Foreign medicine, last day in Beijing, Terra Cotta Warriors

Well, having done a complete reboot and reloading of my gastrointestinal tract, I am back upright and was able to complete a day of touring. But my medical episode is not without its own interest. I’ve told some of you my story about running out of Tums while traveling in France. There, I was saved by the language of science when, after many failed attempts at communication, I simply told the pharmacist “calcium de carbonate.” Instantly I had my relief, but was a bit surprised that the French do not add that extra special ingredient, namely sugar. In France, they take their chalk straight.

In China, I’ve discovered something similar. The anti-diarrheal medicine of choice in China is straight montmorillonite powder. I brought up the Wikipedia article before taking any (of course) and discovered that chemically montmorillonite is hydrated sodium calcium aluminium magnesium silicate hydroxide (Na,Ca)0.33(Al,Mg)2(Si4O10)(OH)2·nH2O. and the primary use of montmorillonite powder is as the component of oil driller’s mud that “keeps the mixture viscous” and is also used as a component of earthen dams to “prevent the leakage of fluids.” That is to say that I expect to have achieved similar positive medical results with Spackle.

I owe my readers at least a brief description of our last day in Beijing. The day started at the Lama Temple, the primary Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing. Historically, the temple started out as a house for an emperor’s son. When the son became emperor, his house could not be used again as a house, so it was converted to a temple, and since the new emperor was much taken with Tibetan Buddhism, it became a center for Tibetan Buddhism. It is still an active temple and I gather from reading between our tour guide’s lines, the temple may become central to attempts by the Chinese government to control the succession to the title of Dalai Lama upon the death of the current Dalai Lama. The temple is gorgeous and features an 18 m high Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood. And no, it does not resemble a totem pole, it is naturally proportioned.

We then went on a rickshaw tour of a “hutong,” the interior of a “typical” block of old Beijing. The word “hutong” means “well” in the Mongol language and referred to the fact that each hutong belonged to one extended family when the Mongols ruled China (the Yuan Dynasty) and each formerly nomadic Mongol family camped around a well. In modern Chinese, “hutong” means “narrow alleys” demonstrating the natural evolution of language. A highlight of the hutong tour was having lunch prepared by a family living in a home within the hutong. The food was very much “home cooking.” Fresh vegetables and meats cooked hot on the wok and served with rice. Very little spice or sauce. Our hosts were very nice and gave us a tour of their home with the assistance of our guide. They maintain a wall of postcards from previous visitors that we hope to augment.

Our final tourist stop was the “Temple of Heaven. ” This is a temple where the emperor did his duty to connect the earth to the heaven. In elaborate ceremonies, the emperor made two trips a year to the temples in this compound to ensure a good year, agriculturally speaking. Today, it seems to be a place for retired Chinese to come to spend the day. We saw old ladies dancing, men and women enthusiastically slapping down cards onto the table in some card game, and an accordion quartet accompanying a practiced tenor voice. We used a restroom in the park, one of many that Kris has come to call the “White Marble Palaces.” Men and women both enter into a lobby area and then separate into separate rooms. In the lobby area, was an old man in Chinese army uniform holding forth to a gathered group. As we left, I asked Yoshi about the man. He said that it was a common sight to see old military men railing on about “how today it is always about money, but back then we fought for a cause.” As it happened, the old man left the restroom just after us and greeted us in a friendly way. using Yoshi to translate, we learned that he was an eighty four year old Korean War veteran. Upon learning we were Americans, he handed Yoshi his camera and asked to have a picture taken with us. He then obliged me by letting me take his picture with Kris and Yoshi. We parted ways with mutual agreement that “all people should be brothers.”

Kris had quite a day yesterday touring Xian without me. I can only list the sites she visited and the sights she saw. Kris was especially impressed with the Shaanxi Historical Museum and derived much personal pleasure in visiting Gao’s Courtyard because it brought to life scenes from some of the novels of Pearl Buck that she has read. Gao’s Courtyeard was the home of an honored Chinese civil servant and his descendants who were so beloved by the local poor that the modern descendants were protected during the Cultural Revolution. The Courtyard is now a government-maintained museum. Xian is also well known for taking steamed dumplings to the status of an art form. Kris was treated to a banquet of dumplings, each elaborately formed into the shapes of animals and flowers and such.

Today, all Spackled up, I braved a return to touring. We had minimal objectives. Get Tim to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and thus prevent his appearance in the Guinness Book of World Records. I’m not sure what I can say about the Terra Cotta Warriors. I did not know that they all the ones you see had to be put back together, jigsaw style as the site was looted by an army centuries ago. The reason the warriors are without weapons today is not that the weapons deteriorated over the years, it is that they were useful weapons and stolen by the looters. The looting army then set fire to the structure that protected the Terra Cotta Warriors and they were lost to history until rediscovered by local farmers digging a well in 1976. One of those farmers was signing autographs in the gift shop when we arrived.

Since I was feeling pretty good, we accepted the offer of lunch at a restaurant close to the site of the Terra Cotta Warriors. We were honored with the serving of a massive lunch that included fish head soup (which, for the squeamish, is not what it sounds like). We were only able to eat about one tenth of what was put before us. But, we were able to put to rest the notion that there is better Chinese food in the US than there is in China. If you factor out the tourist trap food and the airline food, we have found excellent food in China. The fish head soup is delicious, delicately flavored fish and broth. We had a fiery beef dish that was to die for. Excellently flavored, cooked, vegetables, including a corn, pine nut, and mild pepper dish that could have come from an Ohio church social. Tonight I had the best wonton soup I have ever had. It was a full meal of chicken broth, twelve wontons that were full size dumplings with delicate skins and containing substantial meat, and excellent noodles to boot. Outstanding. We dined in the hotel restaurant and the hotel staff were very solicitous about my health. It was clear to them that I ordered the wonton soup primarily for the chicken broth, given my sensitive stomach. About half way through our meal, the waitress offered, and I accepted, to have the bowl refilled with broth.

Tomorrow we arise at 5AM to leave the hotel by 6:30AM in order to make our plane to Chongqing. The schedule has us running around Chongqing all day (pandas!) before depositing us on our boat to descend the Yangtze River. I don’t know how good the internet connection will be on the boat, so do not worry it it is a few days before I can post again.

All is well.



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