Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Village Flow and the Art of Chinese Herbal Scales and Package Bows

Mar 15, 2010 7:11pm

Greetings Friends!

I'm so enjoying observing and participating in a new (yet rather old) rhythm of life. Here at Dr. Zhao's clinic, I love how the flow, rhythm and variety of life flows in and out of Dr. Zhao's clinic throughout the day. We really have a village feel and kids come running in and out (sometimes they're asked to run along out b/c they start getting into trouble), and elders and all people in between come and go throughout the day. (Note: even though I'm in Zhengzhou, which is a big city, we're on the edge of it so our neighborhood does feel more like a village - Dr. Zhao grew up here and his family has lived in this area for over 300 years)

One example with the kids is this morning -- a little boy came running in to show Dr. Zhao a picture he drew -- he calls him 'ye ye' - which means grandfather in Chinese.( I love how in the Chinese language you call each person by a family name - even if they're not family by blood -- for example, I'm the village's American Auntie :) - "Meiguo Ayi.") He also started playing with some of Dr. Zhao's tools, like his stethoscope, and after doing it 3 times upon being told not to, he was sternly told to go on out to play....

Later, this same little boy, while I was filling herbal prescriptions with Jun Lin and Zhao Ayi, and Dr. Zhao was with a client, came back and started writing something on Dr. Zhao's desk. He then started laughing and giggling and again ran over to Dr. Zhao to show him what he did. He had pretended he was Dr. Zhao and wrote himself his own prescription! He used one of Dr. Zhao's intake sheets, wrote his name, age (6) and for illness - wrote "xin zang bing' (or heart disease) - since that's a common one people come to see Dr. Zhao for. And for his herbs he proceeded to write out a prescription for the yummy herb I mentioned before - Shan Zha (it's often made into a candy or little wafer-like snacks -yum!) He was a bag of giggles and we all laughed with him. :)

So as the kids can run in and out, elders come in, young moms, workers, students and people of all ages and classes -- also many local people and people from all over China. Dr. Zhao doesn't do any advertising for his clinic; people come from word of mouth (we have more people from out of town come on Mondays as they can travel here on Sunday and take less time away from work). We also have many women in their 20s, 30s and 40s hoping to become moms come (Dr. Zhao is well known for also helping many women who would like to have children be able to get pregnant.) On Saturday one such young woman came who was so happy because after taking Dr. Zhao's herbs for a short time she found out she is now 3 months pregnant. She, that day I saw her, also brought along another girlfriend of hers who is desiring to conceive too.

I love the variety of people who walk in Dr. Zhao's clinic doors -- people of all types, shapes and sizes and life stories are welcome to come and are treated with the same kindness, dignity and generosity in the clinic. And I love how his health care is soooo accessible and affordable and simple and.....enjoyable! the whole experience is one of being truly cared for and in a happy and loving, family-like yet professional environment. One older woman and her husband came in on Saturday. The older woman, I'll call her "Nai nai" (meaning grandmother in Chinese) was obviously in pain and it was a struggle to walk in and sit down. After about 10-15 minutes of acupressure massage, she was smiling and laughing while still lying on the table. Dr. Zhao had me come over to talk with her about her experience and she said, "I came in with this horrible pain in my chest and throat --('hen nan shou') -- very uncomfortable -- and now," she said smiling while looking up at me, "I feel light and good. The pain is gone!" She was obviously delighted! :)

In addition to observing and sometimes helping with clients, I'm also helping more with "the Chinese herbal dispensary" - preparing, measuring and packaging of Chinese herbal prescriptions. Today, and this may sound quite insignificant but for me feels like a BIG accomplishment, I successfully wrapped up about 5 bags of herbs! Seeing that we (meaning me, Jun Lin and Zhao Ayi) in total probably wrapped 85-100 bags of herbs today, my contribution to the whole production is quite a small percentage - BUT for me it was a big improvement on my other attempts last week! What, when observing Jun Lin and Zhao Ayi, looks quite simple and quick to do, actually takes quite a bit of coordination. First of all, I require mastering how to use one of the Chinese scales for measuring herbs - which is an 'art' in and of itself (there's a picture of me using one below), then it requires being able to decipher Dr. Zhao's scribbled Chinese characters for the herbs (which Jun Lin comforted me in saying that reading a doctor's herbal prescriptions is probably one of the hardest things to read!) Then it requires finding the herbs amongst all the little wooden drawers behind the counter -- and if it's one I've been shown before -- or even several times, I feel more pressure to find it and 'get it right' :). After I find the herbs, then it's time for me to take my scale (I have my own now that they've given to me to use :)) and measure out the amount of herbs multiplied by the number of bags. Seems simple enough, right? Well, it is.....until I have the patients come over to wait for their herbs because ...1) they are intrigued to see a 'foreigner' in the clinic, and 2) they're a bit inquisitive to see if I really know what I'm doing!

So I breathe and focus, focus, focus....and remember to smile....and it all goes well until...in measuring 15 grams for 10 bags, I get to bag 6 and forget what measurement I'm supposed to be on as Dr. Zhao also walks over behind the counter and decides to see 'how I'm doing' -- "ay you!" -- as the Chinese say for "yikes!"

Actually everyone has been/is very kind to me and greatly gives me the benefit of the doubt, saying "ta hen congming! Ta xue de hen kuai!" -- "she's very smart - she's learning very quickly!" despite my clumsiness at times.

So after the measuring is done, then it's time to wrap the herbs up into neat little packages. We measure the herbs onto pieces of square paper, so we use this to wrap them up in. With just a few quick folds, both Jun Lin and Zhao Ayi have their bundles nice and tidy. Then they take a piece of string and swiftly and gracefully wrap it lengthwise around the package, and then with a quick twist, wrap it width-wise and tie a simple knot and "boop" -- they snap the string and their tidy bundle of herbs is ready to go. Well, then there's me...and both Jun Lin and Zhao Ayi have already numerous times patiently and kindly showed me again and again their technique, saying "watch -- just do it this way"....and boom, swoosh, pluck - it's done! Argh! -- again it was too fast and I realize I just require to do it myself many times to actually get the movements and have them be natural.

So I courageously step up to a package and fold over one flap and the other. Then I push the herbs up from the bottom and make a couple folds, and then it's like a burrito with the bottom folded and the top is still open. Then I hold the bottom flap closed and lift up the package to stuff the herbs sticking out at the top in more to make the final fold over on the top...Again, this seems simple enough until you see how many bulky herbs we're trying to fit into these small square pieces of wrapping paper! Several times I've folded my packages proudly only to have Dr. Zhao come over and say "Bu xing - tai chang. Yao duan yidian - zai zuo" -- No good -- it's too long, you need to make it shorter and do it again" -- Of course he says it kindly and with a smile....And then Jun Lin comes to help -- she says to not hold the wrapping too tight when pushing the herbs down from the top -- this way you can fill the middle of the package with more herbs and then when you fold over the top flap, the package will be shorter. Well again, this makes sense, right? Yes, I agree it does...until I do it and then don't hold the package tight enough while I push the herbs from the top....and then the herbs start to come out from the bottom end of the package...and the whole thing starts to slip apart again! Ayoh! (Yikes!)

Once I finally get my bundle together -- the next task is tying it and this has taken me numerous times to do! If only I had paid more attention to how my Mom so neatly and beautiful tied bows on all our Christmas packages when I was little! :) Little did I know that would be of benefit many years later in China! Well anyway, I'll spare you the details but just to say I've experienced many finally successfully wrapped herb packages slip apart again while attempting to wrap it with this string -- and I've also managed to get the rubber glove I'm wearing tied into the knot of the package! "Jia you!" --That's a Chinese expression for cheering someone on -- like in a running race....and in my case in successfully wrapping a package of herbs!

So after this long explanation you may see why I am quite pleased with my success in wrapping 5 bags today :) This morning after filling a large prescription of 30 bags, Dr. Zhao asked Jun Lin and Ayi how I was doing -- they both enthusiastically and cheerfully exclaimed I wrapped two beautiful packages! :) Later today, Jun Lin gave me some packages to practice with and after successfully wrapping them (see the picture below), I was about to unwrap them to put the herbs back and reuse the paper, and Jun Lin instead took them to put them on display as a way to celebrate/congratulate my success!

Another daily success I'm experiencing is crossing the big street on my way to the clinic each day. Again, this doesn't sound like a big deal until you've been in, participated in or witnessed Chinese traffic! There's really absolutely no rules to the 'driving game' -- I guess you can say, if you're still smiling on the other side of the street, you can congratulate yourself and celebrate another daily accomplishment! My tactic is to wait for another person - preferably a group of people with at least 1 or 2 bikes or motor scooters and join their 'scurry group' across the street! I'll save more details on this for when I'm safely home and I know my mom won't worry :)

I have some great pictures of my hike yesterday with Dr. Zhao, Dr. Fu and my two friends, Patrick from Hungary, and David from Brazil. Below are a few pics and I'll put the rest in a photo album to send out with some of the stories from that adventure in the album itself :) The last picture is of Dr. Fu and me in front of a tree that is 4,500 years old. The beauty and peace in the energy this tree generates is profound. If you look up to the right, you'll also see the image of Guanyin sitting in the tree....

Thank you for joining me in my journey here in China. I am so, so happy to share with you. And I am sending Much Love to you all!

Also, thank you soooooo much for your emails. Your words and sharing really mean very much to me.

Much, much Love and Joy,

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