sky, sunshine and a mountainous terrain of rock and dry vegetation. The farms of green wheat sprouting in the valleys watered my parched spirit with serenity and offered a brilliant constrast to the dusty mountains rising in all directions. Villagers dried sliced hawthorn berries and ears of corn by the bushel on drying racks on the sides of the road and on rooftops. We chit-chatted with "Susan," our 23 year old guide, about matters of culture and history, finding her English to be nearly impeccable (aside from the mysterious misuse of male and female pronouns, which seems to be a particular Chinese quirk.) Our conversations included many important topics, such as : homosexuality (accepted within the younger generation), modern day concubines (not uncommon among the elite and government officials), the one child law (they tie the woman's tubes afterwards), and the government's protection of ethnic minorities (they are allowed more than one child). Of course, Susan's perspective is but one of over a billion, but what else do we have to go on for making any sense of this nation in our little American heads, other than our first impressions?

The sunshine, mountains and fresh air gave me the psychic space to both laugh freely and to think (an ordinary, everyday task which seems to come only with strained effort amidst the respiration of this city, 12 million souls moving their way through their world, collectively inhaling and exhaling a grey, coal powered breath of smog and strangeness). My mind wandered to the phenomenon of "first impressions." When a place is entirely new and foreign, what ability does my mind have to perceive the place the eyes are seeing, the nose is smelling, the ears are hearing and, perhaps most importantly, the pulse the soul is sensing? How can my mind possibly register any part of this place other than the parts that are perceived as familiar? I go back and read my very first impressions of China, and what I wrote about was the way I felt I could relate to the movement of people through space here and to the perceived demeanor of the people. Other first impressions are most certainly comprised of a series of comparisons of my perceptions of this place to what I know of the place that is my home. My standards for comprehension are entirely based upon what I know. What tiny slice of this place fits into my frame of reference?

That led me to ponder one of my big life quests: What does it take to know a place? Maybe to know a place requires remaining in that place long enough that I merge with the place. That the pulse of the my life attunes itself to the pulse of the place- its seasons, it schedules, its music, its gods, its demons, the waxing and waning of its life forms- its very breath. And living with this pulse with continually renewed awakeness. I hope I can do that in my home. I surrender hope of doing it anywhere else.

(Jesus, I should start a seminar at Greenlife Community Center. It could be called: "The Soul's Knowing of Place: Continuous Renewal of Awakeness." It could be a sliding scale cost of $135-$480 for a half day, and maybe it could be facilitated by someone named Shanti Imari Flying Eagle Watersong...)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monday morning, Nov 30

Monday morning, Nov 30 in China means Sunday night November 29 at home. I am recovering from either a case of food poisoning or a 24 hour stomach bug. It wasn't too bad, but did include a fever and lots of discomfort. Soooo, ole Dane is home alone at the "gongyu" (apartment) today, keeping her own company. Sally got here last night, which is great. Momma and Poppa Nagle and sick Dana and Sally had a funny night in this small apartment, with various combinations of people being up and down all night and conversing for various reasons. I was in the weird world of fever, Sally was in the weird world of jet lag, and who knows what weird world the parents were in. Probably the weird world be of being super excited for another English speaking person to talk to. Fresh blood.
After I write for this blog I will probably entertain myself by sitting in the back window and watching restaurant
Sally and I are going to try to hire a driver to take us to a place called Shanhaiguan pass. It is the place where the Great Wall goes into the sea, and it's about 3 hours north of here. It will be nice to get out of Tianjin, which is very industrial and grey and ugly. I hate to call the home of 11 million people ugly, but it just is. Lots of days there is a haze of smog or fog or a combination of the 2 so thick it makes me feel like I am half awake all day. You can't see very far and the sun weirdly filters through (if it filters through at all). I am surprised Mom and Jenna are not suffering vitamin D deficiency for being here 3 months.
I am including photos of the city. I like a blur and foggy aspects of some of the photos, because that is sort of how it is here for me- foggy and blurry- the days smush into each other in a cold bizarre haze. The street shots are of the walk from the apartment to the hospital. The big pink building at the end of one of the photos is the hospital. It is actually called the First Teaching Hospital Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine International Medical Rehabilitation Mansion. I kid you not. I am also including a picture of the hospital at night, with the name all lit up in red. Did I already mention that they treat 4000 outpatients a day and there are 1000 inpatient sick beds? More people cram into the elevators there than I would have to a party...
The picture of the hazy skyline is the view from Jenna's room.