Thursday, October 18, 2012

Into the Magnet . . .

It's been one of "those" weeks.  The entire world's weight is stacked on my shoulders in concrete blocks, I'm juggling twenty things that all happen to be on fire, and all I really want some nights is just to curl up and have a good cry.  Everything always seems to fall due at the same time.  People choose the same weeks to be undependable, or to guilt me into taking on extra work.  It's like bad weeks are a magnet that collect chaos and stress unto themselves.

My flu is finally gone, although the cough is still lingering a bit.  It left quite the path of destruction in its wake, as I was incapable of accomplishing anything for a full two weeks.  It's good to have my health back, but I feel like all that piled-up work has just body-slammed me to the floor.  I started trying to pick up some of my old "releases" again:  started planning a new story, got out the jewelry supplies, bought a bike, even tried to find a new novel to hold my attention.  But, honestly, I think my usual stress relievers really just added more.  My mind is devoid of inspiration for writing or crafting, I need to buy a lock before I can use the bike, and the books I started all frustrated me with tedious plots that simply could not captivate me.  What I really want, even need, is the wet nose of a dog pressed up against me.  But that will have to wait.

I don't want to give the impression that life is dreadful, or that I regret being here.  It isn't that way at all.  I have found that when life goes well here or when it goes poorly, it all seems to clump together - one thing piled onto like thing piled onto another mirror image of the thing before it.  I think back to when I was a child and used to enjoy scooping up pins, thumbtacks, and such with a large magnet my mother gave me.  The entire magnet would be so covered in the silvery-colored metal objects that its blue hue was quite hidden to the eye.  That's life here, expressed in one image.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever . . . Torture a Flu?

I had big plans for my week off (October Holiday, a lovely Chinese creation):  I was going to climb a mountain with friends, get all of my grading done, spend some time with a few friends, and, naturally, take a ton of extra Chinese lessons.  In short, it was going to be the perfect week.  I even planned out a special help session for my sophomores, just because I thoroughly enjoy spending time with the rather nutty creatures.

And then the flu happened.

On the very first Saturday of the break, I climbed the mountain as planned.  As a cheery group of Chinese and Westerners, we took on Fu Shan, a rather pretty and pleasantly small mountain near my home.  We had an utterly glorious day for it: perfect blue sky, cool air, invigorating-without-overpowering wind.  And, I only fell . . . well, I think 5-6 times (the first time was within seconds of boasting loudly about not falling, of course).  But no real injuries other than a few cuts!

We ate a picnic lunch together up there, then split up, with a few of us going down one way and a few choosing the opposite way.  My group of 6 paused for a bit, under a canopy of Buddhist decorations (Hannah called this spiritual warfare), to sing a hymn together in two languages simultaneously (I LOVE doing that with Chinese friends) and then to pray together . . . simply beautiful.  After climbing down, I had the chance to do something I have always wanted to do:  I drank water straight from an old, deep mountain well.  A very sweet group of locals filled our water bottles for us from the well, laughed at how thirsty I was, gave me a refill, and then complimented me on my Chinese.  I came home exhausted, but merry.

Really exhausted, actually.  I took a nap — something I very seldom do — and when I woke up, I noticed that my throat was starting to really hurt.  I chalked it up to a day of mountain climbing, then joined a friend for a massage and dinner . . . I got to eat donkey meat soup for the first time.  Surprisingly delicious, and now I can mark another hooved animal off the list of those few remaining that I have not eaten.  By the end of dinner, my sinuses were starting to feel heavy and full.  By the time I got home, the fever had arrived:  102°.  I made my way steadily up to 103° the next day . . . and except for a few isolated times, spent most of the next week in bed, weak as a newborn calf.  My body ached as though a tank had rolled over me a few dozen times.

By Wednesday, I was enjoying the added features of vomiting and nausea with rampant dizziness.  The fever enjoyed our time together so well that it stuck around for a week.  I eyed my dying plants that I keep forgetting to water with marked envy — at least their suffering only consists of dehydration.  I kept mechanically trying to get grading or lesson-planning done . . . but the words would start spinning on the page within minutes, and my fuzzy head just couldn't take it.  I found that doses of The Mentalist were about all that my fevered brain could focus on.  I survived mostly on crackers, cough syrup, NyQuil, Chinese cold medicine, Halls cough drops, and Sprite.  Definitely not my diet of choice.

On Monday, after more than a week of flu, school resumed.  That first day just about killed me — I honestly have no idea where I found the strength to stay on my feet.  Since my flu seemed so pleased about taking up residence in my body and showed no particular inclination to leave, I named him Irving and contemplated enrolling him as a student at our school.  My concerned Chinese teacher and adopted older sister, Maggie, insisted on taking me out for traditional Chinese medical treatment after school.  In other words, she wished to torture me.

The treatment consisted of this:
  • Step 1:  The woman who treated me gave me a very hard pressure point massage, using some special type of salve.  Maggie explained to me that the massage has the same principals behind it as acupuncture.  It felt as though my neck and back were some stubborn bread dough that was being kneaded by an angry Soviet housewife.
  • Step 2:  Using an animal bone, my neck and back were scraped with great diligence and pressure.  Known as 刮痧, this treatment, quite frankly, hurt like hell.  I felt like a deer being field-dressed.
  • Step 3:  Using fire (held scarily close to my bare skin), the woman burnt the oxygen out of a glass, then suctioned it to my back and moved it, with super-human pressure, up and down repeatedly. Then repeated. And repeated. And repeated.  Known as 推罐, this treatment put me in the appropriate frame of mind to sell out my country.  I offered to share state secrets, but unfortunately could think of none, other than that the president is a fool (which Maggie and the other three Chinese people in the room all already knew).
  • Step 4:  The woman treating me took what is called a plum blossom needle — a delightfully sinister contraption with nine super sharp needles — and, quite literally, beat my back with it.  Maggie graciously explained the technique to me, but I was too distracted with whimpering to hear her explanation.  After about fifteen blows, the woman (and witnesses) were satisfied.
  • Step 5:  Once again, the oxygen was burnt out of glass jars, which were then suctioned to the now-bleeding areas on my back:  拔罐.  I soon resembled a feverish glass-backed turtle (as Maggie gleefully observed . . . she does claim to love me).  The jars syphoned out blood that, my practitioner informed me, was "bad".  Feeling more than a little bit like a medieval plague victim, I lay still on the bed with the jars in place for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Step 6:  After the glasses were removed (each giving a rather satisfying ploop! as it came off), I received a harsh rubdown/massage with a rough towel.  I was slightly startled to observe the amount of my blood that now stained the sheets . . . and slightly lightheaded as well.
  • Step 7:  Hygiene first!  The woman sprayed my entire back with alcohol.  She then stepped back and declared, “好的!"
My back, after the first day of treatment, was quite picturesque . . . I like to think that I resembled either a chemical warfare victim or the loser of an intense bar fight:
Yes, it was painful . . . very, very, very painful!
I had a harrowing experience on the way home:  I discovered the dead body of a person laying amidst some trash.  For a horrifying, dreadful five minutes, I frantically thought through my options.  Check for a pulse?  Run for help?  Phone someone?  Scream?  Since China has no Good Samaritan laws, I panicked that I might somehow be held responsible for the death, whilst simultaneously feeling extreme guilt for my own selfish self-preservation and grief for the human life cut short.  Was it natural causes?  Was it murder?  What if the murderer was still there, lurking in those dark bushes, waiting to cut my own life short . . . you can well imagine my slightly hysterical relieved laughter when I discovered that my dead human body was actually a few ill-positioned bags of trash.  Apparently, The Mentalist and fever should not be coupled together for prolonged periods of time.

On Tuesday, Maggie took me back for another round of the same treatment on my back, and my front and upper arms as well.  Although I at one point begged Maggie to mercy-kill me, I did appreciate getting to miss a meeting.  推罐 and 拔罐 over my breastbone felt as though ravenous demons were tearing into me and sucking the breath from my quivering body . . . Maggie found the imagery amusing (although she did sympathetically pat my head through it all).  On the way home, I had a violent nosebleed that thoroughly terrified about three dozen Chinese people.  It startled me a bit as well — I wasn't sure how much more blood my body could afford to lose!

On Wednesday, Maggie took me in for the third and (thank God) final treatment.  On the way there, she amused herself by making me tell a story in Chinese to the entire bus full of Chinese coworkers . . . I promptly began my story by informing them, in Chinese, that I have a sadistic teacher who enjoys torturing me.  The entire bus applauded.  (Although a bit embarrassed, I was flattered when Maggie explained later that she just wanted to show off her student.)  The final treatment had me writhing in agony on the bed — Maggie cheerily observed that I quite resembled a worm.  Indeed, I did feel rather like a smashed one there at the end.

I have this to say about all the torture, however; it did actually bring about a turning point in my flu.  Maggie gave me a very thorough explanation of the entire process and theory/history behind it, but I have my own theory on why traditional Chinese medical treatments actually work.  I believe that the flu, observing the lengths of torture that you are willing to undergo in order to purge it from your body, becomes so terrified that it packs up its bags and flees.  Irving, being my own tailor-made flu, is, naturally, quite clumsy, so he keeps tripping on his way out.  Thus, I still am left with the emphysemic sailor cough, exhaustion, gnawing headache, and a bit of physical weakness.  Other than that, I am definitely getting better, little by little.  Today I cheered to see the first non-colorful drainage from my sinuses.

Ah, China.  Land of new experiences and new knowledge.

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"