Thu, Sep 24, 2009 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Taiwanese brings qigong to Middle East

‘LIFELONG DEVOTION’ Overcoming the cultural barrier and the occasional missile threat, Liu Hsiu-lien is soothing the sprains and pains of many an Israeli

By Flor Wang  /  CNA

Liu Hsiu-lien, left, practices qigong with her students at a gym in Israel in this undated picture.

PHOTO: CNA

Twelve years ago, Liu Hsiu-lien (劉秀蓮) emigrated to Israel for love, but like a seed drifting into a wild field, she has taken root there and is now trying to overcome cultural obstacles — and a failing marriage — to pioneer qigong in the Jewish state.

“I hope that in the near future, qigong can be as popular as yoga in Israel,” said the forty-something Taiwanese woman who moved to Israel more than a decade ago with her husband, whom she met and married in Taipei.

Liu runs a small massage clinic in Ashkelon, an ancient coastal city with a population of 100,000 people, including 61 Taiwanese, that lies just a few kilometers north of the Gaza Strip.

SPRAINS AND PAINS

Her main business involves treating customers’ sprains and back pains or restoring their energy levels with Taiwanese style oil massages.

She also teaches qigong at a health club in Tel Aviv, describing in fluent Hebrew people’s acupoints and “meridians,” the channels through which a person’s qi circulates — both essential concepts for qigong practitioners.

“Oil massage is my side business to earn a living here, but qigong is my lifelong devotion,” Liu said.

Trying to operate a massage business and promote qigong in southern Israel has some inherent geographic hurdles — but also some benefits.

“The global financial crisis did not beat me, but missiles fired by Hamas [the Islamic Resistance Movement] late last year from Gaza scared away many of my qigong students,” she said.

“Nonetheless, business at my clinic was especially good at that time, because people came to treat the bruises and sprains they suffered when seeking shelter in the air raids,” she said.

Ashkelon residents, including Liu, live under the threat of missiles launched from northern Gaza and they must quickly take cover in anti-air raid shelters — which most houses have — whenever an alarm sounds.

CHALLENGES

More than Hamas missiles, however, have brought hardship to her life in Israel.

She said she has had to overcome all kinds of inconveniences in her everyday life, not the least of which is the language barrier.

“I did not have the slightest knowledge of Hebrew,” she said, and learning it was not easy.

In the Hebrew classes she attended, Liu was always the only student who was not an immigrant from the former Soviet Union.

“All my classmates were Jewish immigrants from former Soviet Union republics and I was totally lost when the other students and the teachers conversed in Russian and Hebrew,” she said.

At least life is now much more convenient in Ashkelon compared with more than 10 years ago, Liu said, when established restaurants or common vegetables like mushrooms and spinach did not exist.

LIFE-CHANGING

Liu met her husband more than a decade ago in Taipei, where he was studying taijiquan and acupuncture after learning judo in Japan. It was he who introduced her to health-oriented qigong.

As her husband was completing his courses in Taiwan, she was earning professional certification in oil massage and qigong. The two decided to move back to Israel and spend their lives together there.

Liu found, however, that it was very difficult to start up a business from scratch. She distributed leaflets introducing her massage clinic in the street and inserted them in the mailbox of every family in the neighborhood.

She also set up a Web site to attract more customers, though in some cases, it drew a type of clientele she did not welcome.

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