Monthly Archives: December 2011

Singing Garbage Trucks and almost Christmas

Today I woke up to the singing of a nearby temple. Their singing is beautiful. As I was walking back home yesterday I saw them setting up a tent. I don’t know what it’s for but it makes waking up on a Saturday morning really nice.

The people here are lovely. They really are. These are some of the nicest people I’ve met and they are super friendly as well. They make you feel welcome within a few minutes of meeting you. The number of times people have taken me out to eat and treated me is obscene and I try to reciprocate, I really do but then I get yelled at. The culture here is that adults take care of children and the host takes care of the guest. Being that I’m a student I’m not allowed to pay for things. In America, college students are considered adults and we are responsible for our actions and we’re more or less responsible for taking care of ourselves. Here, you can be thirty and parents still consider their children adults. Actually, the children are so sheltered here that they don’t really get to go out until around college. As I’m walking through campus, there are people milling about and they look like middle school or high school students to me but are actually 20-22 years old. Back to hospitality.  People I’ve met for only a few hours say that they’ll take me out and show me a place to eat. The first time I said okay, I thought it meant “I’ll take you out and show you a place and we can both pay for our own food.” Not the case. It’s driving me crazy. The next time we go out I tell them it’s my treat this time but it doesn’t work.

The streets are pretty clean here, you don’t really see gum spots like in NYC but the streets are really really crowded. I mentioned the amount of scooters/motorcycles here and they crowd the streets like no other. Imagine Manhattan and replace the cars with scooters. The only thing about these streets from what I heard is that the sewage system is aboveground not underground so occasionally you the smell of sweet sewage wafts up from the drains. I heard that Taichung is pretty good with the sewage because they cover it, but in other places they don’t cover it. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the summer. It’s definitely colder here and January and February are going to be the coldest months. It feels like a late fall though so the temperature here is still pretty decent. A note about the houses here: they don’t have insulation so on a nice day like today it’s actually colder inside the house than outside the house where there’s sun. Talking about houses, the bathrooms here can be considered “universal design” meaning the light switch is lower on the wall (and actually outside the bathroom and in the hallway) and there’s no bathtub…just a stand-up shower. I noticed this in particular because a) the home care doctor I interned with the past summer stressed how important the design of the house is. When people get to a certain age, the house can become like a jail to them because the stairs they could once climb and the bathtub they could once get into…their limbs no longer let them. I asked about this and I was told that here, they keep the elderly in mind a lot more than in America; which is true. Going back to children being seen as children even when they are twenty and still living at home at the age of thirty…they have stronger ties to their family and there’s just this culture of taking care of your own parents when they grow older. Actually, I happen to be living with a family that is currently taking care of their parents and I think it’s incredible. Even though I spent a summer working with elderly folk, there are some people I can easily talk to and there are others I find myself at a loss for words. Here, however, talking to elderly folk comes naturally to them regardless of their cognitive abilities. I think one of the grandparents had a stroke and I’m not certain of the circumstances for the other one. Granted, there is a slight language barrier because they speak a lot of Taiyu or Taiwanese (which I don’t know) and not Mandarin but I would like to be able to converse with them like the other people here by the end of my stay.

I live right by a park and I go there to exercise in the morning. There are different groups of people all exercising and once I got dragged into one. They used two wooden sticks to exercise and most of the time you’re either in horse stance or bow stance. I actually started sweating after a full set. In the park, you also see a lot of elderly folk exercising and the groups serve as a social gathering as well as an opportunity to exercise. Just two days ago, the people who take care of the park cut down some of the tree branches surrounding the park…kind of like real life bonsai. The garbage trucks that come to collect the garbage are really fun. One of them was playing Fur Elise, and other ones play random songs. I saw a few people standing outside waiting for the garbage truck to come so that they can toss their garbage onto the truck. I haven’t yet figured out if everyone does this or if some people do and the rest the garbage truck people need to pick up.

I went to the Feng Jia Night Market last night again and snapped some pictures. There’s an incredible crowd that gathers there and there are so many stands that sell food. I found a stall that sold Tang Hu Lu which is like candy apples but on a kebab. For those that came to our ASU event…we kind of failed in making the candy but I snapped some pictures so you can see what they are supposed to look like. Just a warning…you’ll get an enormous sugar high from eating them. In addition to the candied fruit kebab, you can choose what sauce to put on it and then they wrap it in edible rice paper. Speaking of fruit…I need to dedicate an entire blog post on fruit because the fruit here is crazy. I love fruit and I’ve had a ball here trying and eating them here. Taiwan has a very strong agriculture and the fruit here are all very sweet, juicy, and delicious. The funny thing is, the fruit aren’t as big as the ones in America but somehow they have more flavor. Boiled peanuts are a thing here and I remember my parents cooking them in America and thinking they weren’t that good but the boiled peanuts here are yummylicious. They’re more starchy and have a distinct flavor. The boiled peanuts I had in America were pretty much flavorless. Speaking of food. The meals here are legit. The norm in America is to eat whatever for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a sit-down meal for dinner. Here, they have a sit-down meal for every meal. The first week if I ate breakfast I couldn’t eat lunch and if I ate lunch…I couldn’t eat dinner.

Tonight’s Christmas Eve here and so far all I’ve heard is that not many people celebrate Christmas here. I’m also working at the clinic (it’ll be my first time) tonight as part of my internship, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m definitely going to miss Christmas in NYC because well, it’s NYC. I got invited to a hospital end-of the year dinner tomorrow though, so that’ll be fun.

But anyway, pictures to come soon!

Happy Christmas everyone! =]


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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


Classes, classes.

The past few days have been pretty sweet. I’ve been learning so much. On Sunday, I went to an international symposium on TCM. It brought together 5 countries and 7 TCM schools from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Korea, and Australia. It was really interesting. For those who thought otherwise, Traditional Chinese Medicine has a lot of merit. At the conference, they discussed Evidence-Based Medicine and how they designed their research. They also discussed different levels of for lack of a better word “legitimacy” of the research including the differences between single-blind and double-blind. Some of the studies presented included the cessation of smoking using acupressure, studies on COPD patients and studies on Hemorrhoids. Really, all kind of topics. A practicing physician in Australia was doing research on using Acupuncture in the Emergency Room as an alternative for pain reduction. The conference was great. I had no idea there were so many studies involving TCM and that there were so many different applications.

Monday was the start of my internship and classes at TCM. My Acupuncture teacher has been studying and practicing TCM for over thirty years and his breadth and depth of knowledge of the world in general is amazing. First off, before we got down to saying anything, he made tea for us. It was after our first sips of tea that we started talking about acupuncture. Normally, acupuncture takes an entire year to cover so instead we talked about the history of acupuncture and some of the basic theories. My teacher had some very interesting theories about the history of acupuncture and how the Meridian theory came to be. I learned that in TCM, when something like the ‘liver’ is discussed, it doesn’t only involve the organ we immediately think about in Western Medicine. Some terminologies carry a larger meaning than the English translation. In TCM the body’s balance is influenced by Yin-Yang, the cycle of the five elements “wood-fire-water-metal-earth,” and Qi. So a physician has to keep all of these in mind when diagnosing a patient. And of course, all of these influence each other in some way. A very very basic idea of how they treat patients is that if the body is exhibiting too many Yang symptoms, then they prescribe medicine to bring the body back to balance by giving them more Yin medication. In terms of Acupuncture, the meridians are like a highway for Qi. Sometimes the roads intersect and they influence each other, sometimes they cross but do not influence each other. This is why some organs have stronger influences over other ones, like when some has liver failure their eyes turn yellowish. Acupuncture is a way to moderate the flow of Qi and the needle acts as the gate. The technique of how you handle the needle is how you reduce or increase the flow of Qi. My teacher even brought Star Wars into the picture. He said that only a few people truly understand the meaning of Qi. One of them is Yoda. Qi is like some kind of bioenergy.

On Tuesday, I learned about Internal Medicine. This is actually where I learned about how certain organs have a greater connection to some organs over others. I also learned that in prescribing medicine there are the five elements as well as the five flavors (salty, sweet, pungency, bitter, sour). Depending on what the problem the patient has and what it is considered, something is prescribed to extinguish or counter the problem. For example, an infection or an inflammation is considered “fire” and something with “cold” properties is prescribed. You would also be warned to stay away from certain foods that are associated with “fire” because adding fire to fire would make the problem worse. We also talked about diagnosing patients and what kinds of questions you would ask when a patient walks through the door. The questions are really all the same with regards to patient history; it’s only some diagnostic techniques that are different. I think the key difference is that because TCM uses a lot of the 5 senses to diagnose the patient such as observing the patient’s gait, the doctor takes in more information about the patient as the patient walks in as opposed in the US where we call in the patient and let them wait while we finish up some paperwork in the meantime. In western medicine, we also are not trained to notice certain aspects of a person. During my class, two students came into the office to ask my professor a question and right off the bat my professor asked the girl why she looked paler today. Turns out the girl was having her period. On Wednesday we happened to all run into each other again and my professor noticed immediately that the girl had more color in her cheeks. Apparently she finished her period the night before. I saw absolutely no difference, but I also have not been doing TCM for twenty-some odd years. It’s incredible how much they know just by feeling your pulse or looking at your tongue.

Wednesday, I started my rotation in the Herbal Pharmacy and it was very interesting. The pharmacy I worked at had those old-school cabinets and it smells very earthy and woody in there. Again, every ingredient had its own properties (cold, hot, salty, etc.) and they are prescribed according to the signs and symptoms. This pharmacy, however, did not just deal with prescriptions from doctors. There’s nothing that isn’t over the counter and plenty of times people would just walk in with a sheet of ingredients they wanted and we would put it together for them. A lot of these Chinese Herbal Remedies are cooked into the food so that a) there’s more nutrition and b) it tastes better. This has also been so ingrained into the culture that it’s normal to just want to make Chicken Soup with Chinese Herbal Medicine. I actually got to learn how they did this on Thursday (yesterday), it was pretty doggone cool. I’m sure you’ve seen bottles of Chinese Medicine somewhere, and if you haven’t…they usually contain some kind of brownish powder. Those are extracts of the original herbal stuff and there’s a saying here that says the powders are for convenience (because there’s no need to make soup out of it) but the herbs in the cabinet are for curing (because they are stronger than the powders). The herbs are also a lot more expensive but worth it for the real deal. They have all kinds of herbs in the store including some fancy Chinese name for what actually is poop. There are plant, animal and mineral herbs. Yes, some of the “animal” herbs are dried snails or dried worms and even their feces. It makes sense though. They use animal feces because there are some things we human cannot digest (like cellulose) and so the idea is to let someone else to digest it for us and we eat the fruits of their labor. Here, they package the medicine for the patient so all the person has to do is dump it into water to cook or eat all the powder at once. I asked whether or not they had certain meds that require them to eat it once in the morning and then once again at night or anything like that and apparently they don’t. It definitely makes for an easier time for the patient to keep track of what meds they need to take: just eat an entire bag a day!

Thursday, I had my Traumatology class and we learned what it entailed from before up until the present day. Back then, Traumatology included surgery and so doctors carried around scalpel and suture-like tools in their little black bag. However, now most surgeries are done in WM. Traumatology includes repairing fractures, wounds, skin lesions/burns, and things like that. It also includes “massage” or “manipulation” or “chiropractice,” apparently many of the techniques are the same. Traumatology includes cupping, acupuncture, and wound dressing. I was shown an AMAZING series of picture of how a lady with an ENORMOUS bedsore was helped by TCM. I’ll definitely post up the pictures sometime this weekend, but this lady had a bed sore starting from her upper back, down past her left butt cheek and to her upper thigh. You could see muscle and sinew and everything. No joke. After a month under WM care, the wound was still just as bad so she was transferred to TCM. They put on dressings with Chinese Medicine and within a month, the wound started closing up. Within 6-7 months it was down to the size of a bar of soap. It was incredible.

Just a note about the medical students at CMU…the amount of material we need to know in the States pales in comparison to what they need to know here. At this school at least, in both the 7 and 8 year program the students learn both WM and TCM side by side. So they not only need to learn things that we need to know they need to learn about TCM theory and how to identify the herbs and everything. Kudos to them, really. The difference between the 7 year program and the 8 year program is that you can only become a TCM doctor in the 7 yr program. After the 8 yr program, however, you can choose to be either a TCM doctor or a WM doctor. That’s just crazy.

Anyway, I think I may have overloaded you guys on TCM stuff for now. I’ve been so busy going to classes to internship but I’ll try to update this blog more than once every 8 days so I don’t need to cram everything together.


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Posted by on December 23, 2011 in Uncategorized


Trials of the first week.

Ah man. That’s pretty much sums up my first three days in Taiwan. It’s been quite the experience and the more time I spend here the more excited I get about being here. The first full day (Wednesday for me) I went to the Chinese Medical University and got bombarded with Chinese, Taiyu (native dialect of Taiwan) and Chinese Medicine. I finalized my schedule for my internship and was shown around the hospital. That was the first day of a three part hospital observation period called “can guan” [I’d write it in Chinese but for some reason my computer is having issues with me trying to type in it]. That first day I felt like crawling into a corner. I spoke Chinese at the pace of a snail and I couldn’t get my point across. There were also a lot of medical terms that I’ve never heard before. I found out EVERYONE here speaks at least a little bit of English. Especially people who’ve made it to become a doctor…their English is really good. So once people found out I’m from America and once they’ve heard how well I speak Chinese…they talk to me in English. Mighty embarrassing I should say.

My head started hurting from trying to process all the Chinese that was thrown at me and I was exhausted when it hit 4pm. After leaving the hospital, I went on a little adventure trying to find notebooks and such because I decided not to pack those. I ended up at a large department store which was more like a mall stuffed into a big building. Eventually I needed to go to be bathroom and when I found it I got excited because they were individual cylindrical stalls with Coca-Cola advertising them. That’s awesome! I thought…until I opened the stall and found myself looking at a hole in the ground. It was a toilet. The squatting kind. Never have I regretted not paying attention in class more. I forget which class it was but the teacher showed us a slide in passing on how to use the toilets in China as a joke and I thought to myself “I’ll read it later.” I’m just proud that I didn’t fall over or leave the bathroom with wet pants. I tried looking for instructions but all they had on the wall was a picture of the toilet and some thingymajig with eyes and hair that had big red “X” over it. I couldn’t figure out what it meant. Did it mean don’t put your children in the hole in the floor or did it mean you shouldn’t do number 2 in that type of toilet? The thingymajig was brown, but it definitely had eyes and hair. This is the problem with making everything cute. You can’t tell what it’s supposed to be.

After that little adventure, I proceeded to get lost using the public transit here. Taichung is like Chinatown but far more crowded and far more confusing. There are shops everywhere and their signs are all on top of each other. There are no distinct marks for crosswalks, for parking, and for bus stops. I’m going to upload photos soon for you guys to see what I’m talking about. Most everyone rides a motorcycle (more like a scooter type thing) and no strict attention is paid to the traffic lights. It can get pretty dangerous here because the rule seems to be: If the streets are clear, it’s a green light. Sidewalks are nonexistent and so it’s always an adventure walking anywhere.

The second day I got lost maybe half a dozen times. From the bus stop it only takes about 5 minutes to get to where I’m staying but it took me 30-45 minutes to find the right way to go. It happened to be around 7pm and rush hour so the amount of motorcyclists grew to twice the normal amount and it was dark which made everything more confusing.

There are 7-Elevens all over the place. No, they don’t sell slurpees. They call the store “Seven” without the eleven and you can buy the bus card from there. The bus is free as long as where ever you’re going is within 8km. Further than 8 km, you pay per km like a taxi. Although, there’s nothing preventing you from getting off before the 8 km and then getting on again. If you have time, that is.

The people on the motorcycles are all very interesting. Because it is such a common thing here in Taiwan you see grandmas, grandpas, mothers, businessmen, and of course young adults.

Friday morning, I tried to go out and buy my own food. I went up to a random shop and asked what they had. The lady looked at me and pointed at the menu on the wall and said “It’s all here… take a look. Just choose one.”Pause. “Oh. I’ll just buy this sandwich here then.” I guess I look the part enough for people to assume I know Chinese. Not even just that though. Taiyu is so common here and everyone knows it, so people have come up to me randomly and rattle off stuff in Taiyu and I kind of just smile and nod. The science museum just started a new exhibition on the aborigine tribes in Taiwan. I was only able to see a couple of them and I forgot my camera. But I plan to go back. To wrap up my week, I went to the famed Night Market which was as crazy as it was described to me. I’ll leave details and pictures to another time. Taiwan is pretty sweet so far and everyone is really nice. There has been so much I’ve experienced already… it’s hard to get it all down.

Tomorrow (Sunday) my plans are to go to the CMU TCM International Symposium and Monday I start TCM classes and my rotations at the Herbal Pharmacy.

Stay tuned for more Taiwan Craziness!

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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Uncategorized


Taiwan Rage!

Taiwan Rage!

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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Uncategorized