Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Living in a Chinese Family

Big Sister

Big Brother

Baby Brother

Lai-fu the Dog

Although I was happy to have my own room, I had real problems with the top floor apartment because it got the late afternoon sun and didn’t cool down until the wee hours of the morning. I would go to sleep with a fan blowing directly at me, but I was still sweating buckets. Then in the middle of the night, it would turn cold and damp; I would get chilled and start coughing. My chronic bronchitis came back with a vengeance, and after about three weeks living in that place, I began running high fevers.

General Manager canvassed his employees and found a family who lived on the first floor two alleys away from the office. They had a four bedroom house with a small courtyard in the front. It was behind one of the brick walls topped with broken glass that lined the alleys. I had a room to myself. The son and daughter shared one of the other bedrooms, and there was a Burmese high school student in the fourth bedroom. Mama was six months pregnant, and soon there was a baby boy in the household.

Mama’s oldest sister was studying Chinese medicine, and she referred us to her teacher, who was one of the best Chinese medicine doctors in Taipei at the time. He agreed with the earlier diagnosis that my physical constitution was not suited to acupuncture, so he used a procedure called cupping on my back over my lungs. He took glass jars and dropped a lighted piece of wood in them to heat them. When the flame died out, he turned the jars upside down on my back over the special acupuncture points to cure bronchitis. Before doing any treatment, he spent quite a bit of time going over my medical history and taking my pulse. By the time I had finished lying there under the cups until I felt like my entire back was on fire, the doctor had figured out what combination of medicines I needed to take for the next six months to increase my natural immunities and help me acclimate better to Taiwan’s climate. He also gave me a list of foods that I could not eat while taking the medicine and another list of foods that would help me get better faster. General Manager gave Mama an allowance to be sure I had all the right foods for the next six months. I ate breakfast and dinner with the family while we lived together in that house.

My new schedule was somewhat easier than it had been during the pre-conference rush. We didn’t have to work until midnight any more. I got up early and studied every morning. Then I would walk to school through the back alleys where the car exhaust fumes were not so heavy. It was about a twenty to thirty minute walk one way, and it gave me a lot of time to myself to think. This was an important time for me to process the new concepts I was learning during my “Chinesification.”

I returned to my class from 10 to 12. Teacher Chin and all my classmates were very happy to see me again. Teacher Chin worked things out with the school to get me a scholarship from the Taiwan Ministry of Education that covered all my tuition costs. That meant that I would be able to live quite well on my pay from the publishing company. I was even able to put some money into savings every month.

I usually arrived at the publishing company around 12:30 after school. There was lunch in the basement cafeteria for all the workers at the company. After lunch, we had a rest time until 1:30 or 2 pm. The afternoon work period was from 2 to 5:30 or 6. Since we were not yet working on translation of new materials for another international conference, I was set to proofreading the translations of materials from earlier conferences so a complete revised set could be published later. I spent three and a half to four hours every day comparing English and Chinese texts and discussing with my co-workers the problems in meaning that I discovered. At first, I was usually wrong two thirds of the time, but I rapidly improved in my Chinese abilities until I was catching real mistakes more than eighty percent of the time.

I had been earning my spending money by babysitting or doing part-time jobs since the time I was eleven, so I found I had much more in common with my colleagues at the publishing company than I had had with the students. Most of my new friends were seven to twelve years older than I, but we tended to think along more similar lines. I made some very good life-long friends during my time with this company.

In the evening, I would go back home for dinner. If there was a church function at night I would go to it, but most evenings every week, I would play with the children. The older boy was just starting first grade; he and I would practice reading together. We would also watch the Chinese serial dramas from 8 to 9 at night. Our favorites were the kung fu shows in old-fashioned costumes. Many of these shows were dramatizations from Chinese history or of popular literature. The family had a dog that was chained in the yard, and every morning and evening I would take the dog for a long walk through the alleys. Mama had a strict policy of early bedtimes for all of the family. Unlike my days in the student house where we usually stayed up until after midnight, I was in bed by 11 almost every night that I lived as an integral part of the household.

Helping the children with their homework was another big aid to my progress in Chinese. They were learning the bo, po, mo, fo phonetic system and the simple characters that I had learned the previous year. The girl from Burma was also learning to read and speak Mandarin Chinese in addition to her regular curriculum, so we all helped each other with our language lessons. Living as part of a family gave me deeper insights into Chinese culture that I had not been able to glean from a house full of students.


Joannalynne said...

that little guy is Josh Yang, right?

Teresa said...

Remember my disclaimer? I am purposely leaving off names. So you will never know.

Linda McLaughlin said...

How interesting that acupuncture wasn't good for your constitution then, but has helped you so much in recent years. I wonder what changed. My acupuncturist did cupping on my back, leaving big red marks that totally freaked out my physicist husband. He's such a Westerner. ;) The needles kind of freak him out, too.

Teresa said...

Well, my current acupuncturist spent a lot of time and effort to get me adjusted to her art. The first time I had acupuncture, I only had 6 needles on my feet. Then she added two more the next time, two more the next. Even now, she'll only give me needles when I'm lying down because some points give me an extreme burst of dizziness.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

I've been considering acupuncture to help me manage chronic pain (I was in a disabling car accident nearly 3 years ago). I'm a little hesitant. I've had so much "done" to me already ... I don't know if I can handle needles. Interesting blog post.

Teresa said...

Hi 24,

I would say that the needles are really the least of it. It is the rush of qi that comes when they do it right. I think the most important thing is finding a really good acupuncturist. If the practioner is well-trained, he or she can assess if you are up to the needles or if you should use other less intense treatments like cupping or acupressure massage. As Linda noted, I've gotten real help lately from an excellent acupuncturist. In one treatment she can work on bad knees, rebalancing hormones, allergies, heart arrhythmia, and insomnia, and I've been getting good results in all areas.

I would talk to people who are using acupuncture to treat similar problems to yours in your area to find an acupuncturist best suited to you. If you feel uncomfortable with the practitioner, it makes the whole thing worse.

I can sympathize with having so much "done" to you. The really good Chinese medicine doctors and acupuncturists work with the patient. It's a much more holistic view. I've read a lot about the concepts of qi flow and things like that, and then I can be a part of some of the process using breathing techniques. This has been especially helpful with my allergies, and it also helps control pain (I have a 30 year old knee injury that now has me walking with bone scraping bone. It can get extremely painful.)

I hope these thoughts are helpful, and I wish you all the best.

murat11 said...

In the screenplay, of course, we'll have to extend the stay with the nemesis: for dramatic (comic?) purposes, you know. But, as compensation, we'll ease up on the bronchitis.

Teresa said...

Well, as long as I don't have to play my young self, you can extend it as long as you want. The stay with the family was also fun, especially the interaction with the children, but I guess it would not be so dramatic as a tv or movie audience would demand.