Long before coming to China I became interested in the traditional Chinese medicine, as one of the oldest world renowned systems of natural medicine practices based on a tradition older than 5,000 years, including herbal medicine, acupuncture and QiGong.
It wasn't long before I started to tell people over here of my interest and of course, they took me to places and people who could indulge me into their secrets, only if I could understand them... It's difficult to even choose a starting point.
Just because I've subscribed for a course in nutritional wellness today, I'll start with the traditional doctor that my colleague took me when I had some alergy problems with some normal medicine I was taking for a cold last December. Even talking of this one tiny practice in Donghai, I still don't know where to start - such high impact the whole 10-minutes experience had upon me!
The first impression was olfactory - I was hit with a strong smell of sacks and boxes of natural dried plants used for Chinese herbology, which were piled high at the entrance, awaiting their integration into the natural pharmacy on the right of the large entrance room. It felt as if all the gardens, present and past, were having a World exhibition in that particular room; as if one would enter a chamber of aromatherapy purification; as if these people decided it was the end of the world and they gathered all specimens of all the herbs and medicinal plants for future reference. You name it, I think they had it stored in there somehow...
Across this room, facing the main entrance door, was an open door through which I could see a man sitting at a desk, wearing an off-white garment over his normal clothing - the doctor... and a few people standing in a reasonably crowded tiny room. My colleague ushered in there as well and I discovered there were even more people inside, one sitting on the only patient chair available, the other ones waiting for their turn - which I ended up doing as well... inside the doctor's room for a change. At the other side of the desk there was a young woman taking notes of the doctor's comments and a comprehensive register of all the patients who've visited, their ilnesses and their prescribed cures. Imagine your granny's old address book, packed full with details of everybody in the village, including dates, names - the lot!
When it came to me, I was offered the chair and I was asked to extend my arm, so he could take my pulse at the wrist and also to stick my tongue out for inspection. I thought... no, no, no - it was my belly he needed to inspect, as the uncomfortable rash was on my skin, so I lifted my jumper to show him, let alone the other viewers! I saw other people's backs and feet before my turn and we all knew we were going to be consulted sooner or later, so no point in shyness. He glanced at my rash and started to dictate something to the woman across his desk, who then presented the paper to my colleague as my prescription and it seemed we had to leave. I asked to be told at least how to take the medicine before leaving, but then I was told that we would buy the items from the counter and then return with them, for him to tell us exactly that. Ah, well, I though... in that case, would he also prescribe a natural helper for my disturbed sleeping pattern, I asked... and so he did, without further ado.
The medicine for my affliction came to a staggering equivalent of £14, whereas the tea they gave me for sleeping was £1 for a little plastic bagful of bits and pieces of plant roots, some white chalky cubes and yellow dry gooey stuff, which I was told to rinse first and keep it in a dry place. The other medicine came as a set of 10 little plastic bags, each containing 7 sachets of what felt like powder. I had to drink those with hot water, every morning and use the cream he prescribed for my rash.
I had a little incident with the sleeping tea, in that the first time I took it, I woke up with bulging eyes, water lagging in a pair of huge bags under them, which alarmed both myself and my colleague the following day. I explained what I did and she said... 'no, no, no - you don't take it just before you go to bed! You take it during the day, maybe midday or so.' But then, I expressed my concern, I didn't want to fall asleep unwillingly during the afternoon! But she explained that it wasn't a tea to induce sleep, but instead it was a tea to balance my system and that better sleep would only be a side effect.
Needless to say that they both worked marvels - I got rid of my allergy and renewed my tea prescription after a couple of weeks of daily intake. My digestive system got better, I slept like a baby afterwards, with no drowsiness in the morning, nor any addiction and I began to treat it as my new herbal tea - it is an acquired taste.
When I visited the second time, to renew this tea, I could pay more attention to the bigger room, with the deposits of plants, herbs and the pharmacy area, which would make a good novel under Kafka's pen. Here's the full description of my visit.