Friday, November 26, 2010

A Chef from Las Vegas

A 30-year old man who worked as a professional chef came in for treatment. He was in a very bad mood.  I asked him, “Are you on vacation?” He replied, “Not really.”  I asked again, “What can I do for you today?”  He began to use foul language to express his frustration.  I said, “Take it easy!”  He paused for awhile and then continued, “The daughter of the chairman of a Japanese company placed a bet in the casino.  The chips she played were equivalent to the total salary I will earn in a lifetime!”

I explained to him that everyone has a different fate, and different fates have different causes.  “Maybe the pressures in her day to day life are much more than yours,” I said.  “Maybe you can enjoy more freedom than she can.  Maybe when she goes to the restroom, she needs to be escorted by several guards.”

The chef began to relax and stopped using foul language.  Perhaps it was because he worked so hard that he slowly fell asleep during the treatment.  After waking up, I asked him, "Do you feel better?"  He responded, "Sometimes my mind gets stuck."  I sais, "Yes, sometimes fog and clouds can cover the sun."  After the treatment I read him a poem fro the sixth Zen Patriarch: In a troubled, dark house, always create your own wisdom sun. 
I believed he was relieved of his burden.  At least he had become self-aware that his mind ‘gets stuck.’  Sometimes – or even often – we get ourselves into trouble because we compare our situation with others and get disappointed by expecting too much.


Acupuncture’s true origins date back to the Stone Age, approximately 10,000 years ago.  People were skillful even during that time and used stone to make sharp needles with which they could treat the sick. 
During China’s Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 A.D.), the teaching and practice of acupuncture reached its height, partly because it had the support and protection of the ruling dynasty.  There was even a famous medical school called The Supreme Medical Institute which established acupuncture as a specialty course, and various positions and titles designated the proficiency level of both students and teachers:

  • the head acupuncture doctor who acted as the teacher of other doctors rather than a physician
  • the acupuncture assistant professor
  • ten acupuncturists
  • twenty acupuncture workers
  • twenty acupuncture students (equivalent to post-doctoral students)

In those times acupuncture was highly regarded in the culture and was able to evolve unhindered as a sophisticated healing art.

By the time of the Ching Dynasty (18th century), however, acupuncture became relegated to the position of folk medicine and was even banned by the government.

In modern times, acupuncture regained its vitality in the People’s Republic of China around 1949.  After President Richard Nixon visited China in 1973 western countries learned more about acupuncture.  Now many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) schools have been established in the U.S.A., especially in California.   As people become more familiar with its benefits, an increasing number of insurance companies and HMO’s have begun to offer acupuncture coverage.  

But there was a time when acupuncture was not legal in California, and it was during that time that I began treating people.  I practiced without a license as one of the many doctors belonging to the lineage of the “Underground Needleman.”  I was subject to be arrested any month, any day, and at any moment.  Those years were difficult, and as a result many skilled doctors were forced to change their professions.  Some became chefs, some became clerks, some entered the computer industry or started a business. 

In 1976, the first group of Chinese doctors was granted acupuncture licenses by the Acupuncture Advisory Committee under the Consumer Affairs Department.  Since I was not among them I was required to take an examination. As I prepared to take my examination I reviewed what I had learned in another part of the globe.  I remember how awfully difficult it was for me because knowing how to do something does not mean you can remember the technical language which enables you to answer questions correctly.  I got up early in the morning and studied hard until midnight, often going to Golden Gate Park close to where I lived.

Unfortunately, I failed to pass the examination the first time.  I was asked questions in an area I thought was important but not essential, and therefore I had not prepared adequately; I would say that I failed at least eight questions in the same area.  I was very upset that day because I had not been working for almost one year in order to prepare for the examination.  Money was really a problem during that time, and I learned first hand why some doctors just gave up their practice.

I was told that I could take another examination in at least six months, but later on, I received a notice saying I could retake the examination in two to three months.  Because of lack of money, I flew standby to Los Angeles where the examination was being held.   In order to save more money I walked to the examination hall instead of taking a taxi.  After walking so far, I felt really exhausted and began to blame myself, but what could I do in such tough times?  Luckily I passed the examination this time and received my California Acupuncture License in 1977. In the 1970’s acupuncture was still at low tide in the United States.  Even though a doctor was a certified acupuncturist, he could not treat patients without a referral letter from a medical doctor, dentist or chiropractor.  Treating without a referral letter meant you were subject to arrest or you could have your license revoked.

In 1979, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill which ended the need for the referral letter, and in 1980 I began to serve in a free clinic in which thousands of people, especially the poor, were helped through acupuncture and herbs.  Because I served the public, studied hard, and practiced with care, several established practitioners recommended me to be one of five acupuncturists who would establish “Acupuncture Associates” in 1981.  There was also an M.D. who worked in the clinic. 

At that time Dr. Harry Tam, President of United Acupuncturists of California, the largest and most influential acupuncture association in the country, honored me with a request to help the association’s activities by working in his clinic.  I was moved by his sincerity and his generous donation of energy to the profession and accepted his invitation.  In that way, I met many doctors with both M.D. and TCM backgrounds and was able to broaden my knowledge.

A number of us wanted to further our education so we attended the University at Los Angeles.  I earned my doctorate degree in Chinese herbal medicine and Acupuncture in 1984.  While I was studying I served two terms as a California Acupuncture Examiner between 1981 and 1983.  I took over Acupuncture Associates in 1986, and it became successful because of its good service to patients, its combination of apothecary and clinic, and its location at the border of China Town and North Beach, a true east-meets-west neighborhood.

During my years in the clinic, many people visited including old doctors from China who were not only experts in Chinese medicine and acupuncture but who also worked in hospitals in China.  These doctors had a wealth of experience in the integration of ancient and modern medical science.  About two hundred U.S. medical doctors, medical students and medical personnel came to see the clinic and a television station from out of state came to interview me.  With this kind of exposure my clinical skills continued to improve, and I reached a point where I could treat my patients easily and with confidence.  

Many acupuncturists were strangers when they first arrived in the Bay Area and they were referred to me for help in establishing themselves.  I wanted to help others as I had been helped, even if it required money, and my efforts were rewarded by making the acquaintance of one doctor who had learned from four supreme quality TCM Doctors.  I asked him if he would like to share the essence of his knowledge with me, and he gladly promised.  We spent 17 months together, and this association deepened my diagnosis skills. In 1997 I became a consultant to the state and nation’s largest HMO for acupuncture and I provide clinical advice on a regular basis. 

Since TCM is so profound, it is not so easy to learn the genuine knowledge and use it.  It is an ancient science and cannot be applied mechanically as is done in so much of modern science. I have a dream to share my experiences with medical personnel or even create a school of TCM to teach many people who are interested in its far-reaching benefits.

By writing this book I am taking seriously the recommend-ations of my patients who want other people to benefit as they do, especially those patients who have suffered a great deal and have unbearable pain.  Therefore, the number one goal of writing this book is to introduce TCM and its benefits to the American people.  We can foresee more and more people benefiting from TCM, but the ultimate benefit can only be obtained from those doctors who can apply the genuine TCM skills on their patients. 


I have been treating all kinds of patients for nearly 30 years, and I know how much they suffer.  Some even lose their lives!  But with the integration of Traditional Chinese Medicine – ‘TCM’ as we call it – and modern medicine, most of my patients improve or even become completely well.  Certainly, they suffer less and perhaps reach a higher understanding of life.  Even though TCM has been practiced in the United States for nearly three decades, most people still don’t know about this kind of advantage.  I hope through this book that American people can learn about TCM and can benefit from an integration of ancient and modern science.
The idea for this integration is simple.  When people suffer, they look for all kinds of help to relieve their problem and make them better.  They visit their doctor, and the doctor tries to help them, but sometimes modern medical treatment isn’t enough, and that is when TCM and MD’s can work together.  Many patients see MD’s while at the same time receiving treatment from acupuncturists.  Some patients undergoing dental treat-ment also see an acupuncturist to help stop the pain.  Some patients who have been in an automobile accident see a medical doctor, an acupuncturist, and a chiropractor all at the same time.  In California, some acupuncturists are already working in hospitals to help relieve the patients’ pain and help the healing process.

As integrative medicine evolves, hospitals may hire acu-puncturists to help patients recover from surgery or to assist in complicated cases or they will establish in-house acupuncture clinics for patients with special needs.  In my own experience, two hospitals have already allowed me to treat their patients.

TCM’s unique method of healing problems of the body, mind, and spirit is completely different from the western medical model, so if someone wants to study acupuncture and herbs, it is best that they leave their knowledge at the door for the time being.  

For example, suppose your patient has had diarrhea for several days and the patient reports that s/he has an infection.  Certainly, you think about disinfection.  But in TCM if the patient’s face is pale, if the pulse is slow and the stomach likes to be pressed, then your important job is not to disinfect or kill the germ. Even though you could do that with the methods available to you, your patient will not get better.  Instead, TCM principles will direct you to warm up the body, and in that way the patient will feel better.  To be honest with you, the herb used to warm you up is not meant to kill the germ although that can be a consequence.  The thing to remember is that if you act according to the principles of TCM, the patient will get better so there is really no need to think about the germ.  Please read and enjoy my stories, and you will gradually understand the principles and practice of TCM.