China Elevator Stories

“Do You Know How To Cook Chinese Medicine?”

I visit a TCM practitioner in Shenzhen.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


I have suffered from a cold and a stomach ache, and decide to visit a doctor in Shenzhen.

The two options available in China if you are sick are usually either going to a hospital, where you’ll be sent from floor to floor to pay for various small bills before you can see a doctor, or visiting a pharmacy, where you can see a TCM practitioner.

I had been to hospitals in China a few times in the past.

You were usually not the only person in the room with the doctor, as would be the case in a hospital in Austria. It was a common experience for me in China to have 5-10 more people in the room, all listening in to each other’s ailments.

No matter what ailment you have, a TCM doctor will usually also ask you for private details about your menses or if you’ve ever had an abortion, which are not necessarily details everyone would like to share with strangers.

I found it interesting to hear about the ailments of other people, and strangers listening in on my conversations with the doctor didn’t bother me too much.

The complicated process of registering at a Chinese hospital and queuing up with thousands of other sick people, many of whom didn’t keep their distance, was much more of an annoyance, though. I was no pro at cutting lines, as were many Chinese. I also did not like to have to compete with other patients, more so when I didn’t feel well to begin with.

So this time, I choose to go to a pharmacy to see a TCM practitioner instead.

The first pharmacy I come across seems to be a stomping ground for retirees. I take a quick look inside and see lots of mostly elderly people sitting on chairs, some wearing weird instruments on their heads; others sitting there with acupuncture needles punched through their skin, chatting the day away. Right next to the entrance is a desk with a sign reading “TCM practitioner”. A doctor in his 40s comes up to me from the back of the pharmacy and asks me what I am looking for. I tell him I’d like to see a TCM practitioner. He hands me a chair and asks me to sit down. He sits down at the other side of the desk and starts feeling the pulse of my left arm. When he is finished, he feels the pulse of the right arm. He then asks me to show him my tongue. I chat with two women and the doctor.

The doctor asks: “Do you often have problems with your stomach? Your stomach is quite weak.”
I tell him: “I do.”
One of the ladies tells me: “You came to see the right doctor. I have been to many doctors before, but he’s the only one who could help me cure my illness.”
“That’s great.”
The doctor asks me: “Do you know how to cook Chinese medicine?”
Having cooked Chinese medicine before, I tell him: “I do.”
The other lady says: “Apparently foreigners like going to TCM practitioners nowadays.”
I reply: “I don’t tolerate Western medicine too well; that’s why I prefer seeing a Chinese doctor.”

The doctor adds: “My friends in Germany and the US don’t dare to take Western medicine anymore. They only take herbal medicine.”
The first lady tells the second one: “Look at her, how she can talk with the doctor in Chinese. Isn’t it great that they can communicate. So many foreigners are learning Chinese nowadays, and many speak it really well. Isn’t that great?”

While I am waiting for the doctor to prepare my medicine, he inquires: “Your parents must be worried about you, living abroad all on your own?”
“Sometimes they are, that’s what parents do.”
“Well, Shenzhen is still safe enough, compared to other places in China.”
“Shenzhen is a great city, indeed. I have also been living in Kunming in the past, which wasn’t bad either.”
The doctor looks surprised. Before he can reply, another patient calls out for him and he has to leave.

Have you ever been to a TCM practitioner?

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