Charming China!

Day 2: August 27th

Our second day in Mianyang was spent in the vicinity of our temporary apartment because we were waiting for Michael to check us in at the police station. We woke up from a poor night’s sleep because the beds here are just the box spring and our sleep schedules are still out of whack. We were up early and ravenous so we went around to knock on our new friends’ doors in search of breakfast. Steven and Joe don’t eat breakfast but taught us a few key phrases so we could order something from the restaurants at the back gate. Armed with a sheet of paper with Chinese characters as well as pingying (the phonetic pronunciations) we set out. We had intended to go to the same restaurant where we ate the previous evening but it was closed so we walked up and down, asking people if they had the dishes we were craving. After a few failed attempts we found a place where we ordered noodles and vegetables, a common Chinese breakfast.

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After eating, we went back to Steven and Joe’s house to collect Joe who escorted us to the phone shop where we got a SIM card for the cell phone they so generously gave us.

About 6pm we met up with the same group of teachers and had dinner at a different restaurant by the back gate. From the looks of the dining areas, you would expect the food the food to be sub-par at best, but we were instantly pleasantly surprised that every dish is bursting with an excellent flavor. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover. 

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Day 3: August 28th

Today was full of new experiences. This morning, we met up with Mark and Ricky, who had invited us to go with them to the doctor, or traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, whose office is in a nearby village. To get there, we traveled in style, on the back of mopeds. Kelly rode with Mark on the gas-powered motorbike (because she is braver) and Mi rode with Ricky (who drives like a self-proclaimed “old, old lady”).  

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The fifteen-minute ride down to the village exposed us to all new sights and smells. There were street markets, fireworks, a temple, and a more traditional, small town feeling. We pulled up to the doctor’s, where Mark has been getting treated regularly, and were introduced to a whole new world of healing. Mark had warned us that in China there is no such thing as confidentiality, which was evident in the setup of the place. There are six cots in a small room with a big plate glass window facing the street. When we arrived each bed was occupied by someone being treated with acupuncture or cupping. To begin the treatments, the doctor will diagnose you by feeling your pulse with three fingers- testing each wrist for weaknesses in your pulse which indicate problems in different parts of the body depending which finger detects the problem.

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Kelly was diagnosed first and her treatment for her back problems began with a brief adjustment from the “chiropractor” and masseur, the doctor’s husband. Then, the doctor applied three needles into Kelly’s back and one in her neck, two of which had burning wormwood on the end. The coils of smoke filled the air with a heady aroma similar to sage. Roughly thirty minutes later, the needles were removed and ten glass cups were applied to her back. To create suction, the air is vacated from the cups with a burning wand. Each cup signifies a region in the body and ailments in those areas are indicated by how much flesh is sucked up into the cup and by the color of the bruising.  

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Mi’s treatment for injured knees came next. First, a small wooden box with burning wormwood placed on the abdomen was utilized to balance the yin and yang (Mi doesn’t have enough yang apparently, resulting in low energy and unbalanced meridians). Then, three acupuncture needles went into the left knee. About thirty minutes of that, then the needles were removed and three bamboo cups were applied to the same place using the same burning wand technique.

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After the treatments, both of our ailments feel much improved. Kelly says that her back hasn’t felt so good in years. To remedy the aches in Kelly’s back for good, the doctor prescribed that Kelly come back for treatments three times a week for four weeks to diminish the pain by half, and by doubling that the pain should vanish almost entirely. For Mi’s knee, an x-ray was ordered before further treatment could be determined. Thankfully, there is a hospital around the corner that will do the x-ray for only $30. Together, our treatment today set us back 35 “China bucks” (as the other foreign teachers say), or about $5, apiece.

We all walked from the doctor’s office feeling restored and energized, and famished. Before jumping back on the bikes for the short ride to a nearby restaurant, we decided to visit the market across the street. It was beautiful. There were sacks of spices and beans, unfamiliar vegetables like lotus root, a whole stall devoted to the numerous kinds of tofu, meat hanging from hooks, and fish swimming in Styrofoam tanks. It was just as we had imagined local markets to be, even though this one was rather small and tame.

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Next, we ate a vegan noodle dish with yellow peas and headed back to campus. Ricky’s electric moped would not make it up the hill with both passengers so Mi had to jump on the back of Mark’s bike. We made for an entertaining sight for passersby, who rolled down their car windows to film the three white foreigners sandwiched on the motorbike. It’s a good thing all this attention is just as entertaining for us- we smile and wave good-naturedly every time someone treats us like aliens. We mostly just feel like celebrities when students and locals stare at us.

We got back to campus and promptly headed over to meet with Shirley (our contact in the administrative offices), but she wasn’t there. So, we turned around and walked back to the hotel where we are staying. Right before we reached the front door, we heard someone calling our names. It was Shelly, the foreign teacher from Canada, and she was ushering us over to the 1991 Club, which is a student-run business/hangout spot where she spends a lot of time. She was hanging out with some students who are forming a band in need of a bass player so she wanted to introduce Kelly to them. We spent the next hour or so chatting and jamming with the students, who said they would be very lucky if we were their teachers. They also were pleased to inform us that Mi looks like Justin Beiber. We’ll find out on Monday if any of them will be in our classes.   

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When we got back to campus we thanked Mark and Ricky for showing us such a good time and expressed our delight at having a chance to ride their motorbikes. Fortuitously, another foreign teacher is relocating to Chengdu and was looking to sell his electric moped. So, after a bit of negotiating, we bought ourselves a motorbike of our very own. This will give us the opportunity to be more independent and to explore in style.

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As soon as our business transaction was complete, we got a phone call (on our newly acquired cell phone) with an invitation to dinner with the rest of the crew. We accepted and ate yet another hearty, jovial, spicy Sichuan meal.

All in all, it was a very productive day indeed. Tomorrow, we are meeting with Shirley at 10, then taking the moped to the store for a tune-up and new tires, and hopefully moving into the apartment where we will be spending the next year (at least!).   

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