Thursday, July 10, 2008


Last Day This Trip

Yesterday’s meeting with the government officials is still on my mind. The officials are concerned that everything must follow government guidelines. Well, this is the city, Beijing, and the country that will momentarily (within three weeks) be the focus of the world. The Olympics are coming, the bird’s nest stadium is right near our hotel, and everywhere there are signs that remind the public to clean up for the games and take pride.

The television host whom I mentioned yesterday as the public official who is using her celebrity status to support our earthquake relief project is named Shen Bing, known as the “face of China Central Television (CCTV) programs. " She will emcee the Olympic games, because she can do it all: sports, finance, current affairs. Versatile, intelligent, graceful, she has won many awards including "Best TV Host for News Commentary and Business" in 2005. She was also honored as one of the Top 10 Most Influential Media Figures of the Year (2002) and Glamour 50 of the Year (2005).

But more than that, she is a philanthropist, donating much money to schools, libraries, and funds for needy children.

After I leave, I write her a thank you note for including me in this project. She answers immediately, inviting me to write her with my thoughts and ideas, asking for my continuing support, hoping to see me again, and also saying, “Your trip to China has been of great value to the Chinese people, and I really appreciate your efforts and contribution.” So gracious.

My friend Planaria is an expert in teaching English as a second language. She says there is a theory about conversations in different cultures—I hope I’ve got this right, on the web there’s something about this from The Seabright Group—that uses sports analogies to show the styles and who gets the conversational ball, so to speak. Some cultures are like Ping Pong, in that each person takes a turn hitting the ball when it comes his/her way. If you don’t have the ball, you have to wait until it’s your turn again. Some are like basketball, in that you have the conversational ball only as long as you can hold onto it, but someone can snap it up and then it’s their turn. And some are like soccer—you can hardly tell who’s got the ball at any given moment. The Middle East conversations are soccer. In the U.S., we’re kind of basketball. And China is definitely ping pong. So it involves waiting until it is your turn to speak. The more so when you don’t know the language.

Although the group I’m with is a little rowdy-er and there’s often so much laughter you can’t tell who’s got the ball.

We go to a vegetarian restaurant after the meeting, for my sake, and everyone finds the food delicious. Helena is certain she’s becoming a veggie, hanging out with me, and losing her taste for meat. The words for “I’m so full,” and “You are so wonderful” are almost the same, and there are apparently puns or jokes confusing the two. Can you see where they might cross over, with a feeling of being so content.

Which reminds me that after I did my demonstration of therapy at the university the other day, a beautiful young woman whose “English name” was Lotus came up to speak with me and try her language skills. I understood what she was saying easily, and was most moved when, in telling me how much she loved what I had done, she said, “My heart is so …com-fort-able.” She made it a juicy four syllables, and I felt full, myself.

The last day here, Helena and I awaken early and pack. Too much laundry. We stop for a quick breakfast and I don’t have my beloved morning coffee, hoping to be able to sleep on the plane. We say our good byes to the sweet Mr. Wei who gets us to the airport early, we check in and soon we’re on the 11-plus hour flight, which is cold and unpleasant enough to help me understand why the other Americans who left early all upgraded. Helena sleeps about three hours all together, I sleep about two.

We part in San Francisco—it has been so amenable and productive, we’re all hugs and plans. Which reminds me that she’s off to Seattle to see her daughter, who is there, and who has said to her ,“Mommy, I think I’m going to have to limit the number of kisses you can give me.” What did she decide the maximum number would be? “Twenty thousand.”

By the time Harry picks me up at the airport, his big warm hug is like a soft, favorite bed. We go home, catch a nap, and then head for UCLA where we teach our writing course from 7-10. Then home at 11 PM, I take a melatonin and am in bed by midnight. When I awaken at 9 AM, I’m back on Los Angeles time.

As always happens, once I’m back on familiar turf, doing what I always do, it’s as if I dreamed the whole trip. I’m grateful for this blog, so that I could preserve the memories and highlights and receive all your gorgeous feedback, support, and love.

Thank you. I am so full. You are so wonderful. Twenty thousand kisses.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day Nine

This is another of our “official” days, really official in the China that most of us imagine. A senior government official and his assistants meet with our delegation, which is led by a very striking, extremely intelligent national television personality. She's one of the official announcers for the Olympics, on the popular level of, shall we say, a Katie Couric -- but brilliant, and socially active. She has led the way for the development of help for the earthquake area. We’d met and spent some time together last week, and I’m honored that she likes me a lot. She has insisted that "Judiss," which is my Chinese name, and the one everyone calls me, be at this meeting.

We sit around a very large round table. Tea is poured quietly and constantly. There are ministers from the Education Department, the Health Department, their version of the Red Cross. Many people. There is much changing around of seats before the high government official enters.

The television anchor, Shen Bing, is so elegant and impresive in her grasp of what we're offering. She has the book I co-authored with Judith Acosta and apparently has read it.
She is so charming and I am so, well, blonde that there is an air of all of this being less solemn than one might expect. She says we are focusing on the children because they are the future, that they have a 3 or 5 year plan and that they want to do everything according to scientific rules (not my favorite part, but so far I'm still under the radar!). She says that with Verbal First Aid, you can help people emotional not only in a doctor's office but in the schools and out in the world and that's why it's important.

The official is not only in agreement with the plan, but has set everything in motion already, so it looks as though it's a go. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s seems good. Now it's all on Helena's shoulders, and she speaks up at the end (not usually done after a minister speaks) to say that this looks like self-interest, but that is where larger things begin and that this project may ultimately help the world. He nods and smiles, shakes my hand. I say thank you in Chinese and he asks if I speak it. I say no, that's all I know and he says, then this must have been boring for you! Helena thinks he's wonderful.

Everything here now seems to be about heart. It’s as if the earth cracked open, and then hearts opened. Shin Bing has her hand on her heart as she speaks and I'm certain that's what she's saying. They're talking about sister schools, about training teachers to be counselors, and more.

And I will try to write more later, but everything right now is hectic. I’ll be traveling home to the U.S. very soon.

Day Eight

We meet with the counselors who will be going to Sichewan next week and experiment with a physical trauma-reducing program which causes people’s bodies physically to tremble as a means of relieving residual trauma that they hold in their bodies. A number of the counselors experience some relief from it, and, although we “brought them "back" too soon, they were impressed with its effects. I'd introduced it to Helena, who has spoken to the program's designer and she'll probably bring the developer of the procedure back with me to the earthquake area in the near future. Harry has suggested an improvement in it, which Helena tries and it seems to be quite effective.

It is somewhat difficult for me to be sitting around while everyone converses in very quick and animated Chinese. I spend much time feeling somewhat like a chair in the middle of the room until one bilingual person or another remembers to fill me in on the laughter or arguments. At least things are happening. Nobody seems to be bored or disinterested!

After a long day, we go out to a fascinating karioke place for dinner. It looks like a fancy Las Vegas casino, only without the gambling. Only singing. Marble staircases, chandeliers. On the second floor there is a festive buffet and myriad rooms, like a hotel, in each of which people are singing on mikes and eating abundant Chinese food. We are there with Mr. Wei's wife and 4 year old adorable daughter, as well as some people from the office. Everyone sings and dances and eats. It is Mrs. Wei’s birthday, and we have a cake with the tiniest knife for cutting it and an even tinier fork for eating it. The baby falls asleep and all of us can only dream of doing the same.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day Seven - A culmination

Today is the culmination of all the planning and work so far. More than 100 call center and crisis counselors meet at the Chemistry Industry University where we’d held our conference last week. In the morning Helena speaks about assessment for potential suicides. That is, as I said, a big issue here, especially after so many people have lost their only children and other loved ones in an instant.

We have a fancy lunch—the food has been so interesting all along, candied lotus root, bread textured differently than in the West, many colorful and delicious vegetables.

And then I am on. It is time to make it happen—to beam the light and love across language barriers and cultures. I stand up and begin talking from my heart. I tell them that no matter how much they learn, the way they can best help is to be present and surround the hurting person with care. And listen, really listen.

There is no way, as therapists, that they can bring back a lost family member, but we can bring our clients back to themselves when all feels lost. I tell them that we are talking to the person’s frightened inner child. That they are not in present time, but wandering somewhere where they can find no safety, where nothing makes sense. I bring up several Verbal First Aid techniques, from reminding them of their resources and strengths to taking care of others, to simply pacing, which means matching the patient’s tone and attitude, not trying to solve anything or cheer them up.

I have them find in their body where they hold their own sadness, anger, joy, so that they can see that those feelings are always there, regardless of how long ago they entered our lives. Then I teach them a Neuroliguistic program technique, some guided imagery.

And I do it all not from my head, but from my heart. Helena translates, and I make everyone laugh when I ask why I say two sentences and she says ten. She embellishes sometimes to help them understand across cultures.

And then the hard part. People come up, one at a time and pretend to be their patients, telling me stories of lost children, of grief, of not wanting to live. Each story is different, and with each, I do therapy of a different sort. But always I listen, pace, allow them their feelings. And as I do, they start to soften. I sit quietly while they play with what they’ve just said, revise it, and sometimes come up with different conclusions than those they started out with.

One beautiful woman comes on stage and sits with her back to me, saying she works by phone and can’t see her patient, so we have to work that way. She tells me of her tragedy and I repeat what she says with sadness. She nods, then she adds another thought, I repeat it, hear her and understand. I don’t try to solve it or make her feel better. I ask her to tell me about her daughter. She weeps. I explain to the audience that some people might be afraid to bring up the memory because it brings up the loss, but like an Irish wake, when we tell stories about how wonderful a person was, it is another way of grieving, which is the process she is in right now, and it allows her to connect with her daughter in a warm way. She tells me how her daughter loves to dance and sing. Helena explains to me that Chinese words don’t have tense, so I don’t know if she is saying it in the present tense. Finally I say, “you know, you have to be here to hold her in your heart. Her memory lives with you.” I have been explaining my method to the audience and now I turn to them and say that I wanted to give her a reason to live, not for herself but for her daughter.

We work until she says she feels different, and leaves the stage. Then, within moments, she wants to come up again. She says that she has worked with clients for a long time and never felt this feeling in her heart before. She says many beautiful things, which Helena leans over and whispers to me, and I know that they understand. This is the light, I can see it as sparks in everyone’s hearts.

This goes on over quite a few cases and finally we are done. The room explodes with love and joy. It is amazing and wonderful.

We go back to the hotel, have a very light dinner and go to bed. Suddenly I discover I have a bladder infection that keeps me awake and distressed into the night. I call my healer at home, the wonderful Melissa, half a world away, and she saves me over the phone, as she has many times before with her beautiful healings. Whatever would I have done without her here?

Life is many miracles in the midst of strife.

I fall asleep.

It has been a magical day.