Owen in China 18: Of follow-ups, frustrations and a Frenchman (April 8th, 2016)
Hi everyone, this is Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 8th April, 2016. I hope you are all well. The big story in Kunming this week is about the zoo. We live opposite the zoo and a few weeks ago they introduced nine new monkeys to the big monkey enclosure . The moment they put them in the enclosure there were problems. Apparently, these new monkeys come from a different province in China and they didn't get along very well with the local monkeys. They weren't welcome and they started fighting, so the new monkeys ran away. I’m not sure how exactly they managed to get out of the enclosure but they did. The zookeepers managed to catch one of them but the other eight are still on the run somewhere in the city.
Today’s topics will be a follow-up  to an old story, a frustrating aspect of life in China and a trip to a traditional Chinese medicine hospital.
If you’ve been listening to my podcasts from the beginning, you might remember a story I told you more than a year ago. It was about a casting agent who was looking for a bearded foreigner for a part in a film. They were shooting a war movie in Yunnan province at the time and the casting agent spotted me sitting in a bar. She was talking to me about the film and I think I was close to getting the part when a tall, handsome, bearded American walked into the bar. As soon as she saw him, she lost all interest in me. Well, the other week I bumped into the tall American who robbed me of  my acting career. His name is Julian. I never saw him after our meeting with the casting agent , so I was interested to hear what had happened. When I asked him about the film, he gave me a big smile. He was offered the part and the whole thing had been a great experience. He spent 14 days with the film crew in the hills in the south-west of Yunnan. Apparently, it was a lot of sitting around and waiting to begin with but in the end he got three days of shooting . His lines had been translated rather poorly, so he first had to rewrite his own lines. But then he got to share a scene with a man who was in the movie ‘Life of Pi’. It turned out to be a film with a big production budget. They even flew him to Beijing for the premiere. He got to walk the red carpet and see himself on the big screen. Julian was very excited while recalling  the whole experience. He even jumped up from his seat to act out some of his lines for us. We were at a bar that night and it was open mic  night. After he’d finished telling us all about the film, he grabbed his guitar, got up on the stage and performed some songs for everyone at the bar. Watching him up there entertaining us all, I took a deep breath and thought: “Thank goodness he got the part and not me.” The man’s a real performer. If I had been offered the part, I would no doubt have made a complete fool of myself.
There are lots of good reasons for living in China. The internet is not one of them. In fact the internet is one of the more frustrating things about living here. Not only is it rather slow but it’s censored  to a very high degree. Because internet censorship  is so extreme, a lot of people, especially foreigners, use VPNs. VPN stands for virtual private network and it allows you to bypass internet censorship. They call internet censorship in China the Great Firewall  of China. Without a VPN all online activity is a bit of a pain in the neck . Lots of websites like Google, Twitter, Youtube, The New York Times are blocked completely and most articles that are critical of the government are blocked as well. There are plenty of Wikipedia entries that can’t be accessed. The government also monitors Chinese social media sites very closely. The way around all this is a VPN, which generally speaking allows you to access all websites and to surf the web without being monitored. The other week though it seemed like the whole internet had simply stopped working. The National People’s Congress was taking place in Beijing. It’s an important annual parliamentary  meeting and for almost two weeks lots of VPNs stopped working. It was incredibly frustrating. Not only did many VPNs stop working but it also seemed like the government slowed down the whole internet. It’s amazing that they do that. Surely interfering with people’s internet access and speed is not a good move. Sometimes it feels like they’re going backwards in this country. To give you an example of how crazy the censorship can be I have a story for you about a Danish friend who studies Chinese in Kunming. A few months ago he posted a picture of the president of China meeting his Taiwanese counterpart  in Singapore on WeChat. WeChat is the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, so it’s an application you have on your phone to communicate with other people. However, on WeChat there is also a function which lets you post pictures and text for all your contacts to see. After my Danish friend had posted the picture, a Chinese friend of his left a comment. The comment was about the relationship between China and Taiwan. Nothing very controversial , pretty harmless really. After that my Danish friend got a phone call from the Communist Party representative at his university. The party representative asked him to remove the picture from his WeChat account. My friend was absolutely shocked and at first he said no, but then he thought about it and decided he didn't want to jeopardise  his university degree, so he deleted the picture and all the comments from his WeChat account. How crazy is that!
For the past month we’ve had a French guest staying with us. He’s a friend of a friend who has come to Kunming for two months. This is his second time in Kunming and third time in China. He recently completed his studies in traditional Chinese medicine in France and for the last three years he has been coming to China to do internships  at traditional Chinese medicine hospitals. He has specialised in acupuncture, so he spends his days here watching and learning from Chinese acupuncturists. I know nothing about acupuncture, so he suggested I come along one day and give it a try. It’s a small hospital which offers all types of traditional Chinese medicine treatments. I’ve been having some lower back pain recently, so I went to see whether they could help me with that. After a short chat with a doctor, I was sent to the massage therapy section. I had a rather intense back massage followed by cupping therapy. Cupping is when they place small glass cups on your skin and create a small amount of suction . They do this by lighting a fire inside the cup just before they place the cup on your skin. That way your skin gets sucked  into the cup. Once they take the cups off, you’re covered in round red marks. They say it helps blood flow and the circulation of qi, which is the body’s vital energy and the basis of traditional Chinese medicine. The massage was amazing. It was the best massage I’ve ever had. Very painful for a couple of days but it felt great. After the massage and the cupping, I saw an acupuncturist. I explained to her that I have problems with my skin. I’ve always had rather sensitive  skin. I’ve tried a number of creams in the past, but nothing has ever really helped. Acupuncture is supposed to address the underlying problem by helping the flow of qi. I lay down on a bed while she prepared the needles. It felt a bit strange at first. I was nervous and my muscles were a little tense  but then, when I relaxed, I could almost feel a slight electric current  running through my body. I’ll be going back for further acupuncture treatment. I’ll let you know how I get on. It’s all very new to me, but it’s something I’d like to learn more about.
That’s it from me for this month. Before I leave, I would like to thank Ruth very much for her comment. I’m always happy to receive comments and I’m glad you enjoy listening to my podcast. Gerry will be back in two weeks. My next podcast will be on Monday 9th May. It will be on a Monday and not a Friday for once because it’s Ascension Day that week. As always you can find all our episodes on our website www.podclub.ch or by downloading our app. You can also download our vocabulary trainer to help you learn new words. Until next month, goodbye!
 enclosure: an area which is surrounded by a barrier
 follow-up: here: a continuation of something that has already been started
 to rob so. of sth.: to take sth. from so.
 casting agent: a person who finds actors for a film
 to shoot: here: to film
 to recall sth.: here: to remember sth.
 open mic: short for open microphone: a live event where anyone can perform
 censored: when parts are removed for political or religious reasons
 censorship: the process of removing parts for political or religious reasons
 firewall: a computer program that prevents people from accessing information
 pain in the neck: sth. or so. that is annoying
 parliamentary: relating to a parliament, the main law-making institution
 counterpart: so. who has the same job but in a different country
 controversial: about which there is a lot of disagreement
 to jeopardise: to risk
 internship: a job done for the experience and usually done for little or no money
 suction: the force between two surfaces when the air has been removed
 to suck: here: to pull in a direction by removing the air and creating a vacuum
 sensitive: here: easily damaged or hurt
 tense: here: tight or rigid
 electric current: a flow of electricity