The Dualities of my Trip to China
“Ni hao, Auntie Audrey! Yi, er, san”. “Ni hao, Elijah! Si, wu, liu”; and then in unison: “Qi, ba, jiu, shi!” Thus goes the dialog between my (then) four year-old nephew and me, practicing our hellos and counting to 10 in Chinese after each episode of “Caillou”. Little did I know those very same words would come in handy again two years later on my trip to China.
For me, China is a city of sharp contrasts. Our recent visit (April 2012) to Hang Zhou as part of a three-week internship through East West College was educational & inspiring, yet intimidating and humbling at the same time. Against the backdrop of office buildings, high rises, cramped dwellings and every form of transportation known to man, the adrenalin-pumping hustle and bustle of the traffic as people went about the business of the day, contrasted dramatically with the beautifully serene West Lake. At West Lake, by 7am each morning, mist softly covered the lake - so still, it was as a sheet of light gray silk - while the neighbors gathered to do their morning ritual of Qi Gong, Tai Chi or some other form of martial arts, dancing or a casual stroll around the lake. Here and there, little pockets of men would sit, hunched over a board game - quietly contemplating a strategy for the next move - itself very much like a form of sitting meditation. Just steps away, the city comes alive a few hours later, and thus begins the duality of daily life in China, as bicycles, trolleys & cars intermingle and fight for forward movement against the buses, taxicabs and pedestrians. From the 31st floor of the revolving restaurant in our hotel, I could see the neatly manicured rooftop gardens and individuals - alone and in silence - do their morning stretch or Qi Gong, while the street life, honking horns and blaring whistles screamed below. I am reminded of a line from “Desiderata”: “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”, and I am inspired.
I automatically awaken at 530am each morning, and looking out my hotel room window, I would notice a lone figure nine floors below. Dressed in an orange uniform carrying a make-shift “broom” was a lone street sweeper, who - despite all the technology, science and mechanizations in China - went about his daily routine of sweeping the streets clean. I watched fascinated every morning as he went about the ‘Zen of street sweeping’, as businessmen in suits screaming into their cell phones, scurried around, weaving in and around the sidewalks, frantically trying to make an important deadline. And yet, the orange-clad street sweeper, gently and ever so patiently— conscientiously, continued to sweep, leaving no speck of litter behind, and I am humbled.
From the modern furnishings of my hotel room, I would venture out every week to tour a historic museum or herbal pharmacy, shop the old streets of Hong Cun or the Old Market, or climb Mounts Qi Yun and Huang Shan. I was awestruck by the original, ornate architecture and furnishings dating back hundreds— even thousands of years. Sacred temples, caves and mountains left us speechless. That these temples and deities were created thousands of years ago and were still standing in their awesome glory— remains the most indescribable memory of this trip. We walked in reverent silence, honoring the sacredness of the space, taking it all in, yet knowing no pictures or words could ever capture the pulse of the energies that flowed in and around us, and I am moved.
While the caves, temples and mountains showed us a glimpse of the ancient and historic spirituality of China, our clinical internship at Zhejiang Chinese Medical University and the various hospitals we visited, highlighted for us the spirituality as well as the science of the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Here in America, this is still seen as “alternative therapy”; in China no one has to be convinced that the practice works. We were all amazed by the skill and compassion of the teachers and doctors we shadowed every day. My education so far has served to be a strong foundation for my future TCM practice, but I am so grateful to have been a part of this internship as I see that success rests on so much more that I have to learn. It is with a new hunger and passion that I return to school - determined more than ever to be the best TCM doctor that I can be. Am I intimidated? A little; can we do it? Absolutely! For it is in doing our very best, being of service and honoring our soul’s purpose that we are fulfilled.
For me, the contrasts highlighted above to some degree reflect the duality of the teachings of Yin & Yang so inherent in TCM and the natural cycles of life. I now feel comfortable counting to 10 in Chinese, thanks to my (now) six- year old nephew, but learning at East West continues, and so does the journey......