From day one of the Qigong class I took while studying abroad in Penang, Malaysia, the instructors told us students that the final exam would consist of “reconnecting the cucumber.” Taken literally, I had little idea what cucumbers had to do with Qigong, a meditative Chinese system involving repetitive physical exercises and breath control. I asked my Malaysian classmate and friend, Wendy, what the phrase meant, thinking maybe it was some metaphor I lacked the cultural and linguistic knowledge to understand. But she seemed equally confused. In fact, the entire class as clueless but curious as I was.
Low and behold, I arrived at our classroom on the day of the final to find a table stacked with actual green cucumbers. After collecting 3 Ringgit (the equivalent of 75 cents in USD) from each student for the supplies, the Qigong instructors sliced the cucumbers in half diagonally and handed each of us the two pieces. They directed us to reconnect the cucumber in reverse (with both tips of the cucumbers pointing downward) using our Qi as a sort of conduit.
What our reconnected cucumber was supposed to look like
Still baffled, I discovered back at my seat that I could make the two ends stick, briefly, by using the moisture of the cucumber. When we succeeded, we gathered at the front of classroom, proudly displaying our completed exams. The instructors then told us to gather around the people who could not get their cucumbers to connect, holding our palms up and channeling our Qi towards them until they succeeded. Eventually, not a cucumber in the room was left unconnected. Then, unlike with my other college finals, I went home to my dorm, chopped up my final exam, and ate it.
To this day, I cannot say exactly what lessons I took away from the experience of reconnecting the cucumber. The whole situation was surreal but after living in another culture for four months, I had learned to roll with whatever situation life offered. Far, far from Minnesota, I had to adapt by taking whatever I encountered with a considerate attitude, a light heart, and an open mind. This was true whether I was eating a whole squid cooked in spicy red curry or camping for a week on a remote island with sea turtles and mouse deer (Google them. They’re cute). Reconnecting the cucumber was the strangest of my experiences abroad, but I hope that it will not be the last.
Left to right: Wendy, me, and another American, holding our completed exams