Tag Archives: Chinese medicine

Sichuan Opera’s face-changers, British variety acts & magical Chinese medicine

In 1942, screenwriter and science fiction author Leigh Brackett wrote that what seems witchcraft to the ignorant is simple science to the learned. In 1962, this was re-phrased by science fiction author Arthur C Clarke into his Third Law of Prediction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

The Chinese ambassador’s wife (left) and Professor Ke (right)

The Chinese ambassador’s wife (left) and Professor Ke (right)

A couple of nights ago, I went along to the official opening by the Chinese ambassador’s wife Madame Pinghua Hu of the Asante Academy of Chinese Medicine’s new site in Highgate, north London.

In 1991, I was hit by the sharp edge of an articulated truck while standing on a pavement in Borehamwood. I blogged about it in 2011.

I was thrown backwards with a slight spin and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a low brick wall maybe nine inches above the ground. What I did not know until much later was that my spine had been twisted and jerked when my head hit the wall. It took about nine or ten months to get over the concussion. I still have trouble reading. I still have a slight line in my head where it hit the edge of the wall. The discs at the bottom of my spine are still slightly mis-aligned and occasionally cause me extreme pain if I twist my back at certain angles. It took about eighteen months to (mostly) sort out the pain in my shoulder.

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

My shoulder in 1991 – the bone was pulverised in two places

In 1991/1992, I was in extreme pain from my shoulder for about 80% of my waking hours. My GP asked me what drugs I wanted for the rest of my life. Instead, I went to a Chinese doctor, knowing that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is slow because, whereas Western medicine tries to cure the symptoms, Chinese medicine tries to cure the cause.

The Chinese doctor gave me some Die Da Wan Hua Oil to rub on my shoulder and, within two weeks, my shoulder pain was gone. It has never recurred unless I put extreme pressure on the shoulder – and, even then, it is discomfort rather than pain.

The ‘miracle’ cure for my shoulder pain cannot have been psychological because it never entered my head that TCM could have a quick effect. I had thought, if it did work, it might take many months or maybe a year.

I have no idea how it worked and, surprisingly, when Madame Pinghua Hu officially opened the Asante Academy of Chinese Medicine’s new site this week, she too said she had no idea how TCM worked.

Anything sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic to the uninitiated and this ’thing’ is several thousand years old.

Professor Ke at his new Asante building in Highgate this week

Professor Ke at his new Asante building in Highgate this week

The Asante is run by the Chinese doctor who helped me – Dr (now Professor) Song Xuan Ke. He started to learn his skills when, aged 13, he was apprenticed to three herbal masters in his home province of Hubei in China. He qualified in both Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine at university in Canton in 1982.

I found him in 1991 because he tended to be interviewed on ITN TV news reports whenever they referred to Chinese medicine – and because he was listed as an advisor for an Observer newspaper series on alternative medicine.

Since then, among other things, he has been providing an acupuncture service in NHS hospitals including London’s Royal Free, Whittington and North Middlesex, has been involved in TCM research programmes with various London hospitals and became president of the British Society of Chinese Medicine and vice president of Pan European Federation of TCM Societies. He is actively involved with the UK Department of Health in the process of statutory regulation of professional practice and he was a member of its Regulating Working Group.

But the reason for writing this blog is not because of the near-magical-seeming effects of some traditional Chinese medicine but because, as part of the opening of the Asante centre this week, Professor Ke booked a man called Hou De Zhang who did a face-changing (bian lian) dance as performed in traditional Sichuan Opera.

Sichuan Opera face changing this week (Photo by my eternally-un-named friend)

Sichuan Opera face-changing this week (Photo by my eternally-un-named friend)

It seemed as magical as some Chinese medicine.

The dancer wears a face-hugging silk mask which can be changed in a split second into a totally different face-hugging silk mask. I have seen a video in which a photographer says he set his shutter speed to 1/200th of a second and could not capture the mask-changing moment.

The dancer twirls with his hands visible – or, for literally a split second, obscures his face with a fan or with the briefest of head-spins (without touching his face) and the mask changes.

At one point, Hou De Zhang shook me by the hand while his other hand was visible and, with a head shake, his face mask changed, but I did not see the point at which it changed.

Hou De Zhang performed at the Asante this week

Hou De Zhang performing at the new Asante

There is some sort of trigger mechanism which, I understand, can be hidden almost anywhere on the body. I reckoned it was in his hat. But it is impossible to see the point of transformation and how it can change one face-hugging silk mask into another is beyond my weak ken.

At another point in the dance, a moustache suddenly appeared on his face and then disappeared. My eternally-un-named friend (who does a neat line in Monk-like thinking) suggested it might have been inside his mouth. I suppose that must be right, but it was impossible to see. The moustache just appeared.

The dance was arguably the best variety act I have ever seen because it seemed to be actual magic. Perhaps Jerry Sadowitz’ close-up magic equals it, but it is a close-run thing.

I mentioned at the start of this blog Arthur C Clarke’s Third Law of Prediction.

His First Law is: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

His Second Law states: “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

I am all for that… in everything.

There is a video of Sichuan Opera face-changing on YouTube.

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Filed under China, Dance, Magic, Medical, Theatre

How an Apple iPad could finally cure my concussion and help me forget the embarrassing toilet incidents

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about Jason Cook, who is dyslexic but has written three gangster novels and I mentioned that, since the morning of 9th March 1991, I have not been able to read a book – not since I got hit by a large truck while standing on the pavement in Borehamwood.

I have written books since 1991, but I am physically unable to read them. Always best not to mention this to a publisher.

In 1981, ten years before the accident, I contributed three chapters to the anthology Anatomy of the Movies (which I have just now looked up on Amazon and copies appear, astonishingly, to be selling for £57.60 upwards; sadly I get none of this).

But, since 1991, I have been unable to read any book, though I have written several.

I have no actual memory of getting hit except I was standing on the pavement at a junction. What I have reconstructed in my mind is that I was rushing down to the post office on Saturday morning to send a friend her birthday card before the final midday collection. At a junction, I stood on the pavement and turned round to see if any traffic was coming. The driver’s cab of a large truck passed me by but the front corner edge of the wider, protruding container behind it hit me on my turned-round shoulder, breaking my collar bone in two places.

I was thrown backwards with a slight spin and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a low brick wall maybe nine inches above the ground. What I didn’t know until much later was that my spine had been twisted and jerked when my head hit the wall.

I don’t remember any of that. But, from what I do know, that’s what must have happened.

I do have flashes of memory after that. I remember lying on the ground looking up at a group of people looking down at me; some were kneeling. I remember being in an ambulance and being asked my name and address.

“Ah, you need to write down my details,” I remember saying to an ambulance man.

“No,” he replied. “I’m just checking you know who you are.”

I remember looking at the ceiling while being wheeled along a corridor in Barnet Hospital.

I have only hazy memories. I think I had about ten or twelve stitches in the back of my head, but I can’t remember. I was theoretically in the care of whichever doctor(s) looked after concussion and brain damage; but I was in an orthopedic ward for people who had broken bones because of my collar bone. So the brain doctor upstairs who had responsibility for me didn’t visit that downstairs orthopedic ward because it wasn’t his area and the nurses in the ward I was in were only observing me for the specialist who didn’t come.

I had enough trouble trying to remember if you put the plastic toilet seat up or down when you sat on it. Sitting on the white ceramic of the bowl didn’t seem to quite work and was distractingly cold on the buttocks. And I can tell you the curved edges dig into your bum. I spent a week there. In the hospital, not in the toilet. I was eventually released from the hospital when a very weary and over-worked junior-looking doctor from the ‘mind’ ward came down to the ‘bone’ ward and said I seemed to be OK. He was very kindly but was just about to go home for some much-needed sleep and appeared to me to be in much worse condition than I was. But what did I know?

It took about eighteen months to (mostly) sort out the pain in my shoulder – but only after I went to a Chinese doctor (ie Chinese medicine not the NHS).

It took about nine or ten months to get over the concussion.

I kept thinking I was better but my mind kept draining away for periods. I would come home, sit on the sofa and look at the wall, blankly, unable to think.

To formulate thoughts in my mind, I needed words and the words would not come to my mind nor come together. I could not hold thoughts together. It was like I could feel my nerve-endings or brain strands like little hands reaching out and trying to connect with one another but not quite being able to reach each other. I could almost put the thought together but could not quite reach. My brain was like thin vegetable soup with separate strands of spaghetti floating about like living worms trying but not quite able to touch each other.

When I tried to read a newspaper, I could only read about three lines of the first paragraph before I lost concentration. It was like looking at an object but then your eyes de-focus. I could see the words in newspapers and magazines OK but, after two or three lines, I could not hold their meaning together in my brain.

It was a flash forward to my own inevitable senility.

After a couple of weeks being OK, I would think I was better, but then my mind would go into vegetable soup mode again for two or three days. Then I would think I was better again. Then it would go soupy again. There was no NHS aftercare, of course, because I had been no-one’s specific responsibility. This went on for nine or ten months.

Since then, I can read newspapers and magazines with no problems, but I cannot read printed books.

Too much print. Too much density of words.

Whether it’s a psychological or physical problem I don’t know.

But I CAN write (and read) books on my computer. I think it’s because the amount of text you see at any given time is much less. Somehow this doesn’t flummox my mind the way holding a 300-page book in my hand does.

Since 1991, I have written comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (published 1996)…

I edited the anthology Sit-Down Comedy (2003) which involved commissioning original work from 19 comedians and then badgering them to deliver the stuff; some just delivered perfect manuscripts; some needed suggestions and help; some needed careful editing; it was a bit like juggling meerkats.

I then edited comedian Janey Godley’s utterly amazing autobiography Handstands in the Dark (I can say that because I did not write it and it was justly a top ten bestseller in 2005 and 2006)…

And, in early 2010, I wrote the first 55,000 words of a 70,000 novelisation of the by-anyone’s-standards controversial movie Killer Bitch. The publisher pulled that one two weeks before I finished the manuscript because all the supermarkets and WH Smiths refused to handle the book (despite the fact they had not read any of it). I might still revive/finish that one, though I’m useless without deadlines.

Anyway, I have written and/or edited/proof-read/shepherded all of the above, but I have not read any of the published printed books.

However, I have an Apple iPad with its gob-smackingly beautiful iBook application.

You can make the pages sepia, change the font and size of the text and turn a page with your finger just like a real book. The corner or edge of the page curls over as you move your finger and you see on the back of the previous page the reversed text and illustrations which were on it.

I adore it.

It is a thing of beauty.

And I think I could read a book on it, just as I can read a manuscript on my normal computer.

I have not yet tried a whole book, but I feel the urge coming on.

The Apple iPad could yet save me from illiteracy.

Oh and – yes – I do have trouble reading printed TV and film scripts too.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Health, Internet, Newspapers