Having attended our independent study projects for two weeks, here are a few updates on how those are going.
My ISP – in which I play the Yunnan-style Hulusi – is going exceedingly well! It is difficult, fast-paced, and challenging, but very enjoyable to learn. I’m excited to learn more, as well as to return home to the United States and see what resources I can find on this instrument.
My ISP has been going really well. I think calligraphy can be pretty relaxing, but often it’s frustrating at the beginning of the class. I come from a long, usually crowded bus ride, and am not really calm enough to write well. My teacher encourages me to worry less about my mistakes, and by the end of my lesson, I’m doing much better than when I started. I think I’ve learned a lot I the past week, but I want to continue studying Chinese calligraphy when I get back, because it seems like there are worlds of information and technique I can’t possibly learn in just a month.
Kunming, being the first place where we’ve been left to find things on our own and manage our own schedules, has been where I’ve gotten lost more times than ever before in my life. I’ve gotten lost four out of the nine days we’ve been here, and, some of those days, more than once in the same day. I got lost looking for my homestay, looking for my ISP, looking for my homestay mom’s yoga class, looking for my homestay brother’s Tae Kwon Do class, and looking for the program house. The first time I got lost, I was scared for my life and my mind filled with panic inducing what-ifs. Now, however, it doesn’t really phase me when I realize I have no idea where I am. I’ve gotten comfortable with asking random people for directions, which is something I was never able to do before, and my language skills have thereby improved. I’ve learned that, no matter how lost I feel, here is always a street I vaguely recognize that can lead me back home, some nice person with a phone willing to look up directions for me, or, as a last resort, a taxi driver who know the way. This is how one of my biggest fears, getting lost, helped me grow.
I love my ISP so far. I’m studying Christianity in China, which I have broken into two parts: The first is studying a Chinese Bible I have, trying to figure out what choices were made when translating the Bible into Chinese. The second part of my ISP entails me going to services and seeing how they are similar and different from the masses I go to in the U.S. It’s really cool.
My ISP is going really well thus far. I have been working alongside Nik at Shui He Fan Dian, a local Chinese restaurant. Once we arrive at the restaurant, the owner greets us kindly and hands us a menu so we can select what dishes we are going to make that day. We make one vegetable and one meat dish each time. Once in the kitchen, we wash our hands and navigate the crowded kitchen to where the owner instructs us to work. It is quite amazing that such a small kitchen can accommodate so many cooks. During the restaurant’s busy hours, there can be up to seven or eight cooks navigating a space smaller than an average bedroom.
The heat from the woks is quite intense. From what looks like the mouth of a forge, a tall flame heats the bottom of the huge cast iron bowls. The sound is comparable to a small jet engine. The cook ignites the gas stove with a quick tap of his leg on the lever and a wave of heat is sent across the kitchen. Condiments and spices ready, a generous ladling of oil finds its way to the bottom of the wok. In go some chopped eggplant and potato. Nik and I try to reposition given another cook needs to use the burner next to us. Careful to avoid the tubs of cut meat and flying oil droplets, we make it to the other side of our instructor. The ground is covered in a thin layer of grease; I carefully plan out my steps so that I don’t end up on the ground. Our instructor offers to let us use the wok. It is quite heavy and awkward to use. I feel that there is a steep learning curve to this cooking method. The dish is finished with some salt, sugar, msg, and other spices. It smells amazing. It is plated and brought to our table where we get to eat our creations.
I am keeping a recipe book of my favorite recipes. The measurements are crude and the instructions are very simple. It amazes me how such few ingredients and little time go into making such great food.
There’s a picture of me that both embarrasses me and fills me with marvel: it is the first day of my ISP, I am standing in a white doctor’s coat with the Sheng Ai TCM Hospital Logo so oversized it nearly reaches my ankles, I am gripping a red journal, and my hair is pulled back into a mandatory tight ponytail. I look excited and completely out of my element. It’s incredible that I’m even there.
That’s how I feel about my hours of observation in the Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital. TCM comes with generations and generations of culture, knowledge, and care. When I’m watching doctors and patients, I feel the thrill of a medical student watching an expert at work, but I also see a relationship between the two that feels painfully underdeveloped in Western medical contexts. I’m not quite sure yet how to describe this care and connection that TCM doctors seem so capable of forming. Maybe it has something to do with the way in which the medicine views a person holistically and not as a problem to be solved.
I feel incredibly privileged to stand next to these doctors and observe behind the drawn curtains of their practice. I don’t know if I’ll come away from this one-month ISP being able to practice traditional medicine. But I’m learning about how we care for each other. I’m seeing in a new way what it means to ask for help and receive it.