If you are squeamish, stop here. Do not read this post.
If you are still reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This starts mild enough, but it gets worse and worse. Quickly.
Then it goes from worse to I-can’t-believe-you-drank-that, before it gets better.
I kid you not.
I’ve been staring at a blank bloogie page for several days now, wondering how to tell you about my latest kung fu adventures without scaring you. It was a magical journey, but not an easy one. At times, it was I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me frightful. I decided to tell it like it is because honesty is the key to good writing, but give you a warning first. Like I said, don’t say I didn’t give you plenty of time to run.
But if you truly wanna become an author, you will run in the direction of the scariness. Writing is all about crossing borders, on wandering, on facing the unfamiliar. You become a stranger when you do research. You step out on unfamiliar paths. You hear new sounds. You taste new foods. You try on new clothes. Soon you become less strange, and your surroundings more familiar.
But the path from outsider to insider is a long one. The bad news is there are no short-cuts. The good news is there are lots of surprises. The best thing about doing research is that when you go looking for something, you often find something else. Last year, I went looking for details for my next Alvin book, which is set in China, and I found kung fu. This year, I went looking for kung fu, and found . . .
myself in the temple infirmary only after two days of kung-fuing:I had eaten a frozen popsicle that made me sick in the stomach. Here you can see the doctor taking my pulse. He did this for a very long time. He asked me a hundred questions and wrote down my answers in his book. Then I followed him into the next room where, like a lamb to slaughter, I lay down on the table without a struggle — until I saw the needles in his mouth. Do you see the long steel needles in his mouth in the above photo?
“Relax,” the doctor said, speaking his first and only English word.
What??? They were the longest needles I’d ever seen in my life!!! I was ready to kung fu my way of there, but the doctor turned me into a human pincushion, just like that:Needles went straight into my tummy.
Tears streamed down my face.
My kung fu socks came off. Needles went into my legs:Upset stomach? What upset stomach? Who can remember what was bothering them in the first place when they’re suffering the stabbing pain of a hundred four-inch needles???!!! It was the fastest cure I’ve ever had!
Best of all, I got the afternoon off. No more kung fuing until the next day, doctor’s orders. Hooray! Kung fuing in the July heat was really hard. My training day consisted of two-and-a-half hours of kung fu in the morning, a lunch and nap break, then two more hours of kung fu in the afternoon. I was very happy to obey doctor’s orders!
I went directly to the training courtyard where the kung fu monks and their disciples were sweaty and miserable, to gloat over my good fortune.
I recounted my bravery.
I showed off my puncture wounds.
I sat in the shade.
It was super-duper!
Until the doctor showed up. I’d forgotten that he said he would bring me yao (medicine) later in the afternoon. I mean I was all better, wasn’t I? But there he was with a HUGE shopping bag brimming with plastic pouches filled with a dark liquid.
“Drink one in the morning when you get up,” he said, “and drink one before bed, everyday for seven days. Heat like soup before drinking.”
“Did you already get the acupuncture?” a young monk quietly asked me, after the doctor left.
“This is worse,” he said, pointing to the medicine. “Much worse.”
What could be worse than killer needles stuck through your belly button? Killer medicine down your throat, that’s what. This was my first bowl. My shifu heated it immediately and made me drink it on the spot while everyone watched. See the empty teacups? The tea was used to wash it down. It was that bad. I gloated no more :(.
For the next seven days, my house mother heated the medicine for me and watched me drink every last drop.
“I’MDRINKINGBUTI’MDYINGIT’SNOTMEDICINEIT’SPOISONWHENI’MDEADIWON’TBEABLETODOKUNGFUANYMORE!!!” I cried in Chinese.
I was so ready to FLUSH IT ALL DOWN THE TOILET!!!
Then I remembered my secret stash of dark chocolate Digestives that I had brought with me:Many thanks to Debra Perrin, the former library assistant at the Bradbury School in Hong Kong, who introduced these to me last year. I had searched for them ever since, and they were impossible to find in my local stores until right before I left for my trip.
When you’re far from home, you should always bring a taste of happier times with you, just in case.
They were perfect.
I never would have finished the Seven Days to a Chinese Iron Stomach medicine without them.