"I've Always been Interested in Oriental Medicine"

Meredith Stein is a Wonderful Woman 
originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, currently 
living and teaching in Andong, South Korea.

By Meredith Stein

"I've always been interested in oriental medicine. I’ve also been living here in Asia for the last year and a half. South Korea, to be exact. It’s perfect, really, because, upon landing in this country, I quickly discovered that there are clinics on virtually every street corner.

My last apartment was just down the road from a "han-wee-won"--an herb clinic. I'd pass the place every time I took a stroll into town and there that familiar, musty smell would be, winding its way through my nasal cavities into my lungs. (I later learned that the peculiar scent was, in fact, mugwort and not a particular illegal substance, as I was told it was by other foreigners in my town…silly, wishful people.)

One day, I finally decided to overcome my fears and force myself into the unknown--the doors of the Bubu Clinic (부부 or "bubu" means husband and wife. It was opened by a husband and wife team. Makes sense.) Luckily, the male doctor I spoke with had excellent English, and I was able to tell him exactly what was wrong (sciatic pain…it’s horrible, I tell you!). Long story short--after going to appointments three times a week for about two and a half weeks, my pain disappeared and has yet to return. The doc was so nice, he took me out to dinner with his family on one occasion (Koreans truly are kind like that). And each appointment was only 4,000 won ($4)!

Chinese medicine convert right here.

The process for each doctors visit went down like so:

1) Electro stimulation. This portion of the treatment was usually the most painful for me. The cups would rest lightly on my skin; however, the shock they would send through me would quite literally cause muscles deep beneath the skin to cramp up into a knot and then release. It wasn't always painful. But when it was...well… my clenched fists matched the white curtain surrounding my marble-topped examination table.

2) Needles. I think it's the idea of needles that scares most people away from trying acupuncture. But I have to say -- this is the absolute least painful part in the process. And that's not to say that this portion of the treatment is painful and the rest is just plain excruciating. Nope. There is truly no pain that comes from the needles. The doctor simply places each needle into a specific point on your body. The energy or chi that runs along the 12 meridians of our bodies can become blocked or points can acquire either deficient or excessive levels of chi, which results in the manifestation of certain illnesses. The needles help to restore proper, flowing chi throughout the meridians.

Sound like a load of bull to you? Try it before you whip out that judgment stick, you! That's all I'm saying…

3) Moxibustion. This is where those mugwort fumes that ride the streets come into play. The healing herb is placed between the needles in stick-incense form (right). The purpose of moxibustion is to act as acupuncture's sidekick in inducing a smoother flow of blood and chi energy. (This is my friend Sara. She is terrified of needles. I still can't believe she got this close to one.)

4) Cupping. This comes last to "draw out the bad blood." Tiny holes are pricked into the skin and then glass cups are applied atop and suctioned until your skin becomes a miniature rolling hill inside a terrarium of sorts. It's not quite painful...but definitely interesting to look at.

At my particular han-wee-won, there is an upstairs that's strictly for chillin' after treatment. For example, this is a bed that rolls balls along your back.... In the background, you can see different kinds of beds. Those particular ones feel like there is actually someone punching continuously into your back…it sounds horrible, but feels wonderful. And then they’ve got your good ol’ fashioned massage chairs. You can’t beat this place, you really can’t...

I highly recommend acupuncture to anyone who’s ever thought of trying it. There’s nothing to be afraid of, really. You’ll only come out a stronger and better-feeling person in the end.

For more adventures, follow my blog at thetraveleasta.blogspot.com."

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