Monday, April 05, 2004

Doctor Doctor
Saturday was rapidly turning into a bust. Plans for a semi-depraved evening out with Peter-the-SZ-fixer had turned into a fully deprived evening out after his wife made other plans for him. Thanks, Mrs. Fixer.
So, I decided to make won tons out of lemons and began walking to the upscale grocery nearby, possibly for a bottle of Stoli - which, due to the fact that the former Soviet Union is a near neighbor - is cut rate rocket fuel here, while an especially exotic foreign import like Gordon's or Gilby's demands even higher prices. But on the way, I ran into two guys from Cameroon and a Chinese dude named "Tiger" Cai of the Big-Ben English Training Group.
Ain't that the way it always is?
Turns out Tiger operates an English language school temporarily housed in the always-under-construction cultural auditorium across the street from the Lucky Number and needed native English speakers for an outdoor 7 p.m. English Salon he was promoting to entice customers. Also turns out that the Cameroonians haven't been paid for a month for their English skills, but that's another story. I worked for free Saturday night.
Sure, I'm not doing anything, see you later, I told them and walked across the street again 90 minutes and two Stolis later to converse salon-like with eager English speaking and English-speaking-wannabe Chinese passerbys lured in by the posters and a guy yelling in a bullhorn.
That's when I met Dr. Edward K. Teih, 87, ob-gyn. I had to see a man about a horse and after leaving my conversation group and asking for directions for the "bathroom" ("Do you want to take a bath?" - "No, just a piss", I replied, before caving in and asking for the "W.C.") I got distracted on my return by an elderly Chinese man who had drawn a crowd at the salon with his stories.
"I have traversed a very tortuous course in my life," I heard him say. I could relate in a small way and decided to hear more so I pulled up a small, kindergarten sized blue plastic chair next to him and butted in with questions and a pen and paper.
He handed me his card, " Edward K. Tieh, M. D. Vice Manager General, Anboan Reproduction Center" and here's what he told me.
Dr. Teih managed to get a medical degree between 1937-1945 in China, thanks to something called the Canadian Union Missionary Medical College. Not a bad trick when his country was fighting the Japanese and trying to carve itself up at the same time.
"I was trained as a surgeon first and my first wife died in labor and then after I saw her dying in childbirth I had the will to try to save all the Chinese women I could from hard labor."
His story got a little hazy until I asked about the Cultural Revolution.
"I was secured in a mortuary," he said. "There was no person there but myself and guards and many cadavers. I had to wear several clothes at the same time because of the cold but I had done nothing wrong and spent my days and worked on a paper about the vissitudes of preparing for various pregnancy complications."
His wife, he said, smuggled the text - written, he said, on whatever he could find, winding sheet fragments, tissue, newspapers, papers found in the pockets of the dead - though she had some problems, too.
"She stumbled and fell in the dark over a corpse upon her exit," he recalled. "It was difficult for us both."
The paper, he said, was reassembled after he was "liberated" after a year, published later and in the early '80s he was invited to an ob-gyn conference in L.A. to which the Chinese govt. allowed him to go.
"I was asked many questions after I gave my talk. Many were good. But several were, very frankly, very stupid. One man asked how many women whom I had examined were virgins. Another was 'If we had chosen to meet on a battlefield, how would I feel?' This was the most stupid of all."
I apologized on behalf of stupid American doctors and backtracked.
"How did you get through your time in the mortuary. What kept you inspired?"
"In the morning there was light through a small window door. I would stand on the steps and recite what I could remember from Abraham Lincoln."
What from Lincoln?
He stood up. And the English speaking fans, most of whom I'd venture hadn't followed most of our conversation moved back a step or two and looked expectant.
"Mr. Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby," he said. (It's a condolence letter to a woman who lost five sons in the Civil War, attributed to Lincoln, but believed by most scholars to have been written by a secretary, John Hay.) He recited without pausing:
"Dear Madam,
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."
I was stunned, to say the least. I barely knew of the letter and couldn't have recited one line even under pain of mortuary confinement or worse.
"I also spoke the Gettysburgh Address," he said, and, without prompting, began "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal..."
Again the crowd was stilled and seemingly baffled, but I was moved and suffice to say, he nailed it.
So, how did he feel about his own country? He wasn't reciting the thoughts of Chairman Mao while locked up with corpses.
"I endured many rigors," he said. "But China is my home. In my mind we should be focused on what China has accomplished, not the mistakes."
He added that a year ago at age 86 he had performed his last operation and retied a woman's tubes so she could get pregnant and, "perhaps produce another surgeon."
I shook his still steady hand, thanked him for the civics lesson and walked back home, feeling very humble.

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