Archive for July, 2009

Written on 7/10, posted today so as not to spoil the surprise.

Today I was faced with the task of walking to Target and Walgreens to get the heating pad and painkillers my free-clinic doctor prescribed. They’re almost two miles each way, and if I took a bus, the trip would still be a mile each way. Ah, I don’t care. I need the exercise.

A Chinese pharmacist with too much coffee in his system filled my prescription in two seconds and blurted, “Take it with food” as he pushed the bag across the counter. I love going to places right when they open.

Then I went to Target. It wasn’t a food-Target though, so it wasn’t that cool. It wasn’t a pharmacy-Target either, so maybe it should rot in Hell.

And then I went to Subway, where several workers were joking around behind the counter in Spanglish. The one who made my sandwich seemed friendly enough, so when we got to the register, I made obnoxious conversation.

Me: “Hey, can I ask you a personal question?”

He: “Yeah?”

Me: “How old are you?”

He: “28.”

Me: “Awesome. My friend is about your age and I just got him this.”

I set down one of my bags and unwrapped it to reveal a foot-tall Megatron action figure.

Me: “Is this cool? Do you think he’ll like it?”

He: “It’s pretty cool. If he’s into that stuff he’ll like it.”

Me: “Yeah, I like how you can press his shield and he says stuff.” (I demonstrate.)

Megatron: “REMEMBER ME? I AM MEGATRON!”

Me: “I just hope it’s not too immature.”

He: “Nah, if he likes Transformers, he’ll like it… So are you heading to work after this?”

Me: “No, I don’t work. I just walk around and buy shit.”

He: “In the ghetto?”

Me: “…”

He handed over my sandwich and we exchanged good-byes. As I pulled out my headphones and trotted down the mile-long thoroughfare of used car dealerships, I thought, Really? THIS is considered the ghetto? California IS great!

It was hardly the run-down hellhole of North Baton Rouge (or just about anywhere in Baton Rouge), which I’ve had the pleasure of touring. Thankfully, I was in a car, since you have to get on the highway to go everywhere in that shithole city. Nor is it the steaming pile of dog crap that is every other block in New Orleans. Nor did it inspire the desolate fear that parts of New York and Chicago could in even the toughest-minded individual.

Yep, it is quite nice here in Californ-nyuh-nyuh. Someone oughtta recognize.

I went back to The Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic for another acupuncture treatment. Once again, I felt good afterward, but I’m not entirely sure of its long-term effectiveness. My body is pretty jacked. Anyway, this time I took pictures.

Here are some needles sticking out of me, which are wired to a machine that administers some mild electric shocks to my muscles:

And this is the cupping portion of the procedure, which relaxes the muscles:

These needles were in my body:

And yes, I’m reading World War Z. So far, I think it is okay. It is bookmarked with the schedule for the 256 bus. I picked that up at the Pasadena library awhile back. That bus doesn’t go through here, so I doubt I’ll use the schedule for anything other than a bookmark. This text is pretty boring, isn’t it? But you realize that it needs to be here because you’re sitting at work looking at pictures of my butt. I don’t blame you one bit. But if someone happens to walk by and see what’s on your computer screen, you’re going to need an excuse for looking at my butt. That’s where you point to this block of text and say, “I’m reading about acupuncture.” And you are! See, I’m here to help.

Despite this being a predominantly Asian neighborhood, there is at least one Mexican family in my complex. This morning, I stepped out to another gorgeous day with the sound of merengue music blasting from across the walkway. And it made me think of this old Flash file that Alex sent me nine years ago, now on teh YouTubes. Aiieee.

I started feeling intense back pain shortly after my trip to Vegas three weeks ago. I chalked it up to a couple of nights on my friend’s couch and figured it would clear up on its own once I started sleeping in furnished sublets. In fact, I kept doing my morning runs (on the Del Mar Loop – shoop da whoop!) for a full week after I moved.

Fast-forward to now and it hurts to stand and sit. When I felt things getting worse, I stopped running, obviously. I thought about seeing a doctor but never went through with it. Why pay $200+ just to be told to stop running?

And then I remembered I’m poor.

According to South Park, California is super cool to the homeless and has many resources for poor people like me. I did some research online and found The Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic, which is conveniently located three blocks from my sublet. This is crucial, since poor people like me don’t have cars and have to walk everywhere.

I slightly hesitated stopping by because as I’ve said before, I’m not a Buddhist, I’m just a big fan of their work. It was unlikely they would turn me away. I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly.

I walked in and was helped immediately. They asked for my income, and I answered honestly, but they didn’t ask for proof, which I thought was very kind of them. I ended up seeing a doctor for the price of your average copay later that day.

I had gone in the morning, and they take a break every day from noon to 1pm to pray. So I went back at 1 and waited for them to call my name. The small waiting room consisted of mostly Chinese people (expected) and a few Mexicans. I think I saw two other white people the whole afternoon. The Chinese people spoke mostly Chinese (another great shock, I know), so when I was called to the window, I said, “Ni hao,” one of three Chinese words I picked up while in Shanghai. The woman behind the window gave me a surprised look so I quickly stammered, “Hello.” She smiled at me like I had nothing to be embarrassed about and had me fill out the standard doctor’s office paperwork.

I was seen 30 minutes later by a Mexican nurse, who asked the standard doctor’s office questions. Last period? I hate this question. It’s the weakest thing about me and on the days it’s not happening, I try to forget it exists. Maturity be damned. So I thought back to the last time I was doing something cool that got tragically interrupted by my obnoxious monthly friend. Oh yes…

I was seen 30 minutes later by a Chinese doctor. He was old and full of energy. Even when he was talking about something unpleasant, he seemed VERY happy to talk about it. The good old Asian smile. He checked out my back and decided to prescribe me painkillers.

“Vicodin?” I asked.

“No. Look at Michael Jackson,” he responded. He proceeded to explain how Michael Jackson took so many drugs that he needed to be put under anesthesia in his home to relieve the pain. “He was his own worst enemy.”

Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

I had read several articles about back pain on WebMD and was intrigued by one touting the positive effects of acupuncture. The intriguing part was that the results weren’t physical, they were psychological. As the linked article reads, even people who were poked with toothpicks felt a little better afterward. The idea of being porcupined for the sake of getting my warm fuzzies seemed absurd, but then again, so did the idea of going to a free clinic. And yet, there I was.

I asked the doctor about it, and he said it wouldn’t hurt. Shortly after our visit, I lay face down on a table under a heating lamp with needles sticking out of my back and legs. They didn’t hurt going in, except for one on my right side, and that was more of an annoying tickle.

For the first 20 minutes of my session, I read my book and ignored the fact that if the bus came crashing through here or an earthquake started to bring the place down, I’d be helpless to get away without being in a shitload of pain. Then I got curious. How long are the needles, anyway? Are the sticking out at angles? What if he’s using toothpicks like in the article?

A quick peek over my shoulder confirmed that there were indeed about a dozen needles sticking out of me and holy hell I should not be moving.

The doctor returned and finished up with some light cupping and a massage. He found some serious tightness in my mid-upper-back, beyond the lower-back stuff for which I was seeking treatment. The upper back stuff has been going on for about a year. After countless doctor visits and massages, I kind of lost hope. This guy didn’t cure me by any means, but he put me on a good path. I’m hoping that path will be used for running pretty soon. I’m getting antsy.

Even though I abandoned my delusions of grandeur about writing a barrage of posts about Shanghai when I returned, I was meaning to discuss the celebration of Chinese New Year, which fell on January 26th this year. It may be recognized by the world on that one measly day, but if you’re living east of the Huangpu River, it is recognized at least one week before and three weeks after and then sporadically after that with billions of the loudest, brightest, most dangerous fireworks known to man, all night every night and even during the day, until you go batshit insane from smokey shrapnel and lack of sleep.

So needless to say, I wasn’t exactly feeling the Fourth of July fireworks show anywhere in the US. Here, we go for quality, not quantity, and a half-hour show of our prettiest stuff is all we need to walk home happy. Even so, I felt I had seen and heard enough to last a lifetime, so I wasn’t planning on looking for a show, let alone attending one.

In Shanghai, it is legal to light fireworks anywhere in the area where I was staying. So people did. They lit them off in crowded streets among pedestrians and in busy traffic with passing cars. I’m no fireworks aficionado, but I’m going to attempt to clarify anyway: Not the little ones, the big ones. I’m not talking about the sparklers kids play with, but the dangerous explosives we light over large bodies of water in the US. People were lighting those in the courtyard in front of our building, which is surrounded by other buildings. Every morning, we awoke to the red paper remains of the previous night’s jolts all over our balcony. We were on the 8th floor.

I was pleased to be in a quieter situation at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott in Dana Point. It’s about an hour south of where I’m staying in Al-Ham-Bra and exactly as advertised. As Flavor Flav would say, “Varry, varry romantical.”

But do you know what isn’t romantical? LOUD NOISES! …And being nearly hit in the face with a used cylinder casing. This happened when my friend Dan and I were walking through a narrow Shanghai street more characteristic of old China (smaller buildings, laundry hanging on lines stretched across second-story windows, live animals clucking, snapping, and flipping until it’s time to become someone’s dinner, etc). Someone lit a moderately large one and the heaviest piece of its remains almost hit me squarely in the nose, had Dan not stretched out his hand to catch it just a nanosecond before. Yikes.

To celebrate this Fourth of July, I ate dinner by the harbor and kept my face far away from anything even resembling fireworks.

The fireworks started up on the walk back to our room, but we didn’t care so much. I was more interested in avoiding the crowds that had gathered at the beachfront by our hotel to watch the show. But when we got back to our room, I opened the curtains and there were the fireworks, popping quietly off in the distance, but still in plain view of our patio.

So even though I wasn’t super-excited about the fireworks to begin with, I became excited when I found that I could watch them from my room when everyone else had to watch them from a blanket on the crowded beach. Suddenly I forgot that I had to look at them (or at least hear them) every day for a month in Shanghai and had sworn them off for good. It’s a supply and demand thing.

BTW, you three people who read this, there’s no need to explain Shanghai’s avid use of fireworks with the fact that the Chinese invented them. I know that. Everyone does. The only thing that bugs me more than constant loud noises are people who cite well-known facts as if they were imparting some obscure piece of knowledge on an ignorant soul.

When I arrived at my temporary home in Alhambra a few days ago, there was a nice blond girl living here who told me she was in the process of moving out. She left this morning, and now the house feels kind of empty. Yes, I still love being alone. We had a few nice chats before she left and everything about our exchanges was always rather pleasant. We probably just didn’t have enough time to start getting on each other’s nerves.

This is a scarily accurate depiction of us, minus the Dells:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT8JEAvDGTc]

Oh yeah, and I need a bang trim. :-/