The pleasure of throwing yourself on your bed at the end of an eventful day! On Sunday I calculated that I’d need about two hours during the Beijing rush to get through all the controls and board the 300 km/h bullet train to Wuhan on time. The calculation left me with only a 20 minutes’ overtime. The train ride itself went very smoothly, and I made a new friend on the way: a middle-aged teacher/director. He spoke slowly enough for me to be able to keep up the conversation for two and a half hours from Beijing West to Zhuzhou Dong, where he got off, and I was very grateful to him for that (usually, about 70% of the time is used to process what the person just said, because very few people automatically reply in pútónghuà. Instead, they reply in their own dialect, which is kind of like a Swedish-speaking person trying to understand another speaking Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese or Danish, depending on the province you are in).
- Chinese men, usually when alone, randomly start yodeling or humming at regular intervals. I have never seen women express this kind of behaviour. Shopkeepers, taxi drivers, military officials, laypeople do this, so it’s not something related to position or location (I’ve experienced this in the Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hebei, Beijing and Hubei provinces). Usually they are past the age of 30. I haven’t heard many younger people do this.
- I have seen about three times more Africans than Westerners speaking Mandarin fluently, both in Beijing and in Wuhan. My dorm corridor inhabitants consist of me, two Frenchmen and about 20 African people (most of them are from Congo and Tanzania. My next-door neighbour is a cordial fellow from Zambia. He’s about my age and the only one here who is from there.)
- As for international students, there are about five Africans and four Indians per one Westerner studying here. This explains the (for the Chinese) unusual focus on having halal canteens available on campus.
- The Chinese society can be very time-conscious. At 17.00.00, all office doors slammed shut at the same time as if on command, bars were lowered and spotlights started to sweep the gates, and a legion of about 30-40 uniformly dressed police officers seemed to instantly appear from nowhere to patrol in groups of five in front of and inside every building.
- You are not allowed to possess any kind of weapon in China. At all. Guns are banned. If you want to hunt, for example (which is an Utopian thought for a regular person to have), you need to a) work for or b) have good connections with the government. Even then, it’s very, very strictly regulated. China resembles Finland somewhat in this regard.
On my last day in Beijing, I was feeling especially open-minded and decided to try out the traditional Chinese massage parlour my friend recommended. I’m almost a quarter of a century old, and I haven’t had a real massage (if I don’t count my friends’ late-night treatments at home, which are very nice). I chose the most effective-sounding one, which involved cupping. Yes, that thing where there are cups placed strategically on your backside, and a vacuum is created to purge built-up toxins in your system. Now, I know this sounds daunting, but the treatment seems to work very well and leaves you with a sort of “opened” or light feeling. As this was so-called dry cupping, no blood was drawn (there is a separate, much more ominous-sounding type of cupping called wet cupping, where the cupper uses a scalpel to draw stagnated blood from underneath the skin). I can understand that Western medicine has its reasons to be sceptical of these traditional Chinese healing-enhancing methods, and what I’m going to describe might sound uncomfortable, but the experience was very good overall, and left me feeling rejuvenated. I told the kind-looking woman who was taking care of me that this was my first time at a massage parlour, and that she’d have to instruct me how to behave. She started to laugh, and said “bú yòng, bú yòng! Ni wǒ de haízì! (“No need, no need! You are like my child!”) and I can tell you that you cannot be self-conscious about your body if you visit a Chinese massage parlour. You’re going to salivate excessively (ie. there will be a drool-line straight from your open mouth to the floor on several occasions without you noticing it immediately) and your extremities are going to twitch involuntarily, and your intestines will make it sound like you’re experiencing severe diarrhoea or famine. And you will feel absolutely marvellous afterwards!!! It all started with having to take all your clothes off, and lie on a long wooden table with your face down (this felt like being examined at the doctor’s office) as she lathered essential oil everywhere, and started to knead me vigorously like a ball of dough, using all her body weight. Every spinal knuckle was cracked into place, and she used friction adeptly to make the meridian channels open. It certainly felt like the nerves were dancing with electricity, and my hands and feet closed and opened like a baby’s uncontrollably when she hit certain spots. I had another African flashback about an old ham’am in the medina of Rabat. It is very comforting to be washed by someone with with a steady and firm but gentle grip, who you can sense is proud of what she does and has done basically all her life. Just smelling the incense and hearing the water flow, you are transported somewhere else entirely. This experience of being taken care of is something I feel the Western culture is missing, even though there are similar services available. The experience is more clinical, I suppose. Perhaps Western people in general are more image-conscious as well, and don’t feel comfortable being exposed like that. How they don’t realise what they’re missing out on!
When she was done with the kneading (as a side note, the stomach is massaged in TCM as well. I could feel my intestines twisting and making such noises that I thought they would explode. She was forcefully kneading my stomach like at some maternity hospital, and repeatedly exclaimed “非常好! Fēicháng hǎo!” (“Very good, very good!”) every time my stomach groaned like a hungry lion.) she told me to turn around: it was time for the cups to be placed on my back. There are special lines along which the cups need to be placed, so as not to damage the surrounding tissues. She created a vacuum inside the cups by sucking out the air, and it felt like I’d been lifted hanging from my nerves. It was intense for the first minute, and then I got used to the feeling. It’s kind of like there’s a small flame dancing on your back at first, and then something opens. The cups are removed after three minutes. When removed, you can feel the energies/blood starting to circulate rapidly underneath the surface. You also feel the need to move around, to drink vast amounts of clear water or tea, and you also feel the need to go to sleep relatively early and just observe what’s happening inside (there are some adjustments your body needs to make, which only can be done while you’re asleep). The vacuum makes the stagnated blood stir, giving space to a renewed flow of blood, rich in oxygen. The more toxins there are built up in your system, the bigger the marks you get from the treatment. You can also tell where there is stagnation from the marks. I didn’t have very big marks, except for in my shoulders, and they were disappearing relatively quickly. She told me that this is a good sign, that there aren’t a lot of toxins in the body. Nevertheless, I could feel the effects very clearly. I wonder how well this treatment would affect a person suffering from severe blood flow stagnation, which according to her often is experienced as a dull pain or heaviness in somewhere which isn’t affected by conventional medicine.
After this session, I went to visit the Yonghegong Lama Temple 雍和宫, which is a Buddhist retreat some kilometres away from the city centre. Here are some pictures:
The smoke is coming from the burning incense sticks people were holding as they prayed. These were not allowed to be photographed. There are protector animals depicted in various places around the inner gardens. There is an animal which is part dragon, part tortoise. There was harmony surrounding the whole temple, like a bubble in the midst of a huge city.
A prayer wheel. People randomly come up to it and give it a twist when they are lost in their thoughts.
One of several small shrines. The chocolate bars are left here as offerings.
That’s it about my last day in Beijing! I’m in Wuhan now, and tomorrow I will get my class schedule. The Chinese bureaucratic hamster wheel turns very efficiently when it wants to. I arrived at the campus at about two o’clock, and by four, I had my room, insurance, and student ID. The room resembles a monk’s sanctum. There is nothing beyond what is necessary (eg. I have to get my own dustbin, teapot, and lamp, among other things). There are essentially two things in the room: a bed and a table. If you need anything else, you will need to take care of that by yourself. Luckily, the campus area is like a city in itself, and houses several shops and even malls. Foreign cards are not accepted as a payment form at the university, and there is an ATM in every separate school building.
Homesickness is mostly people-sickness. I have many homes here, both people and places, so the situation eliminates possibilities of having “regular” homesickness, which I haven’t felt at all. Time flies when you have things to do and experience.