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Week of September 6th: We begin to settle in

It has rained all week. When I say rain, I mean every kind of rain: mist, slow rain, dew, light rain, hard rain, sideways rain, and torrential down pour! When it rains we practice under the 2nd floor walk way around our school. Fortunately, there are not too many of us at the moment and less because several people have been sick. I have become the defacto “Dorm Mom” as no one else has much experience with healthcare. Daniel (Irish) has been sick for several days with food poisoning of some kind, but no one told me till Sunday…so Sunday is when I started to treat him. He will get better but he was really dehydrated.

Nico (Austrian) became very ill on Monday, nearly unconscious and we had to carry him up to the van, in the pouring rain and take him to hospital. Turns out he has dysentery and was serious dehydrated. The hospital was a real adventure. More like being in a bush combat medical emergency facility with far less well trained doctors/nurses and no hygiene what so ever. Anyone can walk in/out of ER. The crash kit is under the emergency bed (more like old metal table) in a rusty case, and random guys from outside are wondering in to talk to the nurses smoking where there are open O2 ports….I yelled at them…the nurses laughed, said they tell them all the time but they won’t listen!!! Oh, yes did I mention the dead rat right outside the hospital door, that everyone just seems to ignore. Judy (very sweet office gal from the school) and I stayed with Nico for 8 hours while he got IV’s and tests done. They sent him to the bathroom to collect samples for the lab and I had to laugh. It was so filthy that I imagine the air alone contaminated the samples. They wanted to keep him overnight, but I put my foot down. It was definitely more dangerous to his health to stay over, than risk my care for the next few days. They gave him drugs, both western and Chinese herbs (which was impressive) to take home. After the IV fluids and Tylenol he was much better. Amazing what electrolytes can do. I monitored him and his drugs for a few days and insisted his room and clothes be cleaned properly. It is so damp here that everything grows both the good and the bad! He is much better now. He is excellent at Kungfu and is missed when he is not around.

Lesson 1: never get sick enough to need the hospital in rule China
Lesson 2: look after your immune system always.
Lesson 3: hygiene is not one of China’s strong points, so it is critical that it be a personal asset.

I had hoped I had seen the last of hospital but by Wednesday, I was back with Mirell(Hungarian New Yorker) for an ear infection. Christy (Oklahoma, Taiwanese, New Yorker) went too, she speaks Chinese. Mirell refused the IV antibiotics and they gave her herbs. I will say this….they see everyone and medicine/care is cheap.

So this was the background for this week as we learned The 8 Brocades and more of The 5 elements/animal Chi Gong. We finished the Turtle. Our little group was very excited. Master Guan ask “Why so excited?” We said “we finished!” He said, “Finish not reason be excited….practice many years, then excited!” I like him. He is young, but wise. We have lost him for a few days to the Shanghai expo. Master Lee is teaching us in the meantime. He is really young. He teaches faster, but with much less detail. No one is talking about the inner alchemy of Chi Gong. Perhaps that comes later.

The day before Master Guan left he said we were going to go to the Tai Chi cave at the end of practice. We ask where it was and he said behind the Purple Temple….so we are all thinking “close”.  We ask how we get there and he says the number 11 bus. Then he shows us one leg and then the other….2 legs side by side….number 11…i.e. we walk! Well, 700 vertical, moss covered steps later we arrive. It was really beautiful. More a grotto than a cave, but the Taoist have been meditating and blending with nature there forever. This old monk banged the gong as we bowed to Lao-tzu and gave us I-Ching medallions. Apparently he and several other nuns/monks walk up every day and mind the temple/cave all day, then come down to sleep at dusk. Every one of them had to be over 70…so poor hygiene aside, they are doing something right in China. We all slept well that night!

We have also discovered why people wear Tai Chi outfits….They prevent bug attacks of many kinds, they allow you to sweat (profusely) unencumbered, you can move freely in them, and the white high socks prevent you from tripping over your pant legs during fast forms. Your hair goes on top of your head so it is out of your way and hard for an opponent to grab. The Taoist are very pragmatic. Everything has a perfect purpose, even the things you can’t imagine….Like hair sticks: hold hair, double as weapons or in some case writing tools. Plus they are beautiful.

This means we have been supplementing our ward robes and the tailor downtown is wonderful. We also had our first massages at the bottom of the mountain. The first hour was on our bodies and the second was on our feet….I might be in love….anyone who rubs my feet for an hour is my friend, esp. when is cost $15 for the whole 2 hours. Also, I have given up on laundry at the school. Nothing dries outside in 90+ humidity and constant rain, so I brought our laundry down to be done….It cost me a whole $10 for a weeks’ worth.

We were going to do something exciting on Thursday, our day off, but that was the day we had torrential rain so everyone stayed in. We cleaned and watched movies. We are getting to know people. Fernando (Argentinean from Spain) is an amazing Kungfu artist. He has his own school in Spain and has been coming to the mountain for a long time. Kailin and I have both taken a real liking to him. He is a patient person and always has time to help either of us. I’m sure he must be wonderful with kids that come to his school. Nico is a student of Chinese Medicine and martial arts. He is beautiful to watch. Daniel does martial arts at home. He left job and girlfriend to travel for a year to deepen his training. Christy is an accountant/jewelry designer that volunteer’s time in India at a school for street children. Cabrine and Mike have just come off working for the peace core in Botswana and were looking for something easier for a bit. They went home to American first and loaded up on good food and TV then came here. Mirell is a high-end esthetician from New York that also designs perfumes. Ron (Chinese/English) lives in China, works for a big UK construction firm and is a landlord. Jackie (New Zealander living in Australia) has been coming here for a long time and I believe she teaches Tai Chi and Chi Gong at home. Elizabeth (Slovenian, soon-to-be grandma and retired) has been coming here for years and is a 15th generation Taoist. She is a bundle of knowledge. Everyone is wonderful in their own special way

We have some new people: Nuno and Fabiola (Portuguese/Spanish from Macao) and Ronaldo (Portuguese from Norway). All of them are looking around at schools deciding where they might like to come back to study. Sara (Austrian: lawyer/singer) is in China for a wedding in Shanghai and decided to come up and check out the mountain beforehand. We played music together one day. Sara is so sweet. We also have a new group of Chinese that here just to learn the 8 Brocades for a couple of weeks. Chinese float in and out all the time. Sometimes for a day or two, sometimes just to look, sometimes for longer and to practice.

Saturday we started the snake. We are learning this faster than the turtle. Partially it is Master Lee’s teaching style, but also we are less sore and beginning to settle into the routine of things. This may not last as Master Lee is really into kicks. We did kicks today that my body doesn’t even begin to understand.

The rain ended and Saturday was spectacularly beautiful. I filmed class and went to Nan Yin (one more stop up the mountain) during break to take pictures and film. Kailin went to town with Christy to pick up our tailoring. I meant Muriel (Scottish) again. She was on her way to northwest China somewhere to help translate more ancient Taoist texts. It was good to see her again. I hope our paths cross many more times.

Nan Yin Temple was beautiful. The colored tiles on the roofs absolutely glisten in the sun after the rain. I also experienced my  first Chinese tea ceremony. Teas and herbs are an everyday part of life on the mountain. Of the 5 most important medicinal mushrooms, all grow here. The girl that did the ceremony had information in English about the teas. That was great and unusual. You can’t even get maps from the tourist station in English. The ceremony end with me buying tea. One that is good for the lungs and one which is green tea with wild ginseng that is good for the Kidneys and Adrenals. I also took pictures of Lao-Tzu’s (The Lightening God) cave and temple. From here there was a great view from above of the Purple Heaven Temple we practice at, and the road up the mountain.

I need to take a moment to talk about this road and the buses that travel it. Harrowing is the word that comes to mind. Even harden British, Italian, and inner city Chinese drivers blanch. The buses get so close to each other and the drainage ditches on the sides are deep and uncovered. The experience is so challenging that the bus drivers keep a bucket, mop and baggies available at all times for those that decide to puke! I’ve been up and down many times now. It is a rare trip where these accessories are not used. It should also be noted that this road is heavily used by pedestrians. I was watching one day as the bus came careening into our stop. The driver honked at the people in the road. All the foreigners jump aside, but the Chinese barely noticed and at the last second the driver went around them. It became clear in that moment, that we are all products of our culture; no matter how far we go away from it. I have to wonder what it will take on this planet for all of us to put our childhood cultural experiences into perspective, and being to see the bigger picture. Will we be able to transform enough to save the human experiment on earth?

Sunday I went with the gang of “would be students of the future” to Carefree Valley (one stop down from us) along with Fernando. Kailin went down the mountain again with Christy to get a few things. We walked to the famous meditation waterfall and then went to see a Wudang kungfu demonstration. It was classic Chinese theater: complete with tea and too loud music, but the kids were great. It is amazing what years of training the young produces. One boy (maybe 10/11) did an amazing Drunken Master form. These kids are gymnast, yogis and martial artist all wrapped up together. There was one old master too that did things that would kill most people his age! It was good fun and inspired everyone to do a bit more at afternoon practice. I will have to bring the rest of our group here in the near future.