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Watermelon And Terracotta Soldiers

July 22, 2011

Tags: order, American debts, Army of Terracotta Soldiers, Beijing, Buddhism, China – unified, Chinese herbs, Confucian scholars, consciousness, Dunhuang, emperor, fiefdoms, Government – USA, Han dynasty, heat afflictions, heat collapse, heat stroke, heat wave, language, measurements, Mogaoku, money, overheating, potassium depletion, pyramid, Qin dynasty, roads, Traditional Chinese Medicine, USA, watermelon juice, Western medicine, Wuhan, Watermelon And Terracotta Soldiers

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are two different kind of heat afflictions: “red” and “white”. Red is what we call a heat stroke - when one is extremely overheated; white is when one has what in Western medicine would be called an electrolyte imbalance. Potassium depletion seems to play a major role.

In Dunhuang, I suffered a heat collapse. Visiting Mogaoku – the Buddhist caves - at around one hundred degrees, was a bit much for my system. In the evening, I refused to eat – which alarmed everybody. At that point, I could barely walk, and in a restaurant they built a make-shift bed for me from several chairs. While they were dining, I waited for them – for about fifteen minutes, or so I thought. In reality, one and a half hour had passed; I lost time (but not consciousness) – a weird feeling.

A few years earlier, after a visit in hot, hot Wuhan – another little dot on the Chinese map; turned out it has twelve million inhabitants – in July, I had a similar collapse in Beijing. That one was worse: I could not lift my head from the pillow anymore.

In both cases, my friend Hong was with me, and she gave me freshly pressed watermelon juice. Within ten minutes, in the Beijing case, I could lift my head, and from there I started eating and drinking again. This time, with the watermelon juice and a good night’s sleep, I woke revived the next morning.

The watermelon juice advice may come just in time for the heat wave in the USA.

Meanwhile, we traveled from dry Dunhuang to rainy Xian – the city that starts the Silk Road. The rain does the land good, and me, too.

Xian is famous for the Army of Terracotta Soldiers – which I have wanted to see for such a long time. It’s magnificent – but also scary because ancient records show that about 700.000 people had to die helping one megalomaniac emperor build his tomb. He, more than 2000 years ago, unified China and became the first Emperor.

Before, the regions had suffered many fiefdoms. The First Emperor of China (of the Qin dynasty) built roads, unified money, measurements and language, and built at his tomb for 38 year; it has the form of a grassy pyramid and is the largest grave installation in the world. When he died unexpectedly at age fifty – speculation goes he was afraid that any one doctor might kill him, so he had several and probably took too many Chinese herbs from too many doctors simultaneously – his son buried him in a pompous ceremony, walked out of the tomb and banged the door shut – leaving all the wives and concubines and court people including 450 Confucian scholars locked in; they died of suffocation. The son then had the tomb entrance camouflaged and killed the people who did the camouflaging. This son was the second and last emperor of the Qin dynasty and hung on only for three more years, then the farmers rebelled against the unimaginable exploitation and killed him. After fierce fights between two rivaling farmer bands, the Han dynasty was established.

Everybody has seen photos of the life-sized terracotta army – but to stand there and look into the faces is amazing. They were built after living models, and we know that each soldier sculpted here had to die for the Emperor. Each face is different. The faces look modern – one sees similar faces now on China's streets. To me it feels less like an army, more like a photo gallery of ancestors. Each gown and uniform has different adornments; even their postures are individual. All look serious and serene, as with a higher purpose.

China’s greatness does not lie in her past only. Every single American owes China about 6,000 dollars. For many years we lived above our means (and was it worthwhile???). Clearly, we can’t put the blame on our Government alone; we were in this together. Only hard work and frugality will get us out now.

I am not saying that everything is better in China than in America – we know that's not true – but I am in awe of the Chinese people who got themselves out of the mess Mao Zedong had put them in.

China Ramblings

July 18, 2011

Tags: food, water, order, movement, altitude, Beijing, Brisbane/Australia, candle, candy sugar, China, China Ramblings, Chinese date, civilizations, cleanliness, cold shower, conservation, construction, defecation, duck tongue, Earth, entertainment, exercise, family, fireworks, flowers - wild, friends, Gansu Province, grass, Grasslands, green tea, horse, Internet, Lanzhou, laughter, lazy Susan, logan, Mongolia, physiology, rancid, sea cucumber, Silk Road, slaughtering, stress, sunset, temperatures, Tibet, Tibetan minority, Tibetan monasteries, toilet, transportation, tourism, work, yak, yak butter, yak meat

We are sitting somewhere between Tibet and Mongolia in a remote place – Lanzhou - and waiting for our air plane that is delayed for hours ... Of course, we are having fun anyway. Our Chinese friends put together a new trip, with only three days notice - and it turns out wonderful - perhaps even better than the originally planned Tibet trip. We are visiting places along the Silk Road. Anyway, there are so many Tibetan temples here - it feels more or less like Tibet.

Remote place – don’t think “quaint”. China is so modern now, Internet is everywhere, and even the ancient Tibetan monasteries and old-fashioned stores are equipped with every new gadget – the monk this morning had a portable speaker phone to be able to address the crowd of tourists.

One thing about China: The Chinese work very hard, most of them – and driving through the country, one can see it: Tons of construction everywhere. They transport sand and stones – they don’t build one house – they build a whole village or a part of town. Hundreds of little stores along the main roads of a town, and many are producing, not just selling.

There are so many Chinese – and the need to feed the family is pressing. But they seem less stressed than we are, and always ready to smile and laugh - or is this only a superficial impression by a visitor who cannot see behind the faces? Because they are only allowed one child, they cherish that one child. To the point of spoiling - as some observers claim. As a rule, Chinese have not yet much time for entertainment. Their lives are work and family, it seems. Except for a little fireworks on Sundays …

On our first night in Beijing, I ate duck tongue. It is not a delicatessen. It arrives on the table because Chinese people eat everything and they let go nothing to waste. The duck is slaughtered not for the tongue, rest assured. And how does it taste? Like some tiny bit of dried meat on a stick – surprise, surprise: a duck tongue has a bone – or at least something that feels and looks like a bone. I won’t eat it again.

I also ate sea cucumber soup – and that was delicious! I had first eaten it years ago in Brisbane/Australia, and I still like it.

Last night, in the area occupied by the Tibetan minority in Gansu Province, we had dinner in a large gazebo, open to the grasslands and the sunset. First a tea was served with green tea leaves, Chinese dates (which are not really dates) , a sort of dried logan, and bits of candy sugar – an auspicious beginning for a long meal that lasted for hours. A Chinese meal is shared. Everybody sits around a round table with a lazy Susan. The dishes turn round and round, and so are stories and laughter. We are traveling with friends and their family – what could be better?

The temperatures in the Grasslands are extreme: At these altitude, it is very hot during the day, rather chilly in the evening, cold at night. This morning I took a cold shower – briskly cold.

Oh, and Chinese toilets. The toilets are supposed to bring you own. Chinese toilets are holes in the grounds. They have three important advantages:

• They can be kept cleaner than a Western style toilet because one doesn’t touch anything.
• They are more physiological: The squatting position furthers defecation.
• And one gets extra exercise by being forced to squat – it keeps Chinese people nimble in their hips and strong in their legs.

One more story about food: In the grassland I walked up to a parked truck filled to capacity with yaks. They were either a smaller kind, or not yet grown, about a dozen of them, with long rugged hair. I talked to one yak – he was frightened and sniveled and it broke my heart – these beautiful animals on their way to be slaughtered.

Like many of us, I am of a divided mind: I feel with the animals – but I also want to eat. As a physician, I know that many people become depleted in vitamin B12 if they avoid meat, fish and eggs. Personally, I could never be a vegetarian because I get weak after a short time and need some meat – about once a week. At our home, we have frequently vegetarian meals – just not always. – And for the record and the truth – yes, I ate yak meat that very evening because that was what we got served, and I was hungry after a day of sightseeing.

This is the human predicament: We want to do better, but we cannot totally avoid to kill other beings for our own benefit. At least, we should face the suffering we are inflicting, keeping it to a minimum by reducing meat consumption – and say a prayer for every non-vegetarian meal we are having.

We also had the famous nomad tea with yak milk. Whenever I had read about it, the milk was described as rancid. Ours was not – it was a pure, satisfying drink. – On the other hand, we had plenty of rancid yak butter fragrance in our noses today because that is what they make candles out in the monasteries. People bring that rancid butter as a tribute, it seems, plus money.

Last thing for today: The high meadows in the Grasslands are of exquisite beauty. Their wild flowers are full of aroma, and the grass is indescribably fresh. The nomads use it for their horses and yaks – they look so proud on their sinewy horses! I am aware that we come in just as tourists, but the nomads live off the land in a gentle and conserving way – and when most civilizations will have fallen down because we have exploited our good old Earth, these and other nomad people have a chance to repopulate the Earth in a new and better way – hopefully.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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