The Monk asserted, “You are destined to learn and practice Chinese medicine, through which you will manifest the Tao.” He advised me to follow my spiritual pursuit in the previous life, and best of all, stay at temples and monasteries along the way. Places on my itinerary were to include Mt. Wudang, Mt. Zhongwudang, western Hubei province, western Hunan province, and Baiyun Taoist Temple (White Clouds Temple) in Beijing. And he assured me that I would have magical encounters on the way.
“How could you possibly take such nonsense seriously?” you may wonder. Well, I not only took it seriously, I actually dropped all “important matters” and started off with my backpack right away.
Chapter I Legendary Encounters
My learning Chinese medicine can seem a chance decision. Somehow, for me, it is the inevitable. Destiny, I guess. Cannot express it exactly in words. The part that I can say is laid out here in this book.
My mentor and friend Shi Xin De (also called Yue Hou Sheng,) is a monk, and he has a brilliant take on a man’s destiny — a lively chicken cannot compare with a sparrow in flying, nor can it swim better than a duck, despite the fact that all of them have wings. Their differences in nature determine their absolutely different ways of life.
Knowing who you are and being true to it is to know your “destiny”. Going against your destiny is to ask for trouble, and it will all be vain effort. One has to know his destiny and act accordingly.
Here, let us not argue about whether believing in “destiny” is sensible or not. Man naturally gets vexed when doing things or living with someone he doesn’t like. In that case, he will get sick with the passage of time.
Confucius once said, “At forty I was no longer confused, and at fifty I knew my destiny”. Although I was still somewhat confused at forty, before fifty I already knew my destiny. Were Confucius to know this, he would smilingly comb his beard and say, “Umm…Good boy!”
Starting to Learn Chinese Medicine at Forty
At forty, I withdrew from the financial world and began reading, writing and roaming around. Almost unknowing to myself, I have always longed for the wanderer’s lifestyle of ancient people: Just like clouds, floating wherever you are blown and adapting to whatever circumstances you are in. What great freedom! Pity it is a bygone past, and this tradition is lost. Now there is only tourism. Many travel only when everything is pre-arranged.
Time has changed. Now, the world is polluted, and even common practices are abandoned. For instance, now people need to buy tickets to visit temples and monasteries, something never heard of in millennia. As I look around, I see everyone busy-ing themselves, businessmen and government officials in particular. Seems like everyone is riding on a non-stop roller coaster. The busy people also have beautiful dreams. Some hope to do what they like when they retire at forty, say, live a more natural life, travel around the world, or start a charity. But these dreams have many preconditions — they need to earn enough money, have enough time, blah, blah, blah.
Some people have indeed stopped their “busy-ness”. When asked why, the reason can be one of the following: hospitalized, imprisoned or dead. I am very lucky, for I retired not for any of these reasons. But again, retirement is not just about rest. I could explore my own interest and play the life game better, just like a child. Roving is a game. My body and mind could drift in the world.
“Where is your hometown?” people ask me.
“My home is wherever my heart belongs.”
“What do you do?”
In many people’s eyes, getting involved in a non-lucrative industry is no wise decision. The first unwise thing I did after retirement from the financial world was to co-author Sex and Stocks with my friend Hu Yebi. The best thing about co-authoring the novel is this: When our readers ask about the colourful sex life of the protagonist, we could point to each other and say, “He did it.” Hu said it was a summary of his “first half of life”, but our friends joked that we wrote a story of the “lower part of body”.
To that, I laughed and replied, “We were trying to describe manifestations of the metaphysical Tao through a physical tool. Just a convenient way into the Tao.”
Soon, a new game started. The non-decent fiction Sex and Stocks led me to an even wilder game — Chinese medicine that many in China loud-speak of abandoning. Well, everything in a man’s life is a link in the causal chain, visible or not. It’s all a game. Who is a good actor, and who is not?
After finishing the novel, I was more and more like an idle cloud awaiting the wind’s call. I knew intuitively that my second book would be about Chinese medicine. So I gradually approached it, for how would I be able to write about Chinese medicine without actually grasping it?
I know what a daunting task it is to practice Chinese medicine in its place of origin, more challenging than people generally assume. But just because of this difficulty, there is still hope for Chinese medicine. A good play needs to have a dramatic plot, doesn’t it? Many folk masters, not granted a doctor’s license, are practicing Chinese medicine “illegally”; whereas most quack doctors are protected by law. Isn’t it a wonderful play? As a result of this, many masters found a way to practice Chinese medicine in other countries. Two such masters came back to visit me when I was working in Director Ang Lee’s team on the concept proposal for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. We chatted on and on, and my journey to learn Chinese medicine thus started. My first stop was not somewhere in China, but in Australia.
My friend Guo Bisong has been running a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinic in Britain for over a decade. In recent years, she has often been invited to treat patients and give lectures in Australia. Whenever we meet, Chinese medicine is always a central topic. Seeing me idle around, she asked whether I would like to travel a bit in Australia and do a field study of Chinese medicine practiced overseas. You see, she knew me.
Our friendship has lasted for over two decades. In the early 1980s when I was still a university student, we already had a “joint venture” — she taught me Qi Gong and I taught her English. Later on, I went to the U.S. for further study and work, and she settled in the U.K. to practice and teach Chinese medicine. We have always kept in close contact. Each time I went to Britain, I would visit her clinic. Now that she was invited to teach Chinese medicine and Qi Gong in Australia, and I was thinking of resuming Qi Gongpractice, why not just do it?
We visited Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Gold Coast. Wherever we went, we were received by foreign doctors running local TCM clinics. I was thus exposed to every kind of TCM clinic and foreign TCM doctor, most of whom graduated from TCM colleges in Australia. Many of them also practice Qi Gong, use both acupuncture and medicine, and some have specially traveled to China to learn The Book of Changes and Feng Shui(Geomancy). Each TCM doctor has a stable local client base. Although Chinese medicine is still not a mainstream choice, apparently many people now opt for it. No doubt it will become increasingly popular, for Australians love nature and natural therapies. Can there be more natural therapies than Chinese medicine?
My last stop in Australia was the Gold Coast. Never had I imagined that it were to impress me the most, not just its long, beautiful coastline, but also my encounter with a foreigner who so magically unifies his passions for Chinese medicine and the sea. Of course, he is also a TCM doctor.
Surfing Taoist Wally Simpson
I first met Wally Simpson at the airport of Gold Coast. He was a white man over 50. Beaming and handsome, like a movie star. He had a pair of shining eyes. What impressed me most was his long white hair hanging on the shoulders and the cloth shoes with a round opening at the front. This reminded me of Kungfu masters in martial arts movies and Taoists deep in mountains.
“You are so like a Chinese Taoist.” I grinned.
“My students say the same about me.” he said.
In addition to treating patients, Wally also taught Tai Chi and Bagua Zhang (Eight Trigrams Palm, a genre of Chinese Kungfu). I knew Warwick, a TCM doctor in Melbourne who first started to practice Tai Chi, and went on to become an acupuncturist and Feng Shui (Geomancy) expert. Seeing a foreigner practice Kungfu and Chinese medicine was no surprise for me. Yet being able to teach Tai Chi and Bagua Zhang was something extraordinary. Warwick had been to China several times, whereas Wally had not been to China even once. How could he grasp the essence of these uniquely Chinese stuffs?
“From whom did you learn them?” I asked.
“From a British master, for a total of 15 years.” came his reply.
In the words of a Chinese, he is a formal disciple of his British master. “From whom did your British master learn them?” I dug deeper.
“From an heir of Tai Chi in China.”
I then sighed with relief — Good, it was genuine Kungfu.
He was to teach Tai Chi that evening. I wanted to go along and he readily agreed. About eight students of different skin colours came, mostly young people, and each followed him to the minute detail. This was my second contact with Tai Chi (I learned some at PE classes in university). After this visit, I went back to Beijing and practiced Tai Chi for a while. More than a year later, 30-plus TCM doctors from around the world (including Wally) followed me deep into mountains in western Hunan province to observe how a folk master treated patients. Well, that is another story.
Me meeting an Australian TCM doctor and part-time Tai Chi instructor who have never been to China, both of which revered Chinese traditions, is there a “spiritual bond” between us? Isn’t it a wonderful manifestation of the adage that “a bosom friend afar brings a distant land near”?
“What countries have you been to?” I asked.
“When I was young, I had been to neighboring New Zealand and Indonesia to surf. Back then, I was quite a good surfer, and had been to all surfing places in Australia. One of my friends even went on to become a world champion.” recalled Wally.
I thought to myself, he did look more like an Australian when surfing.
He continued, “In recent years, I’ve been to more distant lands, to Italy, Japan and South Africa.”
“Not for surfing, I guess?” I asked.
“Invited to perform and teach Tai Chi.”
So he, an Australian, was traveling long distances to promote traditional ChineseKungfu.
“Are you still surfing at this age?” I asked.
“Of course.” He replied without hesitation.
I was instantly filled with admiration for him. So I smilingly asked, “Can you teach me?”
“Of course. And you will like it.” His reply was simple and clear.
Now my heart and mind were yearning for it. I had long been curious about surfing. Riding the tides would be great fun.
Wally’s three-storeyed home stood on a hillside in a dense forest. I liked to sit long hours at the huge balcony, reading, and watching rolling hills in the distance and wild birds that flew near for food. There was a dish of food on the balcony. The wild birds were almost domesticated. Occasionally kangaroos would appear in the nearby woods. After teaching Qi Gong classes, Wally spent two days with us. We strolled in the forest, swam in clear waters down a waterfall, and got to know each other better.
Wally had spent much of his life in Queensland. At 13, he began to make his own living. Despite the hardships, he was free and happy. Before becoming an acupuncturist, he had done over a dozen jobs, as a garbage collector, milking man, electrician, miner, porter, painter, etc. As far as I know, he certainly has the most “job” experience. “Life makes me a versatile man.” He said with a smile.
He had already been admitted into a teachers’ college. Then, on the day before he went to college, he followed a friend to see a Vietnamese doctor (a Chinese descendant) using Chinese therapies to treat patients. Later on he listened to a lecture on Tao Te Ching authored by ancient Chinese Taoist Lao Tzu. He instantly knew what would be the pursuit of his life. So he changed his mind and turned to learning Chinese medicine. During this process, he got to know Yin-Yang, Five Primary Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth, held by the ancients to compose the physical universe and later used in traditional Chinese medicine to explain various physiological and pathological phenomena) and Kungfu. He got increasingly fascinated by Chinese traditions and went on from external Kungfu to Tai Chi, and to Bagua Zhang.
When it came to our rambling, youthful days, we found that we both liked the works of Hermann Hesse and Andre Gide, two men treading the waters of eastern and western civilizations. Wally was so thrilled to find a soul mate from the East that he ran upstairs and brought down all of Andre Gide’s works. I told him that thanks to a loosened household registration system in China, I was able to re-read about and compare the East and the West, to allow my mind and body to roam all over the world, and to sit down and chat with him.
After nightfall, I had another discovery — Wally was also a terrific guitarist. He played and sang along, like a Beatles man, idealistic and turbulent.
Early morning on the third day, I put on my swimming trunks and headed for the beach with Wally. This was one of the best surfing sites along the Gold Coast, just ten minutes’ drive from where he lived. When he put down his surfing board, I found there was a Yin-Yang Tai Chi Diagram on it.
“So you cannot forget about Yin-Yang even when you surf? What a marine Taoist!” I joked.
He laughed and said, “In China, there’s the legend of Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea. Isn’t it about some enlightened masters using their magical powers to do it? For an Australian Taoist like myself, the way to cross the sea is definitely surfing.”
With Wally instructing and guiding me, I began to surf, first-ever experience in my life. Normally, a beginner could hardly stand on the board. But lying on it and being washed to the beach was already quite something to me.
Surfing is a sport that requires constant balancing of the body in the waves. It arouses your desire to conquer and you also have to balance yourself. This balance is consistent with the law of Yin-Yang interactions in Chinese medicine.
After riding on the high tides for several rounds, I knew I had already fallen in love with the sport, just like how I had felt when I first tried skiing in Colorado. No wonder Wally said surfing was an addictive sport, hard to quit once you fall for it. In Australia, many employers, when interviewing someone, will ask whether he is a surfer. If the reply is affirmative, they will very likely leave him alone. For surfing is always on his mind, and he will rush to the beach before and after work. How could he possibly concentrate on his work?
I could not bear to have him always accompany me in my surfing practice, so I pleaded with him to show me his surfing stunt. He gave me a knowing smile and pushed the board deep into the surging waves. I strolled to shallow waters, and when I looked back, he was not in sight any more. There were many young men and women surfing and having fun. I gazed for a good while, but only saw colourful surfers, blue sea and white waters. Just when I was about to give up my search, a surfer with fluttering white hair suddenly glided back into my vision at the speed of a skater. I was stunned by this dynamic scene — There was Wally, standing firmly on the board in his black surfing suit, riding on roaring waves in a tangential route, with a much higher long wave closely following him, as if it would fall unto him or swallow him at any moment. Under the blue sky and white clouds, and amid the surging waves, the Taoist was balancing himself on the board, with his white hair flowing in the air.
For a Chinese, the image of a white-haired Taoist is someone with unique talents deep in the mountains or jungles. Such a free, surfing Taoist is a rare sight. We know the tale The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea, but their magical powers can seem too abstract for us, not as visible as surfing. I believe this white-haired surfer is a modern version of the kind of Taoists described by Chuang-tzu, an ancient Chinese Taoist. Aren’t Chuang-tzu and the stories he wrote mystical and graceful enough?
Two days later, Wally took me to surf again. I stood on the board once. Cool!
Seeing me so exhilarated, Wally grinned and said, “Nothing less than riding on a woman in bed, uh?”
I replied, “Well, that is correct!”
Immediately, we could hear a symphony of our laughter and the sounds of waves flowing in the air.
While writing down these words, I just received an email from Wally. He wrote about his life after I left, very simple, his usual style. He said that the sea and Chinese medicine gave him a certain balance in this crazy world. He ended with these words, “Life has no destination. It is a cyclic, endless journey, just as is revealed in the Tai Chi Diagram.” A wonderful image emerged in my mind: In the morning breeze, an over 50-year-old white man, acupuncturist and Tai Chi instructor riding on a board with Yin-Yang Tai ChiDiagram, “dancing” with the waves in the blue sea, with streamlined white waters along the route.
Will this be the future image of a TCM doctor? A future Taoist or monk? I then pictured myself a black-haired Taoist surfing on high waves, with my beard floating in the air. All around me are surfers with colourful hairs, white, blond, brown, yellow…