I also queried my GP at Kaiser Permanente who grew up in the north of China and told me that women in her country don’t talk about the menopause and are expected to “step up and get on with it” when they feel unbalanced, sad, or out of sorts during the change of life…Dr. Xi also told me that weight gain was becoming much more of an issue in China as fewer people walk or bike to work, and choose MacDonalds or KFC (ugh!) over the traditional fresh fish, fowl, rice and vegetable fare. My doctor got a bit emotional as I left the clinic exhorting me to in my lecture help her countrymen comprehend that menopause is a significant life change that should be treated with a greater dose of natural medicine, compassion and understanding. I took her words to heart and accepted it as my great challenge. After all, I would be working with an interpreter named Wen, who learned his english from American movies (an impressive feat given that he had mastered our language, slang and all), and was just learning about hormones. I had sent him my powerpoint well in advance and once there gave him a crash course in hormone balance 101; he could relate he told me …. his great aunt was driving herself and the whole family crazy with her memory lapses and melancholy….they loved her very much he said. and needed answers. Though Wen got the message thanks to his dowager aunt, and I might add did a masterful job of translating, I cannot guarantee that my audience did in full, and not because they are not open to the subject of optimal aging, but because the more compelling message for the well to do, fast moving entrepreneurs of the new China is about youth and beauty. My job was to help them connect those dots to speak hormonal truth to beauty.
The evening of my lecture we had been treated to a grand banquet attended by VIP clients of the Biotechnology company hosting me…these were extremely wealthy women of uncertain ages, who as they swanned into the banquet room provided much to marvel at given their almost too-perfect beauty….after being introduced to me as their speaker and guest of honor flown all the way from America, they nodded politely and proceeded to inspect the contours of my face and discuss their findings in rapid fire Chinese as I sat there clueless…I finally gathered from my interpreter that they were trying to guess my age…. “but I don’t mind telling them how old I am,” I said….but before I could brag on 64 years sans botox, he politely shushed me….”No, I’m sure they would much rather guess.”
Well I never did learn what age they decided on but as they did smile at me often and gave me the universal thumbs up, I evidently met with their approval, though how I escaped censure in their eyes for not having perfectly planed skin and a smooth lineless neck is beyond me. Maybe they were just being polite. Or maybe I’m just lucky (so far, so good). My own strong impression insofar as the Asian approach to balance, health and BEAUTY goes, is that the latter is of much more pressing importance to the modern Chinese woman, particularly in terms of how young one appears to be vs. how healthy one actually is! As long as you look young who cares how healthy you are?
To be fair, these observations should apply only to the swath of life I happened into as a hormone health educator, and surely do not reflect your average menopause in China, but I never met a woman who wanted to talk menopause…the buzz word is beauty. I have reasoned that this trend towards perfection is in a way making up for Mao time, that draconian period known as the Cultural Revolution when Chairman Mao leveled society and made everyone equals – equally poverty stricken, equally miserable, equally drab…. thus modern China’s fixation with youth, sexiness, passion, and everlasting youth makes some sense of the irony!
The day following my lecture I spent nine straight hours at the 10th annual International Beauty Symposium crammed full of thousands of flawless faces presumably seeking some guarantee of looking that good forever….judging from the multi-billion dollar industry they had going in umpteen massive exhibition halls,
there appeared to be no limit to what women will do to remain youthful…reconstructive surgery of eyes, chins, cheeks, laser skin resurfacings, fillers and botox, robotic “tightening” technology of every imaginable sort, face lifts, bottom lifts, “rehabilitative pelvic repair” are about as common in China as getting braces in this country!
Thus the challenge of speaking about natural health and balance. I suspect that the many women I spoke with or who attended my lecture were not quite as concerned about looking great for their age and would rather have you believe they look great AND are at least 20 to 30 years younger than they really are… but then we’ve got plenty of that fountain of youth thinking over here too! I am still sorting my own contradictory thoughts and feelings on this one ….talk to me in 10 years!
Epilogue: Back home after travelling 14,000 miles in 8 days, I debriefed with the US Chinese rep for the company that sponsored my trip. Li told me that my talk was a smash success, that it “hit the target” and that they are moving forward to introduce hormone testing and bioidentical hormones in China. The powers that be are confident this approach will go over very well with Chinese women who “do not like to use strong medicine, but do like to delay aging.” Clearly. (Presumably they do not equate reconstructive surgery with strong medicine.) In the next breath Li revealed that she is worried she looks older than her years because she has so much stress in her life. I asked her why and she replied that it is because she must work all the time, thus has no time. It is obvious that as China thrives economically, there is a new kind of post-cultural revolution deprivation: no time to rest and recover from the rigors of becoming the fastest growing economy in the world. In the course of my conversation with Li, I had commented that practically every man I saw in Guangzhou seemed to be lighting a cigarette, and every woman (interestingly I only saw one female smoking) breathing in the side stream smoke…Li says that’s because they all work too hard and smoking helps them relax. I guess smoking has always been an excuse to take a break, but talk about rapid aging! You couldn’t ask for a better guarantee of wrinkled, sagging skin!
So we live and learn. It wasn’t so long ago that my husband grew up in a house with a father who was a 2 pack-a-day man, and I as a kid developed asthma from the suffocating smoke of Dad’s cigars. Times are changing and raising awareness is my job as a health educator. All I can hope is that I was able to get across the message that achieving true health and lasting beauty, no matter your age, is about practicing balance in all forms: hormonal, dietary, stress, exercise, lifestyle, spiritual… that you cannot get a shot that will undo the bad effects of cigarettes, sidestream smoke, or other toxins, and there’s no laser surgery that can fix the rapid aging of chronic stress….perhaps we all have to learn in our own way, the hard way, but at the end of the day, it boils down to BALANCE!