Finally Punctured

Didn’t set out to get punctured today. I successfully avoided acupuncture for three years in China, but I suppose it was just a matter of time before someone stuck me. Here’s how it happened.

I’m waiting outside the gym this morning with a small crowd of people. The worker has forgotten their key, and at this point they’re half an hour late opening up. A guy starts chatting with me to kill time. Turns out he’s a Chinese traditional medicine doctor from Korea. I mention that my back has been really messed up lately and that’s why I’ve skipped my last three workouts. So he grabs my wrist and feels my pulse, as traditional Chinese doctors always do. Then he does the same with my other hand.

Then he starts rummaging around in his gym bag, finally producing a zip-lock bag containing a very fancy flat metal case that looks like the kind of thing many East Asians like to keep their business cards in. I assume he’s going to give me his info so I can visit his clinic. But then he opens the case.

Hey, those aren’t business cards. What is that in there? They’re little packages of… needles? And he’s opening one. Am I gonna let some guy I just met at the gym stick needles in me? Huh, I guess so… After asking which side of my back is sore (left), he grabs my right hand and sticks two needles in my palm, one below my ring finger and one below my thumb. They hurt less than a shot, but the thumb needle gives me a weird feeling for a second, like I can feel the nerve twinge half-way up my forearm. He says my back is sore due to my lungs; apparently my breathing isn’t deep enough or something. (I decide not to bother telling him that shallow breathing is a survival technique practiced by many of us who spend daily time outside in Tianjin.)

He immediately wants to know if my back is still sore. Honesty it’s hard to say; I’d come to the gym that day because my back was feeling almost totally normal anyway after being extremely sore a week ago. I try to give him appreciative, positive feedback without actually lying. Then we stand around chatting for another 20 minutes, with needles in my hand. A Chinese lady sees what’s going on and tries to get him to give her some free treatment, too. It’s been an hour and the gym isn’t open yet. We both have to go. Back down on the first floor he pulls out the needles before we leave the building.

And that’s how I let a nice stranger stick needles in me in China.

I’ve had other, perhaps more exotic, adventures with what for locals are common health care practices. See the links below, or click here to browse all our Chinese medicine posts.

4 thoughts on “Finally Punctured”

  1. I am surprised you haven’t had acupuncture before as it is an essential part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM}. I don’t know about North America but TCM is very popular in Australia, the UK and New Zealand. I first had acupuncture treatment over 30 years ago in Gerrard Street Londong which is also known by the locals as Chinatown. I have had acupunctiure many times since over the years and found it very effective. Like all TCM methods, acupuncture is not a quick cure all but it has no negative side effects unlike Western medicine which relies on drugs. However, for any medical cure to work you have to believe in it and I certainly do. TCM is thousands of years old and was the main means of dealing with illness until recently.

  2. My back is almost back to 100%… I hope. Meaning it feels the same as the day I tried to go to the gym. We’ll see what happens once I finally get a workout in.

    As you’ve probably seen on the blog (if not, see the Chinese Medicine category), I’ve dabbled a bit in TCM therapies like guasha and fire-cupping, mostly out of curiosity. But I’ve been avoiding acupuncture and massages. I really don’t see the appeal of getting stuck with needles. Also I’m not touchy-feely when it comes to strangers and I’m probably subconsciously afflicted with White-Man’s guilt. Hence no ayi, and no paying migrant labourers who make next to nothing to treat me like a prince.

    “for any medical cure to work you have to believe in it”

    Meaning it’s all really just an elaborate, expensive placebo?

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