Too Much Cold

I realize this is a strange title for a post, given the fact that we Beijingers are experiencing the hottest run of HOT HOT days in nearly a decade. Even the mere use of the word seems to bring some, if only momentary, relief.

Three days ago as I was doing one of life's more mundane tasks (ironing a shirt), I bent over a bit and felt a pull in my lower back.  Uh-oh.  I've dealt with a slipped disc a few times in the past, and my first thought was "oh no, not again!" While it hurt plenty, as I moved around a bit, I was quite sure that this was just a pulled muscle (or something less than a slipped disc).  I popped some ibuprofen, and went on my merry way, albeit a bit more slowly than normal.

Today, after only sensing minor improvement (I'm not overly patient), I decided to go to the blind massage place across the street from my place.  Massage is one of the main skills that blind people are taught here and most neighborhoods have places (not called 'parlors') where they work. After explaining to the doctor (that's what they are called) I hopped on the table and he went to work.  The technique is sort of a mix of physical therapy and chiropracty.

I asked him if he could tell by feeling what the problem was.

"Cold!" he said.  "Too much cold!" 

I should have known better than to ask the question because in traditional Chinese medical thinking, cold is the underlying cause of every single physical ailment.

Of course there was no way that I was going to tell him that I set the air-conditioner in my bedroom to 68 degrees every night before going to sleep. He would have slapped me upside the head and muttered "Stupid foreigner–not a brain in her head!"

It does feel better, and I think I may go again tomorrow.

Don’t Spill

I was reminded today of of an important truth:  if you are forced to share a table with a stranger at McDonald's, it's best NOT to spill your large coke onto her lap.

Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way.


Today, for the first time in 11 days, Beijing's air quality was upgraded to "unhealthy."  Yes, you read that right — UPGRADED!!!  After sliding back and forth between "hazardous" (Warning: your lungs are about to fall out!) and "very unhealthy" (Warning: one of your lungs may fall out!) for over a week, today's "unhealthy" air (Warning: your sinuses may quit working!) seemed like a breath of fresh air.

Someone (the US Embassy perhaps) maintains a Twitter feed called BeijingAir, which posts the air quality readings on an hourly basis.  I signed up to follow it.  That was a mistake.

I miss the former days of my blissful ignorance when I was happy thinking that the persistant nausea and headaches were caused by something I ate rather than what I was breathing. 

WHAM! Bam! The Great Wall!

In the previous post I mentioned that my mom, sister, and I had been at the Great Wall the same day that WHAM! was there and thus we might be visible in the background of any Wall shots on the video.  That was not the case for either of the videos posted earlier.

However… I was hunting around for the same version of the video on YouTube that I'd found on YouKu (obviously not successful), I did run across a different video of the group's visit to the Great Wall.  As I was watching it, lo and behold, there we were…about 30 yards away.  I was able to identify us because I  remembered the colors of the clothing we were wearing and that my mom was carrying a blue bag, which is clearly visible in the video.  Below is the video. You will see us between the 8 second and 19 second marks leaning on the wall down to the left (there's a man in a backpack who walks towards us, then on past).

To confirm my belief that the three people in the video are in fact, us, I was able to dig out a digitized photo (scanned from a slide) that I took of my mom and sister in that very spot.  In fact, in the video, it seems that I'm either putting my camera away or leaning down to take it out of a bag.  The color of the clothing is the same. The position of my sister against the wall is the same.  And I know from a recent trip to Badaling that what is off to the left of us in the video is what is in the background of the photo.

Jan grace on wall

(Sorry, mom and sis….I had to put this up!)

I don't know if you, dear reader, are amused by all this, but to me it's way too much fun!!

WHAM! Bam! Beijing (circa 1985)

A few weeks back one of my colleagues asked me a question that shook loose some long-forgotten memories from my early days in China.  "Jo," he said, "You were in China in 1985.  Were you here when the British pop group WHAM! visited China?"

Before I answered his question (which suddenly made me feel very old) I queried him as to why in the world he was asking me that, out of the blue.  I hadn't heard the name WHAM! (much less given them any thought) for 20+ years.  He told me that he'd recently stumbled across a video online that the group had produced about their visit to China in April of 1985. They were the first western pop group to give a concert in China in the early days of the reform period, so their visit to China was quite the big deal.  My colleague said that the shots of Beijing looked so different and he was wondering if it really looked like that back then.  Since he knew that I've been in China for 25 years, he thought I'd be the perfect person to ask.

Well, my response surprised my colleague:  "Not only was I already working in China then, "I replied. "I also happened to be in Bejiing the weekend they were giving their concert."  My mom and sister were visiting me from the US and we'd come up to Beijing for the weekend from Zhengzhou, where I was teaching. And what's more, we were at the Great Wall (Badaling, of course, since Mutianyu wasn't open yet) the very same time that WHAM! was there.  I told him that if there was footage of the group's trip to the Great Wall, we might even be spotted in the background somewhere!!

As you can imagine I went immediately to the online video he was telling me about.  Talk about memories flooding back of China in the 1980's.  Yes, folks, it really did look like that.

For my readers who are inside the Great Firewall of China, clink on this link to watch the video onYouKu:

Wham! Freedom.  (I can't get the YouKu url embedded into my blog, for some reason.)

For readers outside the Great Firewall (who might not be able to access Youku), here is slightly different (and less interesting version) of the video on YouTube.  China footage only goes until minute 3 or 4. 

The mullets and jackets with shoulder pads are unfortunate!

Repairmen #7 and #8

The ongoing air-conditioner saga hopefully came to a close today when repairmen #7 and #8 left my house this morning around 10:00.  In my last update, I reported that I was waiting for Repairmen #4, #5, and #6 to come to remove my old AC and install a new one in my living room.

I'm happy to report their successful completion of those tasks, although I had to be surprisingly firm in getting #5 and #6 (they were a team) to use a safety harness when they climbed out my 5th floor window carrying a giant AC unit.  For some reason, they didn't think the safety harness was necessary.  All I could think of was them falling to their deaths with a brand new AC in their arms and me being carted off to a detention center for not looking out after the safety of the hired workers.  They finally acquiesced.

That's the good news.  The bad news is that the very next day the air-conditioners in my two bedrooms quit working.  As you can imagine, I was a bit reluctant to have to call my landlady and break the news to her, but since it was 106 degrees outside, I overcame that reluctance and called her with the bad news. 

Although surprised, she took it in stride, and called yet another set of repairmen (#7 and #8), who weren't able to get to my place until this morning.  The 'motherboard' on one was on the blink so they replaced that.  The outside unit of the other one was filthy, so #8 crawled out the window (happily wearing a safety harness, I might add) and cleaned it.

Eight repairmen later, all my air-conditioners are now working. 

Back in the Saddle

I finally got back on my bicycle this week, almost 8 months after knee surgery.  It's more of a psychological milestone, though, than a physical one, since I've actually been working out on a stationary bike for a couple of months. This was just the week I got around to getting my bike in working order again (the tires were completely flat). 

It also happens that it was just a year ago this week that I hopped on my bike and rode down the street to the military hospital to get an MRI prior to seeing the knee specialist.  That was the event that set in motion what was to be my "Year of the Knee." 

At any rate, it felt great to ride again (and without pain), even for a short distance.