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Shaolin 1997

They were talked about in the Doc section. The emails that started the whole thing. Stories on an occasionally daily basis, which talked about my second journey to Shaolin. The ones that triggered the creation of the web site. Lost for years, and finally uncovered and retyped. They present a view of Shaolin village of 1997 that, even though only a few years ago, is long gone already. And, included within, are some insights into qi gong, the history of the Shaolin temple during the Cultural Revolution, and some experiences with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and of course, gong fu and the monks. If you want to put all of this into perspective, read the background of these journals in the Doc section before you proceed.

 

Subject:
    
China day one

Date:
    

Fri, 17 Oct 1997 10:50:11 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

Norton, et al,

 

I am here.

 

My master, shifu She De Cheng, head coach for all of the Shaolin monks, had delayed his three month trip to Austria so that he could stay here and work with me, one on one, for what will probable seem to be many, many hours on end.  We will work with the ancient art of Shaolin gong-fu, tai-chi, and chi-gong, the latter being a very difficult art to learn and master, and involves moving the energy fields of the body around to manipulate pain, power, etc.  Now, I don’t really believe in this stuff, but the Chinese really make good use of it.  I guess that it is all a matter of mind control to some degree.  I am also going to be introduced to the temple’s head master of chi-gong, who is one of the older monks, to try to learn the fine art of chi-gong.  You ain’t gonna find this shit in the states.  Period.  Should be interesting.

 

I was very well received.  The head manager of the entire place drove two and a half hors to pick me up at the airport.  Apparently, I was a hit with the monks when I was last here, my absence last summer because of my car accident was noted.  My master apparently has missed me.  It looks like it is going to be a very hectic training session for me.  I wish that I was in better condition to be able to do it all.

 

I have already taken the requisite ice cold shower; I have been traveling all night and all day, and the water has just been turned on.  Nothing hot until about 2000, and then only for about ten minutes, or until the hot water heater or whatever they use is used up.  It’s 1830, and having the water turned on is at least a message from providence.  It’s a shame that I can’t drink the stuff.  It would have been better had the shower let some water out, this dribble shit just makes you stand in there and shiver longer.  Ahhh, it’s good to be back.

 

Well, that’s it.  Tell Kevin I’m here, and I will probably be learning all sorts of neat shit.  Tell him also that have really done well cementing a good relationship with the big boss. My being close to the head coach and previous history with the monks has really paid off.  The creature comforts may not be there, but the important people have all been terribly warm to me.  Talking about creatures, I’ve already killed a couple in my bed.

 

I’ll get back to you all later.


 

 

Subject:
    
China day two

Date:
    

Fri, 17 Oct 1997 10:51:50 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

Saturday,

 

No training for today, so I exercised on my own.  Made the “run” up the mountain, and practiced my own forms.  I bought a dumbbell to work out with, the biggest one that they have, of which there were only two in the village.  The others were much smaller, and were far more numerous.  The lady that sold it to me kind of looked at me in amazement when I picked it up.  Strength is not these people’s strong point; I guess that the lack of protein plays a part in that.  It reminded me of when I was in Singapore, looking for a pair of shorts and a shirt to wear, as my luggage was kept in the baggage, and the terrible humidity had ruined what I had been wearing for the previous two days.  It was impossible to find any kind of pants that would reach down to my ankle; the largest waist was 30 inches.  God these people are small.  Well, back to where I am.  The village is a little different from what I remember, as it is cleaner, and evidence of successful attempts at increased capitalism are everywhere.  The Chinese government, when it allowed foreigners to train at the temple four gears ago or so, exposed these people to the wealth of the western countries.  There was bit of a ground roots movement which the government allowed, but probably couldn’t stop, which gave rise to the peasants buying all sorts of veritable shit and trying to sell it.  The government’s putting money into the rebuilding of the Shaolin temple, which was burned down many times through the centuries, but must recently and partially during the famous communist uprising in ’48 (Mao’s Great Leap Forward), in ’28, by the Red Guards after the revolution, and also partially during the terribly unsuccessful Cultural Revolution of the late ‘60s (Mao’s great leap backward….)  Various portions of the temple were destroyed during these times, as were various portions over the last two thousands years.  It has constantly been rebuilt over these times, with the exception of the last rape during the Cultural Revolution.  Over the last ten years, the Chinese government has realized the importance of it’s culture, especially with regards to tourism and the money that it brings in, so much has been done even since I have been here last.  The actual temple has been completely rebuilt, and is incredibly beautiful.  The increased tourism, especially now that Hong Kong has been taken back, has changed the village from a dirty disease ridden impoverished shit hole, to a clean, tourist ridden, more economically stable shit hole.  It has lost a bit of it’s flavor.

 

The training is still the same however, as long as you get close to a few of the monks.  Having the head coach as my master helps quite a bit.  I seem to notice that the new monks being brought up in the ranks are leaning more towards a more demonstration style of wu shu, and are getting further away from the ancient art of Shaolin gong-fu.  There are some monks, in their thirties, forties and up, who have left the training center to open their own schools to teach and fight the Shaolin gong-fu, but for the foreigners to get into these is difficult, and the old Chinese way of “being invited after proving one’s worth” apparently still stands.  There is an old monk, who is 83 and who watched the Red Guards burn down the temple in ’28, who also, during the Cultural Revolution, hid in the mountains with other monks of the time (out of over a hundred or so from what I am told, only five survived the killings; four are still alive).  This monk can barely walk up and down the street, dragging his cane behind him, but look out when he gets a weapon into his hand.  He still teaches, and I will try to get to know him, using my “influence”.  Influence, is in China, other friends, and my master, who, despite being at the government watched training center, still knows and teaches the ancient Shaolin, but only to those that he trusts and wants to.  The government apparently does not want the “fighting arts” disseminated.  I’ve been told that various reasons exist, and apparently, there is a “fear” factor.

 

The “hotel” is a little cleaner and newer than the much beloved shit hole that I stated in in the past.  There doesn’t seem to be any pets running around (rats), but the water situation is still the same.  Running water seems to go to one half of the village at a time, that is, when the village pump is running.  Hot water is only scheduled to come on at 2000 hours, but that seems to be highly variable.  I have not gotten one yet.  And with the decreased temperatures, down to about 45 at night, the water is terribly cold.  I took the shower head off so that I could get more flow; thus decreased time getting what little soap I could lather up on me.  Oh, and to “feel cleaner”, the oily greasy sweat fill hair is on some floor somewhere, probably going to be used in someone’s pillow, or worse, sold to the us as some hair piece.  Imagine, my hair weaved into extensions on some stripper’s head in Las Vegas.  Just where I wanted to be.  Now, no more five minutes under the drizzling showerhead to get the shampoo out of my hair.  Now, it’s one minute of rinsing off, once a day.  I can’t tolerate any more than that.  There is one disadvantage to not having hair; I’m cold.  But it makes me scary looking, and the Chinese peasants no longer look at me funny.  The old “lets stare at the foreigner to make him feel unwanted” has changed to “let’s not fuck with him”.  I like it.

 

Today, Sunday (it’s morning, and I’m having trouble typing as I’m pretty cold), starts my training with my master.  I’m eating breakfast, a combination of 1. greasy wok fried eggs from some sort of creature, mixed with tomatoes, or what looks like tomatoes, and onions, quite good, but it’s going to slide right through, 2: a loaf of bread (I already pulled a fly out of the middle of  one slice), 3: rice soup, probably left over from last night, and 4: some kind of greasy flat warm pita bread kind of thing.  Sonja, an Austrian blonde girl who is eating with me calls it “pound cake”.  I call it shit.  I eat it anyway.

 

Oh, I am not alone.  Sonja, is a kickboxer from Kitzbuhel in Austria.  She’s 23, the typical tall blonde Austrian German type.  She is here for one week, to learn a little about gong-fu, and will be leaving in a few days.  She thankfully speaks English.  She has introduced me to the other foreigners in the village, who’s names I may not get right but are as follows:

 

Julian, a young Parisian, who speaks French, Spanish, English, and a bit of Chinese, here for four to six months.  He is living with William, from the US, a criminal of unknown sorts, who is escaping from the authorities in Miami, and living here, in a smaller shithole, for an indefinite period of time.  He is training in combat skills with one of the ex monks, whom he will introduce me to later today.  He says fuck a lot, which I find to be highly entertaining, as he also, I guess as part of his penance in his own mind, teaches English to the Chinese children of the village.

 

And there’s Thomas, a young German who is staying through the cold winter for four months.  He is living in the “luxury” of where Sonja and I are staying, but is training somewhere else.  Nice guy. I don’t know what brings these people to stay here for so long.  There is this fat Malaysian guy, who is here for three years.  Sonja and I will eat with him tonight.  From what I remember in the past, it is common for wealthy families and not so wealthy families to sent their problem children here, to basically get the shit kicked out of them, and to get them to develop respect.  Lot’s of those around here.

 

That’s it for now.  It’s a shame that you can’t roll this bread up in to little balls.

 

 


 

 

Subject:
    
China day one

Date:
    

Fri, 17 Oct 1997 10:46:02 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

Tonight I start with the village chi-gong master.  The big boss has arranged for this ex-monk (he left the temple and got married; the things a guy has to do to get laid), who has spent his life concentrating on chi-gong, and using it for it’s healing powers.  Now for those of you who do not know what chi-gong is, go look it up.  I’m not really sure what it is either, but he used it on me yesterday for my head and my right leg.  One hell of a ritual.  He didn’t really touch me, but he spent an hour with his hands doing all sorts of gong-fu moves, and then waving them over my “bad” parts, to drive the energy down to where I am afflicted.  Well, needless to say, my right leg didn’t get miraculously stronger (it actually felt weaker, and for lack of a better word, weird), but the near constant head pressure which I’ve had to various degrees since I’ve gotten here, was alleviated, but only temporarily.    As for my head, which I really didn’t want to get into in these emails, I’ve been doing pretty well.  The flight to JFK overnight killed me, resulting in one hell of a next day.  But going first class around the world, allowed me to sleep very comfortable, with drugs I might add, and I did pretty well.  Exercising yesterday triggered the head pressure, but because there are no fluorescent lights, and the constant haze, humidity and clouds temper the sunlight, I am not incapacitated, as I can get.  The chi-gong master will teach me some chi-gong; he thinks that if I use it internally, and he uses it externally on me, that he will improve my head.  Interestingly, through our interpreter, he asked me about my head pain, and where it was.  Not a very in depth examination, but there was only one question other than “what side of your head”.  It was, “does the sun bother your eyes?”.  Hmmmm.  Maybe he’s smarter than I thought.  I start learning tonight, and every other night.  It should be an experience.

 

I started with the gong-fu master today, She de Cheng, who is the head master for training the young monks.  We basically reviewed all that I had learned the last time I was here.  He also got into a different form of chi-gong, which surprisingly, took away the head pain that the gong-fu had given me.  Climbing the mountain, which I try to do every day to strengthen what I have lost in my legs, took it’s toll on me today, as it was not very cloudy at all.  China seems to be covered in this eternal haze, some of it pollution from the coal and diesel fuel burning, some of it from the humidity.  It gives the entire area one hell of an eerie appearance, especially at night during a full moon.  It also helps temper the sun when it is not cloudy.  Despite the haze, it took it’s toll on me.  The chi-gong lessons, which are basically the same exercises that Bodidharma, an Indian monk who traveled to this area in 539 AD or so, taught the monks at that time to increase their physical endurance, which he thought would increase their mental endurance (they slept all the time, like me); these exercises over the centuries evolved into the martial arts that we have today.  Well, these original exercises also kind of remained the same, and became a form of chi-gong, which de Cheng started teaching me today.  Unexpectedly, performing the movements remarkable alleviated the moderate head pressure that developed after the daily mountain climb.  I suspect that relaxation, with regular steady breathing and focus, focus and concentration on what you’re doing which takes focus away from the pain, all of this must have something to do with it.  In any case, it deserves more investigation.

 

The chi-gong master came tonight and went over the first three of thirty maneuvers, in the Lohan Arhat form of chi-gong.  Again, focus, relaxation and concentration seem to be the common factors.  This whole bit of moving energy around your body, sucking up from the earth, and down from the sky, and using it to push out bad things like pain, seems a little bit too much for what’s left of my marvelous scientific mind.  I wonder if I could use this to grow hair?  Again, the thought here is to investigate and continue.

 

We went out to a Chinese restaurant (you think that you know what a Chinese restaurant is; you should have seen this place) just to get away from the usual at the center.  Using my trusty electronic translator, I ordered some meat and rice.  What we got were visitors, about twenty of them, who sat down and stood around us, staring at this big ugly American with the funny toys.  We also got the strangest dinners, one was mystery meat, which didn’t resemble pork or chicken, but couldn’t have been dog as dog is really expensive, and they don’t like to use up the dogs from what I hear until the winter because they tend to have more fat on them then the chickens.  From looking at the dogs I’ve seen running around the streets, all two of them, these people are in trouble.  And boy, the dogs looked scared.  The other meal was much more easily identifiable.  It looked as if someone took a live chicken, put it into a blender, and then wok fried it.  You go to a restaurant back that has a chicken dish with the feet, neck, gut, and head in it, all at once.  In what is starting to be the typical “take them for all we can get” fashion, they made us the most expensive dishes on the menu.  Instead of paying ten bucks for all of the food, as was expected, they wanted seventy.  It could have been in the hundreds, as they brought us out this live turtle, put if on the table, and made motions of cutting it’s head off, turning it over, and eating the underbelly.  I didn’t think that was such a good idea; it was such a cute turtle.  Good thing; they charge one hundred Yuan (8 Yuan to the dollar), per half a gram of turtle.  Needless to say, in the typical Russell “make friends and influence people way” we didn’t pay the whole thing and left.  I mean, the chicken just didn’t have any meat on it.  But it was fun to poke around it and try to identify the parts.

 


 

Subject:
    
China day four-five

Date:
    

Fri, 17 Oct 1997 10:47:55 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Andrew Riddles <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

It’s 0600 on day six, and I’m awake, as usual, using the Riddle’s method of finding hot water.  The Riddle’s method is to open the hot water tap and wait until you hear the gurgling of the water rising through the pipes.  Then, in a typical New York fashion, you take a shower and wash your clothes before you tell anyone else.  I like it.  Trouble is, I keep screwing it up.  You see, we only get hot water, supposedly, around 2000, once a day.  I keep missing it.  Last night was a perfect example of how to screw up the Riddle’s method.

 

I had my chi-gong master here, Tuesday night, to continue with the Lohan chi-gong, which out of the ten or so types of chi-gong, is supposed to be the most powerful, for healing and for fighting.  I can hear the pipes starting to gurgle…. I of course, since we meet from 1900 to 2000, had the hot water pipes open, in the hopes that the hot water would be coming up around the time we finished.  Well, out of true Chinese character, the hot water started running around 2000.  Trouble was, the chi-gong master wasn’t finished; he just kept talking and talking.  Now, it is not nice to be pushy to these people, especially when he brought me a gift of a bag of apples, so I just went along with it.  By the time they had left, I got all my clothes, got into the shower, turned the hot water on, and watched it trickle to a stop.  That’s when the door bell rang; they were back.  He had forgotten his motorcycle keys.  (gone are the days when they walked).  Got dressed, looked around, and finally got back in, determined to take a cold shower.  It had been a long sweaty day.  I got back in fast enough to watch the cold water trickle to a stop.  Last night’s shower consisted of wiping myself down with a dirty wet t shirt.  Now you get the idea.  Well, the hot water seems to running fairly consistently now, so I am going to go.  First hot (?) shower since I got here.

 

They’re just teasing me.  Water, but not hot.  Good timing too, as it’s almost 0730, which is about the time that they feed us the incredibly tasteless bread, occasional fried greasy eggs mixed with skinned tomatoes (if we’re lucky), and of course, the usual leftover rice from the night before, mixed with lots of water and a little milk from one of god’s creatures yet to be identified.  I stick with a can of Coca-Cola, which they have, and the bread.  Took a cold shower, which was much better than usual, as I was finally able to use soap effectively.  You see, the cold water only trickles out of the shower, the “hot” water comes out with some force.  Cold water with force is better than cold water with no force.  Maybe it’s time the shower took some chi-gong lessons.

 

The usual day starts at 0830 with a warm up, class from 0900 to 1100 or 1130, lunch, again a couple of mystery meals, at noon followed by class at 1500 to 1700, then dinner at 1800.  On Monday, I had much trouble with it all, as my head was just not cooperating, so I had spent the afternoon break sleeping, with the afternoon class doing chi-gong after suffering through the initial basics.  I had found that the chi-gong took my pain away, as I think that I said before.  I don’t yet believe in this Chinese mysticism, but I think that the focus and concentration combined with relaxation has a lot to do with it.  Every other night, at around 1900, I meet with the chi-gong master to learn the Lohan chi-gong, which has been practiced for over a thousand years.  I’m usually in bed by 2100 or 2200, and up by 0530 or 0600, to watch the sun rise through the haze over the valley.  It is a rather ethereal, beautiful sight.  The Chinese music that the martial arts schools in the valley blare at 0600 to signal the start of another day to all the thousands of students in those schools just doesn’t really allow one to sleep in.  The cheap Chinese curtains over the windows doesn’t help either.

 

Tuesday afternoon I again did the mountain climb, which really tends to give one’s legs quite the workout.  I don’t seem to notice my right leg being any weaker than my left anymore; which may have to do with the fact that both seem terribly weak now.  There is a lot of almost constant workout, which I have difficulty with.  When one is in a class with lots of people,  there is time to take breaks, as others take their turns doing their things.  Being one with the instructor, it’s kind of hard to hide in the corner to catch your breath,  I have learned a few Chinese words, the most important being “sushisan”, or something like that.  It means “rest”.  Very important.

 

Had dinner with She de Cheng last night, at the local Moslem push cart vendor, who was cooking sliced kidneys on skewers.  Fortunately, hidden below, he had some pieces of meat, what kind I don’t know, on skewers.  We had that.  They were actually pretty good, with all the spices that he used.  It was quite interesting watching him cook it, as inside the unit were all these burning embers, probably coal, which were fired up when he yelled at his wife to turn the fan unit faster.  He cooked and yelled, she turned the fan unit to fire it up hotter.  Quite the spectacle.  De Cheng told me of the usual daily monk routines, apparently the routine for many years.  They awaken at 0500 and pray and meditate for an hour.  At 0600 they practice gong-fu, either individually, or together.  Breakfast is at 0730, followed by chores from 0900 to noon.  He teaches, the others maintain the temple.  Now that tourism is increasing, they play guard at the various areas of the temple while people are visiting.  Noon is lunchtime, followed by more chores.  Dinner is at 1800, followed by prayers, meditation, and then chi-gong before bed, which is at 2100 or 2200.  In the past, more time was spent on gong-fu; the increased tourism of the area has taken time away from that.

 

The training center where I train is where the young monks live.  It is also where they are taught gong-fu.  As they get older, and become accomplished masters of the art of gong-fu, they move to the actual temple, which is a few hundred yards up the street.  No training occurs in the actual temple; it is all now done at the training center.  There are other schools in the area, all run by monks who have left the temple to experience the capitalistic life.  Similar gong-fu is taught at those schools to some degree.

 

Yesterday I made an attempt to get into the POP server in Hong Kong, without much success, as my computer could not recognize the Chinese dial tone.  Now that I have configured it to maybe work, I might be able to get these out today.  We’ll see.


 

 

Subject:
    
China day 8 Friday

Date:
    

Fri, 17 Oct 1997 21:31:15 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

The last couple of days went by like a blur, each day pretty much being like the one before.  Keeping up with the training has been very difficult, but I have been managing to some degree.  The food leaves much to be desired, as the restaurant here at the training center seems to have a chef who knows how to cook about five meals: rice, bean spouts, mystery meat with green things, chicken in a blender, and eggs fried with tomatoes, which I might add, is all that I’ve eaten for the past four meals, dinners included.  It’s not bad, and seems to be actually safer than the chicken, which I think they prepare by pulling off the feathers, putting him head first in a blender, and then cooking what comes out.  Eating the chicken dish actually requires great skill, as one never knows what part you are eating.  It took me two days to figure out it was chicken.  The rice also has it’s own way of being eaten; one must take small amounts with the chopsticks and search for tiny rocks which tend to hide in the mix.  The mystery meat with the green things varies from bad to worse, I guess all depending on what was run over that day.  The bean sprouts generally tend to be good; unfortunately, getting enough protein in this diet is pretty difficult.  Mix all these wonderful meals with being surrounded by Chinese who like to cough up these huge honking sputum balls and hurl them onto the floor, and you’ve got quite the culinary experience.  It’s hard enough eating with chopsticks looking out for rocks and trying to identify the various body parts (all those years of medical school really fail me now); try doing it while keeping watch on your shoes when you hear that deep guttural sound of Chinese phlegm traveling up some nearby windpipe.  No wonder why all these Chinese are so scrawny.  I am fairly huge in comparison to just about all of them, which probably explains the Chinese tourists desires (and there are many of them now, in this economically booming village) to take pictures with me. Pictures of me and dad, me and mom, me and mom and dad, me with sis with mom and dad behind us, me holding grandma over my head, you get the idea.  I’m quite the celebrity.  Of course, the usual pointing and the screeching “hello”s from the students in the village hasn’t stopped, but now even the tourists are doing it.  You have to remember, that at least the last time I was here, which was over two years ago, many of thee kids had never seen an American, especially a big ugly one like me.  Well, some of these kids still haven’t seen an American, and they find me quite amusing, much like going to the zoo and watching the gorilla scratch his privates.  (I don’t do that anymore, I killed all the livestock in my bed).  It all is very amusing to me.

 

As for connecting to the internet, you will all probably never get any of this shit that I am typing, as I have tried again today, with success connecting to Hong Kong, but without success in getting or sending email.  (The server bounced me out after I logged on, and wouldn’t let me back in).  What the hell, I’ll keep trying to send these messages, as I really am far to sore to do anything at night outside of one’s room.

 

And since there isn’t much to do at night (walking down the street thru the village can be dangerous, the rats come out of the sewers, (which are not exactly the technological wonders that the Paris and New York ones are), I either do the chi-gong stuff, which is another story, or read, or kneel in the bathtub and pray for a drop of water.  Which reminds me, I haven’t showered in three days as the village pump broke down.  I can’t remember what a hot shower is, though I would think it to be pretty nice. I’m up on the third floor of this luxurious Chinese two star hotel dormitory thingy (I think out of fifteen stars), and the third floor is the top.  Which has the advantage of giving me a nice view of the sunrise, which I see every morning through the cheap Chinese curtains, and also gives me the security of being away from the rats, who tend to inhabit the lower floor.  But being so high makes it difficult to get water into my pipes, as the extra twenty feet up is probably a bit too much for the pump to move it up.  The lower floors get their toilets filled when the pump is kind of working, and I just kneel in front of it and pray.

 

Walking down the street at night is quite the experience.  This village has changed from a terribly impoverished filthy shithole where the kids pooped in the streets, and the families slept on cardboard.  The most common vehicle was feet, followed by bicycles and these tractor things, which ran on diesel in two cycle engines.  Quite fascinating.  Now, with greatly increased tourism to the temple, and their capitalistic tendencies, people have money.  Now there are motor scooters, small cars, and little motorcycles.  The people no longer wear rags, they wear sort of a cheap imitation of what we wear.  It is quite humorous to see these girls (two years ago a girl in this town was quite the rarity, now they are all over the place) trying to dress like the westerners, wearing stockings that are almost as sexy as my long underwear, and these short skirts that seem to be made out of naugehyde.  It is evolving, for lack of a better word, quite rapidly.  I wish that the telephone system would evolve so fast.  Or, even the water supply.  But that is another story.

 

Today was quite the washout for me, as I was awakened by one hell of a headache at 0530, which may have been because I forgot, or at least I think I forgot, to take my medication the night before.  In any case, a long slow walk up the mountain failed to relieve it, and quite interestingly, I had much difficulty doing that climb, probably because I was hemiparetic, but didn’t realize it, as I have been pushing myself to strengthen my right (and left, I’ve been pretty inactive this pat year and a half) side.  The workouts, because of my weakness and poor endurance, have been terribly frustrating for me, as I just cannot do what I used to, and I cannot endure them as I have in the past.  My head just got worse as the morning wore on, but to my surprise, I discovered that practicing some chi-gong took the edge off of it, to the point where I was more functional, and a nap of a few hours, along with some coca-cola, finished it off. I am still hemiparetic at this time (Friday night) and my balance is whacked, but I am headache free.  I am excited about the fact that the chi-gong practice made a difference so quickly; but as in the past, only rest really gets rid of it.  I question whether doing this chi-gong on a regular basis might act as a prophylactic.

 

Talking about prophylactics, we have a karaoke bar down the hall.  Every night the Chinese go in to this infernal place and sing.  Thank god for ear plugs.  What makes it really interesting, is that tonight, as opposed to the other nights, it is filled with prostitutes.  These girls are nothing short of humorous, with their sixty's style clothes, and their look of complete ignorance.  Basically, they are just local girls who have discovered a better way to make more than the average Chinese does (which is about 400 Yuan, or 450 a month).  But the fact that they hang out here, seems to me to be a little overbearing.  Again, like I said, this place is evolving.  It appears that western influence has gotten the better of what used to be a very sacred place.

 

Oh, and I finally got “hot” water tonight.  Well, it was warm.  Water management is another story; I’ll get into it later.  I’ve got other things to do now, like try to figure out why the water comes out warm from the tub spout, but, when diverted from the spout, comes out ice cold from the shower head.  Hmmm.  This could take a while.


 

 

Subject:
    
China day 15? Friday

Date:
    

Sat, 25 Oct 1997 21:31:27 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

The weather has suddenly turned cold, with overcast rainy skies, temperatures dipping down into the forties and fifties during the day.  It is starting to look like the days of hazy warm sunshine have come to an end.  Northern China undergoes fall much like we do in Las Vegas, fast.  Winter should be here within the next few weeks.  I have been doing well so far, and have elected to stay a few more days before heading on towards Beijing.  My attempts to access the internet from here at the temple have all failed.  I can log onto the Beijing network, but the server in Beijing doesn’t recognize my home POP; obviously a screw up of the people who supposedly arranged this service internationally with Netcom.  Hopefully when I get to Beijing I will be able to log on.  I may have to call Singapore to access the internet.

 

Training goes well, with my master pushing me everyday almost to my limits.  I’ve learned a few different weapons since I’ve been here, and physically, with the exception of losing weight, I’ve been doing fairly well.  Every other night is spent with a chi-gong, to help with my head pain, and also to use to treat other people.  The chi-gong training is also useful for fighting.  The gong-fu training that I get everyday is actually considered to be a form of chi-gong by the Chinese; all of this together supposedly should work together, in some way or another.  What’s left of my scientific mind can’t figure out what or how this shit is supposed to work, but apparently it is effective.  On the other fronts, the food is pretty bad and protein poor.  I supplement my protein intake out on the street; there are Muslim street vendors who cook freshly killed lamb strips (we think it’s lamb) over charcoal on the street.  Any way it’s cheap, around thirty cents for three to four “sticks” of this meat.  The Chinese restaurants in the village leave much to be desired, and can best be explained by seeing a picture of them.  Words just won’t do them justice.  As for the water, it’s on and off as usual.  Hot water, when we get it, comes on at 2000.  For some reason, the water in my sink is hot, from my tub spout is lukewarm, and from the shower head is ice cold.  I’m not sure how they managed to do that, but at least, when the hot water comes on, I get a lukewarm bath as opposed to an ice cold one.  I’ve given up trying to fit into the sink.  Body temperature can only be resurrected by crawling under the covers and shivering until warm.  Getting rid of the hair has been a mixed blessing.  The bugs can’t take up residence, it’s more comfortable to be absolutely filthy without hair, and it limits the time in the ice cold bathtub.  On the other hand, now that it’s cold out, I can really feel it, especially when in the training center, which in the usual Chinese fashion, is full of radiators which haven’t worked since the building was constructed.  The cold air coming through the broken second story windows just makes you work out harder to stay warm.  Gong-fu training stops in a few weeks as it gets terribly cold here, with temperatures hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit.  I’m glad I’m going to miss that.

 

My training has been better than I thought it would.  The first two weeks have consisted of poor balance, weakness, and chronic pain; now, my balance has improved, I am stronger, and I’m still in pain.  I have been trained in the Shaolin gong-fu fighting techniques, which, even for Chinese, are pretty nasty.  I’ve also been trained with the use of the Chinese broadsword and the bow staff.  I am now working on the nine link chain whip, which is basically a handle attached to nine four inch long links connected by chain, and the end of which is this little four inch long pointed bar.  It looks little, but it feels much bigger, all depending on where it hits you.  You whip this five foot thing around your arms, legs, shoulders, neck, and head, at speeds which defy natural physics and pray to god that it doesn’t hit something that you’d prefer it didn’t hit.  So far I’ve hit almost every part of my body with this thing, including my teeth, which I’m still trying to figure out.  It’s very difficult, but also a terrible weapon to use.  It really hurts.  Really.

 

My day starts at 0530, when I lay in bed, and think a bout getting out from under the warm blanket and journey out into the fairly cold room.  The thought of that ice cold water that I’ve collected in the bathtub and used a couple of times keeps me in bed a little longer.  Taking a bath with dirty clothes in dirty soapy cold water is not as appealing as it might sound.  At 0600 all sorts of music starts blaring from loudspeakers at the other schools, which then completely eliminates any idea of falling back asleep.  I’ve given up on going to the dining area to eat; the thought of last night’s rice in warm water is just not appealing anymore.  I’ve thought about washing with it.  Instead, I work out in my room with the solitary weight that I bought, which weighs more than most of the students in the village.  Some poor imitation for chocolate cookies, and water that was cooled off in various containers outside constitute breakfast.  (Our water is boiled, and delivered hot in little thermos, the better to kill all the little beasties that inhabit the drinking water supply).  At 0800 I head for the training center, and start my three hour workout.  Mid afternoon is spent every other day climbing the local mountain to strengthen my leg(s).  The second training session starts somewhere at 1400 and ends at 1700 or so.  Every other night at 1900 is chi-gong training.  On the off nights we journey out to the village to taste the delicacies of the various local restaurants.  If it wasn’t for the lamb sticks, and the fake chocolate cookies, I would die.  I’m in bed getting warm at around 2100, read for a while, and fall asleep by 2200.  Yes, it’s an exciting life.  I’m sure that you are all overwhelmed.  But it’s been terribly helpful.


 

 

Subject:
    
China day 16 or so.  Saturday

Date:
    

Sat, 25 Oct 1997 14:02:17 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

So much for winter hitting in a few weeks.  Today it is completely overcast and cold, in the forties.  All the students in the village still work out outside, still clothed in these cheap imitation sweat suits.  They have to be cold.  It is cold inside the training center, where for the past two weeks I had been thankful that I was protected from the sun.  Now, with temperatures hovering in the mid to high forties inside, and having not brought a heavy sweat suit, I am ill prepared.  The jackets and such that I have brought are far too bulky to work out in, especially the whipping the nine link chain around me.  ( I had to get a ten link chain, as the nine link was too short, as is the ten; maneuvers that require whipping this thing around my neck and shoulders, which by Chinese standards, are too big, result in the shorter chain whipping closer to my head.  So far my fillings have stayed in my mouth).

 

With the coming of winter so suddenly, many foreigners change their plans to leave in December, and talk about leaving now.  My room, with no heat and lukewarm water on the most rare of occasions, is actually of a much higher living standard than most of the “housing” that one finds in this village.  The other foreigners, whom I shall describe briefly, live at other schools.  Bathtubs are nonexistent, as is running water most of the time.  Some have to carry water to their “rooms” for lack of any plumbing at all.  Daily cleansing, and I use that term loosely, is undertaken at community bath houses where the water is warmed by that facility.  Five Yuan, or about 80 cents, gets you a supposedly hot shower for a few minutes, followed by a rest on a cot for up to an hour.  I have yet to experience this; with the water coming into tub colder than before, I no longer look forward to washing.  It is taking longer and longer to regain warmth under the covers after a “bath”.

 

The foreigners here are quite the crew.  I wouldn’t exactly say that we derive an incredible amount of respect from the Chinese.  In a sense, to some degree, the Chinese view some of us with fascination, some with disgust.  I, the biggest of the group, kind of instill a combination of wonder and fear into these people.  Some of them have told my master that they have never seen a man so big.  Despite being cold and worn out, I try to smile at them, and appear friendly; the results of this demonstrate to me that deep down the Chinese are a fairly warm people.  It’s a shame that some of my comrades here don’t feel the same.  A brief run down of this rogues gallery:

 

Sonya, as I have said before, is a 23 year old blonde from Austria.  She has a typical Germanic attitude, underneath which is really a fun loving warm human being.  She has been training as a kick bower for the last two years in Austria, and comes here to learn a little about gong-fu.  It has been a discouraging experience for her; she has found gong-fu, with all it’s low stances and complicated maneuvers to be far more difficult that she had imagined.  She left last Sunday, a little disappointed at not being able to conquer what little of this art was presented to her, but still happy that she had an “interesting” time.  I had found it interesting to find a woman here, especially a young one, alone, in this not so compassionate place.  It was not her first time in China though, so getting acclimated to the customs and society was not much trouble.

 

Thomas, a 26 year old east German, is here for four months training with the younger brother of an ex-monk.  His teacher is a 20 year old Chinese kid, whom I had to make house calls to, in order to treat a bad migraine that he was having.  The local people cannot afford the local physicians; stories of which I will need to get into one day.  They cannot afford medicine, aspirin is unobtainable.  The Chinese deal with pain as it is.  They are very stoic.  Thomas is here to continue his gong-fu training, and seems to be one of the more normal of the bunch.  At six foot six or so, he, along with I, get many stares from the local villagers.  He was smart however, he took six months of Chinese language education before coming here.  Most cannot understand his Chinese anyway, as it is mixed with a strong German accent.  When we go to dinner at one of the local restaurants, he orders.  What we get is usually a surprise, especially to him.  To me, if it doesn’t move, I try to eat it.

 

William, is in his fifties, and is not here for gong-fu training.  With his past, he doesn’t need it.  He has lead quite the criminal life in Miami, and after spending eight years at Leavenworth, he now lives here in the village.  He lost his leg after a rape attempt in prison; his attackers hit him in the back of his knee with a lead pipe, which caused an occlusion of the popliteal artery.  A chronic ischemia developed, after two years of such led to an amputation.  He says that he was imprisoned because he would not testify against his friends who had robbed a bank.  He went to jail, his friends are free.  Prior to this, he worked as a private investigator in Miami; his work there led him to knowledge of all sorts of devious goings on with the FBI and the CIA; stories which he will uncover in a book that he has just hand written.  William is a rough, angry man, who talks predominantly in four letter words that start with f; a fact which I find highly entertaining as he has found employment here in the village teaching English to the local children.  He doesn’t speak Chinese, but finds great enjoyment in talking dirty to the local woman in English.  One of these days, one of them is going to understand him.  I expect that either the people in the US who are probably looking for him will find him, or, someone here will eventually get tired of his improprieties, and he will “disappear”.

 

His sidekick, Julian, is a 20 year old French kid, who comes from a terribly unhappy home life.  He says he is here to learn gong-fu; I think that he is just escaping.  He speaks some Chinese, most of which he learned here, and unfortunately for him spends most of his time with William, learning all sorts of evil and dastardly things from his mentor.  He is far too angry for his age.  He, along with William, does not make a favorable impression on the Chinese.

 

Teva, is 19, from French speaking Tahiti.  A drunkard “bad” kid, his father brought him here and left him, the same way most of the children who train in this village end up here.  The schools are worse than boot camp, as the kids stay here for years.  They learn gong-fu, along with respect, consideration, and all the rest of those necessary society skills.  If not, they are essentially beaten until they do.  Teva has really straightened up here over the last two years, has leaned Chinese and gong-fu, and has gotten his shit together.  He, from what I am told, functions as the local pimp for the local prostitutes, which is another story.

 

Judy, or at least that’s what we call her, is this fat girl from Korea.  When I first met her, I thought she was a man.  She speaks very little English, but does fairly well with Chinese.  To talk to her, a typical round of communication might go from me in broken French and English, to Teva, who speaks French to Julian, who speaks broken Chinese to Judy, who mainly speaks Korean.  We still haven’t figured out her name, but she now answers to Judy.  She is here to learn gong-fu, which I find interesting, as it appears that she even has trouble walking.  She is pretty big, with most of her weight on her hips, much like a weeble.  (Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down…)

 

Ben, is from France.  A business and Chinese major, he has left his country after finishing school to come here to improve his Chinese and his gong-fu.  He anticipates much business activity from China in the future; which when one considers the size of this market and the fact that it is opening slowly to the world, one sees that he is on the right tract.  But Ben is an angry man also, and I get the feeling that he is running from some disaster in his life.  I too have had to make a house call on him, as he ruptured one of the ligaments in the hell of his foot during a gong-fu maneuver.  Going to dinner with him is also fairly interesting; since he speaks Chinese the best of us, he does the ordering.  The last time he ordered we got pig’s fat mixed with rice.  Yum.

 

Navar, at 24, is pitiful.  He is from Morocco, and according to the Chinese, is hers to look for a wife.  He’s been her for two years, during which he learned Chinese, and found a wife.  Somebody else’s.  He fell in love with this Chinese girl, had relations with her, and now wants her to leave with him to go to Morocco.  It’s a shame her husband doesn’t agree with that plan.  In a society which shuns any kind of male-female relationships with foreigners, and for that matter, shuns any kind of “relations” until one is legally married, Navar really stepped in it.  Not only that, upon finding out that his beloved was married, he subsequently and eventually visited with most of the local shop owners and merchants, inquiring whether it was true or not that his girlfriend was really married.  He went as far as informing the police that he wanted to see the marriage certificate which proved that she was married.  Now, the local police make it a custom to knock on various doors at night to see if one has a woman who is not your wife in the sack with you.  If they do, they arrest you and jail you.  The fine is 10000 Yuan, or about 1200 dollars.  The fine for engaging with a prostitute is higher; for you, not for the prostitute.  (The prostitutes are usually “visited” by the police, so the police don’t arrest them).  Navar has effectively made it known to the entire community that he has had relations with another man’s wife, in a community (or country) which predominantly doesn’t look favorably on premarital relations.  As people have disappeared for less, we have urged Navar to leave for home within the next few days, as, to put it bluntly, his days are pretty much numbered here.  We have bets to see if he will make it home or not.

 

Well, that’s it.  The present group of foreigners in the village.  All tied together by a single thread; the fact that we all speak some semblance of English.


 

 

Subject:
    
China 20? Thursday Oct 31

Date:
    

Thu, 30 Oct 1997 21:46:38 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

Today I became a disciple of my master, of the Shaolin Temple, in what could best be described as a semi-religious ceremony held in one of the oldest parts, the temple of 1000 Buddha's in the Shaolin Temple.  The ceremony involved five monks and I, they dressed in their ceremonial outfits, me in the usual t shirt and karate pants.  (I don’t really fit into the orange outfits that they wear.  Actually, I don’t fit into much of anything here.)  It could also be described as a circus.  For there were hundreds of Chinese visitors to the huge Shaolin temple that day, and a good deal of them got wind of this ceremony.  I couldn’t possibly count all of them, as they has stuffed themselves inside the temple room with us; they were outside, they were all over; all wondering what this big ugly American was doing in this ceremony bowing to Buddha and the monks.  I started to wonder what I was doing there.  The ceremony took about twenty minutes, after which dozens of Chinese surrounded me to get pictures, look at me, and touch me.  The old “throw peanuts at the ape in the zoo” scenario to the utmost.  It was so bad that on the walk back to my room, cars stopped next to me so that people could stare and take pictures.  What a day.

 

And what a night.  As a few of us had dinner with my master tonight at one of the “better” restaurants (i.e., it didn’t have a dirt floor, and it actually had a door), I found out that not only did I become a disciple, I was also converted to Buddhism.  On the first and fifteenth of every Chinese calendar month, I now have to pray to Buddha.  For what, I don’t know.  If I don’t, I guess I turn into this fat old bald man who laughs sitting on the floor.  Being a disciple is actually quite the thing to the Chinese.  There are different levels of learning.  Most Chinese are considered students.  The next level is disciple; where one is then considered to be devoted to a master, and vice versa.  It is considered an honor here, for a select few; why I don’t know.  The level of training changes whereby the true secrets and meanings of gong-fu are revealed.  Explanations and revelations about the art are taken to a higher level.  One can then over time progress to master, which basically means teacher here.  The monks take this seriously, and from what I saw of all the Chinese today, they did too.  I wish that they told me about this being a Buddhist before I jumped into the water.

 

It has been cold here.  Running water is virtually nonexistent, as is heat.  I leave the four light bulbs in the room on all day to heat the room.  My neighbor, an east German has found a new use for the television.  We sit around it at night and warm our hands.  He leaves it on all day to warm his room.  Fortunately, we have good bed covers, much like they use in Europe, so once you regain your body heat under the covers it’s not too bad.  Taking a bath in what little water comes through is no longer tolerable (we all leave our spigots open while we are gone to collect water in the bathtubs just in case the pump starts working again); it is far too cold, and it takes too long to regain body heat after immersing yourself in it.  Besides, cold water doesn’t clean as well as hot; I still stink after washing.  I’ve just given up on the whole concept.

 

Tomorrow I head out to Zengzhou, to meet with the travel agent to get the rest of my plans finished.  There I hope to access the internet either through Beijing, or if not, through Singapore.  After that it’s a ten hour over night train ride to Xian.  After that it’s eventually to Beijing at a real hotel where I should (hopefully) get onto the net more often.  Carol, my friend in Beijing, has already set up some doctor appointments to further introduce me to the world of oriental medicine.  What I have seen of medicine here in the village has generally been repulsive.  It is generally third world medicine here in the village, with doctors ranging from quacks to real MD’s (one here) with limited supplies and equipment.  Basically, if you come down with a bad illness, you die.  The whole place really makes these people tough.

 

I saw a top of the line Chinese apartment tonight, which is a rarity for the Chinese.  Four walls, a roof, and a concrete floor.  About ten by twenty or so apartments.  Nice bathroom.  A hole in the ground with a light bulb above it.  This is actually better than what most get to live in.  The other extreme is readily apparent – cardboard on the street with blankets.  Shop owners, who basically have these little stands on the street, usually live behind them in either a cheap wooden construction thing smaller than my bathroom, or a tent like device.  Strictly amazing.  This way of life has got to be experienced to be believed.

 


 

Subject:
    
China day 23 or so, er mai san

Date:
    

Mon, 03 Nov 1997 17:29:07 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

I left the Shaolin temple on Friday, which was quite difficult, as I actually had an enjoyable time there. With respect to my head pain and weakness, it was not very frequent there.  The lack of sun exposure, no fluorescent lighting, and peace and quiet contributed tom y doing well.  The whole mind set of the place, with its immersion into gong-fu and chi-gong contributed I think to my general sense of well being.

 

The three hour car ride to Zengzhou was the typical Chinese version of constantly “playing chicken”.  The big roads are blacktop, usually four lanes wide, two in each direction, or at least that is how it is supposed to be. The right lane is generally reserved for people, bicycles, and what is become more prevalent, little motor scooters and one cylinder engine motorcycles, usually packed with at least two people.  It was not uncommon for families, with the husband driving, the wife behind, with one child between the two, and the other sitting on the handlebars, to travel by scooter or motorcycle.  I even saw one peasant carrying two very large dead pigs on the bar in front of him on top of his little motorcycle.  What made it humorous was the view from in front of him; one could only see his face and two arms draped over the pigs to grab the handlebars.  With each big probably four feet long, and each weighing close to two hundred pounds, it was quite the accomplishment.  As I’ve said before, the rules of the road allow pedestrians and the like to take over the right lanes.  Thus, the center lanes are used by the vehicles; all of them.  From tractors, to bicycles, to pedestrians, to coal trucks, buses and cars.  And of course, they all go at different speeds.  Passing on the right is rare, so it is not uncommon to be in the opposing center lane to pass someone; nor is it uncommon to spend a good deal of time in the opposing lane.  It really gets fun when you try to pass someone who is already passing the guy in your center lane; this puts you in the far right lane of opposing traffic, generally, when traffic is coming at you.  Once, in Xian, we even went up onto the sidewalk of the opposing side, to pass some vehicles.  It is quite the experience.

 

Friday night was spent on the train, for a ten hour overnight trip to Xian.  I decided to take a week of “vacation” after the temple, prior to spending a week in Beijing with all of those doctor appointments.  There are three different ways to travel by train in China.  Hard class, which most (80%) travel by, is made up of cars with wooden benches.  A small one inch thick pad covers the seat.  Considering that most train rides are between major cities, the trips can last anywhere from a small 8 hour Zengzhou to Beijing jaunt, to a 24 hour Zengzhou to Guangzhou jaunt.  They are incredibly crowded.  The trips for hard seat class generally range in the under one hundred Yuan (8 Yuan to the dollar) area.  Considering that the average monthly income is around four hundred Yuan, you can understand why most take this class.

 

Hard seat sleeper, is just that.  Consider six fold down from the wall cots in a small room, and you get the idea.  I went first class, for over two hundred Yuan, soft seat sleeper, which was made up of “beds”, which I barely fit onto with a two inch mattress, and four beds to the little room.  There was not enough floor space to stand, so we all just laid in our bunks.  When I entered into my “room”, I found two old fat Chinese there before me.  When they discovered that me, an American, was spending the night with them, they decided to leave.  They were to party officials.  Ugly chaps.

 

Saturday was spent in Xian, in which I arrived at 0830, just in time to see the tour bus leave for the museums.  I rented a private car and driver, and went to the Terra Cotta warrior and horse museum, which was absolutely incredible.  I wouldn’t recommend a trip here to see it, as TV documentaries can do it just as much justice, but I’m glad that I finally made it.  The rest of the day was spent in the car going to other temples and such.  We visited a fifteen hundred year old hot springs which the emperors had used as their own private hot tubs.  Fascinating stuff.

 

With china’s new found drive toward capitalism, the Chinese are getting more wealthy.  Although there are many makes and models of cars from all over the world here, most drive this Chinese piece of shit which is made in conjunction with VW.  They last approximately three years.  The pure German version of the car is more desirable, and more expensive, around 280,000 Yuan,  but it lasts over six years.  I have never been in so many cars which had their idiot warning lights lit all the time.  With the new found money and cars comes traffic.  Unbelievable amounts of it.  Traffic lights are virtually nonexistent; where they do exist they are largely ignored.  Bicycles, scooter, pedestrians, tractors, trucks with building supplies, children everything is in the roads, and all over them.  Traffic jams are very common, as are bicycle jams.  Imaging two hundred bicycles on one corner, the same on the other, over flowing into the streets, all standing on one foot, the other on the pedal, waiting for that opening in the traffic to surge across.  And when they meet in the middle, all bedlam breaks loose. It is incredible, as in the midst of all these people continue the automobiles and trucks surging through whatever opening they can find, all with their horns blaring at each other.  It is an incredible sight; yet one which triggered on hell of a migraine, thus banishing me to bed early that night.

 

The people that swarm the streets do so at all hours of the day and night.  I have never seen such exuberance in a city before, in any other country.  They constantly scramble as cockroaches do on a NY apartment floor.  It has to be experienced to be believed.

 

Sunday I flew from Xian to Cheng-du, where, not according to plan, I was not met at the airport by the guide.  Being stuck at an airport with no English speaking people around, actually, I was the only American there, and I quite literally stuck out pretty dramatically.  I waited two hours, at which time I grabbed a cab and went to the local Holiday Inn.  Now Holiday Inn is pretty smart, they have made cooperative ventures with hotels here.  There, no only did I finally get real food for the first time in a month, but I found a manager who spoke English.  Fortunately, I had had the business card of my previous guide, and through him, and god knows how many others, we finally found the guide service that was supposed to take me to Er Mei Shan.  The four hour van ride on a two lane road was something that I don’t look forward to.

 

Er Mei Shan is on of the four or so holy mountains in China.  I stayed in a hotel, a rather nice one quite surprisingly) it had hot water, thought not much) at the base of the mountain.  The mountain is dotted with over fifteen Buddhist temples, all connected by a trail which starts at the bottom, and ends at a large temple on the very top, 11000 feet high.  The trail is 66 kilometers long, and takes three days to climb.  We drove most of the way up, walked a while, and then took a cable car up the rest.  They say that one can experience all four season in a day on this mountain, which by the end of the afternoon, I must say that I did.  The base of the mountain, as is the rest of the area, is covered by fog; heavy dense fog.  One cannot see the sky.  It lends an ethereal atmosphere to the place, making it quite beautiful.  However, on the way up on the cable car, we broke through the fog and got on top of it.  From the top of the mountain, which held a very beautiful Buddhist temple, one could see literally for miles, thought because of the cloud cover below us, one could not see the ground.  It is an incredibly beautiful place.  I, being a large American, was quite the tourist attraction for the Chinese here, most of whom have not  really seen many Americans this far west in China.  My laptop made quite the experience for them, as I sat typing this message on some stairs, I was almost constantly surrounded by groups of the, all wanting to look at me, take pictures of me, talk to me, and touch me.  A look and a smile just seemed to make their day.  A very few students who spoke some English verbally assaulted me for quite some time, trying to touch up their English and learn about America.  America is their dream, and very many desire to go there.  English and business seem to be the most common routes of study at the universities here, as they see trade with America in the future as their future.  My guide, who seemed to be overwhelmed at my training in gong-fu at the Shaolin temple, made no effort to hide what I had done.  He told everyone he ran into.  The Chinese upon hearing that, looked upon me in a different light, one with amazement and respect.  I hadn’t realized until my guide told me, that the Shaolin temple is much revered all throughout China for it’s martial arts training; my spending almost a month there was overwhelming to them.  Despite the fact that the previous governments tried to downplay Buddhism and gong-fu, (as they also used to downplay capitalism), the people have maintained their respect for such things (and have developed a desire for capitalism that will probably never be extinguished by any government which forms here).

 

An interesting phenomenon occurs here.  When the conditions are right, after a rainstorm, one can see a rainbow which is actually a complete circle, out in the sky.  And if you catch it just right, you can see your reflection, far off in the center of this circular rainbow.  This has had many various effects upon the people who visit here, one group, some of whom I saw today, were pilgrims from Tibet. These pilgrims travel by train for days, hard seat, to come here to pray at the temples here at this holiest of mountains.  Some of them I am told, after seeing themselves in the rainbow, have thrown themselves off of the mountain, which, from one side is straight down most of the way.  I was told that it takes five minutes for the body to hit the ground, and because of the severe winds on the way down, the clothes tend to be blown off the pilgrim.  Many have done this, believing that their image inside the circular rainbow was a message from Buddha.  And I traveled all this distance to get medical care from these people.

 

The afternoon here saw me retreat to the shit hole hotel on the top of Er Mei Shan, as the fog, and with it, the winter, blew in.  It is probably going to ruin what could have been an incredible sunset.  I plan on awakening at 0530 tomorrow, to catch the sunrise, which I hear is just as incredible.  Once the sun goes down here, there is nothing to do bus sleep.  I can’t even take a cold bath tonight, as there is no water here in the winter.  The pipes freeze.

 

Tomorrow, after the almost five-hour death defying drive from the cable car base to the airport, I fly to Beijing, and hopefully, hot water again.  The week will be spent with many different doctor appointments, in an effort to learn something about oriental medicine.  The charlatans at the Shaolin village were nothing but pure entertainment to me, and outright dangerous to those unsuspecting enough to visit with and trust them.

 


 

 

Subject:
    
China day who knows… Beijing

Date:
    

Wed, 12 Nov 1997 23:04:45 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

Finishing up one hell of a busy week in Beijing, and it’s been an interesting one.  I finally have been introduced to “edible food”.  After losing 19 pounds during the three weeks at the Temple, being in what is best thought of as civilization” has been a little better to my stomach.  The week here has been educational, to say the least.  It has been a mix of being introduced to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), meeting old friends, and touring.  Oh, and I forgot, getting lost.  But first, some interesting tidbits of china.

 

School in the cities is pretty similar to what we go through, twelve years of something or other and then you can go to university, if, you do well on the exams, and end up somewhere in the top twenty percent of everybody who takes them. People who reside outside the cities also take the tests, but predominantly are destined to continue in their parent’s tracks.  Thus the occasional desire for the children to go to Shaolin village, to learn gong-fu and eventually become bodyguards for the wealthy.  It’s just another way to avoid spending the rest of your life walking behind a cow.  Now, after schooling, if you get into university, you take a four year bachelor degree program.  Most seem to take a combination of English and business, as, like us, they are starting to realize that trade with US is the place to be.  But if you’re more aggressive, you can be a doctor or a lawyer.  Law is where the money is…

 

To be a doctor, there are two tracks.  You can become a TCM doctor, which is five years in the university, usually with one year of western medicine type anatomy, pathology, etc, two years of acupuncture, two years of herbal medicine.  Mixed in that is one year of hospital experience.  Then, like most others, you end up working for the government, as the government owns the hospitals.  If you’re smart, you also join the military, as the military of the government owns the biggest and best hospitals; a drawback to the times when, and still now, the party officials aka the military got the best and most expensive care.

 

You can also go another track, that is the western medicine doctor track.  This comprises of about six or seven years of training total, all starting after you finish the initial twelve that most everybody does to some degree.  The six or seven includes one to two years of  “residency” through, but they try to keep the knowledge base pegged to what we do in the states.  There is a move now to try to integrate TCM into their western medical training program; at this point all who go for the western medicine have to only take six months of it.

 

TCM and western docs here apparently work well together.  But this brings me to medicine in general…

 

As a Chinese, you have a choice to buy health insurance.  Like the car insurance, which is mandatory, health insurance is not mandatory but is also owned by the government.  If you have the health insurance, either bought personally, or bought by the company that you work for, or the government, then you get all of you TCM treatment for free.  If you desire western medical care, which more and more are opting for as TCM takes time, (and it doesn’t do very well for surgical diseases), then you have to pay more money.  If you want western type medications, you have to pay for it.  If you want surgery, you have to pay for it. If you need specialty surgery (like heart bypass, etc), then you really have to pay for it.  If you don’t have insurance, then you don’t get medical care at ll.  They show you the door.

 

Interestingly enough, many do not have health insurance, especially the peasants in the rural areas, which make up many of the population of China.  The thinking here is more towards the lines of accepting illness and death if it comes.  The older ones lean more towards TCM.  About fifty percent of the population believes and accepts only TCM, the younger ones who are busy working lean towards western medicine with TCM for the treatment of pain, and the peasants just die.  TCM is used in the ICU for the treatment of pain.  Surgery used to be big in the sixties and seventies with acupuncture for anesthesia; now drugs are used predominantly as they are in the west; the reason being not the lack of duct tape, but the amount of work it takes to manipulate the needles constantly during the surgery.  TCM has been relegated from a western medicine point of view here towards treatment of acute and chronic pain of almost any non-surgical disease.

 

TCM can basically be viewed as having major subsections.  These are: 1. Qi-gong, which deals with energy manipulation and accumulation in the body.  There are qi-gong exercises which allow you to cultivate qi, or life force (“when a man dies, he loses he qi”); these exercises, as I have arranged them, range from purely mental to purely physical.  Along that scale, there are the basic qi-gong maneuvers, then the various types of Tai-chi, then soft gong-fu, then hard gong-fu.  All of this is classified under Wushu, which literally in Chinese just meant “martial arts”.  The Shaolin temple is the big wushu training center in china.  I learned various types of all of the above with the exception of the tai-chi’s.

 

2. Acupuncture, with and without electrical stimulation.  Included in hers is acupressure, whereby acupuncture is performed using one’s fingers, and Chinese massage, where it is performed in various massage techniques.  Here’s where the shit gets deep.  The Chinese believe, and have for the past five thousand years, that energy, qi, runs from the organs to various parts of the body via pathways or meridians.  Thus, if you look at an acupuncture doll, those lines that you see are meridians, the pathways that natural qi needs to have open so that the body maintains it’s health.  Various points along those meridians, the acupuncture points, can be manipulated (massaged, pressed, stuck, electrified, heated) to re-open the pathways of the “sick” organ, to regain health.  Wild stuff, without any real kind of anatomical proof, but they all believe it, and it works to some extent.  I can’t imagine using it to treat congestive heart failure, but they do, and they say it works.  They also have a different perspective on death than we do, so when it doesn’t work, they say that it made what life the patient had, “better”.  Qi-gong practice might not extend your life, but it improves it.  The Chinese feel that when death happens, it happens.  We, on the other hand, tend to lean more towards numbers of years.  They lean more towards quality.  Death at an early age is not failure.

 

As for acupuncture, I experienced it.  One of the doctors that came to my hotel performed the techniques in my room.  He stuck two of these needles in my arms along some meridian (I think the gallbladder) which is supposed to relieve head pain.  Now, I didn’t have head pain at the time, but the insertion of these needles, which is relatively painless, triggered waves of sensation up my arms to my head, which resulted in a feeling of calm and fatigue.  My head soon got very heavy, and I was unable to lift it.  Had there not been talking in the room (my friends Carol and Shawn were there watching), I would have fell asleep.  It was a wild sensation, one which I had not anticipated.  But I had observed it many a time later while I was in the Chinese hospital, observing TCM being practiced.  Most patients just fell asleep or dozed.  The Chinese have just recently started to research acupuncture, finding that there are increased levels of serotonin in the brain and body during acupuncture.  (We had found increased levels of beta endorphins, which are natural narcotics).  It didn’t take any pain away as I had none, but I slept incredibly well that night, well enough to do something that I don’t think I have ever done in my life: get up the next morning at 0600 and go to the gym and work out for an hour.  Wild stuff.  I’m convinced.  I’m also equipped.  The docs here got me all sorts of paraphernalia; the needles, which range in sized from a half an inch to ones that are five inches long.  Yes, they stick the whole thing in.  When I was laying on my bed, with two inch long needles completely embedded in my lower forearms, all I could initially think about were those frogs in high school.  I also have an electrical acupuncture stimulator and acupoint detector, (which really works: the acupuncture points actually have a lower electrical resistance than the rest of the skin).  Acupressure and massage are just “weaker” ways of doing acupuncture.  And if you’re a real sissy, you can get aural acupressure.  Yes, the complete complement of acupuncture points are in you ears.  So, if you see a Chinese with a little half centimeter square piece of tape in his ears, he’s a sissy.  It is aural acupressure.  (there is a tiny herbal rock under the tape which applies the pinpoint pressure).  If he’s a real man, he’ll have the acupuncture needles in his ears.  Very impressive.

 

3. Herbal medicine.  I met three doctors, one of whom was a professor of TCM, all of whom strongly recommended to me that I return and stay at the Shaolin temple to learn more qi-gong, which they feel is highly beneficial.  They taught me acupuncture, at least what I needed to know to treat head pain, suggested Chinese medical texts which I bought and shipped back home, and gave me prescriptions for Chinese herbs.  Now there are two types of herbal treatments.  One, the prepackaged pill, is the product of a massive Chinese pharmaceutical industry which predominantly deals with herbal medicines.  The other, which is more commonly used, is the “cooked” herbs.  You get a prescription from a doctor, which you bring to a pharmacy, where you get this recipe filled.  A few grams of this, a few grams of that, all mixed in a bag, which you bring home and cook in your clay pot according to directions.  You then drink the shit twice a day, for ten day courses.  Supposedly it really stinks up your house.  Not to be left out of the fun, I have ten bags of my herbal “prescription”, along with a clay pot.  If you don’t see me for thanksgiving, just look for me at customs at JFK.  I’ll be the one with the handcuffs.

 

4. Last, but not least, is cupping, which I observed but didn’t experience.  It’s tough to get a cup to stick to a round head.  They set the inside of this ceramic cup on fire and stick it to you.  It’s purpose is to bring blood to the affected area, which, after personal observation, it does.  They think that it works better than Ben-gay.  Maybe we should use that and set it afire.

 

5. Lotions, such as Tiger Balm (which we use with great effect), and their favorite, scorpion mix, which is basically a few hundred little baby scorpions soaking for a long time in a bottle.  Really works incredibly well.  Reminds me of the parent scorpions I saw skewered on sticks at the night time market last night.  The Chinese like to deep fry them, along with other bugs and creatures. No, I didn’t try it.  And I won’t put needles in my ears.

That’s the basics of TCM.  They believe it like we believe in a supreme being; can’t prove it, but it has to be there.  They are studying it now that their science abilities have increases, and are finding all sorts of histopathological proof of it'’ effectiveness in disease.  It’s only going to get more interesting.

 

Back to schooling.

 

Going to school in the US seems to be a dream for many students.  Getting there is another thing.  The Chinese government has pegged the Yuan to the dollar at 8 to one.  With an average monthly city wage earner salary in the two to three thousand range, and monthly rent in the five to eight hundred range, with health insurance in the two to three thousand yearly range, it doesn’t leave much left for savings.  Disability insurance is available; it pays 200 Yuan a month.  The government believes that 240 Yuan a month to be bare subsistence level; it expects those disabled to get the rest on the street, which they do.  Getting to the US for most is just that, a dream.

 

But to be successful, in China, you have to become a lawyer.  Most doctors, almost all, make just a little more than most people, as they work for the government.  But the lawyers, are mostly in private practice, and charge what they want to.  To be a lawyer is interesting; you get your bachelors degree in whatever you want, and you take a test.  If you pass it, you’re a lawyer.  Pretty simple.  I bought a Chinese law book, which covers all the basics of Chinese law.  It is an inch and a half thick.  Just common sense.

 

Chinese law is easy.  If you’re arrested, you’re guilty.  You go to court the next day, not to try to prove you innocence, but to find out your sentence.  If it has to do with drugs, rape, kidnapping or homicide, going to court just gives you another day.  For the next, you’re brought to a public stadium with a cardboard sign hanging around your neck which tells of your crime.  You kneel, and they shoot you in the back of the neck.  Your family gets your body, and a bill for the bullet.  No wonder that, when a cop looks at you funny when you’re driving, you pull over.  They have no guns or radios, and they’re on foot.  All they do is look and point, and you pull over.  As my friend Carol so readily and on multiple occasions demonstrated, when you’re pulled over, you pay the fine to the cop.  No record, just a receipt.  Then you go on your way.  And you hope that he doesn’t arrest you.  The cops have a lot of power.

 

And when it comes to driving, there are certain rules of the road which I have been able to deduce.  When you have a mix of trucks, buses, cars, mini-cars, mini mini vans, tractors, bicycles, animals and people, you have to have rules.  Here they are.

 

The object with the most wheels has the right of way with exceptions.

The object with the most mass and inertia has the right of way with exceptions.

While driving, only observe the space directly in front of you.

If that space is empty, take it.

If two objects desire the same place, the one that gets there first has the right of way.  That is, unless on e object honks it’s horn, rings it’s bell, or yells an obscenity, then it gets the right of way and can take the space.

A baby in a bicycle basket automatically gets the right of way.

One or more children stuffed onto various parts of a bicycle gets the right of way.

Tourists in a bicycle rickshaw, or on individual bicycles, or on foot, never get the right of way and should be spit at.  Spitting should be accompanied by an extra loud and prolonged inhalation whereby the largest lugie can be accumulated in the oropharynx prior to molding and ejecting.  Extra points are awarded if you hit their shoes, or, if their shoes eventually step in it.  Extra points are also awarded if the lugie makes a circle on the ground larger than 5 centimeters in diameter, regardless of the proximity of tourists.

Red lights are to be ignored, and the above rules to be followed, providing that there isn’t a policeman around.

Yellow lights are not for speeding up as they are in America, they are to warn you to look for policeman prior to the onset of the red light.  Groups of objects follow the same rules as individual objects, however, when in groups, it is advisable to honk horns, ring bells, or shout obscenities at the same time.

Tourists are advised to travel across streets with a buffer zone of other objects around them.

 

That’s it.  Pretty easy.

 

Mixed in and around the doctor and hospital visits, I did some touring.  In the Forbidden City, surrounded by the typically dressed Chinese in drab suits, which all look alike, was one other red and black technical outerwear garment.  Eventually, my red and black technical outerwear garment met the other one, in which was a thirty year old American female, who spoke, yes, English.  Five weeks, and I finally heard English spoken without f words.  She ended up following my coat tails, and we subsequently split the rest of the touring.  A trip to the Great wall, a trip with Carol to the Summer Palace, and some dinners in restaurants eating mystery meals, some cooked in bamboo, some cooked in huge ovens over roaring fires, and most, at McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and TGIFridays, which, by the way, were all thankfully within walking distance from my hotel.  I even ran into a Carvel, which made my heart skip many beats, until I got into the store, which also made my heart skip a beat.  They only sold coffee and cakes.  Shawn was quite the interesting companion, actually with the exception of William, the hiding ex convict at the Shaolin village, she was the only American that I have run into or have seen on my entire trip.  Having left a job of nine years, a boyfriend of nine years and just wandering China completely on her own without a game plan or travel arrangements, hearing her life story could only eventually make me wonder why, out of all these people, after traveling to the far side of the world, and being so distanced from most things American, that god would toss me this fruitcake.  She leaves for Xian today.  I get to spend dinner with Carol tonight, my last night before moving on to Hong Kong, and real food.  Chinese and Chinese English is just driving me nuts.

 

Carol is a Chinese girl who I befriended two years ago the last time I was here.  She had been instrumental in acting as a go between between me and the temple.  Her English is good, but her Chinese is better.  Not the usual harsh downward and upward loud tones, that after awhile you think that all these people do is yell at each other; her’ is much softer and quiet.  With the typical straight hair, when sitting behind her in a cab as she fends off more suitors (there are not many women her age in China; the result of the Cultural Revolution, when infanticide of daughters was common), the way she talks to cab drivers and shakes her head and her hair drives me to hysterics as all I can think of is the Addams Family Cousin It.  I tried to explain it to her without much success.  The things I find humor in now.

 

That’s it, time to retrieve my passport.  That’s another story.  I’ll leave it at the following: best way to get around Beijing is to get a piece of paper that says in Chinese where you want to go.  Then you show this paper to the cab driver.  After he drops you off at the wrong place, you start asking people.  The best way to ask people is to stand in front of them so they stop, shove the paper into their face, and look friendly.  Being bigger than them is advantageous.  Pay close attention to where they point, as it is probably the wrong direction.  Ask five different people for directions and you are sure to get six different directions.  They can read the shit just as well as we can…. With luck, and maybe a policeman or two, you should eventually get to where you’re going.  Rest assured, that when you get there, you will be told that they cannot help you, and will give you directions, in Chinese, as to where you need to go.  Just ask the cab driver…

 


 

Subject:
    
China day fifth week?

Date:
    

Thu, 13 Nov 1997 20:12:35 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

Picture this if you will…

 

Our lonely traveler, affectionately known as Mr. Memory, after screwing up a pre-arranged rendezvous with some close friends from back home, which he can barely remember (Is there hot water?  From what I’m told, not in my house.  My hot water heater is terminal.  As we say in the Temple, no problem…  Don’t pronounce the “r”.)  ends up walking the streets of this relatively modern city, barraged from all points with this horrible invention of modern technology – the fluorescent lamp.  It’s everywhere, as plentiful as there are Chinese in the streets, and cockroaches in his room.  (Charlie is my hotel room mascot.  He watches everything I do…)  There is no escape from that which plagues him, as he wanders, completely lost, from one street to the next.  Eventually, after a brief visit to Hagen Daaz, he finds his hotel and retreats to the prison of his fluorescent lit ten by fifteen sterile room.  Charlie doesn’t understand the migraine pain, a long lost friend who did not appear all that much in the northern fog encrusted regions of China which he inhabited for so long.  The more north he goes, the more dreary, which is better head weather.  Now, traveling south, to more civilization, and sun, he fears the worst.  But friends are friends, and visiting with them is important.

 

Rest doesn’t alleviate \this overwhelming pressure, so out comes the needles.  Two, with half inch long points, penetrate the temples, to which are attached fine electrical wires.  The other two, with points almost two inches long, penetrate deeply into the back of the lower forearms.  The proper points are readily identified by anatomical landmarks, and are confirmed by the electrical acupuncture device, which measures resistance changes in the skin.  Acupuncture points have lower electrical resistances, due to the increased vascularity and increased amount of nerve endings in these half centimeter areas all over the body.  The lower forearm needles are almost as difficult as sticking the smaller ones into one’s head, but for different reasons: they go deep, almost to the opposite side, in the process spearing and impaling the various tendons that control some of the fingers.  With that done, the electricity is turned up until a tolerable tingling is felt at all sites.  Resting on the bed, with the ever observant Charlie watching intently, probably thinking of all of his friends with similar needles stock in them at museums, our traveler starts feeling a strange fatigue setting in, the head gets very heavy.  Twenty minutes later, the pain is gone.  So is Charlie, thanks to the bottom of a well worn sneaker.  He wasn’t a very good room mate anyway.

 

Welcome to Hong Kong.  Quite the different experience than the overwhelmingly foggy and ethereal Beijing., or the incredibly poor village of Shaolin, and definitely more modern than both.  Toilets that you sit on instead of what was previously used, the “modern” porcelain hole in the ground (which everybody misses…).  Talent is no longer needed to poop.  There are lights everywhere, all of the wrong kind.  Stores, cars, people, who, by the way, do not all look alike anymore.  George Chen was right.  As for the people, one can now tell the difference between men and women by more than the clothing.  In Beijing, women were about twenty and thirty years behind America in fashion, but because of the relative poverty, naughehyde and vinyl was used in place of leather.  It ranged from comical to pitiful absurdity.  Facially, they all are very similar.  It would be crude to say that northern Chinese women, with some exceptions, are, well, ugly.  But, it’s true.  In Hong Kong, where “the most beautiful girls of Asia are to be found”, I’ve yet to be convinced.  But at least clothing wise, they are very attractive to look at, at least to a man that has been surrounded by a hundred bald monks.  Another interesting difference between the China and Hong Kong Chinese women, is that the China ones don’t smoke.  In those regions, women that smoke are predominantly prostitutes, which is an association that most of those women do not want to make.  There is still a lot of old China in China.  Also, women in China don’t  (or at least, aren’t supposed to) spit; a much practiced talent of the men, who also, at least a very large majority, smoke.  Spitting is always accompanied by a large inhalation followed by a rumbling exhalation in which a certain amount of bronchial material is swiftly transported to the mouth.  One would think that sometimes one of these maneuvers is not satisfying enough to the owner, as they occasionally repeat the maneuver, to increase the mass of the future projectile.  I call this the double lugie.  Triple lugies are rare, but are occasionally heard and seen, usually among men in groups.  Double lugies are greatly admired; only real men are capable of double lugies.  And for real shock value, sometimes when they think no one is looking, the women honk up incredible ones, and try to hurl them as far as they can.  Women’s lib hits China.

 

Which brings me to the subject of sputum, something which I have not really gotten into, but something which at least deserves a paragraph or two.  Spitting is widely accepted in China, not so in Hong Kong.  I guess the British looked down upon the practice.  But in China proper, spitting by the men is very acceptable.  Everywhere.  The streets, the supermarkets, the restaurants, the latter of which makes for some very interesting episodes.  It is quite hysterical to watch a waiter carrying a large tray of food slip on a honker of splattered lugies on the floor.  Though it doesn’t have the slip potential of grease, if it is combined with the skin of a duck, it is quite lethal towards making the waiter hit the floor.  He, of course, after realizing that he is no longer standing, makes great haste to right himself and get moving again.  No, not that he’s embarrassed , or that he has to work.  He knows that the floor is a very dangerous place to be one never knows where that next ball of phlegm is going to come from.  Dropping your cloth napkin on the floor requires that you next use the tablecloth to wipe you mouth.  Dropping anything on the floor requires that you deem it forever gone.  The floors in the restaurant have a larger variety of food than the kitchen does.  Yumm. I’m starting to miss it.

 

Hong Kong is like a little New York.  There are two main areas; one, Kowloon, the older part and the more “Chinese”, and two, Hong Kong Island proper, which is far more westernized, and is basically the side that you see in all the postcards.  Lots of high modern buildings behind which rise the mountains.  Quite the site.  Tons of well dressed people.  I no longer fit in wearing jeans, t-shirt, and biker cap.  Well, come to think of it, I didn’t really fit in anywhere else… One thing has improved.  I no longer have to take pictures with all those damn people anymore.  No more touching me, no more following me, no more staring at me.  Well, some do stare here in Hong Kong…

 

It’s becoming ever closer to civilization as I knew it.  However, the combination of all these lights and bright sunlight have taken their toll on me; it’s the second day here and I’ve been blitzed again.  I already miss the relatively pain free visits to the fog, cloud, pollution encrusted darkness of China that I so enjoyed.  Time to get and out those acupuncture needles again.

 


 

 

Subject:
    
China day….NO, Bangkok.  Sex in the city, turmoil in the pool

Date:
    

Wed, 19 Nov 1997 01:21:07 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

 

God what a shithole.  This place reminds me of my bathtub; generally filthy, with some really bad spots, and a few clean ones.  But first, what am I doing here.

 

I’m still trying to figure that one out.  I came to China using years of frequent flyer miles from my AMEX card, first class of course, as anything smaller than a business class seat for big old ugly me for anything more than three hours generally leads to desires of pushing stewardesses away, opening the door, and throwing the usually smelly alcoholic piece of shit sitting next to me, out.  Because this was a last minute kind of thing, to just get up and go to the far side of the world for a month, (talk about being impulsive), I was limited in getting first class seats.  Instead of going to Beijing via Los Angeles, I had to go around the world the other way, via JFK and Amsterdam, a, a trip which took me about five days with the necessary rest tops.  As the stewardesses sometimes keep the indoor fluorescents on high during the flight, I was not looking forward to this, and therefore decided to do it over a five day period.  The problem turned out not to be getting to Beijing, but getting home.  I was limited to Nov 13, and I think Nov 24.  I was flying during high season for China.  As I found out that my friend Bruce and his buddy was going to be in g Hong Kong on the 13, I decided to meet them there, and then find some way to bide my time before y flight home.  Returning to the temple would have been useless, as my master had already left for teaching responsibilities in Europe.  Thus, I took the two hour incredibly cheap flight to Bangkok.  The fact that their economy is in ruins only made the trip more economical.  And if I miss the Nov 24th (?) flight, I’ll probably see you all in January.

 

My first impression was that is was hot, damn hot.  Humid.  Dirty.  With loads of pollution in the air, all which combined to dull the ever constant sun.  Another factor was the burning of nearby Indonesia, the smoke from which is doing one hell of a job on Thailand and Singapore.  (Hong Kong didn’t seem to be affected as badly.  My head lets me know when the sun is bright.  (How many people have that kind of barometer?).  The requisite cab ride from the airport was the usual “let’s drive as fast as I can in this little shit car and see if I can scare the shit out of the American”.  By what must have been divine intervention, I made it to the hotel.

 

Now I must be thankful to my travel agent who put this together at veritably the last minute.  She got me contract rates at these places, and actually found “nice shitholes” when all I had requested were “shitholes”.  (She loves that word now, and with her Chinese accent, she says it in a so very delectable way).  I was quite surprised, because after driving through what could be best described as slums and ghettoes, with people all over the filthy streets, and filthy little cars and filthy little motorbikes, and surprisingly, no little bicycles, we turned into this filthy little alley and came upon this huge hotel.  It ii positioned right next to the river which flows through Bangkok.  It was surprisingly clean (the hotel, not the river), full of German and French tourists (not as clean as the hotel, cleaner than the river), which, as I’ll get to later, became the bane of my existence.  International affairs were soon to go to shit here in Bangkok.

 

It was hot.  You cannot imagine, here in November, where back in New York people are bundled up for the cold, preparing for Christmas, I was here , sweating my balls off.  Hot, miserable, ever constant filth.  What an existence.  I ventured out in to the streets of Bangkok after dark, which in sunny areas still is my best time.

 

The streets are full of vendors selling all sorts of items and food, many of which I just could not identify.  Unlike the streets of Shaolin or Beijing, dogs laid around carefree, without any thought of people going by or stepping on them.  They usually got in the way on these terribly crowded streets, which, dog lover that I am, forced me to occasionally use my leg to gently nudge them the hell out of the way.  I considered using the same technique on some of these very slow moving Thai people, who, at least for the most part, got out of my way if they saw me coming.  (The dogs come in three varieties, white haired mutts, white and brown haired mutts, and losing hair mutts.  The people come in two varieties: small, malnourished and dirty, and clean and just small).  The food vendors sold the usual stuff that I became so amused with throughout China, but to a much larger degree.  Here were the usual deep fried cicadas, giant beetles, pigeons, baby chickens, frogs (which, after a rain storm, swarm over the streets, taking over the area from the usual rats and two inch long cockroaches), fish, (which are not cleaned, just caught and cooked), and a large selection of meats in various shapes and forms (which all probably come from the same donkey).  Pancakes and other breads that I couldn’t eve start to identify were everywhere.  As for the people, well, my expectations were not met by any means.

 

The women of China, as I think I have said before, all kind of look pretty much alike, as do the men, and to a degree, each sex tends to look like the other.  Handsome and beautiful really didn’t come to mind.  (As the almost lone American almost everywhere I went other than Hong Kong, what they thought of me I can’t even imagine…)  Northern and western China, it was all the same.  In Hong Kong, where “the most beautiful girls in Asia” are, I was disappointed.  True, they looked a little better, with more delicate features, and definitely a better sense of more fashionable dressing.  (what they thought of me, Mr. Fashion, in the usual t-shirt and jeans, I’ll never know…) .  But all that I heard in my travels, that the Thailand women were absolutely gorgeous.  Friendly, smiling, incredibly warm people.  Walking the streets at night, mingling with the vendors and all of their Thai shoppers, I was in for quite the surprise.

 

The people kind of look like a mix of Chinese and Indian.  Dark skinned, with somewhat delicate features, and long dark hair, they still have the faces of the Chinese.  No that this combination is unattractive, as I can attest by watching MTV on the tube from India, there are some incredible beauties from that country.  The Thai were all small, delicate dark skinned people, all with a full head of dark black hair.  All around five feet tall, or shorter.  And they don’t sweat.  Not a drop.  In comparison to me, who sweats constantly, with oodles of perspiration accumulating on top of my shiny bald head (it now takes me more time to shave in the morning than it does to brush my teeth), who probably leaves puddles of it on the streets as he walks (much like the nursery rhyme girl with the bread crumbs who was supposed to get eaten by the wolf, or something like that), I guess that I am quite the sight.  I go through a t-shirt every couple of hours.  Fortunately, I can no longer smell myself.  One thing I don’t sense from these people is warmth.  Thankfully, the days of running up and touching me, or taking pictures with me are over.  But at least that was friendly.  No, they just kind of stand on the streets, glance at me, and continue to just hang out.  No talking, no contact of any kind.  The world famous Thai smile, which everyone talks about, is something that I only experienced once.  It was in a restaurant, and it was from a hostess.  Great smile.  But then again, she gets paid to do that.

 

Well, to say there has been no contact with the natives would be wrong; there is one species here that always talks to me.  The cab drivers, who drive these three wheeled motorcycle type thingies with a small bench seat in back, and a cover over the top.  They call them “tuk tuks”.  You have to bend over and hunch into a little ball to fit into it.  I generally take up most of the back, much to the driver’s delight.  It is quite hysterical to see four or five Germans crowd into the back of one of these, especially when it travels at it’s usual rate of speed, which is fast.  Arms, legs, and heads bulge out of the sides of them as they mix in and out of the traffic.  I look forward to the day that one of those Germans falls out.  Oh, but that’s another story…

 

Traffic is yet another story.  We can all thank the British for fucking up southeast Asia with their damn drive on the left rule.  China, as I’ve said before, uses it’s own rules when it comes to driving on the right side of the road.  Hong Kong, which uses the left, tends to follow a much more stringent set of driving rules, much like the US.  At least there, once you get used to where the traffic is coming from , you can anticipate when and where to cross the street.  Not so in Thailand.  Yes, the great traffic evaluator is quite lost here.  They drive on the left, and the right and everywhere they want.  Streets that are two way, left handed driving of course, can, for no apparent reason, become one way, in the same spot.  Then they can become one way, the other way.  Then sometimes return to two way.  This occurs at night quite often, but I also experienced it yesterday, in rush hour traffic, on the way to Kanchana Buri.  The cops utilize this trick to keep traffic going.  The cops, by the way, are much feared, as in China.  But unlike China, they all wear white cotton surgical masks, above which are sunglasses, and above that, is a helmet.  These tiny little officers carry really big guns.  And for same reason, they wear white gloves.  I guess that they don’t want to get blood on their hands.  They are feared here, more so than the Chinese police in China.  The mask, which is a requisite, is probably for the incredibly bad pollution on the roadways.  Many motorcycle riders wear them also.  Crossing the street, not knowing where traffic will come from, with street lights that are generally used but are sometimes ignored, and, the general lack of the bicycle or pedestrian buffer zone, is not really a science; it’s an art form.  One of the other things that I found frightening with respect towards crossing the street is the quality of motorcycle helmets.  In China motorcyclists wore helmets which are very similar to construction hats, but not as well made.  They lack the interior support system of a construction hat; Chinese helmets are just the soft plastic helmet part with a very soft piece of one inch foam glued to the inside top.  Here, real helmets are mixed with the cheap ones.  At least in China, you got the feeling that if you got hit by a motorcycle, you had a good chance of taking the driver with you.

 

The hotel where I am staying has a fifty meter swimming pool which I use every day, generally in the late afternoon when it is getting dark.  Apparently, my German and French tourist comrades have similar ideas, as the Germans, generally overweight in boxer short bathing suits, with their even fatter wives in tents, mingle, but don’t talk to, the skinny little French in their speedos.  Then there is me.  I just kind of mind my own business, and try to finish my daily hundred laps in the pool, in as straight a line as possible.  Well, it’s a huge pool.  (much much bigger than mine at home, and not only that, it has water in it).  Without fail, some German or some Frenchman always has to stand directly in my path, (a path which is no state secret, as I’m doing a hundred laps, all in the same corridor).  The first day I just swam around them.  The second day, after I noticed that more and more were going out of their way in the sometimes near empty pool to get in my way, I just swam into them.  The smarter ones (generally the Germans) learned and eventually just avoided me; the more stupid (generally the French), continued on their macho path of annoying me.  The episodes were eventually resolved when I just stopped swimming, stood up (always in the shallow end, I guess the French don’t like deep water), and glared down at them.  Clad in dark goggles and no hair, I must have been quite the sight.  The skid mark on top of my head must have really done the trick.  It kind of makes me look like Godzilla's nephew.  I was subsequently left alone to do my daily swim.

 

Ah, the skid mark.  Yesterday, Monday I think, after finally getting a map of Bangkok in English, I discovered that one could visit a nearby Japanese POW camp, or the remnants of such, at Kanchana Buri.  If you ever saw “The Bridge over the River Kwai”, this was it.  The day long trip cost me fifty bucks.  The trip was very enjoyable, the bridge was nothing like it was in the movie.  Actually, the POWs in WWII built two bridges, a wooden one (like the one in the movie, but not as high), and a steel one, with Japanese stolen bridge parts from Dutch held Java I think.  The steel one is still there and in use, repaired once after being bombed to bits in 1945 at great expense to the POW’s (the Japanese, in all their wisdom, made the prisoners stand on the bridge when the British bombers approached).  A small portion of the original wooden one still stands.  But a trip to the river Kwai is not complete unless you get into one of these big canoe thingies (sampans?), with a V8 motor strapped to the back.  Straight out from the output shaft is one hell of a long propeller shaft, which propels the thing at great speeds.  My guess is that the Thais and the Vietnamese have yet to figure out the concept of transfer cases and transmissions.

 

The river Kwai is quite the place.  Filthy, hot and humid, it eventually flows into some very pretty mountainous areas.  We traveled part way to these regions, to go to some of the usual tourist places.  One of these was a famous Buddhist cave.  Whether it was a Buddhist cave, or a cave that they stuffed a lot of Buddha's in, I’m not sure.  But it was quite the cave.  Now tourist regions in these areas are nothing like those which we have in America.  Well lit stairs, well excavated cave areas with fenced walkways, signs which show the way, nah, none of that stuff.  This was the land of the little people, and signs, lights, and walkways just didn’t exist.  You had to crawl through this place.  There were many passageways I this Buddha filled cave, all of which fortunately ended up at the same exit.  Light came in sometimes through vent holes in the roof of the cave.  I had to crawl through some of the areas.  The now famous skid mark, which made such an impression on the Frenchman, came about when I was walking through a low area in the cave.  Me, Mr. Observant himself, took quite the hit on the roof of that cave.  I now have this four inch long, one inch wide skid bark and dent on the very top of my scalp.  I’m actually fascinated by it; it would have been more useful to me trying to traverse the crowded streets of Bangkok, had I been looking up when I hit the roof.  These people can’t see the top of my head, let alone the top of my shoulders.  A forehead skid mark would have really completed the picture…

 

My nightly ventures stalking through the streets of Bangkok generally get me really lost, and ultimately get me on the back of one of these death taxis, to take me to a familiar place where I can resume my journey.  Last night, I was in search of the Hard Rock Café, where I had hoped to at least see another American.  I was getting tired of the antics and escapades of the French and Germans.  These European people tend to be a bit too aggressive and obnoxious to me, Mr. Genteel.  I headed off in the general direction of the Hard Rock, using Silom street as my main passage.

 

Well I had thought to be the famous Silom street market a few nights ago was nothing compared to what I had stumbled across last tight; the real Silom market.  For blocks, incandescent and fluorescent lit vending stands, with canvas tops and sides, this monster extended.  Not only along Silom street, but down every street that hit it, much like a brain cancer infiltrates as it grows.  Now what this does to the sidewalk is, well, it obliterates it.  The passageway along these bilateral rows of vending stands, all selling every piece of shit one could imagine and then some, is only two people wide.  The Germans, with their generally huge wives, really do take up some space.  Not only do they block the passageway from future over takers, they kind of sway back and forth, bouncing as a pinball from one vending stand to the other.  Getting past is quite the feat.  Now if you imagine this with hundreds of others doing the same, some sopping to bicker with the poor Thai vendors, it quite literally becomes “fluorescent hell”.  My aggressive tendencies, released after my accident, but which I soon learned to control, became unleashed.

 

Of course she was a German lady, and of course, she was arguing with this poor little Thai vending woman, over what must have been 10 baht (35 baht to the dollar).  Not only that, as she fought with this vendor, she kept swaying back and forth; the people traffic behind me started piling up.  Stuck I this mess, with no way back and now way out to the sides, and despite pleas of “excuse me”, and gentle taps on the shoulder, this little (thank God) German woman was not going to budge.  I lost it.  I grabbed her by the arms, picked her up, and put her to the side, much to the delight of the Thai vendor.  You see, she had gotten a reprieve from the constant verbal abuse; it was now aimed at me.  I continued on, and first chance I got, I got out into the street.  I could take no more of the lights of the people.

 

Walking down Silom street in the street was, well, stupid.  Those tuk-tuks kind of blaze by you, as do some of the cabs.  I could not foresee my returning to the market passage without causing an international incident, so I took the first left that I could.  I planned on walking down a street which paralleled this one.  The block that I ended up on was quite the surprise.

 

Now, if I may digress a bit, the second night that I was here, after discovering from the English map what there was to see, I eventually ended up talking to the hotel guy in charge of limousine service.  I had discussed with him going to the POW camp, and some other places.  As I was incredibly curious about the previously immensely popular sex trade here, I asked him where the red light district was.  This I had to see.  From previous experience, I knew that if it was circled on a map, that I would eventually get terribly lost and not find in anyway.  But, I wanted to at least try.  So I asked him.  In loud not so bad English he asked me “Oh, you want prostitute?”  Well, no, actually I just wanted to look at them.  After that remark, the ten or so Germans, probably the same that I had bumped into in the pool, took a great interest in my conversation with this limo driver, and in me.  Of course, the limo driver continued.  “You don’t want them, they dirty”, which as I took as meaning that they were AIDS infested (statistically, over fifty percent are infected, a fact which causes much consternation with the local population).  “I get you clean one, you room number?”  This was going a little too far, especially since the Germans were now encircling me.  I explained to him that I just wanted to walk around the area and see it, just as I had seen every other shithole place that this city had to offer.  He continued with “No problem, I find you one”.  He and every other cab driver in this city.  They don’t seem to understand that we are smarter than the average bear, and wouldn't dream of touching anything in this country.  (The cab and tuk-tuk drivers all approach you and ask “cab?” followed by “massage?”).  Historically it must have been one hell of a business.  I booked my Kanchana Buri tour and headed towards the center of the city.  I heard “I get you good one” as I walked away.  I didn’t even bother to turn around.

 

Well, I was pretty curious now, and I decided that this was one place that I had to see.  My walks throughout the city had not exposed me to anything but poverty.  Sick malnourished people slept on the streets.  I saw no outward signs of AIDS with the exception of the malnutrition.  But I imagined that this disease had really taken it’s toll on the population of the night that I had seen everywhere on my nightly jaunts.  After getting lost so many times in this city, I eventually gave up on trying to find the red light district.  It wasn’t that important anyway.

 

I was wrong.  It was important.  As I turned off of Silom street to get away from the lights and the people, the street that I chose ended up being the heart of the red light district.  I couldn’t have found this street if I had looked for it.  It was incredibly fascinating; words just won’t do it justice.  Those years of driving a NYC taxi cab, taking the 42nd street prostitutes home early Saturday and Sunday mornings, and the nightly ambulance driving that exposed me to every type of night creature you could imagine, did nothing to prepare me for this.

 

On the right side, as I walked, almost alone, down the center of the street, were all the girls.  “Clubs”, as they are called, with all sorts of sexual innuendo type names that I can’t remember, lined the right side of the street, not only on the ground floor, but all the way up to the fifth and sixth floors.  Girls hung out the windows in various states of dress.  Neon signs were everywhere.  On the left side of the street, were businesses, legitimate ones.  Also on the left side, were all the men, also in various states of clothing.  But they were not “prostitutes”; they were I guess potential customers, or, curious onlookers such as myself.  They sat on the sidewalk on the left side, the girls sat on little chairs all lined up on the right side.  I was in the middle of the street.  I felt like I was at the high school dance I once went to (when I was in high school…).  But it gets better than that.  I soon noticed that the girls were all in evening dresses, very high class types of things.  Very attractive.  These were not your typical Thai women, some of them were just amazingly beautiful.  Yes, beautiful Thai women do exist, they just exist here.  But it gets better.  Each “Club” had it’s own women, or shall I say, young girls, all sitting outside their respective buildings of storefronts.  Each set of girls all wore the same color or type of evening dress, kind of like football teams.  I expected to see large numbers on the girl’s backs.  Unfortunately, none turned away from me, my theory still goes unproven.

 

What I found fascinating, as I walked alone down the middle of the street, being looked at by the male potential customers on the left and the prostitutes on the right, was the fact that neither side was negotiating or meeting.  They just faced off from either line, and I was in “no man’s land”.  No one spoke, no yelling of “massage”, no approaches.  Very silent, very quiet, no action.  Just lots of beautiful young women in their team uniforms, and lots of quiet, scared men.  As I’ve been told, I am probably wrong about the “just men” on the left, and the “just women” on the right.  There are many Thai prostitutes in those dresses that are not women; they are men.  (Hey! What’s that banging into me…?).  Some of the men transvestites and transsexuals are more beautiful that the women from what I’ve been told.  They even have a show, much like Vegas, where they dance and strip and do crazy stuff like that.  (I saw a picture of this crew, and I first thought that it was a female stage show).  Apparently, the gay men, a crowd which is growing in Thailand, infiltrate these massage parlors, probably much to the surprise of the massagee.  No wonder why all those men just sat on the left side of the street.  I continued my journey, and just as I expected, I again got lost in the city.

The following morning, today actually, with time to waste as Bruce and David, (as they were finishing their vacations here), were going to meet me in the afternoon, I went to the pool to do my daily laps.  The pool as well as the pool area, was completely devoid of any sort of human or almost-human life.  It was a joy to have the pool to myself.  But looking back now, it wasn’t as much fun as yesterday…


 

 

Subject:
    
Thailand, almost home

Date:
    

Fri, 21 Nov 1997 23:30:45 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

 

After Bruce and Dave left on Thursday, I, with a few days before my two and a half day journey home, took a one hour flight to Phuket (fuckit for you New Yorkers…) to see what it was all about.  I was time for some “do absolutely nothing” time after some of the rigors of this trip.  I had heard that it was Thailand’s tropical paradise; I was not to be disappointed.

 

It was damn good to get out of Bangkok. Dirty, filthy, incredibly polluted, crowded, with constant traffic jams, and traffic that just didn’t follow any rules of the road, it was just no that much of a pleasure being there.  A few things were entertaining, such as the river boats which were used as “buses” to transport people throughout the city, and the temples, which, though I had seen many on my foray though China, none came close to the beauty of Thailand’s temples.  The have people sleeping in the streets, living in tiny shithole apartments, working two and three jobs, trying to survive, and barely doing so, and they gild gold all over their damn temples.  The things are amazing.  Beggars live in the streets, no doubt some of them riddled with AIDS, and these people have no second thoughts about stepping over them so that they can later stuff money into money boxes inside the temples.

 

Another popular misconception about Thailand is that the people are incredible friendly.  As anyone with any experience with Thai taxi and tuk tuk drivers will tell you, the usual business technique is capitalistic in nature, but more along the lines of “screw the customer now, I’ll never see him again” type of treatment.  Now this doesn’t lead to any sort of confrontation, as Thai people are very non-confrontational by nature.  But it does lead to interesting haggling over prices and fares, with the Thai just leaving if he doesn’t get what he wants.  And once you get into one of these tuk tuks, be prepared to be driven out of your way to some jewelry store.  Ever “customer” a driver brings to these stores gets the driver a gas coupon.  One Thai hand washes the other, the tourist just gets a “bath”.

 

The other popular notion is that of the Thai smile.  Now, this is something that I very rarely experienced, actually, only twice, and both times were at the Sheraton where Bruce and David had stayed.  (I, on the other hand, had stayed in a nice shithole, where the staff probably wasn’t paid as much and therefore were not required to smile at the guests).  In the streets, the same applied; I was pretty much ignored except for the far too occasional stare.  Rarely a young Thai man would come up to me to shake my hand; the reason for such act I have no idea.  The women, apart from the occasional “what the hell is that” look, just avoided me.  None of this made sense until I did a little research.

 

Because of some action by a Thai king one or two centuries ago, the Thai people believe in the notion of superiority and inferiority.  This notion pervades their life and their relationships with others.  Initially, land, the amount thereof that one owned, determined one’s relationship others; those with a lot of land were superior to others with less land. Over time, this has changed to the following: the older you are, the more superior.  (the reason why Thai’s keep track of birth times meticulously)

The more money you have the more superior.  (as evidenced by belongings, clothing, etc)

The taller you are, the more superior.

The King is superior to all, with one exception.

The monks are most superior.

Hair is another signal, it is either short or very long; lack of it is rare, only monks are bald.

Men are superior to women.

Occupation, family, education ,and social connections alter status, the more and better, the more superior.

As a customer in a business relationship, it is felt that you are “buying” status, so the customer is superior.

 

In social situations, Thai’s will start to judge your status, so that they can treat you accordingly.  The language that is used depends upon your status.  As the Thai language has something like 46 consonants, 16 vowels, and 6 or so tones, especially in light of the fact that pronouns, and words like ”you”, “he”, etc all have different Thai words all depending upon what the status of the person being spoken to or of relative to the speaker.  There are 18 different wordings for “I” and “you”, all depending upon the relative status of the person involved.  For those that are considered equal, about eight of those wordings are used’ which one you pick depends upon how closely one feels towards the other person.  If you use a Thai word for “you” for example, that does not properly describe the status of the other, it can be insulting.  The use of this inferior-superior status shit is amazing.  Once the status is defined, the relationship continues.

 

The superior one is other one who buys the meals, defines the extent of the conversation, and is felt to be not wrong.  Thai’s show their respect with the “wai”, which is a position whereby the hands are placed together, fingers up, head bent down.  There are four levels of wai, starting with a low head bent, to one which finds the person offering the wai in the floor, with body bent over, feet underneath, head to the floor.  This last wai is reserved for monks and the king.  Height also plays a role, the most superior is supposed to be on a higher level; thus, in the temples, a platform which is about a foot above the ground, is reserved for monks to pray, all others sit on the floor, with feet underneath them.  Individually, the head is more superior to the feet, the feet being dirty, the head being the best part of the body.  Pointing one’s feet, or raising them up towards the level of the other persons head, or touching another’s head, is an insult.  A superior who performs wai to an inferior, is just mocking them.  When walking on the street, the more superior walks in front, the more inferior walks behind.  An inferior cannot pas a superior on the street; he must walk behind.  Women cannot touch or come near monks, thus, on buses, the back seat is empty and usually left for monks.  They sit in the back largely because it limits the possibility of a woman accidentally touching them.  Only monks have shaven heads.  The king will wai to a monk; everybody else wais the king.  What a system.

 

Not only that, you have to be careful how you respond to an inferior who is waiing you.  A return wai can be insulting as it just mocks the action of the inferior to the superior, as can a “thank you”.  The rules of conduct are actually pretty complicated.  It is best to just nod ones head and smile, just a little.  That gets you through almost all situations without inadvertently adding insult.

 

This actually explains a lot. Me, who whizzes by young and old on the street, bumping into and cutting off people of all sizes, shapes and ages as only an ex New York taxi cab driver can skillfully do, wearing a dirty t shirt and even filthier jeans, taller and larger than all others by at least a factor of two, a “foreigner” who is supposedly more wealthy than most, whose elbow has accidentally bumped into a few heads along the way, who puts his feet up in the tuk tuks (being safer than letting them ride outside…), and whose head is as clean shaven as a newborn baby’s ass, obviously throws them off.  I now know why I don’t get smiles and just get confused stares; it’s not as Bruce says, that they are afraid of me, it’s that they can’t figure out where I fit in the overall scheme of things.  Some of the men have no trouble with the whole thing; all of the women, with the exception of an older probably AIDS infested ex-prostitute living on the streets, who jumped out of nowhere and punched me in the chest, completely avoid me.  I wish the German and French would do the same.  After today, I might as well include Italians.  But that is another story.

 

Which brings me to women.  They are considered to be the “hind legs of the elephant”, necessary for the elephant (the man-wife team) but not necessary to be seen, and always in the background.  In the 1800’s a Thai poet put it all down, advice to women which still holds (a synopsis from a book I read):

“Walk slowly, …do not swing your arms,…do not sway your breasts…do not run your fingers through your hair, and don’t talk…

Don’t stare at anything, particularly men, don’t run after men.

Love and be faithful to your husband.

When your husband goes to bed, wai him every night at his feet without fail, if he has aches and pains, massage him before you go to sleep.

Get up before your husband and prepare water for him to wash.

While your husband is eating, sit and watch him so that when he needs something he doesn’t have to raise his voice.

Wait until he finished before you eat.”

 

You get the idea.  It’s a shame this country is so hot, dirty and humid, I could get used to this…

 

The superior-inferior status thing also applies to driving.  Basically, the bigger the vehicle, the more superior; it therefore has the right of way.  But the converse also applies; if a more superior vehicle ends up damaging another vehicle, such as a car versus a motorcyclist, the car driver will probably end up paying for medical expenses and the like.  Most accidents are settled in the street; payment and responsibility is decided at the scene, and promise to pay is made.  Even fatalities can be settled this way.  The police get involved only if an agreement cannot be reached, or, if some traffic law was seriously broken.  It goes without saying that the road fatalities are pretty high in this country; good driving skills are about as prevalent as the smiles that I was supposed to see.

 

Phuket is pretty nice, with the usual slum areas and poverty throughout, but I spend just about all of my time at the hotel complex.  The hotel I’m staying in is fairly nice, but not the best.  It has its advantages however.  It belongs to a five hotel consortium which all border this large lagoon, which itself is directly behind the 4km beach.  As a guest in any hotel, one can use the other hotel’s services, and just sign it off to your room.  As I am staying next to a five star Sheraton, with one hell of a complex, I sleep at my hotel, and walk to the Sheraton to use the beach, gym, pool, restaurants, etc.  The Sheraton starts at $280 a night for a basic room; for less than a third of that, I have a suite in my shithole.  Given the fact that this has I would guess the typical tropical weather, it is generally cloudy, occasionally overcast, with rain squalls almost daily.  Lots of sleep, swimming, and hanging out away from the sun with some exceptions, and I’m doing well.  Memories of taking cold baths in cold rooms with outside temperatures in the 30’s have rapidly faded away.  And of course, at the Sheraton, my superior-inferior status is without question; I am a “guest”, and I must be smiled at.  Smiled at I am.  If they only knew I was sleeping at the shithole next door…

 

 

 

Subject:
    
Last day; on my way…

Date:
    

Mon, 24 Nov 1997 22:20:17 +0800

From:
    

“Richard F. Russell MD” <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Organization:
    

Critical Care Anesthesiology

To:
    

Bruce Topper MD <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

You can’t imagine how it feels to finally be coming home.  I had kind of gotten to the level of “get me the hell out of here” around three weeks ago, but with scheduled meetings with friends in Hong Kong, and no opportunity to leave when I wanted to, I had to wait it out until today to start the long three day journey home.  A brief summary of Hong Kong and Bangkok is in order.  Both were headaches, literally.  Worth seeing once, not worth returning to.  Now Phuket, off the coast of southern Thailand, is another story.  Shame I only had three days to waste there.

 

It is a typical exotic tropical island type of thing, with constant variations in weather, usually raining more than one could imagine for an hour or two each day, and invariably covered in some sort of slim to dense cloud cover, with exotic dark people running around, usually not really having any sort of clue as to what they’re supposed to be doing, or that you asked them to do.  Perfect place to sleep, swim, eat and do nothing.  Very picturesque, with a very dramatic set of islands (over 160 of them, one of which was the setting for the James Bond “Man with a Golden Gun”, starrng that idiot who replaced the man god…).  My third day was spent doing the tourist thing, going on this boat trip where you paddle these little sea kayaks around the islands, and through caves which lead to lagoons on the island’s inters; all with dramatic and steep limestone cliffs and jungle.  Very nice.  Got too much sun, with the usual results.  The head pressure has been diminishing somewhat since yesterday, but I’m afraid that the tattoo of my sunglasses on my face is going to be there for a while.  Between that and the no hair big ugly American don’t mess with me look, the old routine that I so loved in China started again: “Are you a movie star?, I’ve seen you on TV…?”  How do you say fuck off in Thai?

 

Which brings me to the culture, or at least some little ditties that I’ve noticed and picked up on the way.

 

-It is illegal to import chewing gum into Singapore; a one thousand dollar fine.  But if you are chewing that one piece that you brought in, that’s no problem as long as you’re chewing it when you leave. I have no idea how they check that……

 

-It is illegal to not flush the toilet after you use it.  I don’t know how much, but I know how they enforce it.  There are motion sensors in some of the toilets, hooked to the flush device.  If you leave the stall without pushing the little flush handle, they got you.  In some more lenient areas, the motion detector is hooked to the flush device.  No risk there.

 

-I decided to really risk it, so I chewed gum in Singapore.  No problem, yet…

 

-Any kind of disease is really looked down on in the Asian area.  Singapore, with it’s almost police state like grip on the country, has an interesting outlook on AIDS.  TV ads, on MTV, which is the only close to English I was able to get (it came from India, with Indian actors and Asian music) other than CNN, which is everywhere, advertised about AIDS, and condoms, predominantly.  One ad from Singapore had this guy talking about how he had to sell his house, and how his family is broke and his friends don’t want him, and how he is dying.  He makes some kind of comment about how the authorities don’t care. It ends with the following very start comment: “In Singapore, medical insurance does not cover care for AIDS.”  Pretty blunt.  “Eat shit and die” would have been more compassionate…

 

-You’d think they’d do the same in Thailand, where about 5% of the women engage in prostitution, and a little more than half of them are infected with HIV.  I saw many older ones, and not so old ones, in the streets of Bangkok on my nightly excursions, where I inevitably got lost.  Now, TV commercials from Thailand on MTV talk about AIDS, how bad it is, and that it is caused by “men seeking sex workers…”  Sex workers.  I thought prostitution was illegal here.  The govt blames the tourists, yet takes no action of it’s own against the girls.  When you consider that fact that there are two lotteries, (and two police forces) in Thailand, it gets a bit more clear.  As to the lotteries, the legal one is run by the govt, and is not very popular, and it is not very lucrative.  The other, which is incredibly popular by the people, is run by the police.  Prostitution is heavily influenced by the police.  The force created a new one, called Tourist Police, so that the tourists would have somewhere to go if they were involved in a crime.  Most of the Tourist Police are corrupt, ie, a bribe gets you everywhere, but not as corrupt as the regular police, who solely base their actions on what it gets them.  SOP, in Singapore, you get AIDS, you end up on the street and you die.  In China, you get AIDS , your family ends up on the street with you.  In Thailand, you get AIDS, you get a job in a “club” somewhere, and eventually end up on the streets to punch some poor lost big ugly American an night…

 

What gets scary are things like the following.  There are literally hundreds of these girls, all in their early teens to late twenties  (children are involved also, not from what I saw, but from posters up in the hotels which said “Stop child sex buying”), all being very up front and bold.  They’re like what the bacteria in their urine must be, “too numerous to count”.  Interesting event occurred a week or two ago, when a US aircraft carrier, on it’s way to the Persian Gulf, stopped at Phuket for a port of call.  6000 service men, all in this tiny little town of Patong, another veritable slum shit hole.  The girls must have had a field day.  After the ship left, I was told that you couldn’t see a prostitute for three days…

 

I mainly stayed in the resort complex of five hotels all bordering on a large lagoon and on the beach.  Very Nice, very luxurious, especially compared with what I had been living in and with for the past two months.  I even had hot water on demand.  It was nice to just finally not do anything.  I really enjoyed those three days.

 

Despite a cancelled flight, and a near miss on making a connection for another one, I successfully made it to Singapore, where I am now.  Two more flights, the one’s which were difficult to get onto, and which if I miss, will find me here for god knows how much longer, and then one flight from JFK to home.  Can’t miss that one either, this being the busiest flying week of the year.  It’s going to be a long two more days.  But I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.  I should be home Wednesday.

 

Talk to you sometime soon.

 

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