Chengdu and the art of observation

Chinese Medicine is alive and kicking in…well…China. Surprised? It may seem like a no brainer but I sure was delighted to see my chosen field flourishing here in Chengdu as rumor had it that many Chinese have lost touch with this ancient medicine. And so, these last two plus weeks of study here at Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine have been a fast, furious and fun filled learning marathon. Somehow in the middle of all that I also (hilariously) made my debut on the Chengdu nightly news! Stay tuned for more on that later.

The Chinese people call themselves Zhongguo Ren, roughly translated as “middle people”. My first impression was that China does, in fact, feel like the center of the universe. The old and new, the east and the west, the north and the south all seem to have converged here in Chengdu. The town has even coincidentally oriented itself into ringed roads with a Mao statue smack in the center of the city’s central bullseye.

The streets of Chengdu possess an undeniably European flare- the architectural influences are obvious. Tiled, extra wide sidewalks filled with cafe after cafe line extra wide boulevards. America has made its mark here in Chengdu as well as Starbucks, flashy shopping malls, fancy (and I mean FAN-CY!) hotels and Apple computer stores are ubiquitous.

This city is hip, artsy, and most definitely capitalistic, while maintaining its Chinese personality. The air carries the spicy scent of hot pots at all hours, produce markets sell the most unusually beautiful fruit, groups gather around tables to play mahjong and tea shops or herbal markets are on every corner.

Located in the spicy Sichuan province, Chengdu (pop 14 million) is China’s 4th largest city. As lovely as it seems these days, the city has had quite the violent past since its founding in 316 B.C. At one point the city was completely destroyed by the Mongolians and then went through a particularly rough patch between 1644-1647 when rebel leader Zhang Xianzhong reined under terror and mass execution. More recently, in 2008, a massive 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook Sichuan province killing over 68,000 people. The city is known to be the origin of paper money and today has a flourishing tourist industry in part due to the world famous Giant Panda Breeding Research Base and the world’s tallest Buddha in nearby Leshan (saw the pandas and will soon visit the big B). Chengdu is most definitely a city of transformation, development and great beauty, and I like it!

As to my intended purpose in this city, Chengdu University of TCM, along with the university hospital is an exciting and dynamic place. The buildings are old, gritty and filled with nothing short of chaos. What CDUTCM might be lacking in certain charms it makes up for in others. This is a place where people come to receive integrative medical care. The doctors, nurses and other staff are profoundly educated in both western and Chinese medicine and so an exhaustive number of therapies are available to patients. I have spent time in Chinese herbal consultation clinics, in the various hospital wards, and in the acupuncture and related modality clinics. My clinical rotations have focused on different departments including oncology, dermatology, digestive disorders and gynecology.

While here, I am relying on the help of two amazing translators and my (extremely) limited medical Mandarin. The art of observation is emphasized in this medicine and so I have welcomed the opportunity to sit back and let my five senses guide me through clinic. And let me inform you that the body reveals! TCM practitioners diagnose in part through tongue and pulse diagnosis. Yes, I have known these skills were important to develop as a TCM practitioner, but school gave me only limited exposure and I found the whole thing to be rather subjective, so I really never gave it my all. This experience is changing my perspective and all I can say now is look at your tongue ladies and gentlemen! Notice the color, the shape, the coating. Is your tongue fat? Skinny? Puffy? Does it have teeth imprints? Is it cracked? Are there any strange spots? Is it pale? Dark? Purple even? Keep watch from time to time, and it may just reveal your deepest, darkest health secrets (whether good or bad).

I will save more on that, and then some, for another time. Also, pictures will be coming soon!

In health!

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5 thoughts on “Chengdu and the art of observation

  1. Fabulous dear niece! Your writing is awesome. So glad this is a wonderful learning experience in both medicine, healing and life. Stay well and happy smart girl. Love E xoxo

  2. I am glad this has been such a meaningful experience for you! It’s amazing how much information our brains can store! Can’t wait to here how you ended up on the news. Thanks for the walk thru Chengdu. Sounds like a city of contrasts. Is it time to return to Taipei?

  3. Andrea, we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell Chengdu! I am excited for you in all the things you’re learning and experiencing. You’re so good about sharing it all. You must tell us soon how you ended up on the news!

    Much love to you and David,
    Mary and Jesh

  4. Andrea, I love reading your blogs. I will have to keep up with your furious pace through the world of China. I had to look up Chengdu on Wikipedia to see where it was. How did you choose Chengdu to visit? Or did it choose you?

    • Thanks for reading my blog! TO answer your question, I suppose Chengdu chose me. I had a couple favorite teachers who shaped my thinking about Chinese medicine in important ways. They went to this school and so that is where I decided to study for a month. Plus, it was a better deal than the school organized trip!

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