Living in Harbin

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Saturday, December 16, 2006


This marks the last post I'll be sending from China for quite awhile to come. Today, I both graduated from Washington State University (I believe, I'll have to call the registrar's office to confirm on Monday!) and from CET Academic Programs Chinese Language program. There is a saying in Chinese that I think is particularly appropriate-it goes "shuang xi lin men" in pinyin, and roughly means "a double blessing arrives." I feel like I've been richly blessed this year, despite many frustrations and days filled with angst since I've been in China. I had a great final semester at WSU, I've been able to travel to Turkey twice (my second trip starts...tomorrow!) and have had the opportunity to come to China and study for these last six months, under outstanding teachers and accompanied by classmates I'll never forget. I've learned a lot...and as always when you learn a lot, you realize you have so much more to learn! I'm going to spend months sorting this out, but when I'm through, I'll be ready for the next step, whatever it may be.

On another note, I have to report that I've fallen victim to the traveller's most commonly bemoaned petty crime. Yep, that's right-yesterday, my last day in Harbin, I was bereft of my wallet in a food market I go to every week. I was walking through these awkward hanging plastic/fabric doors that cover every doorway this time of year to keep the heat in, and felt a tug on my bag and heard my keys clink as my wallet was expertly and most definitely permanently removed from my possession. My first thought was: Shitcrap! My second was: And this was bound to happen at some point...but why today?? I had everything in my wallet since I'd been packing, pulling out money for travel, etc. The best part? I had to beg for a handout to get on the bus to go back to campus, since I didn't even have the one kuai. That was ironic, I couldn't help but be amused. On the way back, I weighed my assets. One bag of dried pineapple...two bananas...and an Odwalla bar my good friend Amy mailed me last week, to get me through until Sunday night. I thought of another expression as I was miserably hanging on to the handle at the bus, with my empty pockets turned out: 一无所有。(yiwusuoyou) That means, empty-handed and penniless. You know, I have a bank account of course, but really, it's just a figment of humanity's collective imagination: most of the money in it will never be physically manifested, it's just numbers in a computer, to be transferred and changed and sold electronically. And as I was contemplating this philosophical issue, I realized: does it really matter that I just had my wallet stolen? I didn't lose my passport or my plane ticket: I can still go home and see my family on time. I didn't get hurt: I just made a forced donation. I have great friends like Andy who didn't hesitate to say he'd be willing to cover anything I needed before we left. I have CET to back me up, which they did right away when I let Naomi know what had happened, and I realized that I'll never have nothing as long as I remember what's important and keep people like that in my life. Without these people around me, my bank account in the United States would be absolutely worthless to me, which makes me realize more clearly than ever that the most valuable assets in our life are truly not the things we own or the money we earn, but the networks and friendships we make and work to maintain from place to place and from year to year.

(sob sob, hug hug)

And so I embark on my next adventure: from East Asia to Central Asia! Look for my next update to come from Turkey, where I'm buying a purse with a zipper next week. Cheerio!

My new blog will be From Here to There, linkable off my profile, but here's the complete address:

Friday, December 01, 2006


Today was special. It is Friday, and both of my classes for today were cancelled, giving me a surprise freeday. The sky was cloudy today, portending snow, but the upside is that on the rare days when moisture content is high enough to warrant clouds, the temperature is also higher, making today a perfect day to go explore. I've discovered that I haven't yet been to all the areas in Harbin worth going to; last week my translation teacher took me out for lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near what is probably Harbin's biggest Buddhist temple (hence the selection of vegetarian restaurants in an otherwise carnivorous city). I was charmed by the area, but had no time that day, so today I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
I decided to walk half the way there-got off near Da Shijie and the department stores, and walked for about forty minutes to the temple complex. Snow started falling in little feathery puffs on the way there, and my face was numb by the time I reached the restaurant where I planned to have lunch. I warmed up for a bit in there, then headed out to the park-like area in front of the temple walls. The snow was coming down in earnest by then, and because of the intense cold, it was fine and sparkled like glitter as it was falling. There were very few people willing to brave the elements, so the scene was very picturesque with only the smell of incense and the sounds of Buddhist music coming from the shops lining the broad walkway.
I wasn't sure at first if I wanted to actually go into the temple at first-after all, I went to several in Xian and, you know, a temple is a temple. But this one was big. From outside the clay-tiled wall, I could see the pagodas hung with bells that chimed in the wind to keep the birds off, and the fluted ceilings of the various small temples inside. So I decided I'd go in and have a look. I think that perhaps the snow influenced my thinking, but this temple complex was the prettiest and most peaceful I'd seen. There were actually monks in this one, unlike in the heavily touristed ones in Xian (I think the monks hide there, with good reason!), and hundreds of extremely vocal little birds filled the frozen trees (presumably because the bells on the pagodas, besides being decorative, were actually effective scare-sparrows!).
I got a very tranquil feeling from this temple. There were people praying, incense sticks burning, add to that the light snow and the middling tones of brass bells. I wandered in and out of the temples to various bodhisattvas and to the Buddha himself, contemplating to myself what spirituality means to these people. China's lost a lot of its spiritual heritage; I've only met one young person who was religious at all; she is Buddhist, though she says that she rarely goes to the temple. People often say to me that religion is for old people; young people must work and raise families. When they are old, they say, they, too, will go to the temple and pray.
I think that the Cultural Revolution and Communism seriously wounded the soul of China. That's obvious, of course, anyone who's been here any length of time can tell you that. But what I think is even more serious now is that the pace at which Chinese people are forced to work in order, on the personal level, to survive, and on a national level, to support China's race towards development, has kept it from recovering. Young people often work ten to twelve hours a day, with maybe two or four days off per month. When they're in school, they attend classes from seven in the morning to five PM, and if their parents are ambitious, in addition to crushing homework burdens, they also may study music, dance, or other extracurriculars. I used to try and set up times to meet with people I met outside of school, only to find that on their few days off, they would understandably far rather spend time with their families and other friends that wouldn't be leaving in a few months. At first I thought they were just uninterested, but the more I get to know them-these are the people at my gym, my coffee shop, spa, etc-the more I realize that it's an issue of time preventing them from deviating from their normal routines. I'm pretty selfish with my time myself, and I realize that I have far, far more of it than the average working Chinese person here.
It's a terrible shame. China has shown a tremendous ability economically to recover from the upheaval and terror of just a few decades ago, but the young people on whom the future depends are unable to rebuild the culture that was all but shredded during a hundred years of turbulence. They have no time to spend exploring their heritage, or creating a robust and socially well-rounded China that conforms to their own images of modernity; they have no time to develop hobbies or think about spirituality. The result is a mass of tired citizens, who push you to get on the bus not because they hate you, but because they honestly don't have the extra time and energy to put into thinking about other people. As odd as it seems, it takes a lot of effort to yield and be the last of ten people to get on the bus. It's also a heritage, of course, from when buses were far and few between, but now...well, if I had to ride the bus every day, twice, never getting a rest, with little chance of ever getting a seat because they're packed by the time I get off of work-well, I begin to see why they are tired enough to have little patience for the little things like waiting in line.
It took me four and a half months and a lot of pain before I even started to figure out why China is the way it is. I still constantly feel like I'm on the outside looking in, I still feel like people only see "foreigner" when they look at me, and I'm still really glad I'm going home soon-this has been such a draining exchange!-but I'm more at peace with China than I used to be. I feel like I've worked out an important piece of the puzzle, and I think that it was worth coming here just to really understand firsthand the pressures work on Chinese society.
Perhaps when China has reached an acceptable level of development, life will slow down and the people will have their burdens lifted, giving them time to open up and dream up new possibilities and reinfuse their culture with the vibrant beauty that inspired me to study Chinese back when I was taking Asian history classes. Thirty years can't solve everything, I suppose; when you think about it, they've really made huge sacrifices to come this far. I'd like to see China in another thirty years-who knows what it could be like?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Kashgar Part 2

I'm back in Harbin now, and in no mood to do homework, so here I am! I still have more to say about Kashgar and the tour we took...

Like I said before, our tour guide was incredibly obliging, and did his best to answer every question I put to him. He took us first to Yengisar, a town famous for knife production. There isn't much to see there, apparently, besides knife factories, but the work they do in those shops is beautiful. They use very simple tools to produce their knives, but these knives are famous throughout China for both their appearance and their quality. Most Uighur men, it seems, own at least one.

After that we continued on through seemingly endless expanses of desert to Yarkand, another ancient Silk Road through-city. There much of the old Uighur craftsmanship is still alive, and I even had a chance to see the handmade Uighur string instruments that I'd seen on the Discovery Channel last fall, and which got me interested in Xinjiang in the first place. We also visited the tombs of a couple of khans that once ruled this part of Central Asia. One of them, Abakh Hoja Khan, was a very popular ruler, and the site is now a pilgrimage destination for many of the faithful. The tomb is also incidentally the burial site of XiangFei, one of China's four great beauties (I think-Posy will have to confirm!) and a beloved concubine of a Qing dynasty ruler. This Abdul did not find interesting enough to tell me, and so this information is pieced together from the Lonely Planet and from four older ladies I met on the train, and who, incidentally, happened to be historical archivists on their way back to Urumqi from a meeting in Kashgar.

According to Abdul, most of the people in Xinjiang are Shiite Muslims (In fact, in Yarkand, I was privileged enough to see an imam riding a bike. Not that I thought that was outside of the realm of possibility, but that just wasn't my image of an imam...). I'd guessed Sunni, but I was wrong. Apparently there are in fact Sunnis living there, but Abdul says that unlike in Iraq, there are no conflicts. He said that the terrorists are the Sufis, who are well-represented in Yarkand. He vehemently condemned violence n the name of Islam (as has every Muslim I've chanced to meet in or out of the US) and cited a violent attack that occurred not long ago outside of Kashgar that killed many innocent people. The language barrier wouldn't permit anymore details than that, but he insisted the Sufis were behind it. I had thought Sufis were harmless mystics, but I guess things are different from place to place.

After leaving Yarkand, we set off on the next leg of our journey, an hour long trip to the edge of the desert. We'd passed plenty of desert already, but hadn't yet seen the "shifting sands." The terrain is really interested aong the way, especially as you get closer to the Taklimakan. Fields growing cotton and vegetables alternate with patches of sand and barren land, making me wonder how on earth they manage to prevent the desert from taking over entirely. Speaking of cotton, Abdul said it is one of the main crops not only in Kashgar, but in much of Xinjiang's drier areas. Makes sense, as it's probably one of the few plants that could tolerate the climate and soil. If Abdul understood my question, the cotton grown in Xinjiang (and other similar places, like Shaanxi) almost completely meets the needs of China's textile industry. I think he said that none was imported at all, but I think we may have run into a misunderstanding when I started talking about imports. Something to investigate.

Along the way I also asked about the hats they wear in Xinjiang-many different kinds, but most predominant is an attractive multi-colored four pointed little one they perch on the tops of their heads. I was theorizing from my oh-so-educated standpoint about the different explanations that might be behind the different colors-green for those who'd been to Mecca, white for maybe a different sect, fur for...old guys? grin. But Abdul set me straight. Fur is for winter, white is for simplicity's sake, and color is up to the wearer. Did that ever burst my bubble. He also told me that depending on where in Xinjiang you are from might mean you don't even where one. Abdul, who was from Ili, does not wear one.

We did finally make it to the desert, which was fascinating in and of itself. Didn't live up to my expectations of vast expanses of burnt sienna (the crayon color I could never figure out as a child) colored sand, like in Aladdin, and there were too many patches of crabgrass, but it was still interesting to see rolling hills of nothing but sand stretching off into the distance. I'm putting a trek through the Sahara by camel on my list of things to do in life now.

I ran into a bunch of other interesting facts along the way as well, for instance, there are Tajiks living in China. We passed a settlement in the middle of nowhere that looked like a pretty prison camp (for CET students, think Acheng) and when I asked, Abdul said it was for Tajiks. I at first thougt they were actual foreign national refugees, but as it turns out they're mostly from Tashkurgan, but the Chinese government determined that their living conditions were too dangerous/impoverished/etc, and moved them here.

The Uighurs also used to use an English script, Abdul said they had used it for centuries (I think we understood each other, though I found that startling) but within the last couple decades, the Chinese government changed it to Arabic. Abdul said that the English script was much better, made it easier to learn English (funny, echoed exactly what the Lonely Planet said about the switch!), but that China made the rules. I tried to use that to lead into an inquiry about how he felt about the Chinese presence in Xinjiang, but I was unsurprisingly artfully deflected, and decided it wouldn't be prudent to push the question. He was however very proud to say every time we went through a remote city that it was nearly all Uighur, with very few Han Chinese.

Well, I suppose that even if I'm not interested in my homework, I should at least try to give some order to the chaos that rules my bed after I exploded my backpack on it after coming home this morning...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Kashgar: Last outpost of the Silk Road

My hotmail's not working on this virus-laden computer, so in a fit of sheer desperation to communicate (after it showed me I had eleven messages, then closed the window for the fourth time) I'm going to make a blog.

I'll start by briefly introducing Kashgar. Kashgar in and of itself is a fairly tame place, though it was once an important stop along the Silk Road, as a desert oasis where caravans could resupply and where a significant ammount of trade took place. We arrived here on Tuesday after a grueling bus ride that was supposed to be 24 hours but ended up being 32. We are taking the train back to Urumqi.

Our trip actually happened to coincide with Bodrum, the "sugar festival" that comes after Ramadan, if I remember correctly. So on Tuesday there were all kinds of festivities, singing and dancing in the square near the mosque, and lights and fireworks. People are still on holiday now, but there is little sign of it except than many workshops are closed.

Kashgar is about 70 to 80% Uighur, one of the highest percentages in Xinjiang. As a result, most people here speak extremely basic Chinese. As I laughingly commented to Vince, this is the first place in China where my Chinese is better than that of the Chinese. A very comforting reality. In fact, the language is really fascinating. I've been on a mission to discover exactly how similar it is to Turkish, and it was right away apparent that the numbers are the same, as are grammar particles like "yok" "var" "siz" etc. etc. Our tour guide from today humored me as I threw Turkish words at him for about fifteen minutes, and I was pleased to come to the conclusion that there are enough similarities to make the languages mutually intelligible, with a few vocabulary departures or variations on basic root words. For example, salt in Turkish is tuz, in Uighur it's something like tuzlorp (terribly butchered). I also asked him if he'd ever had a Turk come to Kashgar, and he said yes, once, and that they had managed to communicate fairly well. Fascinating how far spread out this language family is....

Today was an action-packed day in Xinjiang. I gave up the chance to be an extra in the Mark Forster-directed movie "Kite Runner" (an amazing book, I couldn't believe it when I saw they were filming in Kashgar-can't wait for that to come out!) and booked a tour upon arriving at this hotel yesterday to go check out the second largest shifting sand desert in the world after the Sahara (that was the tagline)-the Taklimakan Desert. We were promised camels as well, and I guess I'll give away the end: there were no camels for us to ride, at least not at the desert part. But it blew my mind to see camel after camel after camel pulling carts of Ghengis Khan's descendants to and fro between the villages that looked like they had been constructed after the style of times immemorial, the color of the desert and shaded by rows of poplar trees.

This trip was truly one of the most fascinating experiences I've had in China. Once we got out of Kashgar, which has definitely been changed by the arrival of the Han Chinese immigrant flood starting after 1949ish, the entire atmosphere shifted. Cars disappeared from the streets, to be replaced by hundreds of donkey-pulled carts and three-wheeled motorized vehicles piled with people. I plied our guide with question after question's really late and I'm about to be kicked out of the internet cafe, so I guess I'll finish this another time...I have so much to tell!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Quest for a Good Mooncake (月饼)

China's Mid-Autumn Festival is fast approaching: On Friday, people all over the country will gaze at the moon and eat pretty little pastries called mooncakes, which are now being sold on every street corner. In fact, mooncakes are really what this whole thing seems to be about.
I have just one beef with this festival. Mooncakes, as inviting and beautiful as they may be, are, nearly without exception, truly disgusting.
I've been in the process of conducting ongoing gastronomical research for the last three weeks, part of a stubborn personal campaign to understand why Chinese people make such a fuss over mooncakes. I don't know what's kept me buying them-they're more expensive than your average food item, and I always take one or two bites, and then throw them away because they're too sticky/heavy/sweet/etc, etc. A complete waste of five to ten yuan. And the egg ones are on a whole level of horrible all their own; I nearly yammied when I bit into that one on the suggestion of a smiling salesgirl. You'd think I'd learn after this many failures. I did find one, however, that kept my hope alive in the middle of all this. It was coconut filled, and I thought it was decent, if not something I would want to eat everyday. I ate exactly half of that one (and Andy ate the other half, he liked it too). A small coconut oasis in a vast desert of traumatic mooncake experiences.
But the true reason for tonight's blog is not to bash mooncakes. I'm writing because today I finally discovered the perfect mooncake. I'd been discussing my plight with the expat Korean woman who owns the coffee shop that I frequent on Wednsdays, and she nodded sagely, saying that it took her a long time to learn to like moncakes, too. She suggested that I try the Maky Bakery brand of mooncake, because it is considered to be quite good. (I'd always stayed away from anything from the Maky Bakery because the name drives me crazy...not only does it lack an E where I feel it should have one, but also sounds like a brand name for a pink toy oven).
As it happens, on my way home from the coffee shop, I got off at a different bus stop to shake things up a bit, and lo and behold, there was a Maky Bakery right in front of me. I gritted my teeth and braced myself for another stomach-turning experience, and once again went through my routine of asking for a recommendation on what flavor I should try. The girl suggested the red bean filling (tried that one before, didn't like it, but this mooncake did not look like other mooncakes, and she swore it sold well) and black sesame seed filling (this mooncake looked like other mooncakes, but I'd never had that kind before, and she said it was a most traditional filling). I bought my cakes, and walked out of the store swinging my plastic bag.
When I bit into the red bean one, I was stunned: I wanted to eat the whole thing and go back and buy more. Same thing with the black sesame seed one. Folks, this is unprecedented. I was convinced I was hopelessly Western, and unable to enjoy one of China's most time-honored holiday foods. Essentially the equivalent of eating Thanksgiving dinner and hating the turkey with stuffing and the pumpkin pie 'n' whipped cream.
I'm both pleased and relieved to report that my quest, which I once feared was purely quixotic and self-destructive, has finally come to a successful conclusion at the doors of of the (wincing) Maky Bakery.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A China-Only Experience: Spa day with your Professor

This post, I have a lot I need to catch up on....what I've been doing for the last month, and what I did today, which includes my first brush with Chinese traditional medicine, in the form of GuaSha. I'm going to talk about that first because...because it's freaking cool.

OK, so I passed on the group hiking trip today in order to attend a Chinese wedding with one of my one-on-one teachers. I figured, hey, I can hike in the US, but a Chinese wedding? Not such a common opportunity. When we got to the restaurant (because a Chinese wedding is mostly centered around a banquet, no particular ceremony apart from that) we were a bit early. I'd mentioned to my teacher earlier, when we were learning beauty vocabulary (remember how I couldn't say "purple" before? I've been on a mission to pick up the trivialities of the language this semester and, well, now I can say eyeshadow, facewash, and mascara, all that good stuff!!! grin) that I wanted to find a spa like the one I went to in Xian, so when she noticed the one across the street, she was like, hey, wanna go check it out? So we did, and it was only 40RMB to try it the first time. We became instantly giddy, and made an appointment to come back together after the wedding.

Among the various things we could choose to do in our two hours of pampering was Guasha. I had no clue what it was, and didn't really get what they were saying to me as an explanation, so I went ahead and said yes. No big deal, right? Until I started analyzing the morpheme gua, which also appears in the word "shave." I held perfectly still for a full four minutes as I felt my back being scraped top to bottom, envisioning sliced tissues and spurting arteries. My fears were calmed when they paused and showed me an innocent-looking, safely dull horn blade, but I soon began to worry again. As they were doing it they explained what they were doing, and that my back was acquiring gruesome a reddish purple hue in the areas where I had "problems". Do WHAT?! The horror. I decided not to judge right away, my teacher didn't seem worried and said her friends swear by it. And after all it's supposed to go away in a few days.

So I got home and immediately got on the internet to see what had been done to me (you can see the fruits of my search in my last post) and apparently it's nothing more frightening than an ancient practice akin to acupuncture, intended to improve circulation and qi (or the electric field that scientists now know our body creates) flow throughout the body. This strengthens the immune system and helps with existing problems, ie back pain, headache, colds, fever, etc. The best part from my standpoint is this: Last October, I had to quit my rowing team at school because I injured my back, and it's been a very stubborn injury born of a facet disjunction on my left side that has caused the muscles around it to freeze up and make it painful to breath. Lately, although it had gotten a lot better after physical therapy in March and April, it's been acting up for some reason. Well-it was hurting this morning, but now, no matter how deeply I breath, or how much I twist, I can't feel a thing at all. I'm stunned. And completely sold on guasha. My back may look a little startling, but it honestly hasn't felt this good for months. I'm not saying I'm cured, but I bet if I keep doing this along with my regular stretching and exercise routine, I might be able to row again next summer in Seattle. Hallelujah! I can barely contain my joy at this particular discovery.

On top of the guasha, my teacher and I got rubbed down, facial-ed, massaged in accordance to related acupuncture meridians, etc, etc. As girly and decadent as it is, I now have a membership so I can go back every week if I want. Hey, I'd never be able to afford it at home-better take advantage of it while I can! Furthermore, I can share the joy, because I have enough punches to bring friends with me periodically. It's no fun to be beautiful all by yourself....


The wedding I went to wasn't a particularly large formal one as Chinese weddings go. From what I gathered this was really more of an event for friends and coworkers. The couple will have a more traditional wedding with family members later on, at which point they'll probably have the groom go through the ritual of gaining entrance to the room where his bride is waiting, find the red shoes for her to wear, and then go in a multi-car wedding procession to another restaurant, where there will be toasts and feasting all day long. The bride will have three or more dresses that she'll wear at different points throughout the event, starting with a Western wedding dress in the morning and switching to Chinese traditional qipao' s later on. This time, however, we just ate and toasted a few times, heard a speech or two...and left a little early, because, well, there was the pressing matter of the spa appointment across the road, and the wedding started later than we thought it was supposed to. It was interesting, though, and while the spa day kind of upstaged the wedding in my mind, it was still worth going to see.


It's been about three weeks now since I got back from Xian and started classes. I have to say, things are really going much better for me now than they used to. That two weeks with the Guos was great for my Chinese, I think I crossed some sort of invisible bridge while I was on vacation. Or maybe my tired and stressed out mind just needed to regroup and absorb what had been thrust into it over the summer. Whatever the case may be, classes are, if not quite a breeze, certainly no longer a black and murky quagmire of incomprehension. I also have some classes I'm really excited about. One of my one-on-one classes is on translation, so I'm actually learning a trade skill while I'm here along with Chinese. I've come to the conclusion that before I try again to join the State Department (for those of you who might not have heard, I didn't pass the written examination I took in April) I want to make absolutely sure that I'm not destined to be an interpreter/translator. I'm going to put one or two years into that-get a job, go to classes on it, take the certification tests, the whole nine yards. Then I should probably know whether that's my calling, or if I still want to go into diplomacy.

I'm also taking literature, composition, and of course my class on Chinese culture/food, which brought me to the wedding and the spa today. Overall, I'm immensely pleased; and I feel like I'm learning a ton.

I've started my Pilates class in Chinese as well-I feel like a complete comic sometimes, but the point is always made and people keep coming back, so I can't be doing anything too wrong! It's mainly an exercise in Chinese skills for me, and a chance to do Pilates again, since I can't seem to make myself do it on my own. Not too much to say about that-it's just something fun to do to keep things interesting!

On that note, I'll go ahead and sign out....lots of love to all, and make sure and read my post on Guasha!

Gua Sha!!!!

OK, so I'm putting up some information on this gua sha thing in case people are interested. I'd never heard of it...and I thought it was sketch when I was doing it, especially when I saw my back afterward! But I have a pleasant feeling of wellbeing now, which was enhanced by my quickie research on the topic. Here's what I found...

Gua Sha--Scraping for a Cure
July 07,2005
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The release of the movie, "Gua Sha/The Treatment" unveiled a Chinese medical practice that astounded many westerners. The little boy in the movie was left with severe bruises on his back after a "Gua Sha" session. Those who are ignorant of the traditional Chinese medicine practice would be excused for dismissing the cure as "abuse" or "witch craft." However in Chinese medicine, Gua Sha is an effective method of curing a number of diseases. So the big question is—does the Gua Sha Treatment really work?
Is Gua Sha Scientific?
Gua Sha therapy is closely related to the theory of meridians, one of the most important Chinese medical theories. The theory of meridians provides not only the theoretical foundation for diagnosis, but also guides treatments such as acupuncture, massage, Qigong and Gua Sha.
The meridians (经 jing) and collaterals (络 luo) are pathways in which Qi and blood circulate. They form a specific network that communicates with the internal organs and limbs and connects the upper to the lower and the exterior to the interior portions of the body. In the ancient Chinese medical book The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine it recorded the six meridians (六经 liu jing), namely, the Taiyang, Yangming, Shaoyang, Taiyin, Shaoyin, and Jueyin meridians. Zhang Zhongjing (150—219 A.D.), famous physician of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25—220A.D.) wrote the book Treatise on Cold Diseases and Miscellaneous Disorders which also gave brief and accurate descriptions of symptoms for diseases of each meridian. Furthermore, it was his rich clinical experience that helped bring about this medical theory. The principle of Gua sha is similar to that of acupuncture in which different points in the patient's body are stimulated.
According to Chinese medicine, when external coldness or negative energy invades the body a disease develops. Thus people will have some physical discomfort such as dizziness, vomiting and pain. Gua sha can stimulate blood flow and remove coldness, negative energy, toxic-heat and lymphatic fluid from the body through the skin. Through the process, more blood serum is produced, thus improving the body's immune system.
However, western medicine and Chinese medicine have contrasting views on the origin of diseases, hence leading to different treatments. Western medicine emphasizes exterior factors like viruses and microbes that lead to disease where as Chinese medicine places more emphasis on the internal human body. In other words, if the body is strong and healthy the organs will naturally protect themselves from diseases. Chinese physicians have tried to find treatments to improve the function of the six meridians. Western physicians, quite differently, tried to make effective for eliminating bacteria in the body. Chinese medicine physiology is based on the activity of Qi throughout the body, while Western medicine physiology is based on anatomy. Both medical practices can exist side by side.
What is Gua Sha?
"Sha" refers to the sudden attack of illness such as sunstroke and dry cholera during the summer and autumn seasons. It also refers to rashes. The term "Gua" means, "to scrape." Before the actual Gua Sha treatment begins, liquid medicine is rubbed on the painful area or acupoints to stimulate blood circulation in the body. The therapist then scrapes the skin with a jade or horn blade from top to bottom according to the direction of blood flow. Some blood capillaries break and release the red blood cell, hemoglobin. Such stimulation can promote blood circulation and remove obstruction in the collateral and toxins from the body, which then relieves pain. Though red, purple or black bruises appear after the scraping, during the treatment, the patient rarely feels any pain.
What does Gua Sha Treat?
Gua Sha can provide drug-free relief from back, neck, leg and shoulder pain. It is widely used to cure measles, a disease most commonly contracted in the summer and autumn seasons. It can also relieve some women's problems such as period pain, lack of periods, insufficient lactation, and climacteric syndrome. Gua Sha, like acupuncture, massage and Qi Gong is also a magical method of improving health.

Article #2

Gua Sha - Chinese Health Care
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When I go to China, one of the first things I do is get a gua sha treatment from my friend, Dr. Charles Li. It relieves all the aches from the 22 hours of traveling, and stress related to it, and helps me get over my jet lag as well as get a good sleep. Gua sha is an extremely effective and relatively simple traditional Chinese treatment, but almost impossible to find information about it in China.
When I went to the jade market in Xiuyan, I couldn't find gua sha tools. But as soon as I asked a seller if she had gua sha tools, every seller who had gua sha tools started bringing them to me, smiling, and surprise a "foreigner" knew about this.
When I went to the traditional Chinese pharmacies, many of them had gua sha oil. But I could not find any books about gua sha in the book stores in Beijing, even in the foreign language book store. Dr. Li explained to me that gua sha is more of a home remedy, and such a small part of traditional Chinese medicine that it is rarely given any consideration in the literature. He uses it frequently and finds it very useful. He provides traditional Chinese medical treatment to "foreigners" who sometimes are afraid to have acupuncture, or don't like the taste of Chinese herbal medicine. Gua sha used with stimulating acupressure points has been very effective and helpful in his practice.
Gua Sha is an ancient therapeutic practice that began in China centuries ago. It remains a popular practice in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Gua means to scrape or rub. Sha is a reddish, elevated "millet like" skin rash. Sha is the term used to describe blood stasis in the subcutaneous tissue before and after it is raised at petechiae. IGua sha is used for pain associated with an acute or chronic disorder. The affected person may feel aching, tenderness and/or a knotted feeling in the muscles. When normal finger pressure on the person's skin causes blanching that is slow to fade, sha may be suspected. Gua sha is used to treat and prevent acute conditions such as common cold or flu, asthma, bronchitis as well as chronic problems involving pain and congestion of the qi and blood.
Gua sha is applied primarily on the back, neck, shoulders, buttock and limbs of the body. Advanced practitioners may also raise sha on the chest and abdomen.To apply gua sha, first lubricate the area with oil. If you do not have gua sha oil, you can use White Flower or any other oil. If there are any moles, cuts or unhealed areas, cover them with your fingers. Do not apply the gua sha tool to these kinds of areas. Hold the gua sha tool at a thirty degree angle to the skin, the smooth edge will touch the skin.
Gua sha stroke areas
Rub the skin in downward strokes using moderate pressure. The person should not feel pain although it might feel uncomfortable. Stroke one area at a time, until the petechia of that surface is completely raised and all the sha is up, which is when stroking no longer increases the number of dots or changes the color. Then move to the next area.The sha petechiae should fade in about 2-4 days. If it is very slow to fade, it indicates poor blood circulation and there may be more serious deficiency that will require additional treatments with combination of acupuncture or acupressure in specific areas.
Since gua sha moves stuck qi and blood, the person receiving gua sha will probably feel immediate changes in their condition. It is a very useful treatment for external and internal conditions and treats both acute and chronic disorders.
Gua sha treatment can be used up to three times weekly, and is most effective when used as a weekly treatment on chronic conditions.
NOTE: "Blood" refers to the traditional Chinese medicine definition, and is not the western body blood.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Last day in Xian

How the time has flown by...I'm ready to get back to Harbin and meet my new classmates and start studying again, though...which is great, since two weeks ago I was so burnt out I was ready to collapse. So this is a true sign that I've recuperated!!

These last two weeks have been a blur of new experiences-culinary, cultural, and just plain different. I've eaten things I thought weren't possible-come on, now who would think to take ground up sesame seeds, stuff them into a ball of flour-water dough, and boil them? In case you're interested, they're weird but OK at the first bite, but by the tenth ball they are so sweet and gooey that you want to puke. I've been amazed by my six year old host sister's carnivorousness-she gleefully picks the eyes and the brains out of the fried (whole) fish and consumes them, announcing that they will make her own better. I abstained from pointing out that, within the animal kingdom, fish eyes and fish brains are not really enviable...

I've also eaten way more than I can hold on more occasion than one. Apart from eating large, deliciously cooked (for the most part; I have found exceptions to the rule and can no longer unreservedly praise the results of my host mom's culinary efforts) meals, they eat fruit and stuff between meals. I feel like Mowgli in the part where the orangutan king is trying to tease the secret to Man's Red Flower out of him.

"Have a banana."


"Have TWO bananas"

(I'm a little full)

"Have THREE bananas and a peach!! Want some walnuts?"

"Uncle! Uncle! Uncle!"

I'm learning how to make jiaozi, too. My favorite Chinese food, bar none. Delightful little purses of dough containing anything you can think to put in them, then steamed or boiled. I could eat them everyday...and now I know how to make them. I'm taking careful notes so that I can experiment successfully when I get back!

Last night we went to see the musical fountain at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. In the day, it's nothing special, but at night, the largest musical fountain in Asia turns into a dazzling extravaganza of lights, music, and dancing water. I must have looked like such a tourist, standing there with my mouth wide open. I highly recommend going, for anyone who passes through Xian. It's only about fifteen or twenty minutes long, starting at 8:30 or 9 depending on the season, but it's by far and beyond quite worth it. And surrounded by the most romantically beautiful park ever. So go, my friends, go!

I've really been enjoying the unbridled spontaneity that goes with not having a schedule. Do I want to randomly stop and have a manicure? Sure! How about that?! Walk down this street just to see what's on it, even if it's totally out of my way?! Sure! I can shop obsessively...small, easy-to-carry things of course; and I can buy interesting small things to snack on. Sometimes this gets a bit out of hand; like when I bought three pounds of dried fruit that I can't imagine how I'll eat...then today my host mom bought me three pounds of uncracked walnuts to take back to Harbin with me, and while I also now have cashews and pecans, I narrowly escaped being loaded up with apples, bananas and grapes. I saved myself by telling her how Posy, one of my classmates, had bananas in her bag and later discovered they'd exploded...all over her passport.

Until next time...which will be in Harbin...cheerio!

I almost forgot...I want to give my host dad, Clarence Guo, a shout-out here. If you go to Xian, call him at 013519197819; He is an excellent tour guide, great English, and just a cool guy...