Medical middleman

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2013-8-20 19:03:01

Karim Nimri grew up idolizing Taoism founder Laozi. Photo: Courtesy of Karim Nimri

Karim Nimri grew up idolizing Taoism founder Laozi. Photo: Courtesy of Karim Nimri

Karim Nimri connects physicians from East and West at The website, which incorporates the Latin word for "connection," is an intercultural exchange point for healthcare professionals.

"My job is simple: I serve as a link," explains Nimri, a Spaniard who has lived in Beijing for eight years. "When medical professionals come to China from other countries, I introduce them to the local medical professionals."

Nimri, 40, doesn't just specialize in healthcare. He also arranges for foreign tourists to go sightseeing, visit wushu masters or just see traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practiced up close.

Dressed in a long-sleeved linen top and long trousers, Nimri stands out among other café-goers clad in more suitable summer attire. Before settling into his interview with Metropolitan, Nimri requests moving to a balcony table despite the sweltering afternoon heat. He doesn't like air conditioning, explaining that avoiding it is an effective way to "yangsheng" (preserve one's health).

Lured to China

Besides running and showing foreign tourists around China, Nimri is a qualified TCM practitioner. He has studied TCM theory for more than a decade, and is a certified acupuncturist.

Nimri was drawn to TCM by its proactive approach to healthcare. "In Chinese medicine, you have to put all your efforts in prevention. Western medicine is not designed for that. It depends on waiting until a disease spreads before a diagnosis can be made," he says.

Nimri describes the "unity of mankind and heaven," specifically the relationship between man and nature, as the most important ideology at the core of TCM.

"I think Chinese medicine is not only for curing diseases, it is also a method to learn about life," he says. "The ancient Chinese were very wise. Instead of studying the universe, they studied the mini-universe, or man himself."

Before he came to Beijing in 2005, Nimri studied TCM for five years in Madrid. On the sidelines of his studies, he practiced martial arts daily and worked part time as a waiter. His turning point came when he stumbled upon a book in a local bookstore.

The book, Warriors of Stillness: Meditative Traditions in the Chinese Martial Arts (1997), fascinated Nimri, who spent countless hours reading sitting on floor of the bookstore. Nimri particularly paid attention to details about Yao Zongxun, a wushu master of yiquan (yi boxing), and decided to track down his son, Yao Chengguang, in Beijing. 

He relocated to China a few months later and found Yao Chengguang, although was dismayed to learn he already had many students. Nimri instead found a new mentor, a doctor surnamed Zhang who worked at Chaoyang TCM Hospital. In addition to learning TCM, Nimri also immersed himself in mastering the Chinese language and qigong, a traditional Chinese healing practice, until his yiquan teacher, Aisin Gioro Qizhuang, died in 2008.

Learning from Laozi

Nimri soon realized he preferred health maintenance more than martial arts that involve beating an opponent, so devoted himself to learning zhanzhuang, a qigong routine that literally means "standing like a post." Following in the footsteps of Yu Yongnian, a well-known zhanzhuang master, Nimri has practiced the discipline for about four years. He has also helped translate one of Yu's books into Spanish. 

"When I am practicing zhanzhuang, my mind and moves become one and I gradually achieve wuwei," says Nimri, referring to the Taoist concept of inactivity.

Born into a Christian family, Nimri has since embraced the beliefs of Taoism. His first exposure to the philosophy came at a young age, with Nimri recalling that his mother often used alternative medicine, spoke of Taoist leader Laozi and told him of the yin and yang theory. 

"In my childhood, I thought Laozi was the greatest man in the world. I wanted to know everything about Taoism, including Chinese medicine and qigong," Nimri says.

Nimri still reads Laozi's books, especially classic text Tao Te Ching, and recites sentences from it to support his theory. Taking responsibility for one's own destiny is more important than anything else, he maintains. "I think Confucian thought has led people to make decisions based on their parents or leaders' influence. They just sacrifice themselves, which might be convenient but doesn't reflect responsibility," he says.

His insight as an outsider in modern Chinese society sometimes upsets him, particularly regarding the loss of ancient Chinese wisdom among young people. "Everybody dresses and tries to imitate Westerners. It's not young people's fault; the media is to blame," he sighs.

Despite qigong being mired in controversy recently following self-proclaimed "master" Wang Lin's exposure as a fraud by the media, Nimri frankly admits the practice has been plagued by "cheaters all along."

"There are no supernatural powers in qigong, which only seems magical to people who are looking for more. For me, life itself is magical enough," he says.

Mastering the 'game'

Nimri differentiates himself from other foreigners who come to China to study for a semester or work for a brief time, saying he is more of a "marathon runner" who is here for the long haul.

When he decided to come to China, only his grandfather supported his decision because he saw it as a "very promising" move amid the country's growing economy. "I was walking like a blind person before. Now, the more I work, the more I know the way," he says.

Nimri doesn't have a license to open a clinic yet, but isn't bothered by making house calls to patients. "Chinese medicine is a tool for me to deal with life. I don't care about names or forms. I'm not preoccupied about making money or not," he insists.

Nimri has even managed to win over his Chinese patients, proving he is more than just a TCM novelty act.

"They don't judge me," he says of his patients. "You have to get into the 'game' so that people can trust you. If people treat me as a foreigner, I don't get into the 'game.' Acupuncture and qigong represent Taoism, and there are no nationality borders in Taoism."

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