Bu yo. Quite the important term when traveling China. It means, I think, kind of technically, "don't have". But, I also use it for "don't want". It becomes very useful when you're surrounded by throngs of screaming and pushy Chinese women, all with various and sundry objects in their hands, with which they want to deprive you of your hard earned money. Maps of the Forbidden City, which I've been through at least a dozen times; statues of Buddha, which, after too much Baskin Robbins ice cream, I tend to resemble; trinkets, enough to make a five dollar crack whore look like a Jewish American princess on prom night; postcards, pictures of various tourist traps and hutongs, also known as homey shithole hoods; neck ornaments; rings; and tons of other shit; all "Bu yo!", "Bu yo god dammit". They swarm upon foreigners as flies swarm on shit, as fleas swarm on dogs, as the stars swarm around the moon; as, as church goddesses swarm upon poor unfortunate kind hearted easily misunderstood and taken advantage of souls, well, like me; and for some reason, they tend to leave their own kind alone. Probably, because their own kind, just have no money. Yes, being a foreigner in Beijing kind of makes you a financial target, prey for Chinese women of all ages, shapes and sizes, but mostly women who are old, haggard, and definitely uncute, all yelling, "Lookey lookey. Postcard. You likey. Five Yuan!".
I have dreams of being surrounded by gaggles of all young and relatively cute Chinese women, all at least half my age, outside the back gate of the Forbidden City, all frantically grabbing at my NorthFace technical wear outergarments, all with pleading slanted eyes, heaving bosoms, and wailing pouting mouths, all screaming, "Lookey lookey. I blow you. You likey. Five Yuan!" Yo, baby, yo.
But, it never comes to pass. All these old hags, with all their torn up and probably used and erased postcards, all grabbing at my sleeve. Bu yo just doesn't seem to work. Besides, for an old worn out and haggard New Yorker, such as I, "Bu yo" just doesn't seem to cut the proverbial mustard. It's not exactly a term that dear old mom would be proud of. "fuck off" would be much more appropriate. Mom would like it.
And there's a reason why bu yo doesn't work. What makes it all the so much more comical is the fact that "bu yo" doesn't really mean, "don't want". It in fact, it doesn't exist, but from a purely non-grammatical technical point of view, one might see it to only mean, "don't have", in a weird and distorted sort of way, that only I could derive. In fact, to say "don't want", you really need to say "mei yo", and not "bu yo"; (bu meaning no, yo, being the verb for "to have"). So my repeated responses to their suggestions that I buy postcards and all that other shit, has just been informing them of two things; first, in a grammatical nonsensical sort of way, that I don't have any, and second, that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Not a new situation for me, mind you. No wonder why I'm not surrounded by throngs of beautiful young Chinese women. Shit. But to me, I still confuse the two; "bu yo", which, to the New York American ear, sounds distinctly the same as "bu yao" (which means "don't have"), and to the Beijing Chinese ear, sounds distinctly different. "Want a postcard?" "Hey, I don't have any of those!" But, I'll keep using "bu yo". I like the sound of it. It's good with an arrogant New York accent. "Hey, go bu yo yo momma..." Less harsh than "fuck off", at least, here in Beijing.
I ask Yong, my faithful little Chinese companion, how to say "fuck off" in Chinese. He, bless his warm little Chinese heart, knows me far too well, as we've been gong fu brothers from back in Shaolin for many years. He knows that, given the proper circumstances, and the proper mood and timing, I'll use it. "I don't know how to say", he replies. "You are so full of shit", I tell him, with, a bit of beloved emphasis and satirical laughter, knowing damn well that just recently, his mother tried to poison him with some sort of home made Chinese food, the result of which was our having to stop at a public bathroom every hour or so. This bu yo crap doesn't seem to work; you get grabbed by some old Chinese speaking hag with a pile of postcards, you tell her "Bu yo", and she grabs harder. A slightly more emphatic "Bu yo", and her old haggard friend grabs your other arm. "Leave me the fuck alone" brings a warm and cheery yet toothless smile. "Postcards. Postcards. You buy. Postcards. Five yuan". "Bu yo!". "POSTCARDS! FIVE YUAN"! "Blow me!" "OK, five yuan...." Where the hell are all my cute little bitches with the heaving bosoms....
No, bu yo is just not going to cut it for me. I try to figure out the Chinese for "fuck off", and, though I've studied Chinese on and off, mostly off, over the past six years, and have successfully learned about, oh, three words, "fuck off" eludes me. The closest I can come to, is "Tza ni ma", which, I heard, quite unexpectedly, one night, many years ago, in TGI Fridays, which, by the way, is right next door to TGI Saturdays. Got to love these fucking mimic expert Chinese. Same damn colors, same damn logo, same damn menu. Right next door. God, if the CEO of TGI Fridays ever knew that the Chinese were either mimicking or satirizing his brand, he'd have a shit. Yes, "Tza ni ma", it's not a nice thing to say to a Chinese person. I remember that night oh so well, a few years ago, with Yong and Christine, drinking the required multiples of the traditional doc favorite Strawberry Chocolate drinks, a combo of strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream, all mixed with the slightest bit of Kalua, Kalua which makes Christine, who is part Chinese, and Yong, who is all Chinese, god bless their little hearts and their alcohol dehydrogenase deficient livers, comically turn beet red, and slightly to mostly humorously drunk. Me, I just get fat. "TZA NI MA", came the scream, and as I looked up, I saw, flying through the air, in a perfect trajectory towards the other side of the room, a large, kind of German size, glass beer stein. It shattered as it landed, smoothly and loudly, on top of this table, not far from ours. "TZA NI MA!!!!!", came from the other side of the room, also not too far from us, in the non-smoking side of the restaurant. Accompanying that, came a low grade moan, easily translated in any language. I looked over, and saw four Chinese men, all doing thier required smoking in the non-smoking section of TGI Fridays, which, if I may remind you, is right next to TGI Saturdays. Gonna have to eat there one night; wonder if they have the famous traditional doc favorite chocolate strawberry drinks. Anyway, one man was standing, holding yet another large beer stein way over his head, taking aim at this poor unfortunate younger man, who was holding a cigarette in one hand, and his head in the other. Some blood was oozing from between his fingertips. I, a medical professional, and, a high school graduate, who excelled in physics I might mention, quickly surmised that the original point of impact of this first large glass beer stein, prior to its flight across the room, had been this poor unfortunate man's head. He held onto that cigarette tightly, despite the fact that, also in my medical opinion, he looked like he was going to pass out. One thing that I've noticed about the Chinese, is that they do love their cigarettes. God forbid one of them land completely unsmoked onto the spit laden floor.
"TZA NI MA!!!" Up went the beer stein, higher and higher, as it prepared for yet another record flight, off this guys head, and across the room. I asked Christine and Yong where they thought this next one would end up. Looking at the power that was going to be inputted into this new projectile, I quickly surmised (the beauty of a physics education, mind you, I just knew that it would eventually prove itself useful), that the stein would end up slightly further. Just as the new event was going to take place, some young waiter kid, in broken English, told us that there was a fight in the restaurant. I told him, "No shit". Damn, these waiters are smart. I didn't think that "Bu yo" would have been appropriate. "No shit?", he asked, with a puzzled look on his face. I didn't bother responding, it just would have required far too much energy, and he wouldn't have understood. Sometimes, you just have to be from New York to understand this complicated verbiage. He then asked us if we wanted to leave, as the fight would probably get much larger and much more out of control. God knows what objects were going to be flung around the room.
"No fucking way man". He didn't understand that either, but, my response was overshadowed by "TZA NI MA! from the other side of the room. I told the waiter to get out of the way; I certainly didn't want to miss viewing this next projectile.
But, unfortunately, my attempt at predicting the landing point of the next projectile wouldn't come to fruition. The damn guy never threw it. I asked Christine if she would ask the waiter to suggest to that guy, that another toss was in order, but, damn these Chinese, they just don't have a sense of humor about these things. The cursing continued for another half hour, after which, our little group of Chinese beer mug throwing fighters had left. It was one hell of a night, and an educational one at that; I learned that beer mugs follow the same trajectory through the air as any other object that is bounced off an individual's head, and, more important, I also learned three new Chinese words.
Oh, they sound great. Tza ni ma. But, as I soon discovered, they're not the best words for general use. Not exactly something that you'd use in public, not exactly something that you'd use for some Chinese woman trying to sell you postcards. It means something like, "Go fuck your mother", or, "I fuck your mother". Or something like that. Not exactly wonderful verbal terms of endearment when you're trying to get some cute young Chinese thing without postcards to blow you.
So, I never learned how to say "fuck off". I'm miserably stuck with "Bu yo", but I've learned to accompany that with facial expressions that just add emphasis to the whole response. And, I'm getting good at it. Really damn good.
Now, if only I had some friends to mail all these fucking postcards to....
There's a Buddhist parable that kind of promotes the whole concept of my trip to China to date, and it kind of goes like this.
Young trees in the forest spread their roots in search of water, and spread their branches in search of sunlight, all so that they can grow straight and tall and majestic as they get older. But alas, for the young trees, as they grow up straight and strong, they become the object of desire of wood cutters, who are looking for straight tree trunks for which to make lumber that they can sell to home builders and furniture makers. The young trees, who spend their entire lives, trying to attain that goal of straightness and perfection, inevitably end up in the lumbar yard.
Whereas the big old oak, who's gnarly tree branches, and grotesque trunk, does nothing, nothing but exist, not making himself known, not advertising his presence in the forest. All he does, is sit and grow. And as such, he grows stronger and stronger, and grander and grander, for the woodcutters find his looks and his condition undesirable for their needs. And because of that, the old oak just gets older and bigger and stronger, doing nothing, just existing.
The meaning of the Buddhist story, is that by doing nothing, one grows old. Well, I'm taking that to heart this trip.
It's been one hell of a trip so far. I've experienced a lot, I've learned a lot, I've gotten stronger, and I've done absolutely nothing.
I guess maybe a brief history of my health is in order. It all started, back in December, quite ironically, upon my return from my last trip to Shaolin.
I fly Business Class when I go overseas; I am far too large to sit in an economy seat for more than two or three hours. My legs just don't fit all that well. And because I get pretty bad migraines, I usually dose up on some medication which helps me avoid those. Problem is, they tend to make you pretty sleepy, which, for a thirty hour trip back from Thailand, I guess is not such a bad idea. But, as you've undoubtedbly heard, flying long distances in cramped quarters, and being relatively immobile, has its hazards, one being, blood clots in the legs.
It is very uncommon, but not unheard of, for people to develop serious blood clots in their legs while sitting motionless in an aircraft seat. The veins depend upon muscle contractions to help propel the blood out of the extremities and up to the heart. Sitting motionless for a prolonged period of time predisposes the poorly flowing blood to occasionally clot, and remain lodged in the leg. A common complaint people have, when they have these things, is leg pain, particularly in the calf, and leg swelling. If the traveller is smart, he'll take some aspirin for a day or two before his travel, so that the blood is "thinned", and the platelets are less likely to form clots. This is what I do, every time, religiously.
And a hard, tense, painful calf is what I had when I got home, last December. I really didn't think much of it, as we traversed through the Christmas holidays, into the month of January. The calf pain was starting to go away by then, but, it was replaced with something much more ominous, and much more frightening. Chest pain.
Oh, all sorts of things go through the mind of a physician when he's confronted with an illness that he doesn't understand. Even more goes through his mind when he's the one with the illness. Especially I, who specialized in intensive care medicine and anesthesiology, both high risk fields in medicine, both which present you with the absolute worst that pathology textbooks can throw at patients. I've seen, almost all of it. And when you're walking the dog, and you start to feel some chest discomfort, multitudes of diagnosis start swirling through your head. And all of them tend to be the bad ones. The bartender with chest pain thinks muscle strain; the physician with chest pain thinks rapidly debilitating viral cardiomyopathy. Or worse.
I slowed down on my anti-migraine medication, and started building up on the Coca Cola, a soft drink which helps me with my headaches. And the chest discomfort just kept appearing more and more often. Getting more and more uncomfortable. And I didn't know why. It was all very confusing to me, as, just two months previously, I had been in Shaolin, working out four to six hours a day, walking up and down the hell I call the Chinese Stairmaster, hiking, lifting weights, exercising. Never had a bit of chest pain. Why it was erupting now, just didn't make sense. In the back of my mind, I knew it couldn't be heart disease. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I was right. It gnawed at me, constantly.
It all came to a climax one night in early January, when I was eating a rather large meal with some friends in Las Vegas. All of a sudden, completely without warning, came the onset of chest discomfort with trouble breathing. I knew it couldn't have been my heart, I was far too healthy for that. But the spectre of a pulmonary embolus (a blood clot that breaks off of the inside of the leg vein and travels up to the heart, causing chest pain, shortness of breath, and commonly, death) loomed above me. That was all I could think of. A god damn pulmonary embolus. A long time nurse friend of mine had a simple nasal surgery the week before, and subsequently died at home, from a damn pulmonary embolus. I thought back on all the people in my career that I had taken care of, some young and healthy, who had suddenly died of pulmonary emboli, and there was nothing that I could do. Fear struck my heart like it never had before, and I made the decision to not even wait for an ambulance, and just drive myself to the almost nearest hospital.
I drove past Nevada's University Medical Center, because, I had taught there for many years, and, in my opinion, the residents at that institution were the absolute bottom of the barrel. Instead, I kept driving to a private hospital, went into the emergency room, identified myself as a physician, and was promptly taken care of.
The concern was a pulmonary embolus, that was the highest thing on the list. I underwent all sorts of studies for my heart, and my lungs, and spent the evening in the Geriatric Ward, (as there were no beds available anywhere else), something which my friends, who, at the time, thought I might die, still don't let me live down. I spent about 24 hours in the hospital, and as the tests kept coming back negative, I decided to check myself out. Staying in a hospital is anathema to me now; the fluorescent lights trigger all sorts of migraines, and the lack of sleep one gets there just makes the whole situation worse. I decided that if I was going to die, I'd rather die at home. With the dogs. Besides, Mindy was getting pissed at all this nonsense, me not being home and what.
I never really got better, back then. In fact, I started drinking more Cokes to help my ailing head, and, I noticed, that I was getting more and more chest pain. The following week, after doing some more studies that my doctor friends were unable to diagnose my condition with, I ended up in yet another doctor's office, again, seriously short of breath. I was subsequently sent to the nearest hospital, after consultation with yet another specialist friend, and I was extensively tested and CAT scanned. Nobody could figure out why I was having such difficulty.
It was one of those flukes of nature, a complete haphazard mistake, a suggestion that I had just "thought off" at the right time. As I was being CAT scanned, I told one of the techs, who knew I was a physician, to scan my abdomen also, just in case I had something that we hadn'[t suspected, like, a stomach tumor, or, a hiatal hernia. He gave me a large glass of disgusting barium to drink (which is supposed to "highlight" the esophagus during the CT), after which, I noticed that I was completely pain free. And, breathing normally. The tech had made the diagnosis, without even knowing what it was. But I knew.
Barium not only acts as an xray contrast agent, but also works as kind of an antacid. It buffers the acid in the stomach and esophagus just by it's sheer coating action and chemical properties. It was clear to me, I had severe esophagitis from reflux. And, ironically, my drinking all that Coca Cola had just made the whole situation worse. A new treatment plan, some diet changes, and I was better.
For, a short time. For, right after that, I came down with a community acquired bronchopneumonia, which was particularly severe in the Las Vegas area, and, which I probably had picked up in the damn hospital. Lots of people had become hospitalized with it, and now, I had it. Some successful home treatment over the next few weeks, and all I was left with, was a twitchy set of lungs. For some reason, the pneumonia was severe enough to cause long lasting bronchospastic effects in people, upwards of six weeks after treatment. I had it, but I dealt with it. The twitchiness and cough were easily lived with. They didn't contribute to any hospital visits. At least, not by themselves.
And then, the rains came. And after the winter rains came, the warm winter sun came. And, after a few days of warm winter sun, the desert flowers of the Mojave bloomed. Shit bloomed everywhere. Yes, February and March, both months that I'm usually in Shaolin during, I might add, dealing with dysentery and pneumonia at times, were my worst allergy months. I missed them the past few years; I was there in Vegas right in the middle of it now. And, with twitchy, bronchospastic lungs, a result of that damn pneumonia that I had acquired.
I ended up back in the ER with shortness of breath, with some minor EKG changes symbolic of heart strain (from the difficulty breathing). But, after a night in the filtered air of the Emergency Room, I was starting to feel better. All my tests were coming back negative, even though my lungs sounded like shit, and an audible wheeze could be heard every time I exhaled. The three hundred pound ER receptionist thought me to be the absolute twinkle in her eye, and she, over the evening, made no hesitation in letting me know that. Ultimately, offers to "walk me to my car", and "take care of me" caused me to tell the ER doc, who, by the way, thought the whole breathing nightmare idiotically to "be in my mind", that I had to go home. Hell, I thought, if I was going to have this kind of trouble and die, I'd rather do it at home. Not like the poor unfortunate fifty year old Chinese man in the bed next to me, who was in cardiac arrest. I offered to help, but, was turned down. I guess it just doesn't look good when patients start taking care of patients, lol. I left, still with some trouble breathing, still with no answers to my problem, still with this horrendously large woman waddling down the hall after me. It's not always easy being a physician; it's hell being a patient.
The breathing just got worse and worse; I started medicating myself with this and that, just to make it all that much easier. But, nobody could figure out what my problem was; my heart had undergone very extensive testing, as had my lungs and leg veins, and nothing showed up, except for the fact that I had noisy breathing, and that I was having trouble catching my breath. The tests had revealed that my cardiovascular system was in superb condition for my age. The answer that had eluded all these specialists came to me, again, quite by mistake, quite by a fluke of nature, quite by accident.
It rained. And I was able to breathe. And that's when it occurred to me, that it was the damn pollen in the air that was causing my irritated lungs to become bronchospastic. The rain washes the pollen out of the air to the ground, making it "cleaner". The rain, however, also waters all the damn plants in the desert and in the Las Vegas valley, that like to grow this time of year, and, after a few more days of inevitable sun, they pollinate viciously once again.
I informed all of my physicians of my discovery, got on the right medication, and made plans to get the hell out of Vegas, preferably before the next pollen onslaught. I made plans to return to what has been called my second home; got the necessary visas to China in one afternoon, the flight the next, and I made my arrangements to return to Shaolin. Whether I was going to be able to train or not was not even an issue; getting better, and getting healthy, was. This was not the first time that I grabbed the veritable tiger by the balls, took a risk, and went to Shaolin to heal.
Well, so far, I haven't made it. But, that's ok. I'm trying to be an oak, not some young studly sapling looking to get cut up into furniture wood.
The first flight out of Vegas was sheer hell; well, ok, it's hard to call anything hell, because, and trust me on this, it can always, always be worse. Be thankful for what you've got, and make the best of it. (I've taken care of some truly unfortunate souls during my career, and it all makes me realize, that the most important thing that anyone can have on this earth, is his health). The Mojave pollen grabbed hold of me, sitting on the tarmac of Las Vegas airport, and, for a moment, thoughts of having severe trouble breathing while in a plane way over the fucking Pacific, far from any sort of health care, started running through my mind. Damn, what a stupid fucking idea this was, I had thought. Panic started to try to overwhelm me, as thoughts of rushing to the closing airplane door swarmed through my mind. The pollen was just not going to let me go, and it was going to finish me off in the small compartment of an airplane, 35000 feet up, far from any hospital, far from any medical assistance. I thought about it, calmed myself down, and stayed on the plane. I was not going to let fear overwhelm me. A little medication made it a little better, but, still having trouble in San Francisco airport, I questioned the whole idea of going to China while in the middle of a crisis. I, as you can guess, went.
It wasn't a great flight, but, over the following twelve hours, my lungs settled down, and I succesfully made it to Beijing, without needing that "call for medical assistance" on the plane. Hell, I thought back to the many, many times that I had flown America West, and how every time, I had to come to the assistance of some poor unfortunate with emphysema who couldn't breathe. At that time, America West used to shut off the fresh air inflow to the plane, and just recycle the air that was onboard, all in an apparent effort to save money. They saved money, I went to the assistance of stricken passengers. After a while, I got to know some of the stewards and stewardesses; unfortunately, it was only the stewards who always made the extra effort to "get to know me". I started to wonder whether all that newly found and terribly unwanted attention was worth the "going to the aid" of stricken passengers. For my flight over to Beijing, I wondered if I was going to need that aid myself. It was an unsettling discomfort.
Ironically, it was me, short of breath, who went to the aid of a stricken passenger on that plane from Tokyo to Beijing. Some kid had passed out; he was already surrounded by a Chinese doctor who didn't seem to know much English, and who was suggesting a therapy of black tea, and a nurse who kept blaming his fainting on the Allegra pill that he had taken. A brief, ten second exam, and I knew he was dehydrated. Easy fix; shortly thereafter he was up and about, and I was surrounded by stewardesses, thanking me profusely. I guess it's pretty scary for these people, having to deal with the unknown, in a small trapped space, far from the availability of health care. It was scary for me, wondering if I was going to need to be the recipient of such care. I eventually arrived at the Beijing International airport, still a little short of breath, and was greeted by my long term friend, Yong.
Ji Feng Ji Cao
An old Chinese idiom which basically means, The force of the wind tests the strength of the grass. The story originates from the Western Han Dynasty (206BC - 24 AD), during which, a Wang Mang, nephew of the queen, took over power. He was quite the unpleasant fellow, who, through his negative ruling practices, turned the populace against him. A member of the royal family, Liu Xiu, found himself the leader of the peasant uprisings, and, as such, started to war against the forces of Wang Mang. A man called Wang Ba led some of his friends to Liu Xiu's army, and offered their assistance. The battles eventually settled in Henan province, and through the wars, all of Wang Ba's friends had fled, leaving only Wang Ba at Liu Xiu's side. Liu Xiu noticed Wang Ba's strength during the constant adversity, and stated "Ji Feng Ji Cao", or, "This is really a case of the strong wind indicating the strength of the grass". The saying has become a eulogy for those who remain strong, firm, and steadfast, unshakeable in the face of any adversity or danger.
Dealing with the frightening aspects of these health issues has certainly not made me Ji Feng Ji Cao, not by any means, but, I am a hell of a lot like that old oak. My first week in Beijing was spent visiting many friends, and, more important, doing nothing. Doing nothing but hanging in the room, taking medications, sleeping far too much, and "getting better", far from the infuriating pollen of the Mojave desert. My life has revolved around lots of sleep, no training, some walks, some visits to Traditional Chinese Medical doctors (for the hell of it, and for the experience. What an experience...), and juggling two Chinese girlfriends around so that they don't run into each other. Getting better was easy, much like the oak that does nothing and sleeps; juggling two women around the same city, both of whom for some ungodly reason, have missed me, and for another completely uncomprehendable reason, are both in Beijing at the same time, in my opinion, makes me, indubitably, Ji Feng Ji Cao.
The saga continues....
Shaolin village is falling down, falling down, falling down, Shaolin village is falling down...,
Well, I'm not sure what I had, but a lot of people in Beijing were ill. A few days ago, while in Beijing, right after my allergic asthma lung ailment started getting better, I got absolutely floored by the flu. Fever, chills, incessant coughing, sneezing, and my old friend, difficulty breathing. Despite the fact that Shi Xing Wei came to Beijing to spend time with me, training was henceforth out of the question. I was bedridden.
I gave up on the possibility of going to Shaolin for two to three weeks to train, and bought a ticket for Phuket Thailand for the next day. Which, is where I am today.
I'm still weak, still coughing, but the fever is gone, and I'm getting stronger. The benefits of a generally healthy constitution, lots of Zinc Sulfate, and Flintstones vitamins. Especially, the Wilma ones. Viruses just don't seem to want to be around a crusty old New York body, especially when it's full of Wilma vitamins. The hot sun has been good for me. I'm not sure if my subsequent influenza illness was related to this serious viral pneumonia that's going around China, or just a nasty flu that has invaded Beijing. The SARS virus is in the same family as those that produce the measles and the mumps, both illnesses that I've had. No doubt, they'll eventually discover that those people that come down with this SARS and survive, are also people that have had measles or mumps during childhood; the antibodies are probably the same. And, from what I've read over here, China first experienced this illness in Guandong province, way back in October or November. Not sure if there have been any cases reported in Beijing. It would be impossible to tell, knowing Chinese medical care and statistics, they don't talk much. And most statistics are impossible to keep here; most ill people go to these traditional chinese medicine clinics where record keeping is not done.
Whatever it is, it's highly contagious. My friends in Beijing now have it, including members of Lu Yong's family. And where ever you go on the streets of Beijing, people are sneezing and coughing. I thought it best to just get my health back, so I could at least start training on my own again.
It looks like I"m going to be staying here in Phuket for the next few weeks. My goal is to get healthy again. It's been a hard three months.
Of noteworthy news in Shaolin, Tagou is falling down. The largest and grandest of the Shaolin schools in Shaolin village, one of the first established there over twenty years ago, has been halfway torn down. The rest of the village is already in shambles; everybody has been moved out to places unknown. The rest of the Tagou school will be torn down as soon as the rest of the students are moved to their new quarters in Dengfeng. The new school, by the way, is a much grander improvement over the old one, but, I will certainly miss the flavor of the place. There was nothing quite like walking through the Shaolin village in the evening, when the many thousands of Tagou students were marching back to their quarters after a day of training. (Fortunately, I videotaped this during my last trip to China; we're working on producing it for streaming). The days of training all day in the summer heat, and then, trying to sleep at night in some shithole, while awful renditions of American disco music blare from loudspeakers in the village below, are fond memories, never, ever, to be relived. It's over, and though Shaolin undoubtedly will be better for it, it will just never be the same to those of us who have lived there in a prior life.
The village is gone, and Yongxin's / Henan government's plans to create a new Shaolin, untouched by commercialism (which I guess is the "plan", if you overlook that fact that the Wushu Guan is the sole remaining school nearby, owned by the Henan government and who knows who else). are moving forward, quite quickly. The wushu guan is being completely renovated, as I've discussed in a previous Journal edition (in the Forum Archive). The goal, to make the wushu guan the largest (and sole?) provider of foreigner based Shaolin gong fu in the world, is on it's way. One stumbling point is the Shaolin wushu guan hotel, a veritable shit hole of a place, which I've talked about previously somewhere in the site. It's in desperate need of renovation, a renovation which is not yet underway, but is expected to take place soon, and which, is expected to take anywhere from one to two years. They would be better off if they tore the damn thing down and just built another one.
What this means, for those of you out there interested in Shaolin training, is the following. The temple, under the guidance of Shi Yong Xin, is moving back towards an emphasis of Shaolin gong fu. (Did I mention that I saw a book in a Chinese bookstore, on "Shaolin Gong Fu", with young Yong Xin on the cover? He was "stocky") The temple is moving towards recapturing the Shaolin gong fu training market. Yongxin's hold or ownership of at least four Dengfeng based Shaolin schools, where he gets his performance team and monks from now, is just the beginning. The Shaolin wushu guan plans on being the place for foreigners to train.
A monopoly? Not sure if that's the plan, not sure if that's going to be the end result. The Dengfeng based Shaolin schools do their own thing, but, do so, with Yongxin watching. Even though some of these schools take foreigners for training now, and, quite honestly, it's difficult for a foreigner to train at any of these schools unless they "know somebody", or take a chance and go their directly, as marketing of these places is almost impossible), one starts to wonder, when the wushu guan gets up to speed, if these schools will "take" foreigners in the future. The interaction of capitalism and politics in China is an interesting one, to say the least. Remember the old adage of the Golden Rule, "He who has the gold, rules". In fact, powerful businessmen tend to have some power in local governments, predominantly because they are the local governments.
What the future may bring to Shaolin remains to be seen. No doubt it will be an interesting one. It pains my little distorted heart not to be able to go there this trip; I had been looking forward to seeing the place again, and, train there once again. When you've spent as much time there as I have, you tend to develop feelings for the place, despite the fact that most people don't truly enjoy being there. It's an interesting love/hate relationship that one develops. But, you've got to love the people, and all their emotions, habits, and foibles. The students and coaches of Shi De Cheng's school, aware of the fact that I had been quite ill these past few months, have all been praying for my health and my safe return. I've been told that they were disappointed that I didn't make it. Hell, I'm disappointed that I didn't make it. It just wasn't in the cards for me this time around.
What's truly bizarre, is that this trip to China, is my thirteenth. I had wondered all along what shit and mayhem was going to happen this time around. It's not over yet....
More China stories coming. Stay tuned.
Pneumonia, and the political nature of the beast, and other things that are hard to understand....
It's been a week since I left Beijing. Maybe a little more. And I'm finally feeling better. Three months of one pulmonary illness after another, My training has been tossed to the wayside, and my trip to Shaolin discarded into the dustheap of my history. And I'm humored. The Chinese government is just now telling the world that this SARS illness, originally thought to have started in Hong Kong or Hanoi, has been slightly rampant in Guandong province since November. Or, possibly, since last year.
From seeing people on the streets of Beijing, I'd say it's far more than slightly rampant.
I've never gotten so ill so fast before. And I've had pneumonia, of different types, many, many times. In fact, the last time I had pneumonia in China, was during one of my training trips to Shaolin. I got it fairly bad, but, I still trained every day with the exception of one. I just never got really short of breath with it before. This time was different.
It all happened over a pizza. A Pizza Hut pizza, in fact. Layla, my little Beijing honey, likes Pizza Hut, so, that became the preferred lunch and dinner place during my stay in Beijing. Actually, that Tuesday morning found me feeling pretty damn good; so good in fact, I had thought that my lungs had finally cleared up from all the insults of the January pneumonia in Las Vegas, and the damn infuriating allergic asthma that followed. Yes, I was all ready to make the trip to Shaolin with Shi Xing Wei, who had come up to Beijing to visit with me, so that we could train together for a few weeks. All that was stopping us was Lu Yong. He had some pretty serious gastrointestinal illness which was causing him to become well acquainted with Beijing's public lavatories.
It was a bacon and pineapple pizza. I've always snickered, in a snobbish sort of way, at how people can love these things that Pizza Hut pretends to call pizza. I grew up on the streets of New York, at times in Italian neighborhoods, where pizzas were made by fat slimy sweaty middle aged guys with balding pates and aggressive, in your face, attitudes. And boy, could they make pizza. With real Italian sauce. And great cheese. And perfect crust. Grandma used to come get me during public school lunch so that we could get a slice or two, before I had to return to class, and suffer through the indignation of third grade. Those were pizzas. With, lots of yummy sauce.
In Beijing, if you go into a Pizza Hut and ask for extra sauce, they smother the pie with ketchup. I always wondered exactly what they put on those damn little pizzas. But, it made Layla happy. And one thing I've learned during my long life, is that a man's happiness is completely and totally derived from his woman's happiness. Annoy and irritate the little bitch, and you've had it.
There were sick people in Pizza Hut, as usual. I've seen nothing but sick people on the streets of Beijing; in fact, some people had been wearing surgical masks. I started to feel weird as I ate my imitation mushroom and chicken soup; by the time we were halfway through the pie, I was telling Layla that she had to stop talking so much, and hurry up and finish. I just wasn't feeling well. A cough, and some overwhelming feelings of weakness, and I just wasn't right. Layla sure could talk. For a girl who's only four foot ten or so, a lot of air comes out of that little body.
By the time I got back to my hotel room, a good hour later, I was very weak, febrile, coughing, and generally, feeling like something was seriously wrong. The shortness of breath that I was starting to feel, was something that I had gotten used to over the previous three months, but this time, it was accompanied by a feeling of incipient doom that I just couldn't get out of my head. I laid down in bed, with Layla sitting by my head, during that afternoon. At least until Purple Snow, my Dengfeng honey, made her surprise appearance. Now, two women in the same small hotel room, who don't know each other, but who each have the same suspicions about each other, is not a good thing. But, with me dying between the sheets, it was an issue which caused me no consternation. Layla stormed out of the room, leaving Purple Snow to take care of me. No matter, it turns out I had already infected Layla. Yong was starting to cough too. I guess it was Purple Snow's turn to get it.
Purple Snow left within a few hours, and by that evening, after taking a few hundred milligrams of Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin C laden Flintstones vitamins and Nyquil (my personal cure for viral infections), and some added Ceclor, to fight what I thought might have been a godawfully fast bacterial pneumonia (the green sputum kind of clued me in to that), I was feeling slightly better, at least good enough to get something to eat. I was still terribly short of breath, not really able to walk any decent distance, at any decent speed. Layla met us for dinner, as Purple Snow had left, and it became very noticeable to me that Layla had also become quite ill. Yong had been coughing more and more. I had never seen such a highly communicable illness such as this before, nor one this rapid, with such sudden onset of dyspnea. It frightened me to some degree, enough to decide that my three month long ravaged lungs were just not going to heal in this environment. I made the decision to leave for Thailand, to get into the sun and the warmth, and get my health back.
Layla ended up being sick with this nonsense for a week and a half. During that same time period, in Thailand, I slowly got my breath back, and eventually rid myself of the damning cough. A cough is easy to deal with; the shortness of breath that you get when you climb four stairs, is tough to live with. It completely ruined any possibility of my continued training at this time; it certainly changed all of my plans to a significant degree. I had thought all the while, that this SARS illness, was far more rampant in China, than China was telling. Smoke and mirrors, a phrase which can really describe China's interaction in the world, all made more obvious by their acceptance of this new pneumonia which was rampant upon their streets.
More smoke and mirrors: The international political leanings of the Chinese
It seems to be a recurring theme.
SARS and Terrorism
The SARS nightmare is hitting new levels of horror in Asia.
In Malaysia, all employers have been banned from hiring people from SARS affected countries.
In Thailand, all visitors from China, Singapore, Vietnam and some other heavily SARS hit countries, have to undergo mandatory fourteen day house arrest upon arrival in Thailand. Failure to maintain house arrest leads to a six month imprisonment, and a 10,000 Baht fine. Any visitor to Thailand who shows signs of any sort of respiratory infection, gets quarantined by the government for a minimum of at least two days. I got here just in time.
Various Asian airlines are cutting flights on a ever-increasing daily basis. The amount of tourism to this area, in some cases, has diminished over ninety percent. Already hit very hard by the Iraq war, the new loss in tourism to this area has resulted in fairly empty hotels, and very depopulated tourist areas. It's not good for tourist dependent Thailand; the economy is hurting here. I, however, kind of like it. Don't have to bother with arrogant French visitors, and, besides, more Thai women for me....
But its caused me to have some interesting situations. Lots of people in the hotel complex know me, and they also know that I go to China to train before I come here. They also noticed my coughing. It's led to many people demonstrating avoidance behavior for the first week that I was here. The less I coughed, the more people that eventually talked to me. It was actually quite humorous at times; I'd be talking to some Thai, I'd cough, they'd step back a few feet, with a look of fear in their eyes. I spent more time explaining to people that I wasn't contagious anymore than anything else. No wonder why all these lovely little Thai babes haven't thrown themselves at my feet. I just knew there was a reason...
In China, more and more people are getting sick from various types of respiratory illnesses. They claim to have a few more cases of SARS, but, my impression, during the time that I was there, is that they are grossly underestimating the severity of this infection. I think more people have this disease, or something similar, than the Chinese government is portraying. One of the problems that they have, is that most people in China, when they get ill, go to these Traditional Chinese Medicine shops on the street, and see TCM doctors, who then prescribe this incredibly disgusting liquid that you heat up and drink, usually twice a day (It's derived from pressure boiling a selection of herbs and other goodies. I hated it, though, I don't dismiss the efficacy of this type of treatment). Unfortunately, records are not kept. When I went to one of these places, the famous Tong Ren Tang, which dates back over two hundred years, I was given my medical record to keep myself. There's no doubt, that thousands upon thousands of people, with various degrees of respiratory illness, have been seen in these places, with no adequate statistics kept.
On the terrorist side of things, in China, from various emails that I've gotten from friends, the police and security forces in Beijing have ramped up their presence immensely. Even though they won't admit it, from what I'm told, the increased security is an effort to prevent terrorist acts. I'm not sure, but it's quite possible that Beijing has gotten word that they're about to get trouble from the XinJiang area Muslims, who, in the past, have been a source of terrorist activity for them. Quite possibly, they're worried about terrorist activity from other sources. In any case, not only have they increased their physical presence numerically, they've also increase the spot checks that they perform on various members of the population.
The Iraq war has caused some problems with Muslims here in Asia; travel to Indonesia, which is heavily Muslim, has been very discouraged by the US, for fear of terrorist reprisal against Americans. Tourism is way down in Indonesia, like over a ninety percent decrease in visitation, another area of Asia which is tourist dependent for its economy. Protests in Indonesia have been rampant. Interesting though, protests by Muslims in Thailand, which is heavily Muslim in the southern parts, especially bordering Malaysia, have been attempted, but have been readily disbanded by Thai police. The Thai government, though obviously against the war, wants to remain neutral about its appearance towards the war, as they most likely realize that tourism not only comes from the US, but also, Britain, France, Sweden, and Germany. They just don't want any sort of activity about the war, one way or the other.
It gets fascinating, when you talk to some of the Muslims here in Thailand. I spoke with a few Muslim businessmen here, guys that ran these little shit shops on the street (and cab drivers). Interesting, they love the US, and they wonder why the US just doesn't go into Iraq and kill all the Iraqi's. The hatred for some of these other Muslims (I presume, the uneducated ones, or the ones who don't work with the "rest of the world"), is unbelievable. They don't understand why we're trying to "help" the Iraqi's, always claiming that they're "bad" people, "not worth helping". Quite the contrary opinion to those Muslims who have no jobs, or who don't derive their incomes, if any, from the tourist sector, all of whom, seem to hate the US and what it stands for. Overall, in my opinion, it's pretty simple. It all seems to boil down to "the haves" and "the have nots". One group "has", the other group hates because it doesn't. Very simple formula, as it usually is in life
Interesting times we live in. It's only going to get more interesting as time goes on.
Oh, and my little sister emailed me, while I'm in Thailand. She's very observant....
Are you keeping away from the SARS? Make the whores wear masks, k? Come to think of it, that whole mess started around the time you got there. . . .
SARS update, fear in Asia, and yes, doc is really a doctor and doesn't just play one on TV....
It's a bit crazy here in Asia now. The fear factor with respect to this SARS stuff is really quite high. But first, maybe a definition is in order. Direct from the Center of Disease Control, the latest dictum on SARS:
March 28, 2003
The U.S. Department of State encourages American citizens traveling or residing abroad to familiarize themselves with the information available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). This Fact Sheet updates the March 21, 2003, version and reflects changes in the geographic spread of SARS cases and includes additional information.
In Hanoi, Vietnam and Hong Kong, the appearance of SARS has had an impact on medical facilities, due to the closing and/or quarantine of hospitals and the spread of the disease to health care workers. Medical evacuation of SARS patients currently is not available by commercial carrier; additionally, the number of countries willing to accept SARS patients is very limited.
Prospective parents of adoptees from mainland China and Vietnam should consult the appropriate link on adoptions at the CDC website
In addition to Vietnam, Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore, the CDC has received reports of outbreaks of SARS elsewhere in Asia and in Europe and North America, including Canada, the United States, Thailand, Germany, and Switzerland. Most cases appear to involve health-care workers caring for SARS patients and close family contacts. CDC is working closely with WHO and country partners to define the origin of this infection, to track patterns of its transmission, and to determine effective strategies for its control and prevention. Local health authorities should be notified of all suspected cases of SARS.
The CDC has identified the following three criteria, which must ALL be present, by which a potential SARS case may be identified, for those with the onset of illness after February 1, 2003:
--Fever greater than 38° C (100.4°F), AND
--One or more signs or symptoms of respiratory illness including cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, hypoxia (low oxygen in the blood), x-ray findings of pneumonia, or respiratory distress, AND
-- One or more of the following within 2-7 days of the onset of symptoms: Travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Vietnam; and/or close contact, with a person who has been infected with SARS (close contact means having cared for, lived with, or having had direct contact with respiratory secretions (such as coughs and sneezes) and body fluids of a person with SARS).
The incubation period between exposure to infection and the development of symptoms appears to range from 2-7 days. For more specific information regarding case definition updates and empiric treatment clinicians should consult and monitor the CDC's and WHO's web sites.
Currently, prevention of new cases is based on individuals avoiding close contact with SARS-infected persons, as described above. Persons matching the case description for SARS should be promptly evaluated by medical personnel and, if indicated, admitted to a hospital. Persons suspected of having SARS should limit their interactions outside hospital settings.
Well, according to their guidelines, I had it. And, my little Beijing honey also had it, getting it directly, within hours, from yours truly. And Yong, also got infected with some sort of flu, but he didn't have difficulty breathing associated with it. In fact, contrary to what the Chinese government was telling the world at the time, from my observation of people in Beijing, some sort of flu like illness was rampant. China is just now admitting that it has more SARS cases than it first said. Typical Chinese government behavior. Smoke and mirrors.
Regardless, some high dose Zinc Sulfate, Vitamin C, and Ceclor, plus two weeks in the sun in Thailand, and I was mostly over it. I got out of China and into Thailand just in time. For last week the fear factor got notched up quite a bit, and Thailand started implementing some pretty serious quarantine measures:
-All people traveling from China to Thailand must now undergo mandatory 14 day house arrest.
-All suspected SARS cases found at Thailand's international airport are automatically sent for quarantine to one of the old leper colonies.
Had I arrived last week, instead of two weeks ago, with my cough, I probably would have been put away for a bit. But, except for a slight residual cough, I'm over it.
The local economy is really paying for it though. Airlines that fly in and out of Asia are cancelling flights right and left. Quarantine efforts in various international airports that deal with passengers from Asia have been ramped up. I have no idea what "going home" is going to be like at this point. I've decided to stay in Thailand for a little while longer, knowing damn well that this virus, and the widespread fear that it has caused, will burn itself out sometime in the near future.
And we had our first death here in Phuket from SARS. A tourist from Singapore. Got off the plane, ended up in the hospital the next day, died two days later. The Thai people are not too happy. The Thai government needs to be commended on their actions to tighten up the health security of their people, but, they're telling the local populace to not congregate in public, has caused the shopping malls, supermarkets, and movie theaters to empty. People avoid groups. People avoid congregating in closed areas. Everybody avoids the Chinese. If, you see any of them at all. It's actually a bit frightening in one sense; I noticed it when I first came here, how people would step back away from me, when they saw me cough, but to go into a public place, like a movie theater, and find few people in there, it's really kind of bizarre. Kind of reminds me of that Charleton Heston movie from a while back, The Omega Man. Everybody is so fearful. And oh, the movie Chicago is really pretty damn good. I especially liked Richard Gere, an actor who I was not too happy with after the hamster episode. Good actor, but just can't seem to forgive him for that one.
Stupid is as stupid does, and yes, doc is a doctor...
But sometimes you wouldn't know it. My latest foray into the world of illness, and god knows I've had nothing but since January 2003, was a trip to the Intensive Care Unit here in Phuket. Yes, Phuket has a hospital. A rather nice one at that. With young doctors that really didn't seem to generate a whole hell of a lot of confidence. But, it was all I had, and fortunately, upon hearing that I was a physician, they basically let me guide my own care.
Nice caring people, these Thai. I truly love them.
But old doc really fucked up the other day. Truly fucked up. He should have known better. Listen and learn from the errors of my stupid and idiotic ways.
As my lungs cleared up last week (this time from SARS, and not from allergic asthma), I started training in Muay Thai. Started swimming, started lifting a little, just, took it easy. Tried to ramp up my physical abilities after three horrible months of recurring physical disasters, and absolutely no gong fu training. I slowly started to build up my strength again, and by Friday of last week, I was really starting to feel better. The workouts got more intense, which just resulted in my getting more dehydrated. Well, I've always used water to rehydrate myself, and, in the Asian climate, always added a generous amount of salt and bananas to replace the lost electrolytes. But Friday, Friday was different.
I was feeling good after my work out, and decided to drive down the coast to some restaurant which overlooked the Andamann sea. Because I was suffering from one of my horrendous (but thanfully, infrequent, here in Phuket) migraines, I drank some Coke during lunch. And because I was dehydrated, I had another one. And another, And after a while, I forgot how many I had. But, I was feeling better; my head was improved, but by gut was a bit distended. Too much soda, too much gas. I decided to take it easy that afternoon, and we spent the time just driving around.
Nang got hungry a little later, so we stopped at a favorite little French place to get some dinner. Of course, the mandatory lemon juice soda was in order; in fact, it was so good, I had a whole bottle. With dinner done, we headed back to the hotel.
A little bloated and distended from all the soda I had that day, I decided to go to the pool to swim some of it off. It really was no problem, though, five minutes after getting out of the pool, I started to feel lightheaded, with some epigastric distress, and palpitations. I didn't think much of it, though I didn't like it, and I decided that the best thing to do was to go to bed.
Laying down seemed to aggravate the belching that I was suffering from. I knew that I had too much bloat from all the carbonated drinks I had imbibed that afternoon. But the epigastric pressure just did not want to go away, and the ever worsening lack of strength, and lightheadedness, just seemed to increase. I took some antacids to combat the gas, but, the Pepto that I bring with me to Asia (to combat the local beasties in the food and water), didn't have any simethicone, which destroys gas bubbles. I had the wrong antacid for what I was trying to accomplish. No matter, a little bit of time, and it would all wear off. Or so I had thought.
That's when I noticed my grossly irregular pulse. That, with the fact that my hands were getting ice cold because of lack of perfusion, was enough to cause me to get a cab to the hospital. By the time I reached the ER, I was pretty weak and lightheaded, my pulse was still erratic.
They took me right in; an EKG revealed that I was not suffering from a heart attack. Nor did it capture any of those irregularities (the scan time is very short with this modern equipment). I explained to the rather young ER doctor what I had done that day, and questioned whether getting into the pool redistributed some of the gas in my intestines to my stomach, causing an acute gastric distention, with a resulting vagal response that was slowing my heart down to intolerable levels. He seemed to agree with me, and approved my request for a different type of antacid, one with simethicone.
I told him that I had wanted a complete cardiac workup anyway, just to make sure that we weren't missing something, which he had agreed to. I ended up in the ICU for the night for monitoring and further tests, all of which came back as normal. I left the next morning, got Nang who was sleeping on the street outside waiting for me (God bless her little Thai heart), and returned back for a few days of rest at the hotel.
All because of too much soda.
The heart has two halves, the left half pumps blood from the lungs to the body, the right half pumps blood from the body to the lungs.Each half has two halves, a top (atrium) and bottom (ventricle). The bottom half is responsible for most of the pumping action, the upper half, just "tops off" the ventricle prior to its contraction, and pressurizes it, so that good proper pumping action occurs. With the loss of the atria's contractions, the ventricles do not pressurize prior to their contraction, and the output of the heart (the cardiac output), can get seriously diminished.
When you have acute gastric distention, you can get a body response, called a vagal response. The vagus is a nerve which is a major part of the parasympathetic nervous system; it basically regulates body functions downward, for sleep, for digestion, for rest. It's counterpart, the sympathetic nervous system, basically regulates body systems upwards, increasing heart rate and awareness, for things like fighting, running, fright, etc. When you have increased vagal stimulation, your heart slows down. When you have a lot of vagal stimulation, the heart slows down to the point where the atria rarely contract. In this case, the ventricles, with their own little pacemaker system, take over, but at a greatly reduced rate. This is what happened to me; my heart slowed down to the point that my atria rarely contracted, and my ventricles, trying to take over, beat at a slower and more ineffective rate, to keep me alive. Had I truly had heart disease at that moment, I could have suffered an heart attack, or worse.
It was not the best experience I've had, especially in light of all the other shit I've been through this year. But, a lesson is to be learned from my stupidity.
Don't swim after you eat.
Oh, and rehydrating with soda is really not the best thing to do either.
Mother always seemed to know best, didn't she. Maybe one of these days doc will too.
(Continued in Shaolin 5/2003)