I had been in China for six days and had not caved once. I was looking for what I felt was the perfect memento for my trip. After drinking espresso with my colleagues at the base of the Great Wall, I wandered into the back of the store…then through a corridor, and into a room I didn’t know existed. It was crammed with Chinese antiques from the floor to the ceiling.
There wasn’t a soul in sight so I had the quiet luxury of taking a moment from my traveling group to wander the aisles. Armor, pottery, furniture, weapons…as I slowly stepped through the history of China and its artifacts I began to think, “Perhaps this is where I’ll find my memento.”
And I did. On my second trip around the room, my eyes rose to the glass encased artifacts behind the counter and I drew in my breath. “Stop, Kelly. They’re going to be too expensive.” I was already talking myself down from the purchase and didn’t even know their cost, much less their value.
As I peered closer, I knew which one I wanted. There were three doctor dolls behind the case, of various materials and sizes. And, of various levels of detail. But the one I wanted was ivory and so delicately carved that I could see the twists of hair in her bun.
It took almost an hour to buy her. I had not bargained so zealously for anything on this trip. Twice I walked out of the store. But in the end I had a turn of the century Chinese doctor doll, a certificate of authenticity and confirmation from the government regarding its validity, and a smile on my face.
I had found my memento and she had found me.
Why was she so important, you might wonder? Well, the reason was contextual. I was traveling with a group of marriage and family therapists and we were working with hospital and university training programs for the brand new and emerging field of family therapy in China. And…a theme kept emerging from these meetings.
“Our students want me to teach human sexuality classes to help them with their patients, but we don’t have those classes in China. And, I don’t want to teach them.”
“Most marital problems in China are written off as sexual problems, and because of that, couples simply get a divorce. You can’t really help sexual problems.”
“It is still difficult for females to have discussions about sexual issues with their doctors, let alone their therapists. We normally don’t talk much about such things.”
I first became familiar with Chinese doctor dolls when I watched the 1989 dark comedy, “The War of the Roses.” I’ll never forget that film. We had taken a friend who was going through a divorce. The movie was about a horrible divorce. I’ll let you guess about the success of our evening out.
In the opening scene, Barbara shows up at a Nantucket antique auction and outbids Oliver for a Chinese doctor doll. The conversation over that piece brought them together, and it was the last meaningful shred of their marriage that was shattered into a million pieces right before they killed each other in a long, drawn-out and tragic divorce. Continue reading Without Words: My Chinese Doctor Doll Has Come A Long Way, Baby