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Scrubs in Beijing Fourth year medical student from Houston, traveling to Beijing to study Chinese medicine and Chinese beer

Wednesday: TCM

CHINA | Wednesday, 9 April 2008 | Views [898]

Wednesday was going to be special. Today, we were finally going to see some TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, which up until now most of us have only talked about with little knowledge. We arrived at Xuanwu and went back to Stepping Classroom No. 2 for instruction.

The acupuncture teacher was at the front, with Dr. H and an assistant. Standing next to her was a 15" statue of a man with the meridians and acupoints marked on it. The topic of acupuncture was introduced with a dreadful video of acupuncture needles being thrust with, I thought, unnecessary vigor, into various patients in various body parts. Then, the teacher introduced (through Dr. H's translation) a patient who would volunteer to be given acupuncture in front of us all. She demonstrated various acupoints as she placed needles in the woman's face, hands, and inner calves, then hooked electrical lines to many of them and turned on a device. Nothing really happened, visibly. The woman lay there for the duration of her treatment, then the needles were removed, she put her shoes back on (over her hose and leggings which were under her pants), said it didn't hurt when Dr. H translated the question to her, and left to applause. Afterward, so many questions were asked ("Can you use acupuncture to treat back pain? Kidney disease? Heart disease? Mental illness?") that I gave up trying to pay attention and pulled out my novel in the back of the room. Eventually, 11 am rolled around, and with it the Dr. Gone. So far, not as thrilling as I'd have liked.

After lunch, we went back to our classroom for another demonstration, this time on a volunteer from our group. A brave soul from the Buffalo med school went up and had cupping done on her back. I took a bunch of pictures because it was so grotesque looking. First, the glass cups are heated with a flaming stick, then quickly applied to the bare skin on the back. They are as quickly removed with a squelching sound, reheated, and reapplied elsewhere. Eventually, many cups are applied and left on the skin for 10 minutes; she had 9. I photographed the skin rising inside the cups, as high as bread dough, but red and mottled as a hickey. When the cups were removed, her skin was bruised and red, but she said it didn't hurt, that it was actually relaxing.

Another girl went up and had acupuncture applied on the inside of her calves; this acupoint is supposedly good for many things, including menstrual irregularity and infertility. Yet another had "moxibustion", which is a heat source placed near the skin until it reddens. The stick used for moxibustion was about 8 inches long, wrapped in paper, and is lit like a cigar, whereupon you can see the inside is an organic material. It gives off a sweetish smoke very like marijuana smoke. We joked about the smell until one brave soul asked if the leaf inside was a substance which could be smoked. We eventually determined that whatever it was might be possibly used in rope-making, and that was as close as we got to determining the mystery moxibustion substance. Several gentlemen from my class went to the front of the room where the smoke had gathered to "think deeply" and then made jokes about wanting potato chips.

Eventually, most of us lined up for various procedures. Some girls wanted their pulses taken and tongues examined to see whether they had a deficiency or excess of qi; some lined up for cupping, and others for acupuncture. I personally had my tongue examined, as I have geographic tongue and I wanted to see what they would say (the teacher gasped, and said something in rapid Chinese, which was interpreted as "your tongue is special" and "it means you have a deficiency"), and then I had acupuncture in my face and hands for allergic rhinitis and anxiety (even though on this trip I've been far more sad than anxious). My allergies weren't terrible when they put the needles in, and they weren't terrible when they pulled the needles out, but my mood did lift for a day or two. Coincidence? Who knows.

After a while, groups were taken to the TCM pharmacy area for a brief tour. When I went, I took pictures of trays of herbs being prepared for patients in the hospital. The herbs (and bugs, and lizards, etc.) are weighed carefully according to the prescription, then packaged to give to the patient, who will boil them into a "decoction" or tea which is drunk. Apparently, some are given IV in the hospital. I will admit to being far more comfortable with acupuncture and cupping than the herbs. The arguments for primarily consist of "well, it's worked for 2000 years, who cares if there's no randomized-controlled trials" and the arguments against are "there's no RCTs". This is obviously vastly over-simplified, but this is where we're starting out.

Back on the Dr. Gone, back to the dorm, and then out with a small group to check out a truly American institution, one which all Americans should be proud of its exportation to China and other countries, one which is fairly representative of American culture at its finest:

Hooters Beijing

Oh yes, friends, we went to Hooters. We took a ton of pictures of the girls, all slender with long black hair, dancing to Ciara's "One-Two Step" or singing "I'm a little teapot". Their English was surprisingly good, as they hollered "Welcome to Hooters!" on our way in. I had a grilled chicken sandwich and french fries, of which the fries were delicious. Someone else had the salad, even though the dressing was weird, simply because we are so greens-deprived right now. I've stopped eating most of the meat in the tourist restaurant because my whole system feels choked by it (and the heavy oil).

On our way to Hooters we passed the Workers' Stadium, an enormous edifice fronted by two giant soccer (football) statues, as well as an Outback Steakhouse. After leaving, we briefly visited Sanlitun Clothing Market (another giant building filled with tiny stall shops and very tough bargainers), then caught a cab towards Wanfujing to meet some other friends.

When we arrived there, our friends were not around, so we waited a bit and then decided to walk down towards Wanfujing. This is a large pedestrian-only shopping area, with "Snack Street" and the "Night Market", whose main notoriety is the availability of cooked scorpion, squid, silk worm larvae, seahorses, and cockroaches to eat. We passed a sign for "Adult Health" next to one which read "Sex Shop", a 7-Eleven, and St. Joseph's Church, an enormous cathedral. We met our friends, who'd been dropped off on the wrong side of Tian'anmen Square (while it was roped off for the evening guard change) and were thus late. Then, we went to the night market. The most exotic thing I ate was a kebob stick of strawberries and kiwi, which was DELICIOUS. I hardly eat fruit in the States, but here I feel so deprived that I'm devouring it. I also bought fruit at a street vendor earlier and have been gorging myself on strawberries, apples, and bananas in my room. I suppose I'm taking chances with traveler's diarrhea by eating raw fruit (the water might bear E. coli) but I don't care, I need the fruit. I also brought Cipro, just in case.

By the time we left the night market, most shops were closed, so we headed out to catch a cab. We noticed an interesting phenomenon: there were many cabs waiting at the edge of the street, with the cabdrivers standing there soliciting passengers. We spoke to one, but he was spooked off by a cop, which clued us in that all was not kosher here. A legit cabdriver does not stand outside his cab to get fares; if he's out of his cab he's on break and screw you if you need a ride. We headed away quickly and found a reputable-looking hotel nearby, where we caught the requisite cab and headed back to the dorm.

Just remember: when in Beijing, do not get in a cab where the driver is standing outside soliciting you. They do not use meters and will charge exorbitant fees. Often, their cabs are painted exactly the same and can blend in well.

Tags: night life, second week, tcm, wanfujing

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