BEIJING and HANGZHOU, CHINA 2012
In 2012, I traveled across the world with eight classmates for a first-hand look at this medicine and the roots of its origin. Acupuncture has been practiced in China for over 3000 years (and yet has only been practiced openly in the U.S. for a few decades). We observed experts in the field and took notes from these doctors, some who have been practicing the medicine for 60 years or more. We even practiced daily life as the Chinese do; we ate customary foods (no forks allowed), tried calligraphy, joined in on synchronized street dancing, and enjoyed the grown-up playgrounds that are so conveniently scattered around the city. We woke before 7AM to learn Tai Chi with our seasoned master, Zheng Lao Shi, in the park every morning – and we were not alone. It is common practice for people to exercise outside in the early energy of the morning alongside each other, connected by a separate togetherness. We climbed the Great Wall, visited holy temples, haggled with pearl-purse-and-perfume vendors, dodged bicycle stampedes, and scoffed at the street food “delicacies.” It was quite the experience.
Casually exercising with the locals, Hangzhou
My externship at the Zhejiang Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine was a turning point for me in my understanding of Chinese medicine. The acupoints and theories are all the same but the ways in which we practice are worlds apart. Most doctors of TCM in China work in hospitals just like the one we visited – private practice is a rarity and privacy in general is nonexistent. Hundreds of people line up to wait to speak with the doctors and patients are shuffled between Western biomedical doctors and those of Chinese medicine – sometimes several times within the day. I witnessed a Western doctor send a patient to the TCM doctor I was observing for a formula to treat a kidney infection. After questioning, that doctor then sent the patient back for a urine sample and blood work to further refine his diagnosis and herbal formula. This collaboration is commonplace.
Lighting incense at the Linying Temple, Hangzhou
Half-way around the world I realized something about this medicine that I intuitively knew, but had not fully engraved on my mind yet: integration (and balance) is the root of health, daily life, and Chinese culture. Western medicine is integrated with traditional Eastern medicine, healthy habits are integrated with everyday necessity, and people integrate with other people. Togetherness is favored over individualism; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Here, healthy is not considered an idealized standard to attain, but an adjective and a verb to embody each day in mind, body, and spirit – and that sounds just about right to me.