Friday, January 30, 2009

A Country Wedding

Lynne, Teresa and friends with bride and groom in the front yard of Biying's home

Family members and friends with bride and groom in front of Biying's home

What seemed like a lifetime’s worth of adventures in Hong Kong and China had only taken ten days, and we still had two weeks before the end of winter break. So we attended a church training with materials in English and Chinese. We were again encouraged by how much we could understand, and we were even able to pick out a few errors in the translation from English into Chinese. The training lasted a week; everyone who was attending the bilingual sessions moved into a church meeting center in downtown Taipei. Fortunately, Lynne and I were more accustomed to crowded living conditions because the students were crammed six to a bedroom with people sleeping on the living room floors of the apartments, as well. Showers were scheduled at 3 minute intervals during all break times, and if you missed your minutes, you had to wait for the next day. By that time, we had found a laundromat, so we skipped doing laundry for a week and did several huge loads of washing at the end. It was more than worth the expense.

One of our housemates had to return to her home in a remote rural district of southern Taiwan for her brother’s wedding, and she decided to take as many of us as wanted to go. In the end, five of our housemates went along for the fun. We had to arrive a few days early because our friend needed to help prepare for the wedding. We took the train from Taipei to the southern city of Tainan. Then we transferred to a provincial bus from Tainan to the town of Madou. Madou was very small to our eyes, but it was a veritable metropolis compared to our final destination. In Madou, we changed from the comparatively modern, provincial bus to the shaky rattletrap that passed for local public transportation. The roads got narrower and bumpier, and we finally got off in the middle of rice paddies and fields. We lugged our suitcases and walked along a gravel track for another twenty minutes before arriving in a village of fewer than twenty houses. This was our housemate Biying’s hometown.

There was a Tudigong temple, a country general store, and houses among the rice paddies. The people across the street from Biying’s home owned a pig farm. It was noisy and smelly, but their house was very modern. Biying’s family lived in a Japanese-style wooden home. When you walked in the door, you stood in the sunken living room that was paved with concrete. There were regular chairs in this room. Steps went up to a waist-high level walkway around the living room, which was covered with tatami mats, and each wall off this corridor was a sliding door to a bedroom. There were no beds. Everyone grabbed a quilt and a pillow at night and rolled up in a spot on the tatami floor. There was a very strict rule of no shoes on the tatamis. The kitchen and bathroom were at the back of the house on another lower level paved with concrete. There were rows of flip-flops at the stairs off the tatamis to the back because all the street shoes were lined up near the stairs off the tatamis to the front. For the two nights before the wedding, we all slept in what was soon to be the bridal chamber. Lynne and I didn’t know how to help with most of the chores, but we were able to sweep the yard and hang up some decorative banners. Biying and the other girls did a lot of work getting ready. Our last act on the morning of the wedding was to pack up all our clothes and move across the street to the neighbors with the pig farm. We spent our last night there because the bride and groom had taken over the former guest room.

As far as we could tell, there was not much ceremony to the wedding. The groom and his best man drove off in a decorated limo to pick up the bride. As the bridal limo entered the village, one of Biying’s other brothers set off a big roll of fire crackers. The groom brought the bride into his home and formally introduced her to his parents. They burned incense to his ancestors together, and he took her into the bridal chamber to change clothes. Then all the guests ate a 15 course feast at tables under a tent in the yard. The bride and groom came out and toasted the guests at each table. Each time the bride appeared she was wearing a different dress. After people finished eating, they took pictures with the bride and groom. When everyone was done with the feast, the bride and groom stood at the gate with candy for the women and children and cigarettes for the men. At each stage of the wedding, someone lit off another roll of firecrackers. The bride and groom disappeared into their bridal chamber, and we began to help clean up the leftover food with all the women of the village. There were tons of leftovers, so each woman took home several plastic bags full of food.

Early the next morning the new bride was out before 6 am sweeping up all the paper from the firecrackers that littered the road in front of her new home. I asked if they were going to go on a honeymoon, but no one seemed to understand that concept. The bride was expected to show how hard-working she was. First thing in the morning, she had to bring tea and breakfast to her new in-laws. Biying said that on the third day, her brother would take his new wife back to her mother’s house for a formal visit. Three months into the marriage, they would take their “wedding trip” to Southeast Asia if the bride wasn’t pregnant.

When we were staying in the village, I got a taste of what Lynne went through all the time, even in Taipei. No one in the village had seen a foreigner except on TV. People came up and poked me, pawed my hair, and touched my skin as I was walking down the street. Lynne was much taller than I, so as long as she was standing up, people couldn’t reach her afro. I was short enough that everyone could touch my hair. They kept saying I was a porcelain doll. Unfortunately, I have more nerve endings than a porcelain doll.

Aside from being objects (in the most literal sense of the word) of general interest, we had a wonderful time in the country. Southern Taiwan is in the Torrid Zone, and it was much warmer than in Taipei. The air was clean, and it was very quiet, especially at night. We had been kept awake in Taipei by the noise, and now we couldn’t sleep in the country because it was too quiet.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year


You will notice that I am starting to disguise some people’s names on my blog. The reason is that after I posted the first of my pieces on Bible Running in mainland China, I became aware of how dangerous blogging can be in China. My mother gave me a copy of this article from the LA Times about how teachers killed a student because his father had posted articles critical of the government on the internet.

While I do not think that my innocent story of being tailed in China in 1983 is offensive, I am a little worried about how it might be taken in China if it comes to the attention of the authorities. This is not impossible because at least one of my followers accesses the internet through Yahoo China. I have read a number of recent news articles and blog posts about new Chinese technology for finding “objectionable” internet material like the one at the link below.

I have lost contact with a number of my friends from Taiwan, but since I know that many Taiwanese do business in China I am being very careful not to put anything on my blog that might inadvertently harm someone. I would hate it if someone I knew 25 years ago got in trouble today just because I told an old story about something I did when I was young and foolish, something that was entirely unrelated to them. So from now on, I am only showing face pictures of people who do not go to China often unless they have US citizenship. If I am not sure what someone is doing now, I am keeping them as private as I can.

On another note, the Global Online Freedom Act has been introduced in Congress annually for several years now, but it never makes it out of committee. Most of us Americans are so used to having freedom of speech that we have a hard time wrapping our minds around the idea that careless words can result in the death and / or imprisonment of others. Here is a link to the text of the 2008 version of the bill. I am new to blogging and don’t really know how to harness the power of the blogosphere, but if you read this and it strikes a chord, please pass it on. One of my Chinese friends, who works for human rights in China and online freedom of expression, was told by a human rights attorney that he should not expect the Global Online Freedom Act to be introduced in Congress this year because America will not want to offend China during the global economic crisis. I was quite happy to see that our new administration stopped using torture and ordered the Guantanamo prison camp closed before even trying to touch the economy. I would hope America will do what is right with regard to this issue, even it if it is not what is expedient.
If you haven't read Part Two of my Bible Running story, keep scrolling down. I made two posts today because I felt this disclaimer was important.

Bible Running, Part Two

Teresa in the lobby of the Far Eastern Hotel (a good place for clandestine activities)

Rebecca, an English teacher in Beijing who hung out with us for a few days

The next morning the tour group had a traditional dim sum breakfast in a picturesque garden restaurant. The food was really delicious, and this was supposed to be a leisurely time for us to say good-bye to our tour friends, but all Lynne and I could think of was how we had wasted our church friends’ money by losing the Bibles. Our guide had told us that all contraband was burned by customs officials once a week. We were too mad and upset with ourselves to eat anything or make farewell speeches. We finally cajoled the guide into getting us a taxi back to the waterfront so we could redeem our bags of Bibles and take them back to Hong Kong. He wrote a paper with the pier name on one side, marked 1, and the railroad station on the other side, marked 2. We got to the harbor without any problem and redeemed the Bibles very easily. Then as we were trying to get a taxi back to the railway station, we learned that some high-ranking cadre was arriving at the harbor and all roads had been sealed off for several blocks. We lugged our very heavy duffel bags of books out to a road where traffic was flowing. Then we had trouble finding a cab that would take “foreigners’ scrip.” In 1983, foreigners used a different kind of money in China than overseas Chinese and natives used. Only cabs licensed to take scrip could pick up obviously foreign people. We finally found a cabby who had connections on the black market and who was very happy to take us to the train station. We only had 20 minutes before we needed to board the train, but he assured us he could make it in 15.

We were relieved because we didn’t want to get our tour guide in trouble. But just as the cabby put the pedal to the metal, the crowded bus in front of our taxi hit a bicyclist who was carting 20 cages of chickens to market. All traffic stopped in both directions as bus driver, passengers, passers-by, cyclists, and drivers of all the nearby cars poured into the road to chase the chickens and grab free food for dinner. It was bedlam. No traffic moved for at least 25 minutes. By that time our train had gone. Our driver got us to the station as fast as he could and dropped us off at the wrong end of the depot. We had to push our way through hordes of people waiting for trains until we found our tour guide sitting dejectedly on our suitcases at the edge of our platform. He was quite relieved that we had not disappeared into China with our contraband. He was even more relieved to learn that we had reservations at another hotel that evening, and he was thrilled to learn we had a flight out in three more days because Guangzhou was literally full to the bursting. If we had not had those reservations, he did not know what to do. He hugged us and thanked us. We gave him the difference in cab fare between foreigners’ rates and black market rates as a tip, and he was even more ecstatic when we added a couple of our precious US dollars. He personally escorted us to our new hotel and helped us get checked in before he said good-bye.

The bell-hop took us to our room, where we dumped our bags before running out to go exploring. We were so relieved to not have to look over our shoulders any more. We visited a huge park in the middle of Guangzhou and wandered the streets around our hotel. We went back to the hotel about 4 pm, and as we were walking in the door, we met the wife of the Hong Kong man who had sold us the Bibles. When we did not get off that train in Hong Kong, and when the guys from the previous evening contacted our hosts, a lot of people got very worried. The woman’s parents lived in Guangzhou, and she had a special pass allowing her to drive between Hong Kong and Guangzhou to visit them because her father had a terminal illness. She was so relieved to see us. She walked with us to see our room, but she wouldn’t let us discuss the Bibles inside just in case the room was bugged. She asked us to walk her to her car, and out in the middle of the parking lot, she told us to meet her for dinner in the hotel restaurant at 7:30. In the meantime, we were to break the customs locks off the bags, smash them, and flush them down the toilet. Then we would sit in the garden courtyard outside the restaurant with our bags on the ground behind the bench. She would arrive late, and we would “forget” the bags in the courtyard. After we walked into the restaurant, people would take our seats on the bench, pick up the bags, and take them to Christians who would distribute the books. We were quite relieved that after all our near misses we were not going to have to pass out Bibles in the parks as we had originally thought we would. Our DC friends had heard that American and Australian Christians in the mid-70’s had entered China with Bibles and been able to give them to whomever they pleased. But that was not the case in 1983.

Our remaining free days in Guangzhou passed without incident. We really enjoyed exploring and revisiting some of the places that we had rushed through on our tour. We met a woman who was in China as an ESL teacher at a college in Beijing. She helped us get into places that were not normally open to foreigners because she had a resident specialist pass and could go to places reserved for Chinese citizens and overseas Chinese visitors. Those places were not as expensive and definitely not as nice as the places we had seen on the tour. On the third day, we took a plane back to Hong Kong, where we spent one more day before returning safely to Taiwan.

We were not entirely done with espionage, however. Taiwanese intelligence agents had learned that we were returning after spending six days in mainland China without coming out when expected. They came and questioned the deacons at church and our teachers at school. Fortunately, there were a number of retired soldiers and government officials at church who vouched for us. After school started, my teacher made all her students give a speech on “What I did Over Winter Vacation.” When I told her about smuggling Bibles into Communist China, she questioned me carefully to be sure I was not engaged in espionage. Then she vouched for me with Taiwan Intelligence in glowing terms and told Lynne’s teacher to vouch for her. I was surprised to learn that Taiwan was not as free as I had thought. In 1983 Taiwan was still under martial law, and there was only one political party. We had been warned in America never to discuss politics with our Taiwanese friends, and we finally learned the reason for this warning. In those days, not even “free” Taiwan was really free.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Picture Collage: Guangdong Province, China, 1983

Guangzhou Street Scenes (Left)
Lake in Guangzhou Park (Below)

Soldiers at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial (above)
Worker at a Silk Factory, Guangzhou (below)

Propaganda Billboard Encouraging Everyone to Build a Strong Country with Socialism

Pandas at Guangzhou Zoo (above)
Old Men at Guangzhou Park (right)

Worker at Jade Factory, Guangzhou
Ram Statue in Guangzhou Park

Temple at Foshan (below)

Farmer at Well in Nanhai Commune between Guangzhou and Foshan

Village at Nanhai Commune

Fields at Nanhai Commune

Demonstration of Two-handed Calligraphy, Foshan, China

Finished Calligraphy Product

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bible Running, Part One

Mainland China, 1983

Year of the Boar Decorations, Guangzhou, 1983

Chinese New Year Decorations, Foshan Hotel, 1983

The third day of the Chinese New Year dawned in Hong Kong, and Lynne and I took our heavily laden bags to meet up with our tour. We entered Guangdong Province by taking a boat up the Pearl River. When we disembarked in Guangzhou, we immediately went through customs. All our Chinese Bibles were confiscated, and we were probably scolded very soundly. The customs officers were very vehement about whatever they were saying, but they seemed to be speaking Cantonese, so we didn’t understand a word. They put all our Bibles into two duffle bags and gave us receipts for them. The receipts said we could get our belongings back for $1 US on the day we left the country. We were shaken up to have been caught and scolded at the border, but we smiled and thanked the officials.

Then we spent three whirlwind days touring with our group. We ate at the best restaurants, visited the newly developing Shenzhen Special Economic Development Zone, and went to a silk factory, a jade factory, a collective farm, a village, and parks and other places. Our tour was for three days and two nights. The first night we were in the town of Foshan. It was out in the country, and the only entertainment at night was watching Cantonese opera on the one TV in the lobby of the hotel or walking down to the Friendship Souvenir Department Store where the locals could watch us shop. Lynne was probably the only black person a lot of Chinese people had ever seen in person, and she was tired of getting stared at. To avoid more staring, we just sat in the hotel lobby watching the opera on TV. Eventually, we were the only Americans in the lobby, and our plan backfired because the hotel staff came up from behind and began poking Lynne’s afro. That was worse for her than being stared at, so we decided to catch up with the rest of the tour group at the Friendship Store.

We dashed out of the hotel in such a rush that we went the wrong way and couldn’t find the one road with street lights. We wandered through dark lanes trying to find our hotel or our group, when two police officers loomed out in front of us at the end of a dark alley. We were quite frightened and turned around as fast as we could. The officers herded us all the way to the department store, and then spoke sharply to our guide. The guide lectured us in our room when we got back to the hotel. He told us that since we had a bad record from entering the country with contraband, we needed to be very careful always to stay in sight of him, or something might happen to us. It was a very frightening experience, and we had not been sure we were going to make it out of those dark lanes and alleys.

The next day we stuck to our tour guide like glue. He wasn’t a bad guy, and I don’t think he enjoyed threatening us. He was not a native Cantonese speaker, so we tried speaking some Mandarin to him. We let him know that we were studying Chinese, which was why we had come to China for Chinese New Year. He was flattered, and everything seemed better until that night at our five-star hotel in Guangzhou. As our group was checking in, we ran into some guys who were friends of our Hong Kong hosts. They asked us to coffee and dessert in the lobby during our free time that night. Our group went out to a huge banquet and yet another shopping opportunity. We returned to our rooms at 9:30 with instructions to get packed because we would have an early start the next day. Since Lynne and I had empty luggage without the Bibles, we really didn’t have anything to pack. Our friends from Hong Kong called up to our room a little before 10, and we told them we would be down in a minute. As we were walking out of our room, our tour guide came running up to us, asking where we were going. We said that some guys we had met at the Chinese New Year festivities in Hong Kong were in the lobby waiting to have coffee and dessert with us. We told him we were poor students with no money, so we had no souvenirs to pack, and we were not used to going to bed before 11:00 at night. The tour guide turned to the female security guard who sat with a male compatriot at a security desk by the elevator on our floor. They spoke rapidly for several moments, and the upshot was that the matron escorted us down to the lobby and chaperoned our visit with the men from Hong Kong. She was nice enough to sit two tables away from us at the coffee shop. The guys from Hong Kong were a little freaked out. They had never experienced anything like this. We were scared, too. We asked the guys to phone our Hong Kong hosts and let them know that we had been caught with contraband and were now under surveillance. They promised to do that when they got back to Hong Kong the next morning. The dessert cakes were dry, and the coffee was watery, so we only spent about 30 minutes with our friends. We went back up to our room trailing our duenna behind us. She followed us to our room and waited outside the door until we had latched ourselves in.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chinese New Year Break: Hong Kong 1983

Lynne Phoning Home at our Hong Kong hosts' Apartment (In Taiwan at that time, we had to go to the Telephone and Telegraph Office to make international calls)

Junks in Hong Kong Harbor

The visa situation in Taiwan was rather strange in the early 1980s. As students, we were still on tourist visas, but with proof of school enrollment, we could extend our visas every two months for a total of six months at a time. We had to leave Taiwan for several days in February, and then we could come back again for another six months. Now there are regular student visas, and you can stay in the country as long as you are enrolled in a legitimate program of study.

Our Chinese friends from church in DC had given us money to visit Hong Kong and mainland China during our winter break. Our school was closed for several weeks at the time of Chinese New Year, as was the entire city of Taipei. Our Chinese friends had given us extra money for the express purpose of purchasing Bibles in Hong Kong that were written in simplified Chinese characters. In 1983, the only legal version of the Bible in China was the old Bible from the 1800’s. It was written in traditional characters, and most young people could not read it.

We asked the deacons who helped with the student center in Taipei to make arrangements for us to stay with church people in Hong Kong because we did not have enough money to stay in hotels there. We did get a good deal on round-trip tickets between Hong Kong and Taipei. We had come to Taiwan with two passports because at the time, relations between Taiwan and mainland China were pretty tense, and we would not be allowed to stay in Taiwan and study with stamps from China on our passport. We could not have entered China with the evidence of studying in Taiwan stamped in our passports, either.

We stayed in an apartment of single women in the same high-rise as the church hall in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The women were very nice, and they took us sightseeing on the Star Ferry to the Central District and the Peak Tram. We also visited the harbor and saw the junks. We did not have money to buy much, but Hong Kong was even more crowded than Taipei, and it was different from anything we had seen before. It was under British rule at the time, so there was quite a bit of English spoken and on street signs. We were also able to buy cheese and Western food for the first time in six months.

We went to the mainland Chinese visa office in Hong Kong and signed up for a three day tour of Guangzhou and Guangdong Province. We also got reservations in a hotel in Guangzhou for three more days. We had to finish the tour, and then we could go back into China the same day to spend time on our own since it would be our second visit. We were only allowed to stay at five-star hotels which were pretty pricy. But we were traveling on American passports and spending American dollars, so the Chinese government only wanted to give us the best. After making our arrangements, we spent all the rest of the money given to us by Chinese-American Christians to buy Bibles. We each had fifty or sixty pocket Bibles by the time we were done.

The Christians in Hong Kong who sold us the Bibles told us that we would either get through customs with our luggage unopened or we would be caught. They suggested that if the Bibles were confiscated, we should try to retrieve them and take them in on our second trip. We were planning to enter China on the third day of the Chinese New Year, so after making all our preparations, we went with our friends to celebrate the Year of the Boar in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is so tightly packed that each family cannot set off their own fireworks like they do in Taiwan. Instead, everyone runs like lemmings to the water to watch the fireworks over the harbor. All you can do is move with the crowd. If you try to fight against them and go the opposite way you will be trampled. It was a great fireworks show, and we certainly had our first experience with mobs. But no one was hurt. The entire city was out and about celebrating until one or two in the morning.

Late the next morning our hosts took us with them to visit friends for New Year. We put on nice clothes and took bags of fruit with us. Many of these people lived packed into tiny, tiny apartments. Most of the families had burned incense to their ancestors first thing in the morning, so the halls of every building were thick with smoke. Hong Kong means “Fragrant Harbor” in Chinese, and I wondered if the name came from all the incense. The apartments in Hong Kong were usually just one bedroom. There were bunk beds in the living rooms, and the kitchens were out on the balcony. Several generations were all crammed together in that little space. Lynne and I could not believe how much more densely populated Hong Kong was in comparison to Taipei.

Once again, we could not understand anything because the people in Hong Kong spoke Cantonese. Many of the better educated people had gone to English high school or college, but the majority of the Hong Kong Chinese just spoke Cantonese. At least, we had some familiarity with the Chinese characters, so between the English on the signs and our limited knowledge of Mandarin, we managed to get by. It was good to know that our hard work in Chinese class was paying off.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"The Water and the Soil Don't Suit Me"

Two More of My Students: I was teaching them that night because they had huge English tests the next day. I had bronchitis and a fever (notice my very white face and sick expression). Their mother thought I was so beautiful with my pasty white complexion that she interrupted our lesson for a 30 to 45 minute photo shoot. I have the book open on my lap, and every time the mother started changing lenses and fussing with her flashes, I would help my students with another point of English grammar. I think that even today that evening rates as one of the most bizarre English classes I have ever taught.

As summer turned to fall and fall turned to winter, the weather in Taiwan got very damp and cold. We had not expected to be living in concrete and steel buildings without carpeting or heat. The board beds that had been so cool in the summer were freezing in the winter. It was extremely hard to get warm. We dressed in layers and layers of clothing, and still we were cold. Most of our roommates put on an extra five pounds in the winter that they then lost when the weather got hot in the summer.

It was not so bad when we were outside walking, but when we were inside writing our characters, our fingers would get numb. Finally, we bought the fingerless palm mitts that all our roommates wore. They were gloves without fingertips. That one article of clothing made a big difference in keeping warm. We exchanged our light towel covers for flannel pads on the bottom and heavy cotton quilts on top. We were quite glad to drink hot water from the thermos in our room, and we felt it wasn’t really hot enough.

Then the rains came. It rained for months on end with almost no break. We were always slightly damp. Our jeans never really got dry. We were so cold that we were always tired. Our housemates would take advantage of every bit of sun to air their quilts, padded jackets, and bedding. We were too tired to even think of doing such a thing. The sun never stayed out for more than a few hours anyway. We thought they were silly for being so meticulous about airing bedding until one day we discovered that our mattress pads had mildewed. The one on Lynne’s bed had to be thrown away. After that, we too made the trek downstairs with our heavy quilts and mattress pads to spread them on top of parked bikes and motorcycles whenever there was sun.

Eventually, we got sick. Our friends took us to a clinic where the doctor prescribed a pharmacopeia of pills. I told him very clearly that I was violently allergic to penicillin and all its derivatives, but he didn’t believe me. Fortunately, he left the antibiotic in its original labeled packaging (unlike the decongestants and stomach medicine), and I was able to avoid taking it. After being given penicillin on three separate occasions by three different doctors, I decided to try Chinese medicine because I had contracted bronchitis, and I could not get over it without some kind of medicine.

We had to go to school every day because if we missed too many days of classes, we would lose our visas. I also had to teach my students because I needed the money to live on. My roommates eased me into Chinese medicine by first giving me home remedies like dried tangerine peels, steamed pears with rock candy, and fritilleria syrup for my cough. The remedies helped the symptoms, but they didn’t really cure my illness.

Finally, one of the old ladies from church recommended a Chinese medicine doctor who used herbs and acupuncture. We went to his clinic, and because he spoke no English, he gave the case to his daughter, who was learning the family trade and had taken a few years of English in school. She looked at my throat, listened to my cough, and had me lay my arm on a pulse pillow on her desk while she felt my wrist pulse using three of her fingers. She took my pulse for a long time on each side, and then called her father to feel it, too. They discussed my case for at least fifteen minutes, while my roommates and I sat there looking at the surroundings. We were in a small room with a high, narrow bed. There were glass jars of herbs and a chest of wooden drawers filled with more herbs. The entire shop smelled of herbs, especially cinnamon. There were also deer’s antlers and beetles and other animal products in some of the glass cases. There was a large, gold statue of a naked man with holes in straight lines running up and down his torso, arms, and legs. My friends told me the holes were points for needles. I didn’t really understand what they meant by that, at least not until after the two doctors had figured out their plan of treatment. The daughter told me they were going to try acupuncture on me. I remained fully clothed and seated in the chair by her desk. She put some needles in my face near my sinuses, a couple in my toes, and finally she stuck one in the flesh between my thumb and the rest of my hand. I felt a jolt of energy like electricity racing up to my head, and I blacked out. I came to a minute or two later as she was pinching the middle of my upper lip. She left the needles in my face and feet for about 15 minutes, and then because I was still feeling dizzy, she removed the needles and gave me packets of powdered herbs to take after meals and before bed time. I just had to throw the powders into the back of my mouth and wash them down with water. The acupuncture had cleared up my sinuses in the ten minutes or so that I had been stuck with the needles. The doctor showed me how to pinch that point between my thumb and hand to stop coughing spells. It worked, too. Pinching my ear lobes stopped nausea. The herbs helped me feel a lot better.

When I ran out of herbs, I was not completely over the bronchitis, so we went back for another treatment. I passed out again with the acupuncture. The second time, I did okay with the needle in my hand, but she added one at my temples because I had a headache, and that needle triggered a fainting spell. Again, I was sitting in the chair by her desk, so I didn’t fall far, but the father had my friends and his daughter warn me that my physical constitution was not suited to acupuncture. He recommended that I take herbs for the long-term because he said, “The water and the soil in Taipei do not suit you.” That is a Chinese idiom to describe illnesses that come from not acclimating well to new surroundings. I told him I would consider it, but after a third set of powder packets, I was over my bronchitis and having too much fun to waste time going to the doctor every five days. So whenever the seasons changed from hot to cold to hot again, I would get very, very sick, until the middle of the second year when I really did go to a Chinese doctor to “adjust my physical constitution” to suit Taiwan. That time I wound up having to take herbs and powders for more than six months, but it worked, and I was really healthy for many years afterwards.