Sunday, April 19, 2009


I went to see my Chinese doctor this morning and wanted to say “Dr. Livingston, I presume,” but I bit my tongue, so to speak, and didn’t say anything but “Good morning” because, well, first of all, that’s probably the joke he is most sick of since that is his name, though he’s a physician and should be able to heal himself, and second, though it’s not related, is that he’s not Chinese but American, he just practices Chinese medicine, and that’s quite an accomplishment because if I’m not mistaken, and I have been before, he is the only non-Chinese doctor in China allowed or registered or certified or whatever it is they do here to practice Chinese medicine.

chilly morning
the blind erhu player
warms up

I am wishing my wife were here because she knows everything that is wrong with me, like the sneezing I always forget to mention, as Dr. Livingston and I gossip a bit about mutual acquaintances and he gets down to business taking my pulse and checking out my tongue and asking questions about my digestion and appetite and cough and have I been following his dietary recommendations, and I tell him that China makes me sick, and he laughs because we both know the air is horrible and we might as well take up a three-pack a day habit, and I’ve been coughing for two years, which he already knows, but my appetite is good and every time I eat fried food I think of what he’s told me, and then I remember a recent foot massage I had and tell him about how the masseuse looked at my big toe on my left foot and said I wasn’t sleeping well, and he just gives me this funny smile and says, “They always say that or something about your digestion.”

overcast skies
artificial sunflowers
turned to the window

Tapping his fingers lightly on the table and furrowing his brow, he gets very serious as he writes out a prescription for a Chinese herbal tea to help correct my damp heat stagnation, which he diagnosed partly by pushing all around my abdomen until he found out where it hurt, and to be honest I have no idea what damp heat stagnation is but I trust this man, for he is my doctor after all, and he’s kind, and most amazingly to me, he can write and speak Chinese like a native, and yes, as I said, I’m amazed but also jealous because Chinese has proven to be a completely foreign language to me, maybe because my brain is too filled with bits and pieces of other languages, of Hindi and Spanish mostly, but oddly what comes out of my mouth most often and inadvertently since living in China is Japanese, which I suppose the Chinese wouldn’t like if they knew what I was saying, though I’m not really saying much.

year of the rat
erasing the crossword
year of the cow

When it is time to go, I really don’t want to go because I know the next stop is the Chinese herb shop where I will have to push old ladies and stooped men out the way just to get a free cup of tea to get the courage to stand in line to pay before I go to the counter and join the scrum to get my herbs bundled up into little packages, and then I’ll have to walk around for an hour or two or hang out in a café while they put it all together, which isn’t so bad in Hangzhou if the air is okay that day, and later I’ll push my way back to the front of the counter and take my herbs home and make tea, at least that’s what they call it, but it is really the most god-awful concoction you can imagine, no matter what combination of herbs you get or even if you throw in a bit of cardamom toward the end of the first boiling, and this brew takes two boilings to release all the terrible smelling elixirs that will rejuvenate you, but in the meantime, at least for the next two weeks, you feel like the wicked witch of the west hovering over her cauldron, and you may look just as green, and you can’t invite anyone over to your apartment during that time because the place smells so bad, as if the family pet has died and been left in a corner because no one has the heart to take it outside and say goodbye.

winter thaw
the sweet potato vendor
pokes his last tuber

by Bob Lucky
Hangzhou, China


Rachel Green said...

A delightful entry. I hope your health improves.

Adelaide said...

Very amusing.