March 7, 2002: It was another typical trip to Shaolin. Not the longest I've taken, but, one of the most interesting. It was new and unique; it was more of the same shit.
It all started during one of our many "monk" meals, as I like to call them, dinner with Shi De Cheng and some others. Now, being from New York, I'm more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy, with, pizza and chocolate chip cookies thrown in. This whole concept of eating nothing but vegetables never sat well with me, especially since, in China, I could hardly ever identify the veggies. But, for the most part, they were green and they didn't move, so, I tolerated them. With the sauce and whatever else they put on them, it all kind of reminded me of chicken. But, there was a problem with the eating of veggies in China, and that involved the ones that didn't get cooked. Now, I wouldn't exactly pride myself on my anti-dysentery eating skills, but, hey, I've been in China god knows how many times with this trip, and I've gotten pretty good at the "do's and don'ts" of eating, rules that pretty much try to ensure good gastronomical health. But, it seems, that regardless of how good you are at avoiding the little beasties in the water and the food, something, somewhere, gets into your gut and throws one hell of a party. Whether it's the knife that cuts through the outside infected peel of the watermelon, or, the dirty drop of water on the "cleaned" plate, some little bugger always seems to get by. Going to China, training hard, and routine trips driving the porcelain bus is the typical order of the day.
But, the veggies are the ones you have to watch out for. It's very common for farmers to spend their days walking from latrine to field, latrine to field, with buckets full of fermenting human shit. Which, according to good farmer lore, is excellent fertilizer for the new and upcoming plants in the fields. Of course, all of these guys missed that microbiology lecture in their third grade classes which talked about transmission of bacteria and parasites from organism to organism via the food supply. So, who can fault them? But, from perusal of many, many latrines in China, that I had the absolute pleasure to visit, it's fairly obvious from the shit within, that pretty much everybody is infected with something, to some degree. It's just a matter of time and degree, as to when you're next.
It was not to be long for me. During one of our "monk" meals, I had eyed the cucumber imitations with great suspicion. Not peeled, wet, though, very clean looking. "Have some, try!", said Lu Yong, as he typically did, when I viewed something with the slightest bit of displeasure, suspicion, or absolute disgust. "It's good". Of course, Decheng and Xingwei dug right in. Hell, I thought, they're monks. They eat this stuff all the time. And, I had eaten these things before also. They really weren't a problem, and, I had eaten in this specific restaurant many times before. I wasn't all that worried. But, I did indiscreetly, wipe off each cucumber imitation with my sleeve prior to eating. Xingwei had gotten quite the kick out of that maneuver.
The next morning brought with it a full day of training, as every day had, but this time, with a bit of abdominal cramps. I started to realize that this trip was just not going to let me escape the usual microbial assaults on my body, as, on top of the abdominal cramps, I had been fighting off, rather successfully, some sort of flu. Yes, traveling to a foreign area, full of foreign viruses and other wonderful microbials, in winter, was always a challenge. On top of the Flintstones vitamins, zinc, and Vitamin C, I added some Flagyl. I was going to get rid of this before it took hold of me. I certainly didn't want to get my training hampered in any way.
It was not to be. Whatever it was on the cukes, it wasn't Giardia. Must have been some sort of E.Coli, or other bacteria. The Flagyl just didn't hit it, and, because I had forgotten some other, more relevant antibiotics, I was veritably shit out of luck. As my belly got swollen, and I lost precious electrolytes, I got weak. Training got more and more difficult as the next two days transpired.
Surprisingly, I was not the only one to get ill. Decheng and Lu Yong had gotten it also. They took a less scientific approach towards treating it. They drank lots of Chinese tea. I, having forgotten the appropriate antibiotics, got some Chinese ones at the little nurse place down the street. "Drink tea", Decheng would exclaim. "Have some, try!", said Yong, in his typical fashion. I just wasn't a tea drinker. And, I never got into drinking this hot water stuff. I stuck with my Chinese antibiotics; they drank tea.
They got better long before I did.
It took me a few days to get back on my feet, but I eventually did. I always did. It was never a question of getting better, it was always a question of when. Just as it was never a question of would I get some sort of dysenteric illness, it was always a question of when.
One of my next forays into the world of Chinese restaurants left me much more careful. Actually, with not much of an appetite, I decided one night to just nibble on a small bowl of rice. Lu Yong decided to go for the cukes. I admired his gastrointestinal fortitude, but, before I could come up with some sort of congratulatory witty remark, I was interrupted by the sound of a dying man. Well, it had sounded like a dying man. One struggling with his very last breath.
There had been four Chinese men sitting at the table only a few feet away from us, towards the other side of the restaurant. Typical older Chinese men, all about my age, or, well, younger. It was hard to tell, considering their disheveled appearance and their heavy smoking history. They had been busy burying their heads in bowls of noodles during the evening, and really, had not been much of a spit bother.
Oh, the concept of spitting during dinner. What an appetizing thought. It takes some getting used to, but, after a while, you start to look forward to it. Especially in a crowded restaurant. Always made you wonder where it was going to land. The Chinese had felt in the past that swallowing spit was unhealthy, thus, the hurled lugies onto the restaurant floors. Sometimes, if you were really lucky, you might get an opportunity to experience a double lugie, one which the spitter brought up a huge chunk of phlegm, not once, but twice, from his chronic bronchitic lungs, prior to hurling it onto the floor in some haphazard direction. It was quite common a few years ago, but, just prior to Beijing's getting the Olympics, there had been a massive crackdown on public lugie hurling. You just didn't slip and slide on restaurant floors anymore. Not like the good old days.
No, this death rendering noise which usually indicated a slow slide down the wicked path towards Hades was not the precursor to the largest public lugie hurl ever experienced. No, it was better. Much better.
Yong had a slew of noodles hanging out of his mouth when the near quiet in the restaurant reverberated with this grotesque attempt at respiration. In fact, it had caused Yong to completely stop what he was doing. I immediately commented upon how nice he looked with a load of noodles hanging from his gaping mouth, all swaying ever so gently, to and fro, to and fro, over a bowl of noodles, veggies, and mystery meat. "Very nice" I commented. Yong just gave me one of those typical Chinese "I don't give a shit" looks, and slurped this noodles into a gastric oblivion. It was the second overbearing attempt at respiration from the other side of the restaurant that had gotten both of our attentions.
The poor guy. One of the four Chinese gentlemen at the other table was leaning ever so precipitously, over the edge of the table. His face was pointed to the floor; his index finger held tightly against the side of one nostril. It obviously had been painful, if not difficult. He would ever so gently attempt to take in a large breath, and. while simultaneously holding his index finger against one nostril, and, keeping his mouth firmly closed, he would try to exhale as forcefully as he could, without blowing his eyes out of his head. The sweat was starting to pour precipitously off of his forehead. And, ever so slightly, his head rocked in a sort of aberrant rhythmic manner, back and forth, back and forth. It kind of reminded me of the noodles hanging out of Yong's mouth. Poor guy, I thought, his table partners had been completely ignoring him.
It was a nose lugie. And what a masterpiece it was turning out to be. As I watched the birth of this slimy yellowish green creation, which at this point, had only been about an inch long, Yong noisily slurped yet another mouthful of noodles. "Shhhh", I said. "Let's not disturb him". Without a doubt, I thought, this poor man was going to need all the concentration he could muster.
The man slowly drew in another deep breath, and, with qi that I had never witnessed before, blew yet again. His sorry attempt to deliver this bastard child of his was not going all that well. The nose lugie started to take shape as its birth continued, now, at this time, gaining a length of close to three inches. I was amazed at its tenacity, its colors, its desire to not want to come into the world. The poor man I thought, as he started to rock his head back and forth, ever so slightly, but far more rapidly. He was suffering. I said to Yong, again, with a full mouth of noodles, "Look. This is going to be a good one". Yong mumbled something to the tune of "Very nice" as he munched away on his dinner. The man's table partners had also continued on with their meals, not appreciating the masterpiece that was being created. "Typical Chinese" I muttered, to which Yong, without any sort of verbal response, just looked at me in his usual "I'll never understand you Americans" look, and dove into his noodle bowl for yet another mouthful.
It was agonizing, the next breath that this poor guy tried to take. For when he opened his mouth to try to suck in some more air, which, he would subsequently use to give birth to this monstrous nose booger, the slimy creation started swaying to and fro, towards and away from this man's gaping mouth. It had grown considerably, on its own, during the time that I had talked to Yong. Now, at almost four inches in length, it was getting to be difficult to handle. Not yet big enough to deliver itself, but, long enough to become a face hazard. I looked at Yong and commented that we should consider going over and giving this man a hand. Yong was kind of puzzled, but, having quickly noticed that, Mr. Perception am I, I immediately suggested that if I had grabbed the guy's head, Yong could grab the itinerant and difficult booger, and dislodge it from this poor man's nose. Yong said little, just commenting on the fact that I was generous to offer him the booger side of the dilemma, and again, attacked his noodle bowl.
A sigh, and a large, boisterous blow from the other table returned my attention to this poor fellow. He had almost done it. The nose lugie was hanging on for dear life, swaying by one tiny strand of stretched green mucus. It was almost five inches long. "A masterpiece, Yong, a veritable masterpiece". Unfortunately, if fell precipitously to the floor before Yong could drag himself from his noodle bowl to appreciate one of god's better creations. The man wiped his nose with his sleeve, and returned to eating with his companions, who, I might add, so selfishly never stopped eating during this whole ordeal.
"I wish I could do that". Yong just gave me another one of those looks, and proceeded to stuff the last remaining noodles into his mouth.
Oh, some new creations, and some new deletions, from the site. I've been a busy boy.
* The end of the Multicity chat room. Hell, now they want money. I wasn't much impressed with the service anyway. Once I get back to the US, I'll start looking for a better chat room, with instant messaging and other neat stuff, for the new server.
* Oh, it's not much of a new server, actually, it's one of my old computers. But, with Linux successfully installed, it's running the File Library and the Photo Library pretty well. There's lots of new photos in the Photo Library, from my last two trips, plus, I've taken the stuff out of the Doc Minutiae section and put it into the Photo Library, to make room on the primary server. From the way you guys talk, we need all the space we can get for the Discussion Forum. If all of this starts to become popular, I'll buy a more professional, real server to handle the other aspects of the site.
* And as for the NEW server, the one I haven't bought yet, as opposed to the new server, which is my old PC pretending to be a server, in a few weeks, it should be running. That is, after some time and effort with software installation and configuration, and, oh, a few grand. Well, more than a few grand. But, hey, you're worth it. Right? Coming, a professional chat room, site registration, and, the online store.
"Have some, try!". Oh, the usual Lu Yong cajoling to try some bizarre looking object that happened to grace a dinner plate. We had been in a different restaurant, actually, the hotel buffet, in which all sorts of lovely delicacies could be found. I had been particularly intrigued by the long, slender dark grey fleshy thing that had been coated in some sort of flour material and deep fried. There were a whole bunch of them sitting in the hot plate. I picked one up, and took a small bite out of it.
"What is it?", I asked my trusty companion.
"I don't know the English name for it", replied Yong. Which was not uncommon, as a lot of these Chinese delicacies didn't really have English names, or, names that we Americans could associate with them. I took another bite.
"Do you like it? It tastes like fish."
Well, no, I didn't like it. And, it tasted more like chicken to me than anything else. But, then again, all this damn Chinese food, regardless of what it was, after being saturated with cooking oil and other grease, it all tasted like chicken. With the exception of chicken of course. The Chinese chicken tasted more like grizzle and bones.
"So, you don't know the name of it?" I guessed that if I got enough information about it, maybe I could figure out the name of this slender delicacy. "Do you know anything about it?"
Yong shook his head ever so gently, and replied "It lives in the mud."
"Oh, that's nice. Special, truly special". Yong was just puzzled. He just didn't understand.
* Yes. Life in the mud. I wish I had pictures. But, well, I do. Cambodian mud. Angkor Wat. The famous temples of Angkor. Quite the place, if you ever have the opportunity to visit. But, with pictures of it in the Photo Library, you don't have to go. You have to check these out, because, well, it's just fantastic.
* Pictures of my journeys into the far northwestern regions of China; more specifically, the Silk Road. Lots of great shots of the Gobi Desert, the market of Kashi, the areas around Urumqi, and the famed Buddhist caves of Dun Huang. All in the Photo Library.
* Talking about pictures. I've got better ones of the famed Damo stone, from the Shaolin temple. And yes, you don't have to use your imagination anymore to see the big guy. Doc does the photo right this time. In the Wenshu Hall section of the Shaolin temple photos.
* More pictures, this time, a follow up on the evolution of Shaolin, in the Destruction section. Yongxin is having a field day, as he completely renovates Shaolin village.
* And in the File Library, some more gong fu videos, are, well, coming, and, to help you with your photo editing needs so that you can more easily prepare your stuff for the Photo Library, some software utilities that you might find worth having. The gong fu videos have turned out to be quite the process, especially considering that fact that Microsoft's media file stuff becomes uneditable once you create it. Oh, yet another attempt by Bill Gates to rule the world. And make my life more difficult. I'll get them up on the forum once I figure out how to make my video editor work with Windows XP.
Ah, flying. Terrorists. New security. Actually, the security process in China hasn't changed a bit; nor has it changed for international flights. It was the domestic flights in the US that caused me all the problems. Now, just guess what a 6' 3", 210 pound, rather large and rather bald guy hears on a rather constant basis while attempting to board flights in the US?
"Sir, could you please step aside? Remove your shoes. Turn around and raise your arms...."
Oh, it was laughable. But, also a bit disconcerting. For once security has you, they kind of got you. And when you're quite significantly larger than the little guys they have with the magnetic wands, some of them seem to take a certain amount of pleasure in exhibiting their power in front of the rest of the passengers. It was happening to me so often, that I was starting to tire of it. Out of all of the onlookers, who were watching me remove my shoes and get magnetically patted down, one especially sympathetic woman caught my eye. It was the look in her face, that kind of suggested something to the effect of "We're with you."
I was touched. But I didn't want her to think that this was causing me any difficulty. So, as the rather small individual was running the magnetometer around my arms and my thighs, I just commented to her, in a loud and reassuring fashion, "I'm used to this. Had to deal with it every night when I was in prison."
Not the smartest thing I'd ever done....
* Oh, the doggies were pissed. Max didn't seem all that annoyed at my absence. But, what do you expect from a 14 year old Golden Retriever, with cataracts and Alzheimer's. He spent most of my time away laying on the floor barking at a plant. Mindy was horribly annoyed, so much so, that she refused to spend any time with me for about two days. But, the girlfriend seemed to be OK with all of it. Hell, she had my cell phone number, and she called, on a fairly routine basis. And, I, trying to be a good boyfriend, had even called her. OK, not so often. But, hey, I'm a guy. All seemed to be well, until I got home. The doggies got pissed, and they got over it. The girlfriend wasn't pissed, didn't have to get over it, but eventually got pissed, and left. For reasons unknown. Has this all happened before? Yes. Will it happen again? Indubitably. Do we care? No. Do we understand? Are you kidding? Like Freud, I'll go to my deathbed wondering about the intricacies of the female mind. But, unlike Freud, I think I've got a better handle on it. So, advice for the lovelorn, from, well, me. In Topic Nine, in the Topics section. It's a good one. Not as good as Topic Eight, but, well, I'm in trouble again.
* Want to piss off your doggies? Get rid of your girlfriend? There's one way to do it, and do it well. Go to China with doc and the rest of the gang. Sign up now, for DocTour 2002, under DocTour Registration. You don't have a lot of time. And, it will be one of the smarter things you've ever done.
Talking about smart things I've done, going to China had caused all sorts of wonderful experiences too. Getting through the magnetometer at LAX on the way to boarding my Korean Air flight was no problem, despite the fact that the three National Guardsmen, toting M16's, all kind of looked at me funny. I just smiled at them. Yes, smiled. OK, so it's rare when the big guy smiles, but, when three totally bored plumbers and accountants, have to dress in battle fatigues and carry guns that they rarely fire, look at you suspiciously, you have to smile. I found it a bit humorous. But, it got better.
The rather large black woman who did the x-ray analysis of the baggage pulled me aside. She was concerned about something that showed up on x-ray. I started to wonder what I had left in my computer bag. I know the ThinkPad needs to get x-rayed individually. I had taken it out. And, I had pulled out the nail clipper, the little one inch pocket knife, and anything else that could be considered. "dangerous". and had left it at home. No, I reassured myself. There was nothing in the bag that could possibly be deemed suspicious.
"What's this?", queried this rather concerned woman, as she looked suspiciously at me.
"It looks like a cuticle cutter. I need them to keep my nails looking fine and dandy".
OK, so I don't have fine and dandy nails. Hey, I'm a guy. A big one. And big guys don't need fine and dandy nails. But, I was tired, I was not looking forward to this long flight, and I had been slightly annoyed at the idiotic security I had to deal with on my first flight to LA from Vegas.
"Well, I need to take this from you, because it could be used as a weapon."
I looked at the small, tiny, little cuticle scissors. With their quarter inch jaws. If that. I started to think about how thick skin was. I started to think humorously of some idiot trying to snip his way through the cockpit door with one of these. The whole thing tickled me. The National Guardsmen still eyed me suspiciously. A cuticle cutter, I started to think. Oh, this guy is dangerous. My response was quick. And loud. I wanted to make sure that all heard. Including the little guys with the guns.
"Sweetheart, I'm from New York. I don't need a weapon to be dangerous."
She laughed and threw my cuticle scissors back into my bag. "Have a nice flight. Don't want to piss you off 'cause you can't do your nails."
She was amused. The guys with the guns weren't. And off I went to China.