Thursday, January 27, 2011

Not Moving On

The first excellent decision (of three) that I made today, was to turn off my alarm clock and sleep in until 11:00.
The second excellent decision I made today was to have second helpings of homemade lemon tart.
The third excellent decision I made today, was to stop fooling around and stick to the game plan.

You've gotta have a little of everything I suppose. 
And so the day really began.

It was much much colder than it has been over the past few days, and as I rounded the corner to Queens Street Central (most of the street names are leftover from the colonial days) I spotted what I was looking for - a very large, u-shaped establishment, with predominantly male staff wearing white coats, standing behind counters piled with expensive equipment, and in front of a highly organised ceiling-to-floor filing and drawers system. What is such an establishment? Let us guess, simply by acknowledging the contents of their precious boxes;

     Dried leaves and twigs
     Roots from various plants
     Assorted funghi
     All manner of dried sea creatures
     Shrivelled caterpillars
     Deer antlers
     The nests of small birds

Now, you can see, that I am at a Chinese "Medicine" Shop. (The inverted commas implying sarcasm obviously do not appear on their neon sign.) I had signed up with the Hong Kong Tourism Board for a class on Traditional Medicine. Why? 

Honestly, I did it because I haven't had the opportunity to be really angry at anything for the past few weeks, and I was getting itchy. I like to think I have a constructive temper. I am motivated when I feel strongly about things. I like to think of it as passion rather than anger - actually that’s a lie. Let’s just say I make them synonyms... Work with me here. I digress.

It was time for Bri to get off the couch and back into indignant action! I was armed with a couple of hours of background reading, a healthy and naturally developed sense of cynicism, and a belly full of tart. Also, a great deal of sympathy for animals on endangered species lists. I’m sure you can see where this is headed.

The ingredients used in Traditional Chinese Medicine vary vastly. In the class we were introduced to many of the fundamental ingredients used in the teas and tonics which patients buy to cure or prevent ailments. Some of these are absolutely reasonable and believable. For instance – the ginseng root is boiled with tea, and “improves digestion, calms the mind, sustains alertness, and restores strength and energy levels after illness.” I get that. I understand that. They even put ginseng in energy drinks these days. I believe it. I have no problems with it. It’s great. Happy happy. Second example – Deer Antlers, when eaten, “improve a persons tolerance for the cold, treat impotence, and strengthen the heart.” Ok…


The rationale is that a stag with massive horns and a massive cock is obviously very manly, and so killing the animal and sawing its horns off and then eating bits of them, is going to make the consumer more manly, and thus not impotent! Yes! Of course! And the fact that a deer can survive in the cold, means that if we eat the stag horns, we will also be less affected by the cold! Yes! How did every other modern-day culture survive without these amazing kinds of revelations?!?!?!??! ITS JUST SO BRILLIANT!

Holy SHIT I am so angry. Next on the menu – birds’ nest soup! This is commonly referred to as the ‘ladies’ choice’ because the soup “maintains youth and enhances a smooth and wrinkle-free complexion.” Jesus Christ, this stuff is amazing! Why hasn’t the rest of the world caught on and realised that the secret to eternal beauty simply lies in stealing the nest of a small bird, and boiling it and drinking it!?!?!? The unimportant details are that the specific birds which make these completely-saliva nests are endangered. Also unimportant to older ladies is that the birds now only inhabit small sections of cliffs in Vietnam and Malaysia, and so every year people die climbing these cliffs to get more nests. What is in these nests? They are “almost pure protein” according to (as all quotations are) my powerpoint printout from the class. So… the nest has no special chemical ingredient… the secret is just protein? So why do you need the nests? Why not just get more protein in your diet? Why isn’t there protein in the rest of the world’s anti-ageing cosmetics? Sorry, I’m just a little confused. I’m also just a little PISSED OFF.

The thing that makes it worse, is that this was the official class with only the mildly cruel ingredients listed. I won’t repeat my previously posted rant about shark finning, nor go into the list of types of animal penis, or snake venoms, or bear bile, that are also used in this kind of thing. Often, the more strange (read: rare, cruel and expensive) ingredients have less to do with health improvement and more to do with status. It is an area of social theory I will never be able to truly understand, nor do I care to.

Now I am calmer, though, let me say this:
I do not believe that all traditional Chinese medicine is bullshit. As I said before, the teas made from herbs and natural ingredients are often very effective as tonics and can absolutely increase a person’s level of health.
British hospitals used to think that blood-letting and leeches where foolproof methods to get the devil out of a person’s body, and that it was the devils work if the patient remained ill despite the doctors wise work.
It is the current belief of many extreme-natured churches that modern medication for mental illness is falsehood and brainwashing.
I have seen tribes in Africa that still believe that an uncircumcised girl will be at higher risk of disease because she is both morally and physically ‘unclean’.

There are lots of things that don’t make sense in the world. Who are we to presume that current science is infallible. Perhaps in another century we will look back and disgust ourselves with primitivism. I cannot hedge my bets in a field I know very little about.

What I do know is that even if bear bile, deer antlers, sharks fin and birds’ nests DID work, there would be technology to identify the medical benefits within such resources and find another, less environmentally-harmful method of curing people. Many things about traditional Chinese medicine seem to have very little to do with medicine.

Tradition, history, and status are all very important – but at what cost?

1 comment:

  1. I second this rant! and will add to this that almost all mainstream cultural and traditional medicines have been thoroughly tested for effective agents and are now synthesized to give us many of today’s modern drugs.


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