Hong Kong, a bustling cosmopolitan city where East meets West in a seamless blend of culture and tradition. For some of us who are foreigners living in this vibrant city, exploring the local customs, including traditional practices like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), can be a fascinating, exhilarating and yet, an enriching experience. The concept of TCM has four key principles that differentiate it from Western Medicine, them being, ‘your body is an integrated whole’, ‘you are completely connected to nature’, ‘you are naturally born with self-healing ability’, and ‘prevention is the best cure’. In this article, our LocalHood Volunteers, Ayesgul and Saravanan will provide a introduction to TCM, as well as a few popular traditional methods of therapy which include cupping, and acupuncture.
In Hong Kong, it can feel like there are almost as many herbal medicine stores as there are Western-style pharmacies, making it the most common type of TCM available in town. For many in the city, the herbal store is usually the first place to go when one is feeling sick, especially with a cold or similar maladies. These stores sell a wide variety of herbs for an equally wide variety of illnesses and are usually staffed by knowledgeable and accredited Chinese Herbal Medicine professionals. To get more information on the stores, read the article: Traditional Chinese Med. (TCM) Docs & Shops in the Hood (localhood.org).
Interestingly, more and more of us in HK prefer to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) rather than Allopathy, for therapeutic or preventive health care for ourselves and our families. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is definitely riding on this popularity. TCM is based on Eastern culture and philosophy as it relates to the five elements, the flow of blood and chi (energy flow), and yin-yang.
Being in line with TCM principles, herbal medicines are often not used to treat particular symptoms. Instead, they treat the whole body by improving body-wide functions like blood circulation and the immune system. TCM practitioners use various diagnostic methods to understand the imbalances and disharmonies in the body. These methods include observing the patient’s appearance, listening to their voice and their breathing, asking questions about their symptoms, medical history etc. Chinese herbal medicine is believed to work by restoring balance and regulating the body’s functions. Chinese treatments may take longer than Western treatments, but they focus on identifying patterns of disharmony rather than focusing solely on specific symptoms. The duration of recovery for TCM may be longer than Western treatment but has long term effects, helping restore the balance and regulating the body’s function.
Both Aysegul and I tried the popular Cupping therapy. Historically, this therapy has been long practiced by both the Chinese and Egyptians. This therapy involves placing heated glass or plastic cups on the skin to create a vacuum effect. People get it for many purposes, including battling inflammation and helping relieve pain and blood circulation. Cupping has gained popularity over the years, even with top athletes from around the world choosing to use this method to reduce their recovery time after they have undergone strenuous training. The fact that cupping can help stimulate the chemical breakdown of many toxins within the body, means that the athletes can start recovery whilst getting their cupping therapy done. During the processing of cupping therapy, the cups are usually left in place for a few minutes or moved along specific meridian lines on the body. While cupping leaves temporary circular marks on the skin, they are not painful and typically fade within a few weeks.
Acupuncture is perhaps one of the most well-known aspects of TCM. It involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles into specific points on the body to regulate the flow of Qi and restore the balance of energy flow believed to flow through the pathways (meridian) in your body. Acupuncture is widely used to alleviate pain, reduce stress, improve digestion, and address a wide range of health conditions. Many foreigners in Hong Kong have found acupuncture to be a beneficial and effective treatment option. Interestingly, many physiotherapists will use acupuncture to help promote muscle recovery or pain relief.
As mentioned earlier, Hong Kong is home to numerous TCM clinics and practitioners who cater to both locals and foreigners. When seeking TCM treatments, it is advisable to choose a licensed and reputable practitioner. The Hong Kong Chinese Medicine Council regulates TCM practice in the city and maintains a list of registered practitioners on its website.
Interestical, different ailments and different doctors work well for different people. For starters, you should know that there are two general types of Chinese doctors. Chinese medicine doctors must be licensed with the Chinese Medicine Council and a list of those licensed are available on the Council’s website.
One type is the usual ones that would examine your whole body in a holistic manner and prescribe the appropriate Chinese medicine. The other type specializes in your bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. You visit this type of Chinese usually when you sprain or twisted your joints.
When approaching the TCM practitioner for the first time, language can be a barrier when seeking TCM treatments, as many practitioners may primarily speak Cantonese or Mandarin. However, there are clinics in Hong Kong that have English-speaking staff or even specialize in treating foreigners. It is recommended to inquire beforehand or seek recommendations from expat communities or online forums.
Finally, as for the price range, it varies. While one-off consultation starts off from HKD120 onwards, an all-inclusive treatment package can set you back anywhere between HKD1100 – HKD2000. For a more affordable option, we suggest you approach the Chinese Medicine Clinics cum Training and Research Centres. Click here for a list of these Centres.