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Qi Gong master or con man?

After a long day of trekking the peaks of Huang Shan, my father and I rewarded ourselves with Chinese-style foot and leg massage. One of the two young male masseuses introduced the centre's Qi Gong(pronounced "chi gong") master to us. This lean young man of 32 tried to explain what it was and how he could discover and cure what's wrong with us.

I was very curious, for this was not the kind of stuff you find in the yellow pages in London. If my total body check up couldn't find a thing wrong with me, could the Qi Gong master? And if so, does that mean his method is far superior?

He offered to give me a free trial. In the basement room of the hotel, he touched me three times, each time sparking off static electricity. Needless to say, I was hooked. He then suggested that he follow me to my room upstairs to figure out what's wrong with me. This would cost a mere 300 RMB compared to the usual 500 RMB the centre charged for non-Chinese tourists. To gain my confidence, he revealed that he started studying Qi Gong since he was 12.

In my room, he asked me to face down on my stomach. He then asked me to spit into a cup, whereupon he lit a match to light a cotton ball dowsed with alcohol. He put the ball of fire into my spit and turned the cup upside down, onto my lower back. He did the same with another cup and put it on the other side of my lower back. After a few minutes, he turned the cups over.

One cup was fine. The other cup contained thick blood. I was petrified. The tiny pores on my lower back had been burnt. He told me that the blood was the toxins released by five of the twelve dao (ways or paths) in my body. He told me that each dao represented a passage in my body, such as the kidneys, intestines, etc. Before I became conscious of it, I started confiding in him as if he was my doctor.

Meanwhile my father sat on the other bed quietly listening to this young man trying to talk me into parting with 1,500 RMB (just under US$ 200) to use his Qi Gong to get rid of my inner toxins. It would only take a few minutes, the young master assured me. But he could not give me a discount because it took him 20 years to practise this ancient art. The effects would only last three months, unless I were to learn some simple techniques from him.

I looked to my father and expressed my desire to continue. My father shook his head and suggested that we think about it. But what was there to think about? We were only here one night. And the Chinese health centre closed at midnight. There were only three hours to think about it. As far as I was concerned, this young man, who didn't smoke, drink, or eat meat, might find out what's wrong with me that no doctor in the West could detect.

What's wrong with me then? I've never felt better in my life. I could climb mountains, fly to the other side of the world, and swim nonstop for thirty minutes. But this Qi Gong master got me worried that if I didn't allow him to continue his treatment, I may regret it one day. This was my only chance. How many times do I get to come to the greatest mountain in China?

Besides, this was a reputable hotel, and reputable hotels in the West do not employ con men. But this was China, where anything goes. And a fool is made every second.

11 June 2002 Tuesday

Huang Shan literally translates to "yellow mountain." But it is not at all yellow. Some say the "huang" comes from "huang di", the ancestral emperor of China.
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