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Expat's Eye
Print Edition> Expat's Eye
UPDATED: August 30, 2013 NO. 36, SEPTEMBER 5, 2013
For Better Health, Try Eastern Magic
By Aaron A. Vessup


Can too much of anything good be dangerous to your health, like the legendary "Midas Touch" for example? Today people often debate whether or not too much gold or money hurt people physically. How about too much beer? Can one ever play too much badminton or tennis? Take your pick, the facts of the matter are any one of the above mentioned can lead one into a strange realm of the outer limits of mental or physical pain. Then of course comes the question of remedies, what can one do? Most teachers become familiar with problems such as sore throats from too much talking. Not good, if you really enjoy the conversational varieties of being a foreigner. Then there are the problems associated with respiratory maladies due to seasonal hay fever or simply too much dirty air: pollution. Nothing to debate here, but then as with so many health related issues comes our quandaries over solutions.

A few years ago, in Germany, I spotted a woman riding blissfully on a bus, as if totally unaware of the three acupuncture needles sticking out of her head. Weeks later, I found myself staring at a mirror in a doctor's office, my face resembling a human porcupine, wearing similar acupuncture wire needles pin-pointing my ears, and both sides of my nose. I was there for unblocking my nasal passages using acupuncture. The solution there, as in many countries, was the rather new medical approach to physical healing through stimulating certain vital points of the body. Later on it was determined by an allergist that my problems, specifically hay fever, were related to the fact that I was allergic to wheat based products. This was the end of my attachment to processed lager and, most importantly, even a tiny bit of wheat beer.

Living in China has produced different health challenges, albeit while wheat based beverages can easily be avoided, talking frequently, or swinging a badminton racquet or golf club regularly, can introduce one to zones of body pain that can at times seem unbearable. The Chinese, however, have found unique ways for dealing with personal hygiene and human body ailments. Seeing outdoor barbers in my neighborhood, cutting or trimming women and men's hair alike is definitely not a Western tradition. Going to a spa or foot-massage parlor and having small glass bottles, heated with gas and placed on your aching limbs, is quite normal across China. This ancient form of healing called ba guan is quite effective and I have experienced this in more than two provinces.

You might be prone to mistake yourself for an alien from another planet, having well over 12 to 15 shiny bubble-like bottles attached to your body, stretching your skin tight, as impurities are sucked to the surface. This sight, while definitely unseen in the West, could be a tad shocking.

As all ancient healing practices go for the Chinese, personal health and healing is not something requiring privacy. Unlike in the West, you may find it all but impossible to avoid crowded hospital rooms where patients gather close to overhear doctor consultations with strangers. In many parks, or outside bustling open air markets, one can find doctors, salesmen, or health aides administering adhesive herbal pads called zhen tong gao or bamboo tubes, instead of glass cups, for the same ba guan affect on groups or customers who sit on small stools for 15-20 minutes of treatment. The aftermath is customers sporting small, round circles on their backs, shoulders, arms, and legs. No, this is not a new style of body art, but the effects of adjusting bodily heat in specific locations of the human physique. Each circle may be colored light pink to dark, red, or black. The seriousness of one's internal malady is highlighted by the darkening shades of coloration.

True, this traditional form of healing is far beyond the acupuncture or acupressure the Western American Medical Association currently endorses. However, foreigners who want to enjoy good active physical routines, should not ignore the possibilities of good health maintenance based on ancient healing practices. Of course, those of us who must exercise our voices and over-use our vocal cords, may find pear juice, or baked pears and hot water, instead of ice cold drinks, a perfect remedy for easing and preventing throat pain. Finally, if muscular aches and inflamed lower back strains have been a plague, you might discover that joining public groups of customers getting traditional health aides in the open air, a curious yet instant way to make cross-cultural contact. In addition to curing a nagging pain, you may even feel more energized after such an adventure. There is always time to slow down and try something new for purposes of good health.

The author is an American living in Beijing

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