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Introduction to Zhengzhou

Some important notes unrelated to Zhengzhou…

  • This is my first time posting my own entry! Before this, Li-Wen has kindly been doing a lot of the manual, electronic grunge work because wordpress is not accessible for posting in China. Hence, all the fabulous formatting and design is all courtesy of Li-Wen Inc.
  • Our sincere and utmost apologies for not updating. Li-Wen and I have been crazy busy w/ life and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. Both of us are heading to graduate school this fall so this blog will probably fall off a hill quite a bit.
  • So up to this point, we’ve pretty much been censoring our comments due to courtesy to our hosts. However, after many long nights and pints of sinful chocolate ice cream, we’ve decided that it’s full-disclosure from this point on as we’re writing for ourselves, not for being political correct. Expect Gossip Girl material, Chinese style! (just kidding…)

Zhengzhou, right. Okay, your natural reaction may be (rightly so) , “where the heck is Zhengzhou”? Good question. The above picture should help; the city is the capital of the Henan province (for Henan’s location — think heart of the chicken/dog). If you’re a tourist, it’s probably going to be the first stop. Henan is also currently the most populous province of China (after Chongqing was made its own region out of Sichuan).

Henan’s probably most famous for its ancient capital Kaifeng which was the national capital during four dynasties of China’s long and glorious history including the Later Han and Later Zhou Dynasties. Henan is also famous for the Shaolin Temples which we’ve reported on already… and let’s see, the region is also notorious for people selling their own blood (Henan’s reputation is that it’s poor but the economic expansion is rapidly increasing) whereby, some of the poor villages had high HIV positive incidences due to inadequate sterilization*. Besides this…I know I’m forgetting something important… Hmm…

Whatever, Zhengzhou has an ubiquitous Chinese-city-look that to my untrained eye means nothing exceptional, not even in the parks, which were very nice, full of the old dancing, poker-ing, singing-away and young people just chillin’.

Anyways, after our week in Dengfeng, we went to Zhengzhou. It was a smooth transition except for the part where Dr. X dropped us off in a random street corner with a really random friend of his who bummed along for the ride from Dengfeng to Zhengzhou. Dr. X told us that he had already booked a hotel but when we went there, for some reason that I don’t recall, it wasn’t satisfactory. We waited an hour. I called him and asked, “how are you doing?” where he said, “I’m checking out other hotels. Wait there. I’ll be back soon”. One hour later, he took us to another hotel. Fortunately, this hotel was super fabulous in that it had an internet bar connected adjacent to the hotel.

Let me stress how important internet is here – let’s take it from the viewpoint of Li-Wen. Li-Wen has the following people to interact with 1) a food and sleep-obsessed one travel partner 2) weird and not always pleasant Dr. X and 3) incomprehensible patients who speak with the heavy Henan accent. In short.

Internet => portal to the whole wide world => sanity.

To his credit, Dr. X gave us each 50 kuai/day for food expenditures for three weeks. I’m still not sure where this money is from but we were greatly appreciative of it. I also must mention here how appreciative we are of Li-Wen’s mother’s connection, this fantastic woman and her apartment where we stored our all of lugggage (for the duration of our dengfeng trip) and how my uncle carried my 40 pound suitcase up seven flights of stairs to that woman’s apartment. So this marks our beginnings in Zhengzhou…

******I remember what I forgot about Henan: the Henan roast chicken is delicious and famous!******

*thank you wiki!


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Mini-bios updated

The About page has been updated with our mini-bios. And since it would be too boring to write our own, we wrote each others’ 😉

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What were we going to do and what were we trying to accomplish? We started tackling this idea in early February. Neither of us knew much about traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), much less Shaolin medicine. Both of us had experience with family members using it, but beyond some general ideas, I didn’t really know anything about it. The easiest thing to do when confused is bother nice people. We had a few mentors, including our professor of sociology and, of course, the people who were coordinating this project, that is, Master YL and Dr. SP. We picked the brains of such professors, aka their books, including the Patients and Healers book better known as the “green book that neither of us really finished”.

Lots of meetings, missed deadlines, and cups of coffee later, we narrowed down our general idea of researching TCM from an anthropological point of view to specifically understanding the process in which patients make their decisions in selecting health care, the nature of patient-healer relationships, and perhaps a comparison with Western medicine.* Next was the the issue of money. We both applied for fellowships with a different perspective of what we wanted. Li-Wen wanted to stay in China for about 4 months but then had to come back to the US for several months to do medical school interviews while I intended to stay for one year. After this issue was resolved in mid April, it was back to the drawing board.

Before school ended, our drawing board of logistics looked like a five-year old with ADD had gone through it**. Our formal hosts for this project was the city government of Dengfeng and Mayor B with YL as our middle person. We called the Shaolin contacts to ask them questions regarding their background and get a feel for what they thought of our project. Due to language barriers, differences in expectations, and added to that, a lack of experience in negotiating with our sponsors, we didn’t really feel that we got what we wanted from our sponsors, that is a clear idea of what they could provide in terms of logistics and support. After we graduated in June***, both of us went back to our respective states and began planning more of the logistics. As mentioned before, we still weren’t sure what our hosts were providing in terms of lodging and transportation. We also both did more background research into TCM to try to get a grasp of what we were getting into.

Despite our long-distance practically-email relationship, I think it went well between the two of us in terms of coordinating things to ask and such in the 1.5 months that we had. We also kept in steady communications with YL who acted as a middle man in most of these exchanges. However, it didn’t work so well across the ocean, as I think that in retrospct, our sponsors were just as unprepared for this first exchange as we were. Our planned time of four**** months in Dengfeng got rapidly shortened to three weeks a couple of weeks before we were set to leave in mid July. To end a short this-is-a-long-story, during the conversations with our hosts, our unanswered questions about basic logistics and our mothers’ increasing concerns as a result of that made both sides realize that our expectations were higher than our hosts were prepared to handle. Somehow, by this time, the date for our departure had arrived. We were ready to go and we remained optimistic and hoped that things would work out once we got to Dengfeng, China.

* Understatement #1 – as Li-Wen frankly puts it, “what a condensation of the crap we waded through!”
** Understatement #2
*** We graduated? No way!
**** Thanks to Li-Wen for pointing this out. I’d already forgotten that it started out as four months.

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How it all started

One afternoon in the fall of 2006, I caught the number one bus at the Boston Medical Center and headed back to Harvard like I do every week after volunteering at the Family Help Desk. I had an old manual camera in my messenger bag and was ready to snap some pictures of people waiting at bus stops for my photography project. Before I began my quest of capturing interesting scenes and people on the bus ride home, I caught sight of Dr. SP on the bus. Dr. SP was the mentor for the Family Help Desk and well-loved by students for his knack for offering concrete advice and inspiring enlightening insight. Sitting down next to him, I started catching up with him, and as often happened in conversations with college seniors, he asked me about my plans for the next year. Truth be told, while I knew for sure I wanted to take a year off before heading to medical school, I was not entirely sure what I wanted to do during that year off.”I want to do something different from what I have been doing thus far, something I will most likely not get a chance to do in the future. I’m thinking of going abroad,” I said. Having always wanted to go abroad, I never got around to doing it with the difficulty of fulfilling my premed and neurobiology course requirements.

“What kind of things abroad?” Dr. SP seemed to perk up with sudden interest.

“Maybe some medical volunteering in a Spanish-speaking country, so I can practice my Spanish.”

Then came one of those enlightening moments that Dr. SP seemed to easily pull out of the air.

“What about going to China and doing some kind of study on traditional Chinese medicine? I think you would benefit from this kind of project just as much, if not more so, then going to a Spanish-speaking country.”

His suggestion caught me off guard. I think the possibility never entered my head before because I was subconsciously discouraged by the “softness” of such a project and the disapproval it may inspire from some members of the medical establishment. But when Dr. SP voiced it out loud, it seemed so right. Of course! Coming from a Taiwanese family that has frequently made use of traditional Chinese medicine, on my way to seeking a degree in western medicine, what better project could I undertake during a year in which I seek to develop and understand myself? I grew up accustomed to members of my family, including myself, seeking out traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctors for various ailments. My feelings about TCM fluctuated. Sometimes I felt awe at the wonders it seems to work and respect for its dedication to treating the whole of the individual holistically, one quality that western medicine has been repeatedly criticized for lacking. Other times I felt uncertainty and even disdain at its unscientific explanations for illnesses. The very inner conflicts I had about TCM, especially in relation to western medicine, were reasons enough to pursue such a project. Perhaps it would be personally fortifying for me to reconcile these conflicting sentiments before plunging headlong into western medicine.

Forgetting my quest for taking pictures on the bus, I listened intently as Dr. SP went on to explain how he and the taichi master YL have a connection with some people in China who might be very interested in such an exchange. They have been communicating with the city of Dengfeng in Henan, China, which is home to the Shaolin Temple. The folks at the Shaolin Temple and Dengfeng are very interested in introducing their cultural richness to people at Harvard and the US, and people from the Harvard side would love the opportunity to engage in a cultural exchange. Several Harvard students, mostly members of the taichi club, had visited Dengfeng and the Shaolin Temple for short periods previously and really enjoyed the trip. The exchange and connection, however, was still in its preliminary stages, and I would need to talk to Master YL to explore possibilities for my role in this exchange. Ideally, I hoped I could go as a member of this cultural exchange to explore TCM and Shaolin medicine, the Shaolin Temple’s own brand of TCM, and bring such knowledge and experience back to students at Harvard.

After my first round of emails with Master YL, I was intrigued. With an aura of Yoda-like wisdom, did YL speak. And the playful interchange between YL and Dr. SP demonstrated their friendship and their common enthusiasm about the potential of this exchange. I could tell that there was a lot of heart, hard work, and hope behind this project.

Soon thereafter, I realized that if I wanted to make a long term trip to China, it wouldn’t be quite safe or fun to do it by myself. So I started plotting which poor innocent souls I could drag into this uncertain journey with me. One chilly December afternoon, as I was walking outside of Kirkland, I ran into Nan, and we started talking about plans for next year. Lo and behold, Nan also was a little uncertain about her plans and seemed open to the idea of taking a year off before med school. Calling on all skills of persuasion I had, I tried to talk her into making this trip with me. In all my enthusiasm and desperation, I still tried (I hope) to accurately convey to her the amorphousness and uncertainty of this whole plan since it would be the first of its kind. Luckily, the trip piqued her interest, and we agreed to keep in touch about how to solidify our goals and arranged to meet with Master YL and Dr. SP to discuss further plans.


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