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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

This blog is a record of events in the life of Joseph Taggart and his family since his spinal cord injury while body surfing in Guatemala in January 2006.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

May Turns Into June -Qingdao Update

Joseph's update this week from Qingdao:
I started to upload quite a few photos and videos to my Facebook profile for those of you who are interested. Many of the photos used in the blog are there, but there are also a lot more. I have already selected and uploaded around 100 and I am probably only 30% of the way through our photos taken so far. Matt and I have also posted about a dozen short video clips on Facebook as well. Some of the video clips are of physical therapy; others are of us playing around in the hospital, or around Qingdao city. Facebook is free for anyone who wants to join, it only takes a few minutes (Facebook's Official homepage). You can find my profile and photos by searching for my e-mail address,, once you are signed into Facebook or hitting this link: Joseph Taggart .

Thursday & Friday, May 29-30
As this week went along I seem to be getting more and more tired. I attribute this to Jason and Owen (my physical therapists). We have been hitting the upper body exercises with more intensity than before. Jason is always changing up the number of repetitions for each exercise. I like the way he changes up things, the variety helps me stay focused. However he thinks I count in Chinese much better than I really do. So a lot of times he will say "okay let's do 20 more reps" and I will think he said something completely different. It's interesting how not knowing exactly where the finish line is affects the way you run a race. I've gotten to the point to where I hardly pay attention to the number of reps I have done, or have left, but I simply focus on the repetition being done right then. I don't know if it is necessarily a better or worse way to work out, but it certainly changes the mentality of the exercise.

All the physical therapy seems to be taking its toll. I continue sleeping a full seven or eight hours a night, even after sleeping for a couple hours in the afternoon during acupuncture and electrical stimulation. My therapists still think it's pretty funny that I sleep while they're sticking needles all over my body, and then shocking me. On Friday Matt finally was able to figure out how to get the acupuncture needle into me. Over the previous few days he couldn't get the needle to go straight in, it kept bending and warping away. I guess he was pretty proud of himself, so he promptly grabbed a package of new needles and began sticking them all over me. Jason was guiding him into the right spots, but he did a good job. Matt's decided he wants to incorporate acupuncture into his nursing program (like the Chinese do) so he thinks he's going to buy a book when we get home and I'm going to be his guinea pig. I'm not too sure how I feel about that...:)

On my previous update I mentioned the possibility of injecting the stem cells directly into my neck as opposed to my lower back. After examining the additional CT scan taken from earlier in the week the doctors decided that it would be best to continue with the lower back. Dr. Ma expressed concern about damaging the soft area around my injury, and also mentioned that the equipment here at the hospital would likely be unable to reach the spinal fluid through the back of my neck anyway. I was a little disappointed by this because I'm so anxious to begin to see results from the stem cell treatments. I'm finding that staying patient and waiting for the stem cells to work is more difficult than it sounds. Luckily, I'm surrounded by good friends who are constantly encouraging me to continue working hard and to stay strong.

Also mentioned before in the blog, the date I am leaving the hospital in Qingdao has changed. I will have my final stem cell injection on June 11 and then we'll fly out of Qingdao city on June 15. The details are still being worked out, but as I understand it, after we finished spending a few days in Beijing and Hong Kong we will arrive back in Salt Lake City on June 23 rather than June 26.

Saturday, May 31
First thing Saturday morning President Taylor, president of the English and Korean-speaking Qingdao LDS Branch, called and said he wanted to come up for a visit. Once we were able to find a way to e-mail him the name and address of our hospital in Chinese so that he could print it out and give it to the taxi driver, he and his wife were on their way. We spent a couple hours talking about their experiences of teaching English here in China over the past year, among other things. Both President and Sister Taylor teach English at Ocean University, which is China's top university in marine biology and other Ocean related subjects. They chose to teach in Qingdao because they both speak German and thought it would be useful here since Qingdao was a German naval port for nearly 100 years leading up to World War I. Unfortunately not very much German is spoken in Qingdao anymore, but they have been able to assist German exchange students who have come to China to study through semester abroad programs. Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion with the Taylors, and wish them luck in their endeavors here in China.

Kirshner Ross-Vaden (yellow blouse below) is one of the vice presidents of the Beike company that provides the stem cells here in China. She is based out of Chicago, and heads up the international (in Chinese) part of the business. She is currently visiting here in Qingdao overseeing the facility, and meeting the patients. It was wonderful to finally meet the person I had e-mailed so many times before my arrival. She has been working on finding ways to make people stays more comfortable here, and to improve the overall quality of care given at the facilities. We are thankful for her efforts, and are excited for some of the changes she has been talking about.

Kungfu Dancing
Saturday night Matt and I experienced probably our most fascinating cultural experience in China so far. During the week we arranged to go out dancing with a few of the nurses, and some of the physical therapists. We found a small club where we could go dancing that was relatively wheelchair accessible and just a couple blocks away. It was really fun to hang out away from the hospital with so many of the friends we have made here.

The club itself was very small. There is a slightly elevated dance floor in the middle of the main room, with tables and chairs all around the edges. There was a stage at the front where a lot of the entertainment happened. There were three young singers, who were actually pretty good. They occasionally got up to sing songs in English, Korean and Chinese. They stopped the dancing for a couple of cool demonstrations. One was a gymnast/dancer who hung from ropes and curtains from the ceiling and did some pretty cool acrobatics. There was also a 30 minute kung fu demonstration. The guy doing it pushed a fish hook through his cheek and hung a beer bottle from it (left). Oh, and he also cracked a number of wine bottles over his head (See photo on right- I’m not too sure what that had to do with kung fu, to me it looked more like "stupid human tricks"). To cap off the show he drank a couple of raw eggs through his nose, and kept sticking a red-hot steel bar in his mouth. Overall, the entertainment was quite spectacular.

Even though my wheelchair kept me from dancing, it was a total blast! It was very interesting to see the many different sides of Chinese culture, the old mixing with the new. The music played was an interesting combination of American 1970s disco music, modern European techno, and Chinese and Korean pop. My personal favorite was a version of "I Will Survive" sung in Chinese. Not long after one o'clock everyone called it a night and went home.

Sunday, June 1 To Market To Market. . .
When Matt and I run out of things to do, sometimes will just start wandering off into a new direction. Sunday afternoon we picked a new direction and walked about a mile until we discovered what looked like a large farmers market. There was a large warehouse type of building that had its walls removed but still provided plenty of shade. It was probably 200 yards x 200 yards wide. Farmers from the countryside had driven their trucks up inside and were selling fruits, vegetables and legumes out of the back of their trucks. Even after living overseas for nearly 6 years I still had a hard time identifying a lot of the produce. They were selling a lot of root-like things, all sorts of leafy vegetables and other things that were unidentifiable to me. They were also selling all sorts of spices and herbs as well as seafood.

Next to the Farmer's market was kind of a large shopping district with quite a nice looking mall divided by two crossroads of pedestrian walkways. The pedestrian walkways were filled with all sorts of little tents and booths selling everything imaginable. Cookware, T-shirts, shoes, knives, puppies, salamanders, fruit, tea sets, squid, cell phones etc. just to name a few. Matt and I found a few treasures to bring home as souvenirs, as well as a few interesting foods to bring back to the hospital and try with some of our friends.

Dog (and cat) lovers skip this part!
When we came across the puppies we thought it would be really fun to bring back a puppy to the hospital for one of our friends who misses her dog at home very much. Of course this type of the gift would have been completely impractical. Luckily just around the corner we found a real dog's head that had been smoked and prepared for eating. We figured this was close enough so we went ahead and bought it (for around $.50) and presented it to her later that night. Just when we thought it couldn't get any better we came across a large rotisserie chicken display that was rotating around with chicken, duck and some four-legged animal that we couldn't quite recognize. We took a few pictures and were speculating between the two of us has what it could be. We figured it had to be either a cat or dog. I gestured for the shopkeeper to come over and talk to us, and then I pointed at the cooked four-legged animal and did my best impression of a puppy’s bark, and a cat's meow. He had a good laugh, and then replied in a very clear "meow, meow". We decided not to buy the cat, I think we're going to go back this week and see if we can't find another. The more I thought about it the more I realized this would probably be my only ever chance to try a rotisserie cat. It actually looked like it would taste pretty good, it was a golden brown and white meat that looked quite similar to the duck and chicken hanging next to it. (Photo above left, pork intestines; above right: pig leg, pig's foot & duck).

Probably the most disheartening thing that happened at the market that afternoon was that we bumped into the guy that runs the Chinese takeout restaurant that we always order from. To be fair we weren't right in front of the dog and cat meat for sale, but I am keeping a closer eye on my stir-fry from now on :)

When he returned from the hospital, a lot of our friends were gathered in the lobby just hanging out. So the first thing we pulled out of our bag was as fried squid on a stick that we had bought for a snack. It was skewered onto a couple of little wooden sticks so you don't get your hands dirty, and it had been thrashed with kind of a barbecue sauce, and then more seasoning was added. We brought it out on a plate and began cutting it up for everyone to try. The main body of the squid was quite good, and not even very rubbery. The tentacles (photo on right) however were considerably more rubbery, but still had that good barbecue flavor. I don't think I've ever had seafood with barbecue sauce before, it's quite good. After everyone who is brave enough to try the squid had had a chance, Matt brought out the dog's head on a plate.

Monday, June 2
Monday was my sixth spinal cord injection. That means there are only two more to go until I'm done. The ejection went smoothly as usual. They do help pass the time, afterwards Matt and I watched the Bourne Supremacy (quite possibly one of the greatest action movies made).

Monday night Matthew and I had a wonderful conversation with the night nurse on duty. She came and hung out in our room for about an hour while we talked about life in China, life in America and about her family. She's the middle child of three children. Her parents live in the interior of rural China. As the law goes in China, if you live in a city you are allowed only one child, but if you live in the countryside and your first born child is a girl you can have a second child in hopes for a boy, but no more than two children are allowed. Her parents first had a daughter, so they went ahead and had a second child. When she turned out to be a girl, her parents were forced with a difficult decision. A deeply desired to have a son to carry on the family name and tradition, but it is illegal. Finally they came to the conclusion that they would go ahead and try for a third child in hopes of having a boy. When the government found out that they had a third child, the father lost his high-paying corporate job, was blackballed from ever entering a decent job again, and was basically shunned by the community. Over the last 20 years or so since they had their third child (who turned out to be a boy) he has been laying asphalt to build roads.

All three of their children have grown up to be quite successful. The oldest daughter is now a doctor in their hometown, the second daughter is a nurse here in Qingdao who is very well-paid because of her English-speaking abilities, and a baby boy of the family is currently studying ecology in University. It seems like everyone we need comes from a similar background, or has some kind of story of overcoming challenges to help their family. Many of the students who we have met are being supported by their parents who are working in fields and living basically off of nothing so they can provide an education for their child. The children feel a great responsibility to study well and be successful so that they can provide for their parents, and usually their spouses parents, when they become too old to continue working.

It amazes me how important the family is to the Chinese people. I have an LDS sticker on my mug written in Mandarin that says "no success can compensate for failure in the home" it's been interesting to see people's reactions to the sticker. Underneath the main slogan it says "families are forever" that sticker alone has generated many conversations with the staff here about our beliefs of eternal families and how Jesus Christ made that possible. I look forward to the day that China's borders are open to Christianity so the wonderful people here can reap the blessings of the Lord's gospel. It also makes me very grateful knowing that even if these people don't get the opportunity in this lifetime, the chance for them is still provided. Besides, you can’t have Heaven without Chinese food :)


Blogger Tom and Sarah Baker said...

Joseph, if you ever bring me a dog's head, I will punch you in the face;). You have been warned!

Jun 5, 2008, 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger The Wessman Family said...

Thanks for the updates! it is all so fascinating. We wish you all the best:) Mike & Marinda Wessman

Jun 5, 2008, 10:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Brenda said...

Joe,we miss you guys so much,i haven't looked at a dog or cat in the same way since my experience in china:)hope you are doing well.Hey i was thinking if we had another 30 days in China with you guys i could probably qualify for the olympics!!!Bren

Aug 15, 2008, 9:18:00 AM  

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