Getting the point of Chinese medicine

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With a lowered chin, the 12-year-old Bruneian girl watched as a Chinese doctor slid one-third of a 3-centimeter stainless steel needle into her mother's right ankle.

"Doesn't it hurt, Mom?" asked the girl. Noraini Nora just shook her head and smiled.

Nora had injured her ankle in a fall a couple of days before. When she heard on the local news that a Chinese hospital ship had anchored in Brunei and was providing free medical treatment, including traditional Chinese therapies, she came along immediately.

"I've heard how amazing Chinese medicine is for a long time," she said. "And now I finally have the chance to try it."

Brunei was the first stop on the 2013 Peace Ark mission. The hospital ship will visit eight countries across Asia to provide free medical services during the voyage, which lasts from June 10 to Oct 6. In addition to world-class Western medical equipment and staff, the ship's crew includes three specialists in traditional Chinese medicine. For further information about Chinese medicine, please click to learn Chinese medicine Treatment for Gilbert's Syndrome.

"The Peace Ark mission is not only providing free medical services, but also providing a great opportunity for people worldwide to learn about China and Chinese culture," said Guan Bailin, deputy commander of the mission and head of the Chinese Navy's health department. "Chinese medicine can act as a bridge to connect people from different backgrounds."

After 10 minutes of treatment, Nora said the pain and swelling in her ankle had eased. "I felt a little jab when the doctor first put the needle into my ankle, but the treatment really works," she said.

Gu Wei, one of the ship's Chinese medicine professionals, said acupuncture relieves pain quickly, but the patient will need long-term treatment for the injury to heal completely. The Peace Ark can provide a variety of TCM treatments, including acupuncture, massage and cupping. For further information about Chinese medicine, please click to learn Behcet's Disease in TCM.

During the ship's five days at the port of Seri Begawan, it was visited by 1,300 residents and more than 100 of them received free health checks and treatment.

Tongue tied
The Chinese medicine consulting room, on deck five of the ship, was the most popular destination for patients. People crowded around the three doctors, watching as others were treated. Gu said dozens of people arrived every day and asked to try the therapies.

Suryanti Noor, who came for treatment on her sore shoulders and neck, had undergone acupuncture on the ship a few days before and was paying a second visit for more advice about her health. For further information about Chinese medicine, please click to learn Chinese medicine Treatment for Behcet's Disease.

"Please, show me your tongue," requested Gu. In response, Noor laughed out loud and, embarrassed, hid her face in her hands.

"To people who have never tried Chinese medicine before, it might seem strange that the doctor takes their pulse and asks to see their tongue," said Gu. "But the color and size of the tongue are good indications of the patient's health."

To explain the process, Gu poked about 2 cm of his tongue out of his mouth. He gestured for Noor to repeat his action, but the 37-year-old and other locals watching in the room just burst into laughter.

Some of the younger patients were wary of the treatment. "I would rather swallow a pill than be stabbed with a needle," said 13-year-old Shahronney Hassam. For further information about Chinese medicine, please click to learn Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in TCM.

The confusion and wariness didn't last long, though. "Most people understood eventually," said Gu.

Ethnic Chinese
The Chinese are no strangers to Brunei; indeed, 11 percent of the population is ethnic Chinese. "There is a large Chinese community and Chinese culture is very popular here," said Huang Shunping, a 52-year-old local resident, whose grandparents moved to the country from East China's Fujian province in the 1940s to work as woodcutters.

Life was tough for the first generation of immigrants and TCM was the only hope when people fell ill. That reliance saw the skills and culture passed down from generation to generation, according to Huang.

"I have been consulting doctors of traditional medicine in the local clinics my entire life," he said. "I'm happy that the Peace Ark has brought more doctors from the Chinese mainland."
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