But first, the city, the sights and the people.
My visit began with the compulsory tour of the Tian’anmen Square, where there were thousands of people perpetually queuing to enter Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. This vast park in central Beijing was filled with throngs of visitors since early morning. There were probably 50,000 by mid-morning, as it happened to be the university holidays, and also a peak tourist season. The historic venue is bordered by the august Municipal and other government buildings.
From there, we went to the adjacent Forbidden City – the reclusive palace of the Chinese Dynasties. With its 9,999 rooms, it is easily the largest palace on Earth. The guided tour took nearly 3 hours, and we only went on one side of the maze of majestic buildings!
Since I was part of a Muslim tour group, we had the opportunity to pray at several historic mosques and had meals at Muslim restaurants owned by people of Xinjiang and other Muslim regions. We were entertained with delightful ethnic dances and songs each evening. These people are Huis and central Asians, and are look distinct from the ethnic Han Chinese. My own first Qigong master is from the Muslim Autonomous Region of Ningxia, a beautiful place I have yet to visit.
The local people seem very much in a hurry. There is no respite from the hustle and bustle, of locals, traders and tourists. Traffic is chaotic and the air is not very clean. There is a permanent haze that obscures the distant mountains, which would have otherwise made a picture-perfect view. There is so much construction work going on, as the City is preparing to host the 2008 Olympics.
We visited many interesting places: the largest jade-house, the largest silk store, the largest crystal showcase, and the largest cloisonné factory. Everything is superlative here, as China is home to over 2 billion people, and the place is very big and crowded. It is said that only less than 20 million actually live in Beijing, but another 100 million migrants, traders, workers, visitors and tourists help liven up the city!
The highlight of my visit must be climbing the Great Wall of China – one of the Eight Wonders of The Ancient World. It is now over 4000 years old, but it still straddles the mountains sturdily for us and the future generations to witness the ingenuity, perseverance and hardiness of the architects, engineers, masons and workers who must have endured extreme obstacles to complete this monumental military barrier.
Those of us who have climbed the Batu Caves steps will find this manifold more challenging, as the steps are steeper, and the Great Wall is over 7000 kilometres long, winding like a serpentine dragon. The views from the outposts are magnificient and refreshing. Most tourists give up after the third outpost. You have to be extremely fit to go beyond.
TCM MEDICAL TOURISM
The tour itinerary included a visit to a TCM hospital, which was set up exclusively to cater for the booming tourist industry. It has 10 very senior TCM physicians who would do quick diagnosis ( by feeling the pulse and observing the tongue ) on the busloads of tourists who come in incessant streams. We were given free herbal foot-baths followed by an hour’s foot and shoulder massage ( which was very reasonably-priced ), during which the physicians would go round doing the examinations, accompanied by interpreters. They then prescribed TCM remedies that invariably cost between USD50-250. I did not declare that I am a medical doctor, and was able to observe the scenario unheeded. The diagnoses ranged from extremely precise, to gross errors. One gentleman with prostate enlargement and urinary symptoms was accurately diagnosed, but another was told he had high cholesterol and hypertension, and nothing else. He actually had poorly-controlled diabetes, but normal cholesterol and normal BP. Almost everyone of us were told that we had weak kidneys, so all of us had prescriptions made out. Those who believed the diagnoses bought the medicines that cost over USD1000 altogether. And that was just from a small group of 15.
I was sad that the practice has become so mercenary, with the interpreters continually pestering us to buy all those medicines. When told that we also have good TCM physicians in Malaysia, they told us that our physicians are all useless! Tourists have become easy targets of tourist agents working in cohorts with such establishments. I have read of many Malaysians who feel cheated after paying so much money for the medicines, which they probably don’t really need. With such an impressive set-up, tourists become gullible, only to regret upon returning home.
I have much faith in the professional, properly-trained and accredited TCM physicians, and I do know several good ones in Malaysia. But what Malaysians are put through in Beijing is a sham. I am sure there are many good respectable TCM physicians in Beijing that those who really need help can consult. In an earlier article I had described how a Chinese surgeon/physician in Beijing accurately diagnosed my relative of thyroid cancer 6 months before she had any medical symptoms or signs – just by checking her pulse and tongue!
QI-ELECTRIC MASSAGE THERAPY
I actually came here to learn an electrifying ( literally ) qi-massage technique that is said to be able to reverse various health problems like hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis and others within two weeks.
The technique is a variation of the TENS ( trans-cutaneous electric nerve stimulation ) method that is widely used to relieve pain ( including post-operation pain ), for massage, and also for slimming. With TENS, electrodes are placed in the appropriate sites on the body, and a pulsed current then causes the corresponding muscles to contract; and also numbs the nerve-endings for pain. The pulse rhythm and current strength are adjusted to achieve the desired effects.
This qi-electric massage therapy is unique in that the therapist passes a low-voltage but high-current ( highest safe and tolerable current strength ) through his body that will then flow to the patient. The current really buzzes each part of the patient’s body that is being massaged. The therapist’s hands and arms will also be equally buzzed.
I could feel my legs, hands, and especially the fingers, buzzing, but nothing prepared me for the experience when the head was massaged. Since the current causes the muscles to contract rapidly, I literally saw stars and beautiful psychedelic patterns while I thought my brain was vibrating! ( It was actually due to the eye muscles buzzing ). The therapist can tell if there are nerve or muscle malfunctions because the current flow will be impeded. The experience is really something different!
The therapist must train himself to be able to withstand high currents through gradual practice. So we had to electrify ourselves repeatedly until we could not take it anymore. It got easier each time until we were able to handle the required current strength.
The massage technique involves identifying the acupoints and qi-meridians as the correct current flow through these will determine proper functioning of the organs being supplied. Sometime back I wrote about scientists discovering electric “holes” along these TCM meridians. This qi-electric massage technique utilizes this knowledge to good use.
The therapist will know how to detect blocked energy flow, and where to unblock; and also where to charge and balance the qi-electric energy. It is really an art that requires knowledge of qi and the meridians, plus the skill and flair of an artist and masseur.
I have yet to confirm the fantastic health claims made, but everyone who had the therapy felt good during the session, and afterwards. Several claimed that their BP normalized ( high or low became normal ), but these were not validated by doctors.
My trainer was female. I call her Electric Woman. Through all the repeated electric therapy sessions, her muscles have become firm ( but not overly bulky ), and she can withstand incredibly strong currents. Soon I will become Electric Man!