I used to write really long blog posts. Ridiculously long posts. I think my LJ archives fill at least 500 pages. This was in the golden era of blogging, when people actually commented (to anyone who likes this post without commenting, you are a conformist n00b), and nothing was properly aggregated, the NSA was just beginning its “capture everything all the time” directives..ah, the golden era of the internet.

Since then, I’ve had things like work (but far less than I ever did while as a student at HMC, for the most part), social life, travel, and vague notions of “wanting to achieve/complete/gain skill within certain disciplines” stop me from producing as copious of tomes, although discernment also goes a long way.

As it is, it’s been somewhat of a rough winter, and my health has not been as consistently high as I’d like. Erratic constitution does seem to be a genetic feature on my mom’s side of the family, as much as I’ve done to remedy it. But, I am still often remembering the “salted chocolate almond moment,” as I was reminded the other day, biting into a delicious 70% Theo bar whilst in the middle of cooking and other errands, temporarily transporting me completely to the present. Or the “fresh dates while sitting in grubby park in Taipei moment,” if you prefer, or, the “first sip of delicious semi-aged pu-er after a long day moment,”–whatever takes you to that place and reminds you, once again, that the present is all we have, and that it is everything, as beautiful as memories and thoughts are (and that every recollection and portent of either nonetheless happens in the current moment).
Biking through the streets with the wind whipping around my leather jacket, noticing the blooming of huge magnolia trees. All sorts of things like that, always around us. I am beginning to internalize Pema Chodron’s dictum: We are always hanging on a cliff, tigers coming towards us, a single delicious strawberry bush in front of us.

Here was mine: I’ve become a lot better at aikido. I can throw many people with little effort, my timing has become quite good. After illness I’m still now recovering from, I thought I was recovered, and was fine during 99% of a practice, but pulled more than I needed to during a single technique, and felt a tinge of pain along a weird vector inside my left shoulder. Back to pain and exhaustion. Having had it, I looked up a reputed old school doctor of Chinese medicine, located in Oakland Chinatown, who was, according to her yelp reviews (which she probably does not even know exist), both highly skilled and cheap.

So I called her up.

“Hi, is this Judy?”
“Can I make an appointment?”
“When you want to come? Today or tomorrow?”
“Um, tomorrow, how about 4:30 PM?”

And that was it, no questions, nothing about who I was or what my problem was, just show up. I already felt like I was back in China. This was confirmed upon entering the shabby building in Oakland Chinatown, itself entirely grubby, walking along a nondescript hallway. Another woman seemed surprised to see me inside at all, and asked multiple times in the condescending/concerned way of middle-aged Chinese people everywhere whether I knew where I was and if I had made an appointment with the good Dr., before unlocking the shared bathroom for me.

Dr. Judy herself is an elderly woman, at least in her 60s. She had kindly features, but is of slight build. Her office was full of boxes and cluttered in that typical yet professional, diligent, Chinese way, that is familiar to me by this stage of my life.
The only questions she asked me were which arm the pain was in and if I had finished my lunch. At no point did she ask my name, or did I fill out a single form or waiver. Which I was ok with; I’ve been to acupuncture many times before, I wasn’t concerned, and I didn’t want someone mammy pansy from one of the 10000 local clinics mostly stocked by non-Chinese doctors gently needling their patients towards the harmony of their soul; no, I wanted someone old school, who was highly efficient, and understood the maxim I have always attempted to follow, “no pain, no gain.”

And so she did. Humming along gently to renditions of classical chinese music while obscene hip-hop thumping through angry cars drove by and sirens flailed in the background (this is Oakland), she walked around the table I lay face down on, in fuzzy elephant slippers and white coat, expertly jabbing needles into me, more needles than I’ve ever had in my body, at least three times as many as my non-Chinese acupuncturist ever put in me during a session.

BAM! It felt that she was slamming them into me.

“AAH!” I yelped out in pain, from the tension they were cutting up, the force it felt they emptied into me. She put some in points I knew to be sore, some which I didn’t, she massaged and felt with the force of an aikido 6th-dan into both bone and tendon, she cupped constantly around multiple points of my body, more needles, moved me from side to side, like it was entirely routine–which I’m sure it is, she’s probably been doing this since before I was born. I had at least 5 in my skull alone, not including the ears and neck. Periodically, she rotated the needles to keep the qi flowing, and when she pulled them out, her hands were so fast and experienced, the motion was so smooth it was if the wind had simply blown them away, pthew, shoo

“Not hurt, right?” She asked me, after my palms were sweaty and I had let out at least a dozen grimaces and yelps.
“I think you just nervous, afraid of needle, not hurt, right?”
“Oh, it hurts,” I laughed, “but it’s ok.”
“Really? You sensitive,” she said in the surprised way only Chinese people can be, such as when you tell them, yes, it is a bonafide problem that I was electrocuted in my own apartment.
“Yes, I’m sensitive,” I acknowledged.

After that she kept asking me to tell her if I was ok, and if the bags of hot rice she lay over my legs were too warm (a very minor concern to me compared to the pain).

“Sit up, handsome boy,” as she continued massaging my limbs.
“You afraid of needle,” she said, completely unironically, after I had already let her put at least 40 in my body, “so I use my hands, ok? No nail.”

By the end of it, I felt the qi in my belly gnarling aggressively, my appetite return, and a strong clarity return to my senses, less of the horrid, blocked-damp feeling my previous acupuncturist had explained to me and pulled me from, the fuzziness of mind I abhor more than anything. I could also move my arm a lot more.

“So..if I want to come back, should I call you?” I asked her, putting on my shoes.

“No!” she barked at me.
“You done, don’t come back. Save your money. Hard to earn money, right! Save money, spend on your nutrition.”

She then gave me a bottle of water, bowed very deeply to me and said “Thank you!”, smiling beatifically. All this for $45 (in cash, of course).
I bowed back, thanked her, and she kept doing the same to me until I emerged out of sight at the end of the hallway.

There are still saints, I thought.

And that was my salted-chocolate-almond moment.