Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chang'an and the Terra Cotta Warriors

Tomorrow, around 11 PM, I will board a train in Changchun and sit down in the hard seats for thirty hours to travel into China's interior and ancient capital city, Xi'an. Xi'an (西安) is the capital of the Shaanxi province, and a sub-provincial city in the People's Republic of China. One of the oldest cities in China, with more than 3,100 years of history, the city was known as Chang'an before the Ming Dynasty. Xi'an is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. Xi'an is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army. It has a vibrant Muslim quarter and their cuisine, though heavy on wheat products, is famous across China.

As you may recall, I am reading Journey to the West. It is set in Chang'an, in part.

Look for more updates and some pictures of my own in the days to come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vacation Day 1: Sculpture Park

My summer vacation is three weeks long and began yesterday with a visit to the Changchun Sculpture Park. Seventy sculptors are here to install seventy new sculptures. I saw a bunch of them the other night at a local ex-pat hangout called Grampas. There is a man from Georgia who looks a tad like Ernest Hemingway; a fellow from Antigua, who does not look at all like Hemingway; and, yesterday in the park, we ran into one from Finland, who was quite the character. "Antero Toikka," he said, handing me his card. He had an interpreter with him who just graduated from college and will go to the United States for further study.

Crisp Autumn by a sculptor from Shenyang, China, where my qin ai de was born. We took a nap beside her in the 90-degree heat.

Lotus leaves.

Black-eyed Susan's are my mother's favorite flowers.

There were numerous couples dressed to the nines in the sweltering heat to have their picture taken.

The Hunchback of Changchun sits on a rock and meditates.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Like father like son

My father, God bless him, may cry in the marital bedroom, but the only times I have seen him cry have been in the movies. In 1985, the family traipsed to see Natty Gann and that was the first and one of the only times I have seen him weep. Like father like son.

Tonight, in the privacy of my own bedroom, I started uncontrollably crying about ten minutes into the film and cried five or six more times throughout the movie. Lew Feldstein commended the movie prior to my departure. Others have since recommended it. Finally, I got myself a copy yesterday and last evening, after two hours at a tea house with my qin ai de, and an hour of walking her home, I took a cab home and settled down to watch the flick.

Mao's Last Dancer is "a drama based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. At the age of 11, Li was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao's cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet."

If you want to see something beautiful and learn about the complexities of inter-cultural relationships, this is a must-see.

Cupping or 杯吸法

Any Westerner who has wandered the streets of China in the summer time is sure to have shared some of the disgust that I have for the many men here who walk about the streets with their shirts rolled up to their midriff. Half nudity at the dining table in a restaurant is very common and, I am told though I am not convinced, increasingly regarded by Chinese as "common." The practicality of this in the hot, humid summer occurs, but our Ashcroftian sensibility kicks in and we talk about it.

There is a contingent of foreigners here--mostly old men, some of whom have married Chinese women--who love to spend their evenings drinking and complaining about the people whose country they are visiting. In certain environments, it is impossible to avoid such banter. I smile and nod, but if the topic rolls around to the half-naked men in this city, I concur vociferously. The only thing more disgusting and, in fact, terrifying is the people who wander around the streets with big circles on their back. I, although I will keep a shirt on, have transformed myself into just such a frightening specter.

Cupping is the use of suction cups to remove impure energy from the body. It involves lighting a match in a small, rounded "cup" made of glass, bamboo or pottery, and then removing it quickly and applying the cup to the skin.  The flame creates a vacuum and the cup sticks tightly to the skin. Drawing up the skin is believed to open up the skin’s pores, which helps to stimulate the flow of blood, balances and realigns the flow of Qi, breaks up obstructions, and creates an avenue for toxins to be drawn out of the body. (Source: Cave Creek Spa)

Traditionally, Cupping Therapy has been practiced in most cultures in one form or another. In the UK the practice of Cupping Therapy also dates back a long way with one of the leading medical journals ‘The Lancet' being named after this practice. A lancet is a piece of surgical equipment that was traditionally utilised to release excess blood i.e. venesection and to prick boils. The Arabic name for Cupping Therapy is Al-Hejamah which means to reduce in size i.e. to return the body back to its natural state. The practice of Al-Hejamah has been part of Middle-Eastern cultural practice for thousands of years with citations dating back to the time of Hippocrates (400 BC). Of the western world, the first to embrace Cupping Therapy were the ancient Egyptians, and the oldest recorded medical textbook, Ebers Papyrus, written in approximately 1550 BC in Egypt mentions cupping (Curtis, 2005).  (The Int'l Journal of Alternative Medicine)

While I do not need to share here, until I decide to run for President, the various ailments that disrupt and affect my daily existence, one is anterior knee pain. In the seventh grade, I tore the right anterior meniscus and had 30% of the cartilage removed. It has largely behaved itself since then...that is, until April when I futilely chased down a taxi that had my wallet inside. Since then it has been wobbly and painful from time to time. To my great surprise, a group of scientists have published an article:

An investigation into the effect of Cupping Therapy as a treatment for Anterior Knee Pain and its potential role in Health Promotion

I only had the cups applied to my back following the Cave Creek Spa technique described previously so my knee is unlikely to see any marked improvement, but if other ailments subside or transform positively, I am not afraid to tattoo myself with bloody circles any more. For now, I am still content to keep my shirt on and provide peep shows to my friends, if they inquire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Counterpoint: Debunking Myths About China

by Eric X. Li (I.H.T. Op-Ed Contributor)

The Chinese Communist Party has been running the largest country in the world for 62 years. How has it done?

We all know the facts: In 1949 when the Communist Party took over, China had been mired in civil wars and dismembered by foreign aggressions; its people had suffered widespread famine; average life-expectancy was a mere 41 years. Today, it is the second largest economy in the world, a great power with global influence, and its people live in increasing prosperity; average life expectancy has reached 74 years.

But the assessment has to go deeper than that, for reasons none other than the apparent discomfort, if not outright disapproval, Western political and intellectual elites feel toward the Communist Party’s leadership. Five misconceptions dominate the Western media’s discourse on China. These misunderstandings need to be debunked by realities.

Read the whole article.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Weather in Changchun

I follow the weather in Concord, NH, and Changchun, Jilin, pretty closely. I am always amazed by how closely one tracks the other. Changchun is inland and slightly further north.

This week things do not look the same. Here is today's unfortunate prediction:

Harper Lee's Index

Harper's Index is a famous index. Harper Lee is the famous author of To Kill a Mockingbird. My last name is Lee. This is Harper Lee's Index:

No. of firearm-related homicides in 2007: 12,632
Expert estimates of state executions in China: 10,000 to 15,000 inmates per year
No. of executions since 1974 in the USA: 1,234
China's population: 1.3 billion
US population: 350 million
Estimated average number of cars for every 1,000 people (US): 800
Estimated average number of cars for every 1,000 people (PRC): 20
No. of people killed on China's roads in 2006: More than 89,000
Approximate auto accident deaths per year (US): 47,000