Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Viva Ecuador!

August 10 is the anniversary of Ecuador's independence in 1809. In 1995 and 1996, I lived in Ecuador and have many fond memories of my time there. This evening in Beijing the Ecuadorian embassy put on a grand fiesta with several hundred guests at the Sofitel hotel on Jianguomen, Beijing's main crosstown avenue. It began with the anthems of both Ecuador and China, a speech from the ambassador, a recorded message from President Rafael Correa, and the anthems of both countries sung to a video recording.

After the speeches, there was dining and mingling. The buffet included the usual Chinese and sushi plates I've come to expect at diplomatic gatherings with buffet tables. In addition, there were tables with Ecuadorian specialties. Shrimp in coconut sauce. Llapingauchos (stuffed potato patties). Corn and cheese bread. Flan. A Chinese colleague was with me at the event and I walked him through the Ecuadorian food, serving him things I haven't eaten in years and have missed.

There was no encebollado, the tuna and yuca soup I often crave and eat whenever I land in New York (I'm going to have to learn how to make it), but my appetite was well sated with the selection of Ecuadorian comida tipica on offer.

In addition to eating, the event included socializing. Celebrants from around the world, including staff at a range of embassies and executives and other honored guests from numerous companies and government organizations, joined the Ecuadorians in marking their dia nacional.

Viva Ecuador!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Aaaaaah: Beijing Massage Hospital

Summertime and the living is easy. Especially if you teach at a university. With my copious amounts of free time I've been studying Chinese, reading, swimming, and generally taking care of myself. In Beijing, taking care of yourself usually involves TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), including massage. The best place to go for professional care of your aches and pains? The Beijing Massage Hospital (北京按摩医院), steps away from Exit A of the Pinganli subway stop on the 4 line.

Back in June, when I barely had a moment free from marking my students' papers and exams, I asked a Chinese friend who lives near me if she could recommend somewhere local for baguan (cupping), a TCM treatment that involves having glass cups placed on your skin, leaving bruises and a much healthier posture and range of motion afterwards. She and a mutual friend introduced me to the Beijing Massage Hospital.

Massage is not the only treatment available at the hospital. They also offer baguan, acupunture, and other treatments, and treat patients on both an in-patient and out-patient basis. Many of the massage therapists at the hospital are blind. Some even speak some English. Dr. Zou, who was recommended by my friends, speaks English well enough that he is one of the trainers of visiting doctors and massage therapists from overseas who want to study here. He's also a gifted massage therapist.

Dr. Zou had me see the head doctor, who ordered back x-rays, before he worked on me. Four x-rays cost ~US$18 and were printed and diagnosed in the time it took for me to have baguan. My Chinese friends looked at me like they were going to have to tell me I'd die a slow and painful death before telling me I have a "C-curve" on my back. I shocked them by laughing, explained that the English word is 'scoliosis,' and yes, I already knew that. I laughed even harder when the hospital's head doctor looked me over and told them I had a wider range of motion and was healthier than them.

The total cost of my visit? ~US$27, including hospital record book, card (to hold credit for future treatments and information about my visit history), handkerchief-like cloths for the massage therapist to use between their hands and my skin or clothes (which I take back with me when I visit), x-rays, baguan and massage.

In the U.S. I normally avoid hospitals, and in China I've been even more adamant about staying away. The beautiful siheyuan (courtyard house) grounds of this hospital and the bamboo and pomegranate trees decorating the grounds create a relaxing and beautiful environment here though, a restorative contrast to most hospitals. Since my first visit I've already been back a number of times. I enjoy to going to this hospital.