Ba Guan

Yes, that's my back

What better way to spend Friday night than with a load of glass cups sucking the life out of your back! Let me introduce you to the Chinese Art of Ba Guan which probably means something along the lines of Cupping (which makes me think of something altogether less pleasant).

It’s a form of traditional Chinese medicine in which you get a load of glass cups stuck to your back in various configurations.¬†Similar¬†to the principles of acupuncture, different areas of your back relate to different internal organs. If it’s done really traditionally they use a lighted taper before placing the cups, thus creating a vacuum and causing you to be sucked into a glass cup the size of your fist.

Instruments of torture

We got a do it yourself kit when we were in China. It’s a lot easier than using fire. Stick the cup where you want it to go and then use the handy pump to suck out the air. Before you ask, the answer is No. I’ve never used the pump for any other purpose. Or at least not when anyone else is around ūüėČ

It’s bloody painful to begin with. Your skin is pulled so tight it feels like you’ve got a ten ton weight on top of you. However, after a while the pain seems to fade away and it’s almost relaxing. I say almost. Lets not get carried away here. When it’s finished (about 10 to 15 minutes), the relief of having the cups taken off is just bliss. It’s well worth doing just to experience that final stage.

The Aftermath

Once done, your back looks a little bit like you’ve battled the Kraken and lost. Big red welts cover your back. To begin with, they are raised and swollen. This swelling goes down quite quickly and then you can see the damage. Apparently, the redder and darker the circle the less healthy you are. We did the operation on a very unhealthy friend of ours – bad diet, smoker, blah blah and his back was a mess. The redness bordered on black and he just looked horrendous. Interestingly, he now swears that this is all baloney and doesn’t do a thing. Hmm.

What do I think? I’m not sure. It’s worth a try at the very least. I didn’t feel¬†noticeably¬†better straight after. In fact, I puked my guts up. However, the next day I’m sure I felt a bit sprightlier. I couldn’t swear to it and it may well be the placebo effect.

Will I do it again? For sure. I must be a bit of a masochist but I quite liked the sensation. I’m also quite open to traditional methods. It’s not like taking a load of harsh chemicals into my system and I think that has to be a good thing.

So what’s next? Acupuncture? Maybe. All those needles scare me but hey, it won’t be the first time I’ve felt a little prick – wah hey!

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Toilet Etiquette Part Two – China

A typical squat - taking from our local boozer

As you may know, I spent a fair bit of time living and working in China. Over the four years or so I learnt a thing or two about how to use the toilets there so I thought I’d share it with you. You never know, some of this might actually be useful. I did say might so don’t sue me.

First off, travelling in a foreign country always comes with the risk of getting the runs. A corny quote but one that is quite apt, “It’s a brave person who farts in Asia”. Very true and one which I’ve sadly tested to be true. So what I’m trying to say is expect to get aquintated with the local toilets at some point.

You may hate McDonalds and KFC – I’m not going to get into how corrupt and evil huge multi-national corporations are. Even if you hate them there’s no denying they usually have the best toilets. You can also use them without having to buy anything. Of course it helps if you know where the toilets are located. What I’ve found is that in both Micky Dee and KFC there are lots of enthusiastic staff who will wave and shout at you for your order. Eyes down, and head for the loo. They are usually clean and have paper. You might see some odd things there. I saw one bloke with his baby daughter trying to get her to poop in the urinal. It didn’t work. I also saw an old boy there take his pants down and start taking a crap without bothering to shut the door. I didn’t stay to watch. Another good thing about McDonalds is that there a loads of them in big cities. I remember being in Shanghai and being able to see 3 of them at any one time along a main road.

If you need to go and can’t (or won’t – hey, it’s your choice, I’m going to judge) go to KFC or McDonalds then it could be anything. There are lots of public toilets dotted around but the quality varies. The stench can be almost overpowering in even the cleanest of places so prepare yourself for the worst. I’ve been known to puke before due to the smell (I kid you not) but that’s usually after a good booze session the night before.

Let’s cover the basics before looking at the toilets themselves. Wiping the bum is the order of the day. Unlike places like India or Sri Lanka, there are no facilities to wash your tush. Therefore you’ll almost certainly need to have paper if you need to crap. If the toilet is public and you have to pay then you can usually buy a small packet of tissues. Any supermarket in China sells tissues in handy packets so get a couple and keep them with you. A word of warning, though. A lot of the tissues come heavily scented. If you have allergies, they might kick off at the scent. A bloke I knew (I’ll not call him a friend – he was a sponger and basically odd) had said allergies and tried to blow his nose on a scented tissue. His nose swelled up to an alarming size and snot ran down like green rain. Not pleasant. Part of me felt concern, the more evil part of me snickered.

Payment for public toilets varies. If it’s unattended, it’ll be free but you never know what you’re going to find. Paid toilets tend to be a bit safer but it’s still a gamble. You’re not talking mega bucks but have a few coins ready. People oddly never have change to give. Strange.

There’s a good chance you’re going to encounter the squat toilet. This tends to be a hole in the ground with foot plates on either side. I’ve met a lot of people who hate the squat but I think it’s much better. If nothing else, your bum isn’t coming into contact with anything dirty. It may feel a bit odd squatting and dumping, especially if you’re used to having a good read to pass the time. However, I’ve noticed that you tend to crap a lot quicker – must be something about the angle. The squat also has the advantage of going into a hole somewhere. You might find that you’re having to poo over a trough. People “upstream” of you are also dumping into this trough and it’s not uncommon to see mounds of turds float underneath you. Not pleasant, I have to say. If you’re out in the villages, there generally is no water so whatever the condition of the toilet, you’re dumping onto a huge stinking mound of god knows what. I pray I never have to find out. Unfortunately, these mounds are generally covered in flies having the best buffet of their lives. Your deposit will probably wake them from their stupor into a fresh feeding frenzy.

If you’ve never used a squat before it’s really not that hard. Make sure your trousers, underpants, whatever are all the way down. For the gentlemen reading this, make sure the general is pointing south before beginning. I like to get my little tissue packet out before settling down so I’m not¬†scrabbling¬†around for paper after I’m done. Put your feet either side of the hole. Most squats tend to have the main hole at the back, and a shallow bowl at the front. Point your arse towards the main hole and aim to wee into the shallow bowl. Hopefully you’re squatting by this time – if not, squat before it’s too late. It’ll all make sense when you’re there. And that’s it. Have at it!

Once you’re done, you might find there’s a little bin for the paper. If not, I put the paper into the toilet. I’ve seen some people put the paper behind the toilet, leaving a lovely pile of poo-ey paper. Delicious. The bins themselves are not pleasant but at least it’s a central location that, in theory, gets emptied out. Ho hum. Do whatever feels natural but remember that you run the risk of blocking the toilet if there is a bin provided that you don’t use. You never know when you’re going to need that toilet again so think about it before getting rid of your paper.

So now we’ve covered the actual toilet, lets look at the general building. Some toilets have cubicles to crap in. Some have low walls and low doors so your dignity is covered whilst you squat but you might want to wipe whilst squatting and not standing. Some have low walls but no door so you’re reasonably secure but with the chance of exposure. However, you might come across the public dumper. It’s happened to me once or twice. What can you do? Either hold it in or go with the flow. I’ve found the best solution is to quickly find your spot, whip down the duds, squat with your hands out in front of you and your head down and then let loose hell on the unsuspecting fellow dumpers.

If you are travelling on a train there are normally decent enough toilets. However, these can sometimes just be holes that open out onto the train track below so they will be shut in the city. The toilets also start off nice and clean but as the journey drags on the toilets get dragged down. By the end of a 12 hour trip those toilets are practically dripping. Buses are a mixed bunch. A lot don’t have any toilets but might stop more often. Some buses have a rudimentary toilet but never bank on it. For that reason alone, I prefer to take the train. It might take longer but it can be safer, you can have a stroll along the train buying beer and snack, and there are toilets.

After you’ve done whatever you need to do you might want to wash your hands. Hopefully you’ll want to wash your hands. I’m not here to judge mind you. This can be problematic. Not all toilets have sinks. Not all toilets have water. Like I said before, if you’re in KFC etc there’s a good chance for hot water, soap and even a hand dryer. Failing that, I found a trusty bottle of no-water soap worked wonders. At the risk of being graphic, you may get poop on your hands. It happens to all of us, I’m sure. In this case, a bottle of water might be your best bet. The tissues you buy tend to be pretty heavy duty mind you so you’re not likely to go through the paper unless you’re grinding really hard. Something to think about, eh?

The character for Man
The character for Woman

Finally, not all toilets are signposted in English (and why should they) and not all toilets have pictures. Some will just have the¬†Chinese¬†characters for man and woman. I’d recommend learning these two characters early on. Not complicated and it’ll save you some¬†embarrassment¬†later on. The picture to the far left is for men (honest!) and the one to the right is for women. I remember if because the bloke character has a box on top which is supposed to represent carrying hay or something. Alternatively, you can have lots of fun directing your unsuspecting visiting friends to the wrong toilet. What larks!

So that’s me done. Nothing to worry about, really. It’s all part of the experience. Chalk it up to part of your time in China and you won’t go wrong.