Saturday, 15 July 2017

My (ongoing) chronic illness journey and its experiments

Hey folks,

I am currently taking time away from work (only a small part of this was a matter of choice) to focus on getting in control of my chronic illness, and learning how my body works and how to help it heal.

As someone who feels very anxious about spending my time productively, this feels like a great deal. What am I going to be "producing" in that time away from "proper paid work"? How will I be contributing to the world?
It's aaaaaall the time that I would have otherwise spent working for a company earning money and contributing to the company's objectives that I'm now completely investing just in myself and my health, and I feel anxious about what "tangible results" I will have to show for it at the end.

Getting well would be the ideal of course. But fibromyalgia and CFS can be unpredictable and temperamental in how they insidiously (and sometimes obviously) run your life. I am cautiously optimistic but I know that this journey could take much much much longer than I currently think I have the patience and resilience for.
In any case, it is a journey, as I have been and am still completely committed to experimenting with different modalities of healing to figure out how to get in control of these conditions.

A friend suggested I should pick up my blog again and use it as a vehicle to help other people who may be in a similar situation to mine. This feels like a good way of "having something to show" for this "time off".

So here goes. I hope that I manage to keep it constructive and informative and that my varying emotional states (as I am struggling through my bad days and riding high on my good days) help make the reading interesting rather than pathetic, boring or grating.

Here are some of the modalities I have already been experimenting with (and still am for some) in parallel with conventional medicine:
- nutrition
- herbal medicine
- iridology (as a diagnostic tool)
- acupuncture
- Bowen technique
- osteopathy and physiotherapy
- Rolfing
- reiki
- art therapy
- counselling and psychotherapy
- hypnotherapy
- Bach flower therapy
- essential oils
- naturopathy

I will have a think about how I write about these, as after nearly a year and a half after I was hospitalised and first off work, I feel like I am connecting more dots and the picture is coming together more clearly.
I hope it will make sense to you and give you some useful insights if you or someone you love is going through a chronic illness as well or even simply feeling overwhelmed by stress in your / their life.

Please do comment with your experience or any comments / questions you may have, as this will make the information sharing more meaningful and relevant!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Stuffed bitter melon soup

When it comes to the madeleines of your childhood, those foods that instantly call up a memory of your childhood, while some people have sweet cakes to show for, I have weird and wonderful Chinese dishes.

One of these madeleines is a stuffed bitter melon soup which my grandmother used to make for me. I took to it as a very young child, perhaps proving yet again that I am a Teochew girl through and through. The other evidence of it is the unrelented desire I had as a child to eat congee and salted turnip omelette. 

The taste for congee and salted turnip omelette is somewhat understandable: soft stodgy comforting food with a highlight of saltiness. The taste for bitter melon less so, with most children unable to eat bitter foods altogether.
My uncle says that you have to have tasted bitterness to enjoy bitter melon. I clearly hadn't at that age; on the contrary, stuffed bitter melon soup evoked comfort and lightness for me.
Bone broth is a comforting staple at home, but there is something about this knobbly, pale green vegetable which suggests a feeling resembling compassion for a sad friend.

The weather has been extremely hot in the South-East of England lately, and although I used to enjoy 30 degree weather as a young adult, 17 years of adaptation to the weather here has left me with very low tolerance to any temperature higher than 23 degrees.
I have been hot and bothered for weeks now, and also suffering from allergy to a very high grass pollen count, feeling sticky and snotty and generally yukky.

There is something about the bitter taste that is clean, refreshing, light. I even find that it highlights sweetness in foods that it is combined with.
I like to contrast the bitter taste with something savoury and a little fatty, and I find that pork works great with it.

But enough of my rambling, I shall leave you with my recipe for stuffed bitter melon soup.
If you try it, please leave me comments on your thoughts or add a picture of it in the comments!

Bon appétit! 


Ingredients for 1 person:

For the bone broth:
Organic pork bones 
8L water

For the stuffed bitter melon:
1 small bitter melon
100g good quality (preferably organic) pork mince
A couple of dried shiitake mushrooms
A couple of tbsp soya sauce
A pinch of salt
1 tsp sesame oil


1. Make some pork bone broth (I order pork bones from an online organic farm).

2. Soak a couple of dried shiitake mushrooms for 20 minutes.

3. Marinate the pork mince in soya sauce, salt, and sesame oil.

4. In the meantime, clean the bitter melon, trim the ends and cut in roughly 3cm chunks.

5. Cut the inside white pith off and discard it, leaving rings of the lovely knobbly green flesh.

6. Once the shiitake mushrooms are rehydrated, chop them finely. Add them to the pork mince and mix.

7. Stuff the bitter melon rings with the pork mince mixture.

8. Add the stuffed bitter melon chunks to the boiling pork broth and cook on medium heat for about half an hour.

9. Et voilà! Ladle the stuffed bitter melon chunks with some soup into your favourite bowl, and tuck in. You can use some dipping chilli sauce, and you can also eat the meat on the pork bones, which is incredibly tender!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Rome trip - Feb 2017, culture and history

I gave you an update on the food highlights of our weekend in Rome last week.
Seriously, if there wasn't that slight bottleneck in life that is the need to digest your food before you start eating again, I could have just stopped at that, but hey, I thought maybe we should also check out all that historical stuff going on in the city.

Culturally, our highlight was a guided tour of Ancient Rome we booked with the company Through Eternity. The company is passionate about giving excellent quality tours from the knowledge and professionalism of their tour guides. 

Ours, Enrica, a well-travelled PhD in archaeology with fantastic English and a real passion for being a tour guide, stoked our imagination with her skilful storytelling and frequent references to Anglo-saxon culture.
From insightful etymological facts to the real intentions of political intrigue behind historical events, her rapid and constant flow of stories kept me transfixed for the whole 3.5 hour tour, taking us from the Roman Forum through Palatine Hill to the Colosseum.
Beating the crowds at 9am on our way to the meet up point by the Colosseum

Let me give you a little taster.

You may have heard of the legend of the founding of Rome by Romulus, the first Roman King.

Legend goes that Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin, was "visited" by the god Mars during her sleep and found herself pregnant with twins, Romulus and Remus (no, definitely not immaculate conception and yes, somehow in ancient mythology, rape was not an abomination but just something that happened when the gods lacking self-control would just use humans for the relief of their sexual impulses). 

Vestal virgins were highly venerated young ladies who had been carefully selected from aristocratic families to dedicate their lives to tending to the fire in the temple of Vesta (the goddess of the hearth) day and night. The fire should never die, lest some misfortune should come to pass. 

These young ladies had to make a vow of chastity, and would be buried alive as punishment for breaking their vow.
Poor Rhea Silvia found herself having to abandon her sons in the forest, where it is said that they were found and raised by a she-wolf or lupa

The new information for me was that the word lupa is also used for brothel, and therefore maybe those twins did exist but they were raised by a kind and caring prostitute and not by a wolf!

I really liked this version of the story, one that not only makes the legend a more realistic version of reality but also that shows humanity and the main role of a social outcast in the making of a king.

Another story which struck me was about the reality of life for the gladiators.

Those men were enemies of war captured on the victory by the Roman Empire, carefully selected for their fighting skills then trained in the gladiator complex next to the Colosseum.

They were expensive, highly trained slaves which were rented by the Roman emperor for the free games they would offer the Roman people to increase their popularity.

It was likely for friends or brothers would have to fight each other for the amusement of the Romans.
Fighting weapons were only carefully handed to the gladiators once they would reach the arena, after many of them would rather commit suicide rather than fighting each other to amuse their enemies. 
Some stabbed themselves after having been given their weapon on the ramp before the entrance to the arena, another choked themselves to death with the dirty sponge used in the toilet, and a group of Saxons strangled each other to death in their cell, the last one hanging himself.

On that cheerful note, here are a few pictures of just light strolling we did around the city. We used the book Strolling Through Rome by Mario Erasmo, which was marvellous in giving us snippets of insightful and interesting information along our walks.
The Trevi Fountain, mobbed as usual

View over the Via Sacra from higher on Palatine Hill

Colosseum and Constantine's triumph arch

Yep I AM trying to imitate one of the saints' awkward pose on St Peter's Square, Vatican! 
My lover and me in front of St Peter's Basilica, Vatican

Pigeons having a bath in one of the many water fountains in the city

I turned into a pigeon for a minute and basked in the February sun, on our walk up to the Terrace of the Janiculum

Another great view on our walk up to the panoramic view point at the top of the Janiculum

We reached the top and had sore legs and feet and a peanut butter and double chocolate Magnum!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Rome trip - Feb 2017, Food highlights

We decided to stay in the Testaccio area, a half hour walk south of the Colosseum, to experience the "real Rome" slightly away from the crammed touristic areas, and we were very glad we did!
All the great meals worth writing home about, we had in Testaccio; the others in tourist areas being delicious but not exceptional.

On the first night, upon arriving, we had a late dinner at the local Pizzeria Da Remo, a delightfully cramped and noisy local place with stocky waiters expertly carried armfuls of plates around and cleared tables in one swift sweep, folding the paper tablecloth into a parcel then efficiently taken away.
The pizze had an amazingly thin crust baked to a crunchy crisp on the edges in the wood oven; the capricciosa offered the separate flavours of the mushrooms, cured ham, and artichoke, while the pizza Remo had a delicious topping of soft roasted aubergines, chunks of succulent rosemary and fennel infused sausage meat. This welcome to Rome left us elated and looking forward to the rest of the trip.

We went to Barberini, caffe / pasticceria around the corner, for breakfast the next morning and returned every morning thereafter! Reminiscent of the scene in Eat Pray Love where Julia Roberts tries to order a coffee in a fast-paced gilt-colour decorated coffee shop where she first meets her Swedish friend Sophie, this was a bustling place where local people would gulp down a quick caffè and cornetto (croissant) standing over the savoury pastry counter before starting their day.

As I was wondering how I was going to make it to the counter, with a slightly stunned and anxious look on my face, the staff would ask for my order and humour my limited Italian by generously filling in the gaps with the missing Italian words in my broken sentences.
Our last hour in Rome before our mid morning flight was spent savouring their creamy and light cappuccino and the warm prosciutto e funghi panino, the bread evoking the comfort of a mother's embrace, with its crispy outside crust and delicately fluffy and light flesh in the middle, the mild saltiness of the prosciutto cotto e funghi elevating the taste of whole panino.

On another morning when Charlie was vegetating back at the Airbnb after a hangover from the previous night's mezzo litro of the house red, I decided to visit the local Testaccio indoor market. The stalls were brimming with fresh and colourful vegetables and fruits, and particularly carciofi (globe artichokes) which are in season.
I stumbled upon Casa Manco, a stall opened 3 months ago by a couple of former architects who chose to pursue their passion for pizza. The dough is organic and they leave it to rise for 3 days, making it taste of real bread that satisfies your stomach and your soul. The lady in her conveniently fluent English insisted on me sampling liberal portions of the arm-long pizze freshly coming out of the oven one after the other, with inventive toppings such as grated fresh zucchini, houmous & rosemary-infused shredded cabbage, onion soup, or simply sesame seeds with sprinkled coarse sea salt. 

As I stuffed my face, trying to keep my pleasurable murmurings at low volume, I observed the locals snapping up whole pizze in their entirety to take back to their families.   I settled on generous slices of zucchini, onion soup and sesame pizza, which I brought back to my hungover beloved. Now there's feeding and there's feeding; and I felt proud and happy to bring food that was not only delicious but also nurturing for mind and soul.

After all the pizza and pasta, my gut was craving vegetables. The merchant helpfully directed me to a stall where Zoe made juices from fresh fruit and vegetables (estratti). Mine was personalised - "lo faccio io?" (shall I choose the ingredients for you?), she asks for my permission, standing behind all her fresh produce.
The sweetness of the ingredients including cabbage, fennel and pineapple triggered happy hormones in my brain as the juice was sliding from the straw through my mouth and into my stomach.

Another great place for juices was Foodie Mercato Fresco on Piazza Testaccio, with their amazing array of colourful fruit and veg, a great local place for vegans, with their estratti, soups, panini, and Pukka & Clipper teas. 

We also had a great meal at Tavernaccia Da Bruno, starting with a bruschetta of cured lard and dollops of thick and intense honey - heaven!
The wild boar pappardelle and rigatoni amatriciana left us silently savouring every mouthful, and the suckling pig was so succulent that although we already felt uncomfortably full, the plates were left empty, the juices mopped with bread.

With the globe artichokes in season, one restaurant in the Jewish ghetto offered an 8-course carciofi menu.
We loved the carciofi a la giuda, fried until the leaves are crisp, while the heart is tender and perfectly cooked in the middle.

All those meals were satisfyingly inexpensive, the cappuccino at Barberini costing €1, the pizza at Da Remo €6-7, the pasta at la Tavernaccia €9. It made us feel welcome into the community to have access to real honest nutritious food at the cost that locals pay. 

This week's menu is going to be mostly veg soups, bone broths and smoothies - the body is happy but feeling heavy!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

"Invisible illnesses": turning judgement into compassion

The last few months for me have been swimming in illness. 
Not "hardcore" illness that have you in a wheelchair or agonising in bed or in hospital, or losing your hair through your treatment or losing a significant amount of weight, all of which I am sure you can't understand unless you have lived through it yourself or through someone close to you.

Not completely ill, not completely well
I feel that it is easy to think in black and white terms and judge that, because an illness is not visible, the person is actually well. But what about the in-between, the shades of grey, the people who aren't exactly completely unwell but aren't completely well either?
Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade what I have for any of the above, but if you see me for a couple of hours in the day and I am joking and laughing with you and am seemingly doing "normal" activities, do you assume that this is how the other 22 hours of my life are like (or at least the waking hours)?

My personal condition 
Let me share some of my personal suffering.
I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids 2 years ago, which apparently 70-80% of women have, with varying degrees of symptoms. Many don't have any symptoms or only mild ones, but many others do.
Mine cause heavy bleeding. My periods last for 2 weeks every 4 weeks, and during each monthly period, I lose around a litre of blood. It is the equivalent of donating blood 4 times per month, every month of the year, for 2 years (so far). Sometimes it means going to the loo every 15-20 minutes because the blood has soaked whatever protection you are using.
If you have the same issues and want to know what my strategies for this are, please let me know.
The result is that my body can't produce blood as quickly as it is losing it, and my red blood cells count is very low, putting pressure on my heart to pump faster to make the fewer blood cells carry oxygen around my body. The body uses iron to produce red blood cells, and my iron stores are low: this is anaemia.

Getting on with it
I spent the first year and a half of these 2 years working 50-60 hours a week in my accounting job, ignoring my symptoms as all the doctors originally dismissed my condition as common and benign.
On the doctor's prescription, I took iron supplements to help my body produce red blood cells and just "got on with it".
I felt exhausted most of the time but I got used to it. 
Six months ago I sighed in annoyance when I realised that when I lightly exerted myself, such as climbing a small set of stairs or walking to the end of the road, my heart was pounding and palpitating, lactic acid was pumping into my legs and I felt faint. I thought of the amount of work I had and my strategy to tackle my new project at work, and thought I should quickly check it out at the doctor's and get back to work.
It turned out that my red blood cell count level was a third of the normal level and I was at risk of a heart attack. The GP rang me at 7.30pm on a Friday and told me to pack a few things and go to A&E to have a blood transfusion. 
My response as I was cooking dinner and looking forward to chilling out after a long week was: "can this not wait until tomorrow?"
How's that for "getting on with it?".

Burn out 
After my blood transfusion (over 3 days at the hospital of waiting, chasing for my treatment, sadness looking at other ill women in my ward), and a few more weeks of trying to get back to normal, I realised that I had actually burnt out, and that the acute anaemia was how my body was telling me it had had enough and forced me to stop.
Once I gave in to the need to focus on my health, the exhaustion just submerged me. I haven't been able to function without at least 12 hours sleep a night. 
The blood imbalance and the deeper questions that the experience raised have triggered feelings of depression and anxiety.

I found "proper" care in the form of an upcoming surgery to remove my fibroids, and I am currently undergoing a 3-month GnRH (hormonal chemical menopause-inducing) treatment to shrink my fibroids in order to facilitate the hysteroscopic myomectomy surgery.
I won't indulge in useless NHS-bashing, but we do have to question why the system waits until the illness reaches an acute form to give the patient the right level of care. 
The N.I.C.E. has been encouraging patients to take the initiative to understand their health conditions and treatments in order to support their care, so I have my own copies of blood test results, and prompt my GP for any change in medication, or new blood test requirements that I may think I require. This has given me a sense of control and ownership over my health, but has also been putting more pressure for me to think proactively and chase people while I am ill.
Since I started the GnRH treatment a month and a half ago, the bleeding has not stopped. Generally, if I stay at home and do nothing all day, the bleeding will be minor. On the days that I decide that for my sanity I need to do something and lightly exert myself by taking a short trip to the shops, wheel my trolley around and carry a few groceries home, or other such light mundane activity, within 24 hours I get a backlash of bleeding equivalent to the quantity of one blood donation.

I am lucky, but vulnerable
I am lucky, that there is an end to the tunnel with the surgery in a month and a half, that my company has fulfilled its duty of care over and above expectations while I have been off work, that I have a wonderfully supportive partner and loving family and friends who are happy to see me and forgiving when I cancel plans at the last minute because I am just in the middle of an uncontrollable episode of heavy bleeding or just too exhausted to get up.
In the fewer waking hours of my days, I  am putting up with my clouded mind, my sad feelings of inadequacy for being unhealthy in my youth, my guilt for not contributing in the world while I am ill, my frustration for not being able to concentrate on simple things like light reading for more than five minutes, my anxiety and self-doubt about how I have been living my life to get to this point, and trying to find healthy outlets and healing strategies to get back on top after my surgery.

Denying our vulnerability 
The world sells to me the wonderful stories of people who had much worse illnesses in life than I have, and who beat their obstacles to become Olympic athletes and other incredible achievements. Such stories are inspiring but could also deepen the feelings of inadequacy if you are not able to measure up to these wonderful people.
I am just saying, everyone has a degree of vulnerability, and different people have it in different amounts. Everyone finds courage in their vulnerability in different ways, each person has their own version of how to "get on with it", and to sneer at others' vulnerability is a way to deny that we ourselves are not invincible.
David Whyte expresses this beautifully.
To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. 
Full passage (highly recommended reading):

There has been a lot on social media lately to raise awareness on mental illnesses. Unless you have lived through it yourself or through a close one, you may not understand that the other person is going through hell in their mind and can't just "snap out of it".
A wonderful talk by Andrew Solomon on depression:

A few hours of normality in my day
When you see me behaving "normally", laughing and joking for 2 hours in the day, this is what I've most likely had to do to psych myself up for it: I've spent 12-14 hours sleeping, and the remaining waking hours chasing medical appointments and monitoring medication, trying to deal with heavy bleeding, finding the best way to nourish my body to sustain what it is going through, finding a useful activity for the day that is not too physically challenging, and finding healing for the disquiet in my mind through meditation, drawing, reading and just sitting on the couch looking at the birds and the trees in the garden.
And I am grateful for those few hours of normality in my day.

Compassion and love
I know that I am not alone in my in-between suffering, and I request that we all appeal to our compassion when we feel like sneering at how others should "just get on with it". Because we have no idea what the rest of their day has been like, or what hell they might be going through in their lives and their mind.
Be compassionate today, spread your love.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Do pleasures of the palate trump the yoga lifestyle?

As people are on the last straight of their Lent renouncing, I look back at my many different attempts at living life to the best that I can, and this question comes to mind: to over indulge or to never indulge? Let me explain.

I consider myself an epicurean, someone who enjoys the nice things in life and doesn't apologise for it. 
For me, this love of what life has to offer to our senses manifests itself in different ways: comfort in the house, nice toiletries, expensive make up and perfume, the feeling of speed (go karting, skiing,... never on the road of course...!), and other things, but the way that it brings me the most joy is in the enjoyment of food.
I often encourage my slender partner to eat more by appealing to his love of most things relating to Chinese culture: "Is this all you are eating? How are you going to survive Chinese banquets?". Chinese banquets are a 10 to 12 tantalising dishes affair, and there are most definitely different strategies to approach them. They need physical and mental preparation, whether your goal is to manage to eat as much as possible or to limit the damage on your waistline. My choice of goal is generally the former.

One of my favourite authors is MFK Fisher, who justifies my gargantuan appetite by talking about her "insatiable voracity" in a beautiful and compelling way.
In 'G is for Gluttony', she says: "It is a curious fact that no man likes to call himself a glutton, and yet each of us has in him a trace of gluttony, potential or actual. I cannot believe that there exists a single coherent human being who will not confess, at least to himself, that once or twice he has stuffed himself to the bursting point, on anything from quail financiere to flapjacks, for no other reason than the beast-like satisfaction of his belly. In fact I pity anyone who has not permitted himself this sensual experience, if only to determine what his own private limitations are, and where, for himself alone, gourmandise ends and gluttony begins."
As a human being, how can you not be attracted to this?

I recently watched an old Oscar-winning movie called 'Babette's Feast'. In the dull setting of a desolate and remote Nordic village in the 19th century, within a community of a Puritan flesh-renouncing sect, a French housemaid cooks a Michelin-star dinner. The tension from the petty discord in their frustrated lives is released by the culmination of a deliciously sensual meal, giving place to joy, goodwill and gracious disposition. 

I do believe that sensual repression can bring the worst out of us human beings. Look at how cranky people who are trying to stop smoking can get, but even more basically, if I were starving, I would probably be more tempted to forego my sense of morality and my respect of other human beings.

Having said that, there is a type of sensual repression which appeals to me, one that fits in a holistic lifestyle.
Two years ago, my sister and I attended a yoga retreat in an eco-friendly farm on the south-western coast of Turkey. The week-long retreat consisted of a daily programme of a very early meditation session, two 2-hour long yoga sessions, one of them being an Ashtanga yoga practice (a dynamic and physically challenging type of yoga), and deliciously nourishing vegetarian food.
My body took a beating in this violent change in regime from my usual lifestyle, to the point where I felt like crying a couple of times from pain and resentment from early rises (I am not a morning person).
My sister left the table hungry every day, but I strangely felt completely satiated from eating very little of food that I found satisfying not only to my physical needs and my hunger but also to my palate.
I hardly slept that week, yet I came back home feeling uniquely strong in my body and clear in my mind. Clearly detoxing is a real thing!
I continued on the path of early one and a half hour long yoga practice every morning at 5am, vegetarianism and teetotalling for a couple of months or so, and gradually, the cracks in my rigid disciplined routine multiplied, and I gave up the vegetarianism first, and the yoga second, in favour of too many hours spent at work (I know, please don't judge me!).
Since then I have often fallen ill, or felt physical pains that many of us who have sedentary lifestyles feel, and I have been finding myself longing for this sensation of clarity and strength that I experienced as the result of a somewhat sensually-negating lifestyle.

Perhaps my perfectionism makes me devalue any experiences that aren't hyperboles. The ordinary is less appealing than the sublime. Damn the media and their advertising, their overuse of "Amazing!", "Wonderful!" and other superlatives that suggest that I shouldn't settle for anything short of exceptional.
I guess I have to face the fact that life is made of the ordinary as well as the sublime, that the sublime cannot exist without the ordinary, and that consequently I must live with compromises in life that give me mostly 'good enough' health and sensual experiences, as well as glimpses of sublime experiences.
My next question then is: How do I strike this balance?
I didn't have a Catholic upbringing, but maybe I should follow the tradition of Lent, maybe that would help me strike the right balance over a year.
Maybe I should just follow a detox programme for a while.
The book by Mireille Guiliano 'French Women Don't Get Fat' illustrates how the French regularly indulge in 3-course meals cooked in duck fat and still come out looking slender and elegant. Maybe I need to get away from the schizophrenic tendency to abstain, then binge and rekindle with my French heritage.
I don't have a good answer, but the more important part of the goal for me is about striking a balance between indulging in what makes me passionate - or in a good friend's words, what keeps "the lights on" (the sublime that gives me a voice, and the accompanying inspiration) but has the tendency to keep me awake and working until too late at night and to worsen my back and neck pain from sitting in front of an electronic device, and the necessary activities and moderation that turn me off and force me to pace myself and disrupt my flow, but sustain my health.
In this endeavour, I feel that routine is my key ally. Where did I read that discipline is the enabler of creativity? 
Wish me luck and let me know how you do it!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

A dream at the acupuncturist's

I like to lie down on that little bed in the little poky room at the back of the shop while the acupuncturist is reading and shuffling his papers softly. It is quiet, the air is a little stuffy, and particles of subtle and familiar Chinese herbal medicine smells hang in the air.

It transports me to afternoons in my early childhood, a time when I was living with my grandparents. 
Can you remember things that you saw and heard as an infant? I think I can. I can't have been older than 2.
My granddad would do that, turn the TV off and have the whole household very quiet for my nap time. Everyone else would have left for work or study or whatever they needed to attend to in their day. Only my granddad, my grandma and I would remain in the little flat.

I could hear and feel the love as I slowly dozed off to sleep, the reassuring sound of silence mostly, punctuated regularly by the turning of pages, a soft clearing of the throat, a brief clanging of pans in the kitchen where my grandma would be preparing a special afternoon treat for my granddad.

Sometimes she would cook him a steak, just for him, in the middle of the afternoon, when no other family member is around. 
We have always eaten very well, every meal would have at least 3 dishes displayed in the middle of the table, and enough for everyone and for leftovers. 
But that was his secret treat, her private way of saying how much she adores him over everyone else. I truly believe that food has much deeper significance in traditional Chinese culture. Many a time I was the privileged witness of the deep and private Chinese love between my grandparents.

Granddad would have that delicious piece of beef with Maggi sauce, and sometimes with a little Dijon mustard. He would feed tiny pieces to me, after dipping them in the soya sauce.

I feel a hand on my wrist. Ah. The acupuncturist is checking that I am alive. He is now proceeding to remove the needles and asks me how I feel.

I feel a bit stunned and spaced out after the session. After the cortisol and adrenaline of worrying are taken away and the Qi energy in my body is realigned, all that is left is my profound tiredness, unmasked and heavy.