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Shanghai Tested: Traditional Chinese Medicine

Shanghai Tested: Traditional Chinese Medicine

This past Saturday, I tried something I told myself I would never do while in China. Here is how it went: a ‘doctor’ suctioned small glass jars to my back by lighting an alcohol soaked cotton swab on fire to suck out all the oxygen. The glass jars swelled up until they made welts on my back and now it looks like it’s covered in symmetrical hickies.

So far, my experiences with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have been as follows:

  • Cold water is always bad for your health.
  • Hot water cures everything.
  • Brown sugar is good for women.
  • “Do you have an infection? Drink hot water”.
  • You have a sore throat. Take some essential oils.
  • “Do you have a fever? Drink hot water”.
  • “You have a sinus infection? You must not be drinking enough hot water”.
  • Here. Take this three times a day. Four pills each time.

Needless to say, I’ve been a skeptic.

Cupping is something that’s gotten a lot of press in the Rio Olympics and it’s also something that every middle-aged man in China does over the summer, because, as the doctor told me, it helps keep the body cool. By what mechanism? I’m not quite sure.

This past Saturday, I went to a Chinese hospital to try cupping and acupuncture to treat my sinuses, because I’ve had sinus problems for close to half a year and nothing else has helped, so at this point I was down to try anything. And putting needles in my body seemed extreme, but hey, anything, right?

The room I was inside at the hospital smelled like burnt sage and rosemary herbs, like an exorcism had just taken place inside it.  The doctor asked me if I wanted acupuncture in my back or my front and I – not ready to put needles in my face – opted for the back.

“Is this going to hurt?” I asked. 疼不疼?

The doctor laughed and told me it’ll hurt  a little. 疼一点。

It stung.

After the needle’s bite, the nurse placed a compress on my back and left me in the room for twenty minutes. I didn’t want to believe that it was working, but my nose cleared up as soon as they nailed the needles to my back. I was breathing clearly for the first time in months.

Where does this leave me? Do I throw out my stash of antibiotics? (unlikely). I still think that TCM is silly (no, for the last time, drinking cold water does not give you a cold), but living here makes me a little more open to the absurd and maybe next time maybe I’ll opt for the needles that go in my face.


5 thoughts on “Shanghai Tested: Traditional Chinese Medicine”

  • I hope you don’t go the full Gwyneth Paltrow. I did see that swimmer, but can’t imagine it helped.

    Speaking of the Olympics did you get much of it shown over there? We are cock-a-hoop at how well we did in many different sports and we’re led to believe that the Chinese are really miffed because we beat them (for the first time) in the medal table. It did give an added spice to the medal race for me as China kept creeping up on us through winning medals in things that weren’t even shown over here…like competitive walking.

    Are they angry? Also we have a nuclear power thing going on with them at the moment so we are not their favourite people.

    • Actually, not that I think about it, I hadn’t seen much olympic coverage from China, but here in Shanghai, there is not the national pride stakes that you may see in Beijing, so I haven’t seen a lot of fall out, at least not on the chinese media I read, which is more of the underground news coverage on wechat and not CCTV.

      There was a lot of Brit pride around here though! The company I currently work for is British so all of our work chat was pleasantly surprised over the results! How’s the atmosphere back in the UK?

      • Yes everybody’s very happy here with how we did. The three female stars of 2012 who advertised milk (and I bet that wasn’t a million dollar deal) all won golds again. There may be something in that milk thing after all.

        The way the country’s gone we did need something to smile about.

        We did have a lot of coverage including a daily late night programme presented from Copacabana beach where they made stars of the bin men, who came along every night to clean the place up behind the presenter, and a girl called Maria when her party crashed the programme.

  • I am myself rather sceptical about the whole TCM stuff but they got things which work (on certain people and depending on the troubles they got). Each holiday in China I go to massage…3 times a week! After that I am free of neck and back pain for at least half year, in Europe the massages never helped at all.
    And I also tried years ago accupuncture in Finland done by a Chinese professional. My wife got some cheap visitations somehow for me and I tried it out as I had years of shoulder pain which also resulted why I quit swimming professionaly all those years ago. After just 3 sessions I had no shoulder pain again! (Had the treatment back in 2013).
    Anyhow the whole cupping I really dont get, have tried it myself and well…nothing and also hot water is something I will never understand 🙂

    • Haha agreed, I believe in acupuncture much more than I do in cupping. My sinus issues are coming back towards the end of the week, so I think i’ll go in for a few more sessions.
      And yes to the chinese massages 😀 I don’t know how they do it, but each time I get one, I’ll be in pain for a day or two from the soreness and then my back feels incredibly pliable!

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