Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blog has moved!

Hello my friends, As some of you may have realized, my blog has MOVED to a new home:

This will be its permanent home on my acupuncture website and I hope you will visit it there if you haven't already. There are several new posts up, please enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Great Taxi Crisis of '10, Dermatology, Chinese Opera and Free Booze

Day 8: Monday September 28, 2010

Today got off to a rainy start, so most of us decided to get taxis to our shifts. The rest of the city must have had the same idea, because we spent a long, long time trying to flag down taxis. Most already had people in them and others just wouldn’t take us for some reason. After about 45 minutes we eventually had to ask the hotel to flag them down for us and showed up about an hour late to our shift.  Taxis in China have these interesting hard plastic barricades around the driver, presumably so you can't interfere with their driving. Was this a problem in the past?
Taxi Driver Shell
This was the second time we had shown up late to our shift and I HATE being late anywhere, especially when I am missing time with an amazing expert like Dr. Qiao. My distress must have been visible, because our group leader called me later in the day to say she had arranged a shuttle for us tomorrow so we would be sure to be on time. I think maybe my deep seated anxiety about being late came out of my Grandfather’s habit of taking me to kindergarten half an hour early when I was young. My whole family places a lot of emphasis on being on time but a half hour is an eternity for a young child. Needless to say, I don’t run on island time. Enough psychoanalysis.

The shift itself was very productive; I learned some great strategies for treating allergies since the weather change this week seems to have caused flare ups in a lot of folks. We also saw a patient with itching and another cosmetic case with skin discoloration. Dermatology is one of my prime interests, so I was fascinated by Dr. Qiao’s take on these. For example, another doctor here had prescribed moxa on the umbilicus to treat chronic allergies and itching. This is a good strategy, but only when symptoms are in remission, so Dr. Qiao suggested cupping on the umbilicus instead. I had never seen that before for itching. I really admire that she sees patterns so clearly and understands the course of the disease so well. This is my goal as well, to treat patients according to their unique presentation and not simply using therapies that treat their disease according to a textbook. Within every disease there are many different ways a person might express that disease depending on their constitution, past treatment etc.
Fire Cupping on the Lower Back
 After the shift I was feeling at loose ends back at the hotel. I was mentally bemoaning the fact that the group seems to be splintering off and not eating together anymore when the phone rang. It was Mary Jean, calling to say that there was a Chinese dinner opera at 7pm. My reply? “I am so there”.  We took the subway, which is quite nice, and cheap at 2 yuan each way. The dinner opera was Su Zhou style which apparently means 2 people sitting playing instruments and singing. 
Su Zhou Opera Restaurant
The singing is kind of nasal, but other than that a group member described it as “kind of like Chinese bluegrass”. I am sure we are just horribly uncultured and it’s full of deep meaning. The food was fairly decent, but the menu in English they brought us was 10 years old and horribly inaccurate. I got all excited about fragrant spiced pear which they didn’t have, then curry crab vermicelli which they also didn’t have, then duck which was 46 yuan instead of the 20 yuan listed on the menu. Eventually we got Zhao Zi (aka gyozi or pot stickers) and soup with thousand year old egg, which were good. The other dishes were unremarkable, except for the bitter melon which was true to its name.

 A middle aged man from Malaysia was sitting at a table near us and kept talking to us. He had a funny sort of Brittish accent and his side of the conversation went something like this: “Excuse me miss, are you from England? My companions and I have ordered some local alcohol and it is very strong, we can’t drink it all. What are those marks on your back? And did you have a complaint when you got that done? And did it in fact work? Did it go away? And how much did you pay for that? I shall have to have that done. 
My Cupping Marks
The marks he was referring to were from the cupping a few days prior, which had actually improved my cough, making it more productive and less frequent. His companions were three young women who looked quite bored (we wondered if he might have paid them to keep him company). At the end of the meal he gave us a part bottle of white wine they had not finished and we all agreed he was quite the character.
Free Wine!
 We found some gelato on the way back to the subway as well. We had to fight to order because in China people don’t really do the whole line business, they just shove in and ask loudly for what they want. Eventually I was able to order a rosalia and honey almond gelato, which is the best flavor combination. It’s just a fact. All in all, it was a satisfying evening. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Buying Medicine Labeled in a Foreign Language is Fun! Kind of...

Day 7: Sunday September 27, 2010

Today I finally got to sleep in late then had a “white breakfast” as usual. I went to a cafĂ© with an Italian name “La Pavoni” for lunch.
La Pavoni - Its in English!
 They are the closest thing to a Portland coffee shop we’ve found yet, and at reasonable prices. The owner even spoke English! Coffee done right is hard to find here but they had Kona coffee and caramel Macchiatos etc. Unfortunately, I had recently had the epiphany that coffee makes me feel weird every time I drink it, so I had hot honey lemon tea. I had spaghetti ala carbonara with real raw egg on it. That is the first food in China that has made every on happy, although their veggie sandwich looked to be more sandwich than veggie. Enough food review. We went back to the Nanjing WWII memorial and saw more very sad statues and exhibits.
Nanjing WWII Memorial
More than 300,000 victims
Peace Statue
 This time we also discovered the giant peace statue too, which made me feel better about the whole thing. When I visit there I am glad the U.S. was on their side in that conflict, because Chinese folk looking at me with curiosity is enough to make me a little on edge. Kerry has a great take on it; she says people look at us as a kind of reality show. They don’t pretend not to stare so we should just enjoy the attention. I guess its not considered rude to stare in China, but I still can't get up the nerve to stare back.  

We saw another pharmacy and I was able to convey that I had a cough with yellow phlegm in Chinese to the pharmacist. Shockingly, when I read the Chinese characters on the bottle I recognized two herbs that were appropriate for my cough, so I waved off their other suggestions and bought it. At home I Goggled it, translated the Chinese and was encouraged to find I had bought the equivalent of fritillaria loquat syrup with ephedra in it. This is similar to a common patent (pre-prepared herbal formulation) back home and is perfect. It was 28 yuan, which is expensive by my new standards so hopefully it will work.
I bought cough syrup labeled only in Chinese
The ephedra thing is interesting though. There is a lot of misunderstanding about ephedra in the U.S. Basically my take on it is that the FDA ended up banning it because energy drink and diet pill manufacturers were concentrating the active ingredient to be six to ten times as strong as in the original herb. At that strength it is dangerous and can be used to manufacture crack. In the unadulterated herbal form, ephedra it is no more dangerous than any other medicinal substance when prescribed by a competent herbalist. The real bummer is that it is one of the most effective medicines for asthma and other lung conditions. There is no good substitute so countless herbal preparations aren't the same without it. 

After the herb store, my pengyou (friends) bought fire roasted sweet potatoes from street vendors and they we hit Au Chan, the Fred Meyer of Nanjing. 
Fire Roasted Sweet Potato from Street Cart
Most people were buying peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal and other familiar foods from home at this point in the trip. I was just happy the pomegranates are so cheap. If you eat pomegranates in China do you have to stay there forever? (Greek mythology reference) For dinner we walked for about an hour, trying to find a bakery that the lonely planet guide recommended. Eventually we found the right street but no bakery. Everyone was starving, so we ended up eating at a fast food chicken joint. I wasn’t too keen on it, but everyone else was pretty set on it so I got a chicken burger. Bad idea. Everyone else apparently felt fine, but that greaseburger did not sit well at all for me. Many people in the group are seeking out food that reminds them of home, but I am still excited about Chinese street food. My stomach feels better eating here since I have now adjusted. I hear that the KFC here is where foreigners go and get sick and I will not put one foot in the McDonalds. That about did me in for the evening, so I passed on the movie the group had bought from a street vendor.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Money Tree, an Awesome Taxi and Chinese SUV's

Day 6: Saturday September 26, 2010

Freedom! As today was Saturday, we had no clinic and no prearranged tours for once. I was starting to have a stuffy nose and a bit of a cough after being so wet and cold a few days before, but wasn't about to spend my free time in China in a hotel room. Some of the elements in our group felt that shopping for electronics should be at the top of our to-do list. Curious, and still slightly nervous about getting lost if I went shopping alone, I tagged along. We took the subway to get to the electronics district and I have to say I was impressed. The subway was probably the cleanest public area we'd seen yet, done out with gleaming steel and big fanciful works of art that were unmistakably Chinese, yet modern. To ride, you bought a plastic token at a touch screen that showed all the stops on an interactive map. Then you touched it to another screen to get past the turnstile and onto the platform. At the end of the ride you finally fed it back into another turnstile to get out, so I was worried I would lose my token and be trapped in the subway forever. The train platform was clean with brightly colored dragon motifs in different colors above the doors to the trains. Trains seemed to run about every five minutes and were full but not uncomfortably so. I wondered what rush hour would be like though.

 After a short ride we arrived in a part of town I didn't recognize. I have to say, there is nothing like an underground train to make me feel like I have no idea where I am. Emerging into the bright sun light, we set off past a bakery with tasty looking things in the window and down a street lined with tiny shops. One member of our party had lived in Beijing a few years before and was quickly disappointed by how much prices had increased since then. Not for the first time, I thought that it was a good thing I had come to China now, because at the rate it changes the experience will probably be totally different in a few years. Eventually we found some speakers and miscellaneous electronic goodies and decided to go back to the Confucian Temple Market, Fu Zi Miao. It was a bit far to walk and the subway didn't come out very close either so we opted for some motorized open air "taxis". These were a sort of cross between a motorcycle and a dune buggy. We didn't all fit in one, so we raced through the streets in a pack of these odd little vehicles, our Chinese drivers weaving in and out of traffic. I felt naughty riding on one without a helmet or seatbelt; It was a lot of fun.
The "Awesome Taxi"

 At Fu Zi Miao the streets were busy with people shopping and taking pictures. One of the more popular photo ops was a big fake tree I came to think of as "The Money Tree". It was festooned with golden leaves and red ribbons painted with Chinese characters.  What the ribbons said was somewhat unclear, but I think they were blessings or wishes. Sometimes, we saw people throwing more of them up into the tree.
The "Money Tree"

 You could also buy a blessing by making a donation to the temple staff. They would come up and give you a slip of paper or a trinket that had your zodiac animal on it. Then they would show you a donation log and frown and shake their heads if you didn't offer enough money.  I didn't make a donation, but some people did. It is a nice enough temple, but many of us didn't even go inside, being more interested in the surrounding market. The temple proper cost more money to visit and I think we had had our fill of temples on our previous tours. We were content to explore the side streets of Fu Zi Miao, which are reserved for pedestrians only and pack in more commerce than you can shake a stick at. You can buy anything from shoes to live turtles to giant jade sculptures and that's not even getting into the food. Many stores I wandered past sold similar goods, but there were some legitimately beautiful works of art there. I particularly admired some of the needlework or "Broider" as the sign next to it proclaimed.

I was afraid to stop and stare for long though, because the salespeople would get excited and start trying to sell me things. Saturday must have been their re-stocking day too, because there were all manner of bikes and bike trailers loaded down with boxes. My favorite picture was of the shoe delivery guy, who puts Santa to shame if you ask me. Apparently SUV's look a bit different in China.
 Chinese SUV

After Fu Zi Miao, we were not sure how to get home, so we caught some taxis and showed them our hotel card. It cost just 9 yuan to get back, and split three ways that was less than 50 cents each. Awesome! I was starting to feel really congested in the lungs by that time though, so I went with another friend to get cupping done at what was becoming our regular tuina massage place. In the states I had mostly had sliding cupping with just two cups, but today they used pump cups instead of fire cupping and put them all over my back instead of moving them around. My friend had had back pain, so she got cupping for that as well. The marks were pretty spectacular when we were done but we both agreed we both felt better.
Cupping Marks

 For dinner we went back to eating Chinese food at a little place by the hotel . My favorite thing was the "hollow heart vegetable", something I had never had or even heard of before. It was the usual struggle to find dishes that the vegetarians could eat. The attitude in China is that if you go out, you want to eat meat to impress your guests. Tofu is something you eat with meat and not instead of meat, so often the tofu dishes have meat in the sauce. Needless to say there is no vegetarian section on many menus. Customs around eating are just different in general.  Usually only one person pays for the whole meal and you fight over the bill. In our group we just fought over the vegetables and split the bill. Americans, what can you do with them? 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 5: Friday September 25, 2010    Chicken Feet Make You Pretty

            This morning I didn't have my regular shift again because of the holiday week, so I biked to a new hospital for an herbal medicine shift instead. I didn't know where we were going, so I was following another member of our group, or trying to. I was having a really hard time keeping up. At first I thought I was just really out of shape, but then I realized that my tire was flat... very flat. In the crazy traffic and crowded side streets I was pretty sure I would lose her and be lucky to find my way back to the hotel. She was kind enough to wait for me though and we finally made it safely to the hospital's underground bike storage area.

            It is impressive how many bikes can fit in a parking garage compared to cars. If everyone drove in Nanjing, the city would be completely impossible to get around in. For all the flak China takes for being a dirty industrial place, Nanjing has the best infrastructure for bikes of any city I have experienced. I hope it will remain such a widely accepted mode of transportation.  In Portland we talk a lot about being a bike friendly city, but in China they don't talk about it, they just use it. A lot. It's just more convenient and cost effective for them. Many people in China have an interesting attitude about the environment. There are recycling cans next to every trash can, but they hotel staff laughed at us for buying bikes when we had a car or private bus  available to us. They think we have a weird fetish for "environmentalism".  
            The herbal shift turned out to be with a specialist in Pediatrics, Dr. Cai. The first thing you notice about Dr. Cai is his awesome white hat, and the second is his big grin. 

He has a kindly manner that makes him perfect for dealing with little kids. The room was packed most of the time, with kids, parents, other hospital staff and us observers. Because this was an herbal shift, it mostly consisted of writing down the children's complaints and the doctor's formula. Dr. Cai was very kind about answering questions, but the number of patients made us hesitant to ask many. In the herbal clinics in China there are no scheduled appointments, you just show up, get a number and wait in the room or the hall until it is your turn. Privacy is not really a concern for most patients.  Half the time if we asked to see a child's tongue, parents of the other patients who were waiting in the room would lean in there to have a look as well. It was cramped and crazy-making.
            Dr Cai had a good rapport with the kids though, who were remarkably quiet and well behaved in most cases. He explained that all children under three have Qi and Blood deficiency, so it is not useful to feel the pulse the way we do for adults. He confirmed that using the vein on the index finger was more useful, as we had already learned in the pediatrics class at OCOM. He explained that he mostly uses his eyes, percussion and auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) to diagnose children. For example, if the coating of the tongue is geographic, i.e. peeled in places, it is the manifestation of an allergic constitution in 50% of children.

            Asthma was the most common condition children were coming in for. Asthma is particularly interesting in Chinese medicine because we look at the causes and manifestations differently. For example, when we think of asthma in the west we think of the bronchi, or tubes that open into the lungs. However, in many cases of asthma there are also nasal symptoms and skin problems like eczema.  These may all have a similar cause according to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and thus one treatment can target all of them. Dr. Cai also emphasized doing a correct differentiation for the cause of the symptoms. For example, in one case a child's cough was caused by post nasal drip, so just treating him for cough would have done little good. In addition to herbs, the good doctor showed the parents specific pediatric tuina massage techniques to do for their children. For cough, he told them to massage down the Du Mai (on the spine) with a warm edge of their hand or use gua sha (a technique of scraping the skin). Most kids like this kind of massage, and it is surprisingly effective. For itching in the throat, he had parents massage points on the sternum, like Tian Tu or Shan Zhong and asked the kids to drink warm water. These things are fairly simple, but the beauty of working with kids is that they are very sensitive, so you don't need to use really strong therapies like needling most of the time. That being said, there was a four year old that Dr. Cai put on an IV medication for a few days to control her asthma. He explained that once you have a flare up in childhood asthma can become more severe.
            It was interesting to see all the options that doctors of TCM have in China. In most states, including Oregon, acupuncturists are not permitted to write prescriptions for drugs, administer injections or IVs or order lab tests. I don't have an desire to write prescriptions for western drugs, but I really wish I could order lab tests. There were some patients that the doctor would examine, send for a blood test and have the patient and lab result back in his office in an hour or less. In the States, if I wanted that same test it would usually take weeks for me to get the result. First the patient would have to wait (sometimes more than a month) for a doctor's appointment, then convince the doctor that a test requested by an acupuncturist was worth doing. Finally, we would have to wait at least a week for the patient to get the result. By then, I expect that the patient's condition would have either improved on its own or deteriorated to the point that it would be much harder to treat. In some ways we really do have a backwards healthcare system compared to China. I hope we can keep pushing the healthcare envelope, because I believe we can do better for patients in the US.
            On the other hand, I can't agree with all of the medical practices in China. For example, antibiotics are more widely used. In some cases doctors use both antibiotics and herbs based on the theory "If one doesn't work, two will". I will not say that antibiotics are never appropriate, but with growing concerns about antibiotic resistant superbugs, I believe they should be used as sparingly as possible. The other problem with antibiotics from a health perspective is that they wipe out the helpful bacteria in the gut.  Your gut becomes like an abandoned building in New York city - you know some shady characters (bad bacteria) are going to move in if you leave it empty. Chronic gastritis (stomach inflammation and pain) seems to be a surprisingly common complaint in China and I wonder if the overuse of antibiotics plays a role.
            Despite the antibiotics thing, Dr. Cai did have some good advice for a seven year old with poor appetite due to constipation since he was one year old. He showed the parents how to massage downward on the abdomen with flat palms 200 times every day to help him form the habit of having a bowel movement daily.  He also said that the boy was eating too much protein and seafood and not enough vegetables. He particularly recommended that he eat pumpkin, since it has a lot of natural fiber.
            After the morning shift I had to walk my bike back the hotel or ride it and risk my rims. I rode partway but wasn't particularly happy about it. There is a guy who repairs bikes right next to the hotel, so he patched up my tire for 4 yuan. I have to say it was impressive to watch. He had just a few tools and a bike pump on the side of the alley by the hotel, but he definitely knew what he was about.
            In the afternoon we had a lecture at the university on two different herbal formulas for treating women. It was given by Dr. Huang Huang, who is apparently quite an expert in gynecology.  His lecture was amusing as well as informative. He spoke in Chinese through a translator, who he teased that a certain formula (Qin Jie Lian Qiao Tang) was appropriate for her. He stated that this formula is good for women who have inner heat or fire, with red, red lips, and a glorious oily face. He said that these women are pretty but uncomfortable. She blushed a little, but I admired her poise in translating it. The other formula he discussed was Wen Jing Tang, which is often prescribed to older ladies, who have lower estrogen. He said that it may reverse precancerous changes, give beauty and longevity, treat dry skin and lips and make the nails beautiful. Skin moisture relates to the estrogen level in the body and this formula lacks the side effects that taking estrogen causes. He also said that for healthy skin we should encourage patients to eat pig or chicken feet, as they are full of collagen. I have to admit that while I ate chicken feet after that, I'm not sure I would have much luck convincing my patients in the US to do that.
            After the lecture I wandered through a back street behind the hotel with Jon, a friend from OCOM. This was basically an alley that cars would not even fit down. Tiny shops enclosed on three sides sold everything from DVD's to shoes to foot massages. At one of the foot massage places Jon managed to accidentally tell the woman there that he was Canadian, because she was speaking to him in Chinese and he was answering in English.  Jonathan sounds like "Jianadaren" or "Canadian". It was a fun little game of telephone we played when I returned. Some of the folks there that could say just a few words of English (mostly hello, bye bye, pretty and good) were pretty aggressive about wanting to talk to us foreigners.
            We saw a park where retired people were socializing and using the exercise equipment. 

Yup, many parks have free exercise equipment in China, and they are often packed. Other folks were playing Mahjong or cards. There wasn't too much in the way of green space, but you definitely get the impression that everyone feels safe in the parks and community life thrives there. Some parks also have instructions on how to do exercises for frozen shoulder etc on the equipment. It's not geared at heavy weight training, but signs say things like "this exercise helps you stay strong enough to pick up your grandchildren or the groceries".  It's all free of course, and I wish my patients all had access to places like that in their neighborhoods.  I could tell them to Parkercize! It's the perfect way to help people stick to a daily exercise routine because it is so social.

            By the time dinner rolled around the group was about ready to try something a little more familiar, so we headed to a place called Club 21 in the expat area. This is where expatriates of other countries have set up restaurants. Club 21 was owned by a man from Europe (several countries it seemed) with crooked yellow teeth. He was like a character out of a book, he literally rubbed his hands together in glee when he saw the whole big group of us descending on his nearly empty restaurant. He then interrogated us about where we were from and whether we were students before announcing that he was able to give us the fabulous deal listed on the cards he was passing around since we were foreigners and students. The deal was kind of a deal, with free sangria and European fusion style entrees that were not more overpriced than they would have been anywhere else in China. The atmosphere was almost creepy but instead it was hilarious. The seats were hybrids between a bench and a couch, coated in a plush green or purple fabric. There were alcoves with curtains and an empty band stand. The Chinese diners were all kind of seated in back corners, while we were escorted to the big table in the middle of the place. I got the impression that he was trying to use the pictures he has taken of all the foreign guests to create the impression that the place had a cool vibe too it, because there was a slide show of them eating and dancing or listening to live bands on the wall.
At the end of the meal the owner took a picture of all of us and invited us to stay for karaoke or come to poker on Tuesday nights. I have the feeling that we are now also up on the wall. Restaurant review: to make a long story short: the food was decent but nothing special and the creepy manager was trying way too hard. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

The "Elf Service Bank", A Different Needling Style and Running Away

Day 4: Thursday September 24, 2010

Dr Qiao was still on holiday for the autumn moon festival today, but I didn't want to miss out on any learning opportunities, so I attended an acupuncture shift at a different hospital. It soon became obvious that the way Dr. Qiao practiced acupuncture was very different from the way some other doctors in China practice. For one thing, this was a hospital that sterilized and reused their needles. This does not happen in the States these days, every single needle is new and in sterile packaging, and every single treatment we dispose of them afterward. I don't believe it is common in Europe either. From a waste reduction and economic standpoint I can understand the appeal, but after seeing needles reused I have to say I am not a fan. The handles were often bent, and occasionally appeared slightly rusty. To be fair, the shafts that actually touched the skin were clean or the needles were discarded.  However, needles get duller as they are used, and these seemed to require a "different" technique from the gentle and painless one that we had been practicing with Dr. Qiao.  By "different" I mean very forceful, among other adjectives.
My favorite needles
 I admired the doctor we were following because he could apparently get any needle of any length or quality in to the point. That much was clear, but frankly I shed no tears that I was only following him the one day, because this type of needling does not hold much appeal for me. If I need to get a larger gauge needle several inches into a point I will, but you can bet I will choose a higher quality, less painful needle. In general, patients and practitioners in China seem to care less about whether a treatment is painful than folks in the States do.
            This attitude seems to apply to massage (and certainly foot reflexology) as well. Later in the day I went to get Tuina, a kind of Chinese medical massage, at a place some other students recommended. They did a full body (back, neck, legs, hands feet, head) massage for 60 yuan an hour. (Less than ten U.S. dollars, but not the cheapest I had seen.) Tuina is quickly becoming one of my favorite attractions in China. Their attack mentality was great for me, since I usually have to tell massage therapists I like more pressure. On the other hand, my calves were very tight and I was flopping like a fish because the woman working on me really got her thumbs in there. It does no good to say "oww" or even "That's painful" in Chinese.  These are not big burly girls by any stretch, but I think you would have to specifically ask them to go lighter. Today none of us foreigners knew how to say that, so we were faced with the option of getting up off the table and running away or bearing with it. I chose to suffer in silence, and afterwards my calves felt like baby cows again instead of knots, so it was very worth it. The hunt for a good, yet cheap tuina place continues, but so far this one is nice and clean and my favorite. Some of their massage practitioners are blind and they are supposed to be really good, so I am curious. I like that the Chinese character for "foot" looks like a little man on skis, it makes it easy to find the massage and foot reflexology places.

 Another highlight of the day was wandering through the Confucius temple area or "Fu Zi Miao" at lunch time.  We didn't have time to explore much but we did get a nice view of the river with canal boats tied up along it. 

We ate at a Japanese teppanyaki  restaurant near our hotel. Service was quite slow, but I really liked their plum blossom sushi. It had bananas inside and the fish flakes on the exterior were plum flavored and pink in color. I have never had anything quite like it and found both the presentation and the flavor charming.My sushi and salmon set came long before my friends', so their opinion of the place was considerably lower than mine. What China really needs is some food expeditors, but apparently they have such nice job security that they don't need your business. Also there is no tipping, so no reason for staff to care how long you wait for your food.

 The final highlight of the day was the "elf service bank" sign. I'm not sure how they coerced Santa's little helpers to stop making toys and work for them, but there it was. They have everything in China. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On wet socks, nuns and the lovesickness carrying pavilion

Day 3: Wednesday September 23, 2010  

No shifts today. As the fifteenth day of the eighth month by the Chinese calendar, there is a national holiday for the autumn moon festival. This festival dates back over 3,000 years to the Shang dynasty. Our self dubbed “Chinese Father”, Dr. Wang, took the day to show us around Nanjing. It was pouring rain, which was a nice break from the heat. I did have to wring my socks out though, and could almost feel myself catching a cold.  The Nanjingians say that such a heavy rain is unusual for them in the fall; it is usually the nicest season weather-wise.
Our first stop was the Buddhist JiMing temple, which dates from the Ming dynasty and is home to nuns rather than monks.

There are still practicing nuns there and we also saw a man doing some sort of ceremony. He was dressed all in black and had a few people accompanying him holding umbrellas over him. He would take one step, announce something in Chinese, kneal down with arms outstretched and palms up, put his head on the floor and then stand up and repeat the process.  I believe he went around the entire temple in this way and it seemed the umbrella holders were folks who had taken pity on him rather than people he had brought along. There were many giant statues of the Buddhas, but it is considered disrespectful to take photos. They ranged from large metal statues to brightly painted ones with fierce eyes and swords. From the top of the temple pagoda we could see the beautiful grounds and also the cranes surrounding it. Nanjing is changing every day; the amount of construction here is phenomenal.

My favorite thing was actually the garbage can that looked like a dragon or maybe a ki lin. It was so cute!

Next we went to the brocade museum. Nanjing is famous for brocade, so we saw the silk worm cacoons and the giant looms that take two people to man them. Brocade must be handmade and it takes about a day for a team of two people to weave 5 cm of cloth.  The pattern is only on one side, but as they are weaving it you can see the pattern reflected in the mirror below the machine. In the past, brocade was most commonly woven from silk and gold thread for the emperor, whose symbol is the dragon. Some local students at the museum wanted to practice their English and shyly showed us around. They pointed out other patterns that looked like the dragon but had only four claws and no tufts on their heads. These are not dragons, so people besides the emperor were permitted to wear them.   

For lunch we went to an awesome Himalayan restaurant, where the food was rich but heavenly. I was freezing as my feet and clothes were wet, but the food made it all worthwhile. In the alley way next to it we saw a great sign about the Communist partay. Read the word know you want to.
After lunch we visited Yuejiang Tower, which overlooks the Yangzi river.  This hill was the site of an instrumental battle in the ascension of the Ming dynasty. As I understand it, the first Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, climbed to the top of the hill and looked out over the river. He then declared that he had read the river and thus read all of China, so it belonged to him.  

       The view of the Nanjing City wall was also quite good. I guess the Chinese like their walls. There were various amusing signs such as the “lovesickness carrying pavillion”. The paths were more foot reflexology paths, this time with the flower that is Nanjing’s symbol. As we were leaving, folks were readying a stage for what looked to be a swingin autumn moon party. I was sad to miss out on the fun, but the bus was leaving and I was still wet and cold.