Saturday, 28 May 2011

Life in Taiwan: My experiences with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Luckily, this wasn't my batch...
Traditional Chinese medicine. What on earth is it, anyway? When I talk about Traditional Chinese medicine I am basically painting with really broad brush strokes and including all forms of traditional medicinal and therapeutic ways of treating illness and promoting wellness that have their origins within the Chinese culture. For the sake of brevity, I will refer to it from here as TCM. This includes foot massage, 'cupping', acupuncture, food therapy and herbal reductions and plenty of others, some of which I've tried, many of which I haven't.

My first brush with TCM came when I first moved in with a Taiwanese family in New Zealand. We were taking the much beloved family dog, Rifle, out for his evening walk and we'd got all of 300 metres up the road when I fell off the pavement and twisted my ankle. This was an injury I'd had a thousand times before when I played netball as a teenager. I knew the drill. Swelling, bruising, not being able to walk properly for a few days. Upon seeing my ankle, my host mother expressed sympathies and then produced a funky smelling green patch. I must have looked doubtful as she explained that this was a Chinese remedy, it was only herbal and wouldn't hurt me. Well heck, why not. I can try anything once, so I good-naturedly let her put it on all the while secretly thinking it wouldn't do a jot of good.

Brewing the good stuff...
The next morning I could walk. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a miracle healing but it worked a darn sight quicker than anything I had ever done to my ankle to fix it before. Two days later it was like nothing had happened. It was at that point that I started to think that maybe there was something to all of this... I decided to at least keep an open mind.

Seven years and plenty more experiences like this later, I went to see my first ever TCM doctor. My reasons for going were nothing spectacular: I'd been feeling less healthy than usual this year and had been far more prone to sickness, I was low on energy, had trouble concentrating and just felt like I could do with a boost. Art, Sancia, and myself all trundled along to a little old store in Muzha (木柵) an area of Taipei City. You could smell the herbs from 20 paces and hear my heartbeat from 30, but I took a deep breath and went on in. If truth be told, I was more worried about what he would say was wrong with me than about what sort of medicine he would make me drink. I mean, I knew I was pretty healthy but I'm not one to bail up to the doctor for an annual health exam. I only see a health professional when it's absolutely necessary. Who knew what was really going on in my body?

When our number was called I nervously sat down in front of the doctor. He looked old, maybe late 70's or early 80's but his skin was nothing short of radiant and he moved around with the ease of a 25 year old. He put three fingers on my wrist like he was taking my pulse and within a few seconds listed a number of things that were wrong with me, some of which I knew and some of which I was in denial about. I swapped wrists and more of the same. It was like he was in my head. This guy had never met me, knew nothing about me and had just told me things that he couldn't possibly have guessed at. It took longer for him to write up the prescription of which herbs and other dried goods I would have to take than it did to figure out what my problems were. To say I was in awe would have been a fairly accurate description.

After the doc had seen Sancia and Art, we waited outside for our prescriptions to be made up. There were four men behind the counter sifting through various drawers and clay pots, weighing out and dividing the various dried bits and pieces onto the seven paper sheets. There were dried roots, stuff that looked like bark, stuff that look like grass, various dried berries and dried cicada shells (that wasn't our prescription, thank goodness - I'm open-minded but not that open-minded). Once they had it all, they parceled it all up like they were wrapping fish and chips, sold us a kettle to brew it up in and gave us a bunch of candy to eat after drinking it to reduce the bitterness.

That was two week ago. I've now nearly finished my second round which should be the last one for a while. While writing this I have a mug of my 'morning brew' sitting next to me. I'm psyching myself up to drink it because I will not lie. That stuff tastes foul. It's black and it's bitter. There is nothing redeeming about its taste or appearance. I have to hold my nose and skull it, or I'll never get it down. Basically, it's exactly what good medicine should look and taste like. How am I feeling? So far, so good. For the first few days I felt terrible but now I'm in the second week, a lot seems to be improving. The idea of the medicine is to rebalance my body so I expected to not feel fantastic for the first few days but now I'm (apparently) coming into balance, I am starting to feel more energetic. At the end of this round (designed to unblock my qi - energy flows in the body - and rebalance my hormones) I will let you know exactly how much of an improvement I'm feeling.

Now, to drink this morning's brew... sigh.

Friday, 20 May 2011

War and Peace Wednesdays: May 11th and 18th

As at May 18th, 2011

Pages read so far: 512 - Up to Book Two, Part 3, Chapter 8. 

Confidence level: 
3.5/5: I managed this week to get 50 pages done and at a good speed, so hopefully the pace will remain for the rest of the month so I can catch up. Interestingly, I've been wanting to read my book rather than listen to the audiobook version lately. I'm not sure why but I'll go with it.

Words I have had to look up: 
Nothing this fortnight.

"Life is not over at thirty after all!" Thank you Prince Andrei for that earth-shattering revelation! I can carry on knowing I have more than 2 years left! I do, of course, jest. The poor guy has been through such a time what with losing his wife and all the guilt he felt about that as well as losing his faith in humanity after his stint in the war that it's really great to see him perking up a bit. Well, a lot, actually. He's getting back into it and he's realising he has a whole lot more to live for. I guess this is something that a lot of us experience. Sometimes life can throw epic curve balls at you just can't see how on earth it will ever get any better. Thankfully, a lot of the time it does. I'm really pleased to see our Andy (the irreverent way I like to refer to Prince Andrei in my head) is pulling out of his black phase. Onwards and upwards!

As for dear old Pierre, don't we all know how he's feeling? New Year's Resolutions are made, and then promptly broken 7 weeks later. Exercise regimes are set in place and then slip off the radar. He's trying so hard, bless him, but old habits die hard and when it seems like the rest of the Brothers aren't walking the walk either... Well. I think the way his speech in Chapter Seven was shot down was particularly heart-breaking. I can see what he is saying and I feel his frustration - he believes in action not just empty words. He wants to see results, not just come to regular meetings and act like he's doing something good. He really is interested in doing the hard spiritual work of changing and improving himself but it seems like he's alone. I kind of know how he feels. There have been plenty of times before when I have got involved in something, started out all gung-ho but then got really discouraged because others were all kind of "Whatever man" about it all. He's being accused of being like the Illuminati (which, so far as I understand, have the idea of using the power of religious groups to manipulate secular power structures like the government) but I don't see it like that. He's thinking that they can use their combined powers as a force for good.

What do you think about Pierre's struggle with the apparent apathy of the other Freemasons? Do you think he's right or just a little over-invested?

Links to other people blogging about War and Peace:
The Book Ladys Blog
The Avid Reader's Musings
A Literary Odyssey
Kristi Loves Books
Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness
Jillian at A Room of One's Own
Kaye at The Road goes Ever Ever On (Thursdays with Tolstoy)
Tips on how to read WaP at The Blue Bookcase

Thursday, 19 May 2011

And the winner is....

Green Congratulations
Congratulation Glitters : Forward This Picture

Leeswammes! Congratulations, I will be contacting you as soon as possible for your postal information.

My apologies to all for taking so long to announce the winner, I've been sick for the last week. More on that in the next post...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Dewey - The small town library cat who touched the world: Review

Vicki Myron and Dewey
Source: USA Today
Dewey: The small town library cat who touched the world
By Vicki Myron with Bret Witter
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Published in 2008 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 9780446407410

I read and reviewed this book as part of a Bookcrossing bookring and I received no catnip for this review.

The way some people treat animals sometimes absolutely appalls me. Abandoned dogs left the starve in the mountains, kittens dumped on the side of the road - I get mad just thinking about it. But once in a while, a story comes along that helps restore your faith and reminds you that for every heartless [insert suitably snappy expletive here] that there is out that would hurt an animal, there are plenty more fantastic people who are giving their animals the best lives they possibly can.

I'd heard of Dewey a long time before I read this book, which is really saying something for a kitty. News had reached the shores of New Zealand, goodness knows how, that somewhere in rural America, a cat was bringing together a community and lighting up lives left right and centre. Luckily the true story of the cat lived up to the expectations that had built in my head. 

Source: Spencer Library
Normally, I'm a dog person. Not just a dog person but a Big Dog person. I've had a Golden Retriever, a Yellow Labrador, a cross breed terrier and two German Shepherds be a part of my life. The one smaller dog we had when I was a teenager was a Cocker Spaniel that thought he was a big dog, so the effect was kind of the same. But just because I'm a dog person doesn't mean I can't appreciate the feline species  and as far as cats go, Dewey is surely one of the shining examples. He was found deposited in a book drop box on one of the coldest nights of the year in Spencer, Iowa but after a good scrub and a bite to eat, he quickly set about winning the hearts and minds of the library staff who had found him. He came to be adopted as the official library cat and due to his big personality and charming ways, he became an international Cat Celebrity. 

As much as this is the story of Dewey, it's also the story of Dewey's Mom and Director of Spencer library, Vicki Myron, and his home, the town of Spencer, Iowa. The book reads like you're sitting across from Vicki in her kitchen, listening to her tell the story over a hot cup of coffee. You hear all about the hardships suffered by the town and wider area and also those suffered by Vicki and her family. It's like getting to know the family. And like every good family story, throughout this book, the message that you've just got to keep on trucking no matter what comes your way is loud and clear.

Basically, this book is a fun, heart-warming story filled with lovable characters of both the feline and human kind. It made a very good and welcome distraction from some of the heavier stuff I've been reading of late and despite the ending that had me reaching for the tissue box, it left me feeling good. If you're in the market for something that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy and you're an animal lover then I'd recommend you pick this one up. Enjoy!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sunday Salon: Enid Blyton

This Sunday is Mother's Day here in Taiwan and it got me thinking about my reading childhood. I was a serious bookworm in my earlier years. I didn't mind being collected from school late because it meant extra time in the library and I regularly snuck a torch under the bedcovers to read 'just another chapter' before sleep overtook me. I read almost anything I could get my hands on but one of the authors who pretty well defined my childhood was Enid Blyton and since Sunday is all about the women who shaped our childhoods, this post is dedicated to her.

She was born on 11th August 1897 and passed away well before I was born on 28th November 1968. She was a prolific children's writer and enjoyed huge popular success. She did suffer some problems, namely the "Blyton Bans" where allegedly her books were removed from the children's section on the library and the BBC ban which I wrote about in an earlier post. The ban was apparently because she used a vocabulary that was thought to be too limited and presented a "too rosy" version of the world. Perhaps this is true, perhaps there aren't 'lashings of ginger beer' in real life and perhaps it's not possible to make a bed for the night out of heather and bracken on the moor but you know what? I don't care. Reading is escapism and as a kid, I wasn't interested in whether I could really do all of these things. I was far more interested in pretending that maybe, just maybe, it was possible.

I tore through all of the Famous Five series and the majority of the Secret Seven. My childhood best friend and I would spend hours holed up in her backyard, ducking behind the back wall whilst we surveilled the neighbours in the farmhouse across the field. Of course, they weren't doing anything suspicious but we keenly documented every movement in and around that household... that is, until dinner was served. I also absolutely loved the boarding house series she wrote: Malory Towers, St. Clare's and Whyteleafe, where The Naughtiest Girl was educated. Stories of midnight feasts and the crazy escapades they got up to were just the thing I wanted to read. I inhaled it all, start to finish and then read it all over again. These books sparked my imagination, made anything seem possible (hello, Magic Faraway Tree!) and provided the pure, simple escapism into a world where the worst problems could be overcome with the help of your 'chums', a loyal dog and some more ginger beer.

This magical world of Blyton was a pillar of my childhood and for this reason, on Mother's Day, I choose this literary icon to say a big THANK YOU to.

Which author played a part in your childhood?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Sunday Salon: Nostalgia and reading

Now there's some old books...
Image copyright: Kath Liu 2011
I don't know if it's a result of coming face to face with my long-lost past during The Big Trip or if it's just one of those things that comes around once in a while but right now I have a serious case of nostalgia. I've been looking up all of my favourite tunes from the 90's and enjoying a good little bop down memory lane. I've been singing along with Eternal, dancing around my living room to En Vogue and re-living the best of Tupac Shakur. For a bookish British girl, you might think that I have a very unexpected taste in music, but I'll bet you didn't know that Tupac was, according to one of his biographies  Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur by M. Dyson, a huge reader.

In any case, this attack of the nostalgic got me thinking about the books I had read and loved as a younger person. More specifically, books I had read and loved 10 or more years ago that I hadn't re-read. Would I still love them? Is it possible for the books we loved in our youth to ever going to stand up to us reading them again as adults?

I mean, I'm only 28 years old but already my perspectives have shifted significantly in the single decade it took to get me from only-just-adult to only-just-figuring-out-life. Goodness only knows what changes, lessons and wisdom will come in the next decade or two! So I wonder - are the books I loved then bound to be a little tired now? Or is good literature just plain good no matter how old you are?

I guess it depends on the books and to be really sure I'd have to go back and road test a few old favourites... but with the mountainous To Be Read pile staring at me balefully from my bookshelf, I should probably spend my time on discovering new favourites rather than trying to re-spark something that I may have already outgrown. Sometimes it's kind of like your first love - you look back with fond memories and sometimes you allow yourself to wonder 'what if...' but going back is rarely a good idea. It's better to keep it on the treasured memories shelf rather than let is slide into the what was I thinking bin.

Have you lost any happy memory books by re-reading them at a later stage? Or have you found something fresh and new in old favourites?

Me? I'm just happy re-living the musical moments of years gone by. Good tunes never get old!