Here you will find info on the 24 solar terms of the Chinese agricultural calendar, nerdnotes about classical Chinese medicine, tips for self-care drawn from all the various healing modalities I practice, epiphanies about mind & body awareness, and other personal ramblings. Enjoy.
|Posted on August 6, 2021 at 9:55 PM|
Today is the beginning of fall, 立秋 lìqiū by the Chinese agricultural calendar.
This is the season and the element I had the most trouble translating, even though the essence of the silent, killing season resonates in me so strongly that I started invoking her as ying in high school, years before I would learn about 容平 róng píng, acceptance and balance, reserve and poise. Contained. Flat.
It is the season when the weather is tense, and the landscape is bright.「天氣以急，地氣以明」tiān qì yǐ jí, dì qì yǐ míng (SW:2)
You're supposed to go to bed early and rise early with your chickens and make yourself calm and collected, to ease the 刑 xíng of autumn. I think 刑 is printed in my book as "punishment" but that doesn't feel like it covers the connotation of often horrific penalties exacted upon the body for convicted crimes. The first emperor of Qin who built the Great Wall by mortaring the bodies of conscripted slave laborers into his paranoia put his unified kingdom into a perpetual autumn, the way that Disney's Princess Elsa set off an endless winter in Frozen One. Autumn, 秋 qiū, the character where 'edible grains still on their stalks' 禾 hé are being set on 'fire' 火 huǒ. It is the season of judgment, of executions, of grief. It is unforgiving. The silence echoes with a respect so profound it looks like fear.
Sùwèn Chapter 70 has more to say about every season than Chapter 2. I'm reviewing just one season today, as we enter the eighteen days of earth between:
shěn píng zhī jì, shōu ér bù zhēng, shā ér wú fàn
Judgment and Equality takes without argument, and kills without transgression.
wǔ huà xuān míng
Five transformations diffuse brightness.
qí qì jié, qí xìng gāng
Its aura is clean. Its nature is indomitable.
qí yòng sàn luò, qí huà jiān liàn
Its functions are scattering and dropping. Its transformations firm and restrain.
qí lèi jīn
Its category is metal.
qí zhèng jìn sù, qí hòu qīng qiè
Its government is force and reverence. Its climate is clear and cutting.
qí lìng zào
It commands dryness.
qí zàng fèi, fèi qí wèi rè, qì zhǔ bí
Its organ is lung; lung, which shrinks from heat, and masters the nose.
qí gǔ dào, qí guǒ táo, qí shí ké
Its grain: rice, its fruit: peach, its part: shell.
qí yìng qiū
Its resonance: autumn.
qí chóng jiè, qí chù jī
Its creatures: shelled. Its livestock: chicken.
qí sè bái, qí yǎng pí máo, qí bìng kài
Its color: white. It nourishes skin and fur. Its disease: cough.
qí wèi xīn, qí yīn shāng
Its flavor: spicy. Its sound: Re (the merchant).
qí wù wài jiān
Its objects have firm exteriors.
qí shù jiǔ
Its number is nine.
|Posted on July 21, 2019 at 6:15 AM|
Saturday July 13, 2019 7:20am
My childhood best friend had a middle school teacher who allowed his students to use curse words in class if they looked up the dictionary definitions first. I wonder if cultural literacy can be used similarly to prevent or transform appropriation, drag it back over the boundaries of offensive into the territory of appreciation. For example, is it okay for a non-Indian person like myself to practice yoga if I research the origins of the yoga I practice (and resist the consumerism of lululemon)? Would it be okay for a non-Buddhist person to have statues of buddhas in their home if they knew the name and origin of each effigy? It's the Buddha heads that are chopped off their originals that are most offensive to me; I've seen temples in China with headless gods and goddesses, and those memories jolt me when I see people with Buddha head effigies in their home intended to evoke peace, even when they are replicas. Is it enough to question people who are selling pieces of their culture about the origins of the trinkets and garments I purchase from them? If I know what it is and where it came from, does that make it less offensive if I wear or use it?
I believe if significant, continued effort is put toward cultural literacy, and if the acquisition of cultural literacy is done with cultural humility and not fetishization, then the commodification of culture can be elevated from appropriation to appreciation.
Because if someone asks about the beads you are wearing, you can become a cultural ambassador and tell them all about the culture it came from. This only works if you have enough depth of knowledge not to sound like a tourist.
Thursday July 18, 2019 11:07am
I am disturbed, not for the first time, by how my students seem to be dividing themselves along the gender binary on the topic of cultural appropriation. Thus far all the men have written generalized essays reflecting (and critiquing) the reading assignment, while only women actually gave real life examples of how they have witnessed or experienced cultural appropriation. While I'm fairly lax with the class about the specifics of each assignment so long as they participate to the full extent of their abilities, and I am aware of how delicate this topic is, I want people to think of real examples, from their personal experiences. How do I ask for that without losing the guys completely? They don't seem to understand the impact of their generalizations.
Friday, July 19, 2019 7:34am
Just because I didn't mean to doesn't mean the impact didn't happen. The example I gave in class stands, despite all excuses and absolving comments: I participated in the disenfranchisement of a woman I respect and admire, by taking over the last two clinic shifts that tied her to this school. Agh! And I was so proud when I was hired here, to think that I would be working alongside her. Secretly hoping that I would learn more from her just by osmosis, by being in proximity to her as a supervisor, because she never supervised (or taught herbs) at my school.
The fact that she was ready to leave is no excuse. I know better than anyone, having actually been in her class (yelled at memorably on the day we met, for tardiness: "We don't have enough time together as it is!"...I was never late again for her class) how passionate she is about teaching, about giving us solid clinical content that we can take into the field with us and do some good with. It's hard to imagine how much oppression had to be piled on her, how many classes taken from her and given to white teachers, how many covert and overt insults would have to come from her colleagues, her students, the deans, before she would give up.
In some ways I AM the ideal token Chinese professor, because (like Obama) I am American as well as Chinese (or black), and more able to codeswitch into whitespace. Grr.
7:47am This is why it's important to purchase herbs from the Chinese vendors in Chinatown and Wan Fung Herbs in Albany, and not online from sites like Amazon. I need to stop taking the living from my own people and paying white people instead.
Sunday, July 21, 2019 6:10am
I am privileged to have my racial, ethnic, cultural background aligned with my first language and my profession of choice. It's like being cisgendered; the body I was born into happens to be of the gender I identify. I am lucky that my body and blood are aligned with my life and loves. For those who resonate strongly with Eastern Medicine but have no lineage relating to it, and who may be perceived as appropriating, I wonder if some of their experiences are dysphoric. If trans folk have gender dysphoria, can my students have cultural dysphoria? It's very painful to watch. Even more confusing to experience, I imagine. However, power and privilege do not evaporate simply because you are trying to align your being with your heart's desire. History continues to impact the present, and needs to be acknowledged and handled with care, not wishfully disregarded and then repeated in ever more subtle ways.
|Posted on June 4, 2019 at 3:00 PM|
Tuesday, June 4, 2019 11:21am
Today I want to write about privilege. Today I want to reflect upon a privilege I spend very little time appreciating. I refer to the fact that I am practicing Chinese medicine as a Chinese-American. I am culturally aligned with my profession of choice. For all that I appreciate how my bilingual-ness gives me an edge over everyone (Chinese or not) who struggles to learn the language as an adult, I don't spend much time thinking about how lucky I am that I happen to be a Chinese person who likes Chinese medicine (and Chinese language, Chinese culture, Chinese food, etc. etc.) I have many students and colleagues who are not so lucky. In fact, since most of my community is not Chinese, most of the best practitioners I know are white. A couple have East Asian heritage (Vietnamese-American, Thai-American). But I witness my peers' and my students' struggles with cultural identity daily, watch them interrogate the line between appreciation and appropriation, answer judgmental questions from people who do not understand this experience, judged by patients who haven't even met them yet. I witness these things happening, without the kind of compassion I have developed for my trans friends with gender dysphoria.
I am aware of my privilege as a cisgendered woman, the fact that I feel aligned with the gender assigned me at birth by the doctor at the hospital based on my genitalia. I play with my gender presentation; I've even explored using the mens' room (the lines are always way shorter, and the restroom on the floor where my doctoral classes were held were men only...sometimes when the lecture is good you don't want to waste time running up or down stairs to pee...) but I've never really wanted to be a boy or a man, for all that I've been visually mistaken for one occasionally. Especially when my hair is short. I didn't like being a girl, but I love being a woman and wouldn't trade it for manhood, or manliness, even if the process were a lot less messy and invasive. I think my true identity is closer to androgynous in the older, both-and sense of that word, as in both male and female, at once. But I have never felt not at home in the body I was born into. I don't know what that feels like. I imagine it must be hard.
So I don't know what to say. I do not understand how it feels, because I am fortunate not to have those problems. But I see it. Culture dysphoria, I call it in my head. I know it is happening, all the time. I myself occasionally have to fend off tactless questions from my own relatives about why I am teaching 'the white people' who in our Chinese xenocentrist perspective "will never really understand our medicine/language/culture as a true Chinese could". To which I respond (usually a little snarkily) with the theme of Nerdnote #50: ...Effort matters.
Some of my worst students have been Chinese. Some of my worst classmates, too. Not to say that every Chinese person lives out the PTSD of our recent history (and I say 'recent' in the context of Chinese history, as in the last 150 years) but many of them reject the jewels of my cultural heritage, as a rich person is careless of his wealth, or an athletic young person, of her health. Many of the people I respect most in this field are not Chinese. Many, many Chinese-Americans are more whitewashed by their own parents as well as mainstream culture (thank you, assimilation) than my colleagues who resonate with the medicine we practice. I know people who approach my culture with effort and humility and a nostalgia that seems carried across lifetimes.
I sometimes wonder if their souls are more Chinese than mine. I, the firstborn child of parents who can trace their heritage back centuries to third largest clan in the Hundred Families, who spends most of her waking hours steeped in Chinese and whose love of it was infectious long before she became a teacher...I wonder. And I appreciate my luck, to be so aligned.
|Posted on February 4, 2018 at 10:50 AM|
Today is 立春, lìchūn, the Beginning of Spring by the lunar calendar. Interestingly, the Spring Festival, AKA Chinese New Year, does not begin for another 12 days. It starts on February 16 this year, and traditionally lasts 15 days.
I haven't really figured out yet how New Year is calculated in relation to the end of winter and beginning of spring.
Back to the solar term though, today we move into the 18 days during which Earth Flourishes Between Seasons 土旺四時 tǔ wàng sì shí, and then into the season proper. We are moving from the season of hibernation into the season of moderate outdoor exercise, through a transition period where digestion is dominant. Nice, that one of our biggest holidays falls right in the middle of it, the better to digest all that sticky rice cake.
According to the Sùwèn Chapter 2, in the three months of Spring it is good to
clean out/express the dusty old clutter of our lives
sleep late, rise early
stroll in the courtyard (i.e. exercise outdoors)
let the hair down
wear looser clothing
generate new ideas (like New Year's Resolutions? or just ideas in general?)
live and let live
create instead of revise
give instead of take
reward instead of punish
This reflects the qì of Spring and is the Way to cultivating life.
|Posted on January 15, 2018 at 2:10 PM|
It does not matter to me if you succeed.
It matters to me that you try.
I don’t care if you are bound to fail.
Try anyway. Effort matters.
I am tired of hearing my mother tongue mangled in the mouths of my students because the people publishing their textbooks cannot be bothered to put tone marks on the words. I am infuriated by the interns who write themselves off within the first few attempts, not just for pronunciation of a language that in no way resembles their own, but also in other respects, like fiddly needle insertion techniques. “I’ll never get it right” is not an excuse to give up before you’ve even begun.
I wonder how long I will continue feeling infuriated by the people in positions of power over me who get it wrong, and ashamed of my fury and my impotence. I wonder how long I can keep trying to change an entire industry that does not see its choices as cultural appropriation, skimming off only the parts that are comprehensible and codifying an incomplete as if it were a thing entire, like the priests who couldn’t understand meridians who took some tuīná moves back to Europe and applied them to anatomy and ‘invented’ oil massage, which we call Swedish and deep tissue today.
I wonder how the hegemony got to me too, that I catch myself making excuses for my silence. If I speak up, I am being rude and disruptive, and exhausting myself to the edge of hysteria; if I stay silent, even strategically, my silence condones a complacency that I do not agree with and cracks my sense of integrity. It is shame both ways. No good choices.
How can I live with myself when the chances I so ardently wish for are offered to me upon the disempowerment of individuals I respect? Why am I not replacing instead the cisgendered middle-aged men in the field who continue to be lauded for their mediocrity?
In a journal entry dated January 25, 2014, 11:09am, I wrote to myself:
“Is there ever an excuse not to try? Even when you know they are not listening, when you know your best effort will be disregarded, message and intention not received, it will still be wrong not to say ‘I’ve changed my mind. This is why.’ And then if the message is rejected or not received, it is no longer your responsibility.”
Maybe this is why I woke up this morning with a poem in my head about putting in effort regardless. Maybe the secret to trying is not to be attached to a positive outcome (and, gods and goddesses above, do I ever have a hard time with that one!) like the very first conversation between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Right then. Carry on trying your best, no matter what. We can do that.