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。
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.