American Elyse Ribbons claims that she is practically half Chinese because of her close connection with the country. [China Daily]
Elyse Ribbons might be a US citizen, but she claims that she is practically half-Chinese.
The 36-year-old is proficient in the Chinese language, highly knowledgeable about Traditional Chinese Medicine theories and the holder of a degree in Peking Opera, She likes to joke about how she has invested half her life in China.
Speaking at a creative hub that used to be the site of World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, Ribbons likened her connection with China to a "Tar Heel", the nickname for her home state of North Carolina and a term that was used during the US Civil War to describe stubborn soldiers who refused to retreat on the battlefield.
"I feel like I am like that with China. Even though I wanted to leave this country on many occasions, my feet felt as if they were stuck to the ground by tar ... I've spent my entire adult life in China," she says.
Ribbons has spent most of her life in Beijing where she has hosted her own TV and radio shows and founded a theater company called Cheeky Monkey Theater. She had also written I Heart Beijing, one of the original performances by the theater. She currently resides in Shanghai where she is pursuing various business interests.
Her foray into China started 15 years ago when she studied Arabic at the University of North Carolina. It was a time when she idolized Madeleine Albright and harbored ambitions to become the US secretary of state as she wanted to help bridge the gap between the US and the rest of the world.
When her exchange program to Egypt was canceled because the university considered it too dangerous, Ribbons heeded the advice of a friend to join the program to China where she could learn about medical anthropology. She landed in Beijing in January 2001 and soon spent her mornings in language classes and the afternoons exploring the Chinese capital.
"We would travel all over Beijing to do anthropological research and talk to people. That's when I fell in love with the city and its culture," she says.
Ribbons returned to Beijing the next year to spend another semester and decided to relocate to the city after her graduation in 2003. Her first job was with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention where she helped translate communications between the US and Chinese CDCs. She says the two institutions were working together on AIDS medication and that many aspects of TCM, especially the use of mushrooms, were involved.
The job provided her with a golden opportunity to learn more about TCM, which she had become very interested in after an incident the year before.
"In the summer of 2002, I got really sick and had a high fever for seven days. I took lots of medicine but still could not get it to subside," recalls Ribbons, who later received cupping treatment from a famous TCM doctor.
"My fever went away immediately after the treatment. That's when I realized there are lots of things we don't understand about the human body."
Her interest in the subject soon led her to the Chinese concept of yangsheng, which refers to holistic wellness of the body.
Part of this concept revolves around long and complicated rules about food and lifestyle that have been passed down the generations in China. For instance, particular foods are believed to be good for men but not for women, while others are believed to be able to "extinguish one's internal fire". Ribbons adds that these beliefs are to a certain extent no longer relevant in modern society. Instead, people should simply be aware of what they consume every day.
Ribbons also believes that yoga - a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in ancient India - can be an integral element in yangsheng.
She says that people should do yoga to connect to their own bodies before learning to make better food and lifestyle choices.
She is planning to open a yoga studio in Shanghai. The studio, which will likely open by the end of May, will offer classes for people of all ages.
"We will have medical professionals from Western and Eastern cultures available for consultation. Things will be tailor-made for each member," she says.
Another project she is working on is a charity initiative called "Geili Giving", which raises money to alleviate poverty in rural areas of China. Ribbons says she is still sourcing for investment to build the infrastructure required for the project. She adds that a mobile app to engage people and encourage philanthropy will also be developed.
Ribbons is also working on a book about female journalist Helen Snow who she became intrigued by after playing her in the television series Red Star Over China. The series is based on a book of the same title by Edgar Snow, Helen's husband, who was the first Western journalist to give a full account of the history of the Communist Party of China following the Long March.
"Helen Snow was the real power behind the couple. She wrote at least one, or more chapters of Red Star Over China and she was the one who got the photos out. She was the editor of the book as well," says Ribbons.
"I felt it was imperative that I write her story because she is so freaking amazing."
Elyse Ribbons [China Daily]
(Source: China Daily)
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