Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’

  • East meets West

    For many Western societies, the idea of health is the absence of disease.Yet this is not the case in China, where the aspect of health embodies a comprehensive system that focuses on a balanced lifestyle which is in harmony with nature. Evolving along thousands of years of experimentation and studies about health and longevity, the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine is today imbued with an ancient wisdom that aims to heal and regenerate not only the body but also the mind and soul.

    From 1994, this ideology is being fostered locally by means of The Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine which is located in Kordin, Paola. Run by a Chinese medical team which changes every two years, this centre has been regularly registering a remarkable increase in Maltese people who attend to receive treatment.

    Dr Xu Jinhua“We are very satisfied with the Maltese people’s response to our services,” remarked Dr Xu Jinhua, the present director of the centre. “In fact, last week, we treated 100 patients.”

    Dr Xu is no new face in this centre since this is the second time that he has joined the Chinese medical team to work in Malta. He was here four years ago and yet he had to undergo again an eight-month preparation programme in Nanjing before coming to our country.

    His interpreter, Xiaoyan Sun, described how the team of four Chinese doctors, a chef and herself were required to attend to this outward training in order to be able to provide the best service in Malta.

    training“Apart from physical training, our preparation was concentrated on strengthening our ability to communicate in English and learning basic details about Maltese culture and religion. Moreover, all members of the group were familiarized with some general fundamental knowhow to enable us collaborate better. This included learning rudimental information about traditional Chinese medicine in order to be able to co-operate with the doctors, and also getting used to cook so that we could relieve our chef from time to time. Meanwhile, we were also prohibited from visiting home in order to get adjusted to the experience of living in another country, whilst at the same time the group became more like a family.”

    teamGenuine dedication and commitment is the order of the day as these four Chinese doctors, who are specialized in acupuncture, provide their services at this centre in Paola, at Mater Dei Hospital, and at Gozo General Hospital. Additionally, as Dr Xu revealed, this team was sent with a further task to set up a Chinese clinic at St Luke’s hospital.

    Diagnosis of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners vary considerably from that of Western doctors.

    “From our first glance at the patient, we get a good indication of what the client might be suffering from,” explained Dr Xu. “Immediate tell tale signs are evident in the way one walks, in one’s facial expression and posture, in the colour of the skin, and whether one is thin or fat. Furthermore, a person’s vitality shows through the brightness of the eyes, the colour of the lips, and the state of the hair.”

    acuIt was interesting to discover that much information is also obtained by looking closely at a person’s tongue since its colour, shape and coating reflects the condition of the internal organs.

    “Our investigation includes also auscultation which is done by listening to the patients’ voice, sounds of breathing, and coughing. In the old days, the diagnosis concerned also olfaction; that is smelling the odour of the patient. However today this is somewhat difficult since people use many perfumes and this hides the personal odour of individuals.”

    Even pulse-taking is different since the Chinese physician uses three fingers: the index finger to check the heart and lungs, the middle finger to listen to the liver, and the ring finger to test the kidney.

    “During this time, the doctor also discusses with the patient about his lifestyle, his diet, whether he practices some form of exercise and if he has any stressful atmosphere at home or at work. This practice takes place in order to see whether the patient is suffering from any sort of imbalance which is resulting in pain. For the treatment to be effective, it is very important that a good relationship is created between the patient and the doctor.”

    gardenAlong these twenty-one years, the treatments at this clinic were mainly focused on acupuncture and massage. Yet this year, Dr Xu is keen to introduce a further specialized treatment which involves the use of traditional Chinese herbs.

    “Chinese herbs are used widely in China. There is a vast selection of these herbs, and all have their own particular characteristics and qualities. Their utilization could offer various benefits to the Maltese people. However, till now, we are prohibited from importing these herbs to Malta to treat the locals with them.”

    Probably, this restriction is due to the fact that these herbs are alien to our Western doctors. Nonetheless, possibly the time has come to make a change.

    Current medical team during this year's Notte Bianca (Photo - Xiaojin Su)“Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Energy and Health, whilst he was visiting some medicine colleges and hospitals in China. At the time, I was glad to see that he seemed very interested in these traditional Chinese herbs, particularly those relating to treat infertility.”

    “Should treatment with these herbs be allowed in Malta, a Chinese doctor specialised in this sector would be able to attend regularly in our centre in order to diagnose patients and provide treatment. I am aware that presently some people in Malta are using IVF treatment to tackle this issue. Yet in those cases where a couple does not have any problems with the organs themselves, traditional Chinese herbs might offer a less expensive and more reliable natural solution. I must say that in China we have a 70 to 80 per cent success rate for cases of infertility in such situations.”

    Dr Xu pointed out that other countries, such as America, have now introduced these methods and they are having very satisfactory results. That is why he is looking very much forward to meet Dr Mizzi in order to discuss further this opportunity.

    “If this treatment is made available in Malta, I am sure that many people will benefit from it. Maybe at first, people might be wary or doubtful whether a herb will really be effective. Nonetheless, once people will start obtaining positive results, others will surely follow, and we would be doing a great service to this country.”

     (This article was published in ‘Fitness, Nutrition and Well-Being’ Supplement issued with The Times of Malta dated 27th January 2016)

    2016.01.27 / 1 response / Category: Times of Malta

  • A HIDDEN BEAUTY SPOT

    In contrast to the city of Beijing, wherein we visited some of the most splendid sites of Chinese historical significance, Shanghai seemed bound to impress us with its ultra modern, cosmopolitan character and its new high rises. Even though we were informed that a number of old structures in Shanghai were being preserved in order to conserve the roots of this area, our initial general impression was that the new buildings had taken over considerably its Chinese origins.

    Dehra ta' Zhujiajiao2Therefore, it was quite a pleasant surprise to learn that tucked safely away at relatively short distances from this avant-garde city, one could still find a wide selection of ancient water towns which offer the opportunity to relish the charm of an ancient China. Known as the ‘Little Venices of the East’, these unique towns of exceptional allure are a wonder of cultural landscape. A visit to at least one of them, is definitely a must once you are in Shanghai.

    Since we had only one day left in Shanghai, our guide led us to Zhujiajiao which is located only forty seven kilometers away from this city, in the district of Qingpu. With a history of around 1700 years, Zhujiajiao is renowned as one of the best preserved ancient water towns of the area. Like much of the other sites in China, once we got there, we found the place pretty crowded, especially since on that day, the local people were celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. Indeed, during public holidays, these water towns are very popular with Shanghai residents who yearn for moments of tranquility, away from the hustle and bustle of the urban areas.

    Snajja' tradizzjonali2The settlement of Zhujiajiao dates back to the Yuan dynasty, when this location was turned into an important trading hub for the surrounding countryside. Since it is strategically situated at the intersection of a number of local rivers, Zhujiajiao continued to gain significance, and during the reign of Emperor Wanli of the Ming dynasty, it was granted township status. The town prospered by trading rice and cloth which were transported on boats from the surrounding countryside, right to the houses of the Zhujiajiao merchants.

    Today, this town which covers about 3 square kilometers, has a population of about 70,000 people. Although nowadays, one finds some recent and modern structures in Zhujiajiao, about a thousand of the surviving buildings and ancient markets were constructed during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

    Zhujiajiao, Shanghai2Thirty six bridges of different sizes, designs, and materials, cross the small rivers shaded by willow trees, and connect the ancient town. Whilst the narrowest bridges are only about a metre wide, Zhujiajiao can boast to have the largest stone arch bridge in Shanghai. Originally built in 1571 by the monk Xingchao of Cimen Temple in 1571, and then rebuilt in 1812, Fangsheng Bridge rests on five arches and is 70 metres long, and 5.8 metres high. The central arch is decorated with a stone relief of eight dragons surrounding a pearl, whilst the pillars at the ends are sculpted into lions.

    Interestingly, ancient bridges can be recognized from more recent ones by looking at the height of their stairs, since in the old days, these were quite steep, whereas nowadays, steps are constructed in lower and more uniform positions, in order to be more easily accessible, especially to the elderly.

    Il-gondola2Both these bridges and the town itself can be appreciated further by taking a cruise on one of the small bamboo gondolas that navigate the countless waterways of Zhujiajiao. A short trip and a longer one are offered, wherein the first takes passengers up and down the main canal, whilst the latter travels all over the town and back.

    In order to explore this town, one needs about four hours. Narrow streets filled with different shops that sell typical souvenirs and various other products are often packed with tourists who tend to disrupt the serenity that one would have expected to find in such a location. The one kilometre North Streetis the best preserved ancient street in this suburb where one can observe the historical architecture. On the other hand, in Xijin Street, one can visit the classical Kezhi Garden with its distinguished combination of traditional Chinese and Western styles.

    Selling traditional food (Photo - Fiona Vella)2A closer investigation of Zhujiajiao can offer much more to see, includingTongtianhe Medicine Shop, Qing Dynasty Post Office, Baoguo Temple, and Yuanjin Meditation Room. A selection of bars, restaurants, teahouses, and coffee shops provide the opportunity to rest and to taste some local cuisine whilst gazing out at the rivers or the main canal.

    Having gone through a period of inactivity, where life crawled on at a slow pace, in these last years Zhujiajiao has gone through a rapid transformation as both locals and foreigners began to long for such preserved gems which can relate strongly to a bygone period in China.

    Although some believe that the heavily touristic element on which the inhabitants have become highly dependent, is ruining the romantic nature of this sublime ancient water town, I can say that I enjoyed every minute which I spent in this exotic place. A heaven for photographers, Zhujiajiao provides an unforgettable experience of a surreal Chinese life which has succeeded to endure the test of time.

    (This article was published in ESCAPE Suppliment which was issued with the Sunday Times of Malta dated 1st November 2015)

    2015.11.01 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • Unlocking the Great Wall’s stories

    ‘He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man’ declares a Chinese saying.

    After being confronted by the challenging steps of this legenday wall, I must admit that I understand fully the meaning behind this expression.

    Constructing the Great Wall of China

    A section of Juyongguan Pass (Photo - Fiona Vella)The Great Wall consists of a massive series of fortifications which extend over five thousand kilometres from east to west in north China. Since it outstretches over a number of provinces, one can visit its diverse sections from various locations. Its construction took around two thousand years and it involved the input of several dynasties which were ruling the country during different period.

    Since for many years, various Chinese states were at war against each other, by the 7th century BC, the locals had already mastered an excellent skill in the building of protective walls with which to defend their villages. It was from this period that construction of the Great Wall commenced.

    In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang succeeded to win over all his opponents. He unified China for the first time, established the Qin Dynasty, and became the first Emperor. To impose a centralization of authority, he ordered the destruction of various defensive walls which had been built around the country by different feudal lords. Instead, he constructed new walls which connected a number of fortifications that were situated in the northern side of his empire. These were intended to shield his people and his country from the opponent nomadic tribe Xiongnu which resided in this area (today known as Mongolia).

    It was no easy feat to construct these walls in the chosen locations which winded throughout valleys or climbed across mountains. At the time, no machinery was available to facilitate this grueling work. Yet, the Chinese managed to erect these walls by utilizing the material that was available in each particular zone and by working according to the contours of the terrain.

    No one knows how many people worked or died during the construction of this wall. Many insist that the total number could easily reach millions. Certainly, their effort led to the creation of a unique masterpiece which today is regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In 1987, the Great Wall of China became also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

    A popular legend

    Meng Jiang NuThis wall is imbued with many narratives and legends. Yet the most popular is surely that of Meng Jiang Nü; a young woman who is believed to have lived during the 3rd century BC, in the Qin Dynasty.

    Her story recounts that one day, Fan Qi Liang, a young man who had been engaged to work on the Great Wall, succeeded to escape from this strenuous job. He ran with all his might along the way until at one point, he was so exhausted that he stopped to hide in the garden of Meng’s father.

    The two fell in love immediately as soon as their eyes met, and some time after, they got married. Yet unfortunately, their happinness did not last long as the man was located by soldiers and he was taken back to work on the wall.

    The woman waited and waited for her husband’s return. But when winter was close and he still did not come back, she sewed some warm clothes for him in order to protect him from the cold. She went in search of him at his work place but after she looked out for him wherever she could and inquired about him, she was finally informed that her husband had died and that he had been buried within the wall itself.

    This tragic news shattered the woman’s spirit and she was so griefed that she spent a whole day and a whole night weeping beneath the wall. Her desperation ran so deep that suddenly, the wall in front of her crumbled and a number of corpses slid out of it.

    Shocked at this gruesome scene, Meng Jiang Nü cut her finger and she allowed her blood to trickle on the corpses. At one point, she noticed that all her blood ran to a particular corpse and it was then that she recognized her husband’s body. She gathered him lovingly and gave him a decent burial. Then, she walked to a river and ended her life within.

    Juyongguan Pass – Beijing

    Juyongguan Pass in the mist (Photo - Fiona Vella)I had read and heard so much about the greatness of this wall that when I arrived at one of its sections in Beijing, known as Juyongguan Pass, I simply stood in silence and in awe.

    My eyes ran afar, up into the sky where a thick fog was hiding the highest part that was visible from the ground. Located at around fifty kilometres away from Beijing, this part of the wall is about 4000 metre long and is situated amongst the mountains of Changping District.

    This pass has always been renowned for its strategic significance and its impenetrability. Notwithstanding this, in 1644, a group of rebellious farmers led by Li Zicheng, managed to enter into Beijing by overcoming this area. It is said that this happenned not because of any weakness in the wall but due the fact that the local people were too impoverished to resist.

    Today, Juyongguan Pass is distinguished for its lovely scenic views of the surrounding forests, particularly since these change their colours according to season.

    Experiencing the magic of the Great Wall

    We arrived at nine in the morning in order to avoid the crowds but there were already many visitors climbing the wall. The weather was not very welcoming as it was drizzling and the fog made it difficult to take very good photos. Yet nothing could stop us from climbing that legendary wall which we had all dreamt so much about!

    Experiencing the Great Wall of China (I am the one in black) - (Photo - Fiona Vella)Up we went the first steps but soon we realized that it was not going to be that easy to climb too far. For the Great Wall’s steps were constructed in differing heights in order to make it difficult for the enemy to run up and make a surprise attack. Whilst some of the steps were low, others were quite high and after a short time, if you’re not the sporty kind, you’ll definitely find yourself out of breath.

    Step after step, we arrived at the first tower which consisted of a number of small rooms. I decided to check out a set of narrow stairs which led to the tower’s roof and from there, the overview of the open landscape was even more splendid. I looked around in a blending state of rapture, wonder and disbelief as I imagined that this could have been the same view that the legendary soldiers watched over. For a moment, time seemed to stop and the present melted into the past as I simply stood there holding on to the ancient stones.

    I could have stayed there to absorb within me all the history of the place but the group needed to move on and so, we climbed further. Over all, the set up of the wall repeats itself as its length is divided into steps and a number of towers. Yet I can say that I would have continued to climb all day if we did not have planned to visit other sites.

    Going down the steps was relatively easy but by then, the place had become quite crowded with people of all nationalities who came to visit.

    A love bound to eternity

    Lovelocks attached to the Great Wall (Photo - Fiona Vella)As I stole a last glance at this architectural and historic marvel, I noticed a quantity of lovelocks that were fastened to chains running along the Great Wall. On a closer look, I found out that these were decorated with heart designs and the names of couples were engraved on each of them. Our guide told us that those lovelocks formed part of an old Chinese tradition which stated that if a couple wrote their names on a lock and closed it on this chain, their love would be eternal, just like the destiny of this mythical wall.

    (This article was published in the Travel Supplement of the Sunday Times of Malta dated 21st June 2015)

    2015.06.21 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • The Chinese who remained in Malta

    Il-qabar ta' Xu Huizhong.JPG

    Il-President Anton Buttigieg qed jghaddi l-Midalja lill-Ambaxxatur tac-Cina f'Malta.JPGL-ex Ministru Reno Calleja qed jghaddi l-Midalja lill-armla tal-inginier Xu Huizhong.JPG

    Last Sunday, many of us went to visit the cemeteries which are located around our islands in order to pay our respects to our dead relatives and friends.

    Many of us took with them a beautiful bunch of coloured and fragrant flowers which we left on the cold tombs made of yellowish stone or of icy white or dark black marble. Apart from showing love and respect, this gesture seemed to try to inject life where there was not.

    Others have also dedicated some time to clean the tombs by removing the weeds or by changing an old photograph with a new one.

    Thousands of red candles were lit so that their humble flame might accompany the soft prayers that were said for the deads’ souls.

    Many people had tears in their eyes. Even those whom their relatives had died a long time ago but still feel emotional at this loss.

    I find these death rituals very interesting, particularly when I observe how society continues to keep dear to its heart those who have died; sometimes even by continuing to treat them as if they were still alive.

    Whilst I walked along the paths of the Addolorata cemetery, I could notice all these customs. A pang of sadness crept into my heart when I noticed some bare tombs whom no one seemed to have visited. However, a closer look at the dates written on these tombs indicated that probably those particular families had ended and therefore nobody remained to visit.

    The tombs of Xu Huizhong and Gu Yanzhao

    I arrived in front of the tombs which I went to visit: those of Xu Huizhong and Gu Yanzhao; two Chinese engineers who died in our country whilst they were working on Dock Number 6 in Malta. Xu had died accidentally whilst Gu was deceased due to an illness.

    Their photos looked at me and I greeted them in name of their country and in name of mine. As a sign of respect, I put a bunch of white and yellow chrysanthemums on their tombs according to Chinese tradition which symbolizes sadness and grief. Then, according to my culture, I prayed to God to give them eternal rest.

    I remember that when I asked some Chinese individuals regarding why these two persons had been buried in Malta and were not taken back to their country, they informed me that this had been their relatives’ decision. This is because, according to Chinese culture, these individuals had to be buried in the country for which they were working because that was the only way how they could rest in peace: for they had to be present on the same land when the project on which they were working was successfully finished.

    Notwithstanding this, I still wondered what these persons’ relatives might have felt when they had to allow those whom they had loved, to be buried in a foreign country, and so far away.

    An honorary medal of the Republic of Malta for engineer Xu Huizhong

    I continued to think about this and so I decided to talk to ex-Labour Minister, Reno Calleja, who in 1979 was sent by Malta Prime Minister, Duminku Mintoff in order to present an Honorary Award of the Republic of Malta to the family of engineer Xu Huizhong. This honour was given to this man after he died tragically on 16th March 1979 whilst he was working at the construction of a new dock in our country.

    “That was a day which I will never forget!” revealed Calleja as soon as we started to discuss this matter. “More than that, I must say that personally, I consider that moment as the most salient one in my political career. I cherish it that much because on that day, I felt that I was becoming part of my country’s history; where Malta was presenting a very significant award to a foreign worker after his death, because he had lost his life whilst he was helping our country.”

    An agreement between Malta and China

    Calleja remembers clearly that period when China had agreed to help our country to regain its economic strength.

    “In those years, even China was a relatively poor country but it chose to help Malta all the same. It is during such moments that one can see the true friendship of a country: when it helps you in times when it is not so strong itself,” insisted Calleja.

    “The wise decision that Mintoff had made, when in 1972 he visited China with a Maltese delegation in order to meet Mao Zedong, after Nixon had did so too about a month before, was very much appreciated. And thanks to this choice, the Maltese people are still enjoying the benefit of this friendship, now that China has become a very rich country.”

    Many Chinese workers help in the construction of Dock Number 6

    “Apart from giving us financial support, the Chinese people helped us a lot by sending us many technical workers in order to attend to various important projects in Malta, including the construction of Dock Number 6,” Calleja continued to explain.

    “These Chinese workers have worked along with the Maltese labourers and our people got enriched in the principles of work as they learnt about the Chinese culture from these people. It was a culture of a people of great humility with vast enterprise together with a devotional sense of duty towards their own country. The enthusiasm shown by the Chinese workers as they worked with quality and precision, even when they were doing this for another country, inspired the Maltese to behave like them. And if the Chinese labourers were working with much dedication in order to make their country proud, the Maltese labourers were getting busy so that their country would be thankful to them,” Calleja said.

    “When Dock Number 6 was ready, I attended to the opening ceremony and I swear that I noticed many workers cry when they saw Mintoff’s face alight with satisfaction for the good job that everyone had made.”

    Reno Calleja goes to China in order to present the Medal

    Unfortunately, this fantastic narrative has also its negative side; including the instance of the death of engineer Xu.

    “In 1979, I was invited to visit China in order to represent the Malta-China Friendship Society. When I advised the Prime Minister about this, he requested me to go to China in April because he had something in mind,” remembered Calleja.

    “After a fortnight, Mintoff informed me that he had decided to give a Medal of the Republic of Malta on an honorary basis after his death to engineer Xu Huizhong and I was recommended to take it with me on my visit to China. Soon ex-President of Malta, Anton Buttigieg, organized a ceremony wherein he invited the ex-Ambassador of China in Malta, as a representative of the Government of the People’s Republic of China in order to present him with this medal. Then this medal was handed to me and I took it with me to China.”

    Here, Calleja showed me some photographs of those distinguished moments.

    “A very big ceremony was organized at the great Congress Hall in Shanghai in order to present this medal to engineer Xu’s family. For this event, I prepared a speech in Maltese which was translated in Chinese by a Maltese student. This student was Clifford Borg-Marks whom today is the Ambassador of Malta in China.”

    “During this ceremony, I had the privilege to meet engineer Xu’s widow and his children who all appreciated very much this honourable award that our country had given them. However, I can never forget the sad face of his widow who thanked me respectfully and said nothing more.”

    From then on, Calleja has kept in contact with Xu’s family.

    “Regrettably, a year after I met her, Xu’s widow died of grief. Yet her children kept in contact with me and they came to Malta in order to visit their father’s grave. Now, Xu’s grand-daughter has informed me that when she grows up, she would like to become an engineer like her grandpa.”

    Chinese traditions

    An interesting fact is that the Chinese people do not celebrate the death rituals during our same period. Furthermore, they have more than one ceremony related to paying respect to their dead.

    Qingming Festival

    Among these traditions, there is the Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day. This festival takes place on the 4th or the 5th April, according to the traditional lunar calendar.

    During this festival, the people remember and honour their ancestors by praying, cleaning tombs, re-painting calligraphy on tombs, burning incense or offering food, tea, drinks and other accessories on the tombs. Moreover, on this day, some people may carry willow branches with them or hang them on their doors in order to ward off the evil spirits which may roam around on Qingming.

    Since the Qingming takes place with the beginning of the Spring season, these celebrations usually include also family outings and kite flying. Some farmers start ploughing their fields on this day.

    The Ghost Festival

    During this festival which takes place in August, people will pay respects to all deceased whether young or old. Some of the activities which take place during the Qingming are also undertaken throughout the Ghost Festival; including the offering of food and the burning of incense.

    Other celebrations could include the releasing of miniature paper boats and lanterns on water. This ritual is intended to direct the lost ghosts and spirits to their resting places as some people believe that on this day, the deceased will visit the living.

    (This article is a translation of the Maltese original version which was published in the series KOBOR IL-MALTI (Part 25) in Torċa dated 9th November 2014)

    2014.11.09 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

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