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Student had early start on TCM path

By Zhao Ruinan | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2018-10-12 17:00
Overseas college students learn about traditional Chinese medicine at a clinic in eastern China's Jiangsu province. Provided to China Daily

A pale light seeped through the window of a small room where a man sat at a table next to a bed closed off by a curtain.

An elderly couple and a young girl walked in holding hands, and after a little chat, the elderly pair lay on the bed, while the man, with his sleeves rolled up, inserted dozens of thin needles into their backs.

This was Teng Yun Rou's first contact with traditional Chinese medicine, 15 years ago in her hometown of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

"When I saw the man performing the acupuncture treatment on my grandparents I thought, 'Wow!' It's so amazing and totally different from Western medicine," she says.

Teng was just 5 years old at the time and she became fascinated with TCM, routinely accompanying her family members to clinics.

"My grandparents always go for acupuncture and tuina (massage). So does my father, because he often repairs heavy machinery, and sometimes his shoulders or back ache after work. But TCM helps a lot," she says.

After graduating from high school, Teng decided to travel to China to learn about TCM.

Another factor that may have influenced her to head to Beijing is the increasing popularity of TCM worldwide, because of rising demand for its doctors as well as its medications. This in turn is being influenced by the increasing importance of China's Belt and Road Initiative.

TCM clinics have mushroomed in Malaysia in recent years, Teng says. "It feels as if everybody in my country knows about TCM, and there are dozens of new clinics throughout Kuala Lumpur."

Teng, 21, is a second-year student of acupuncture and massage at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

About 100 international students enroll at the university to study TCM each year, most of them choosing to take classes in Chinese, she says. "This traditional medicine has its origins in China, so I thought I needed to learn it in Chinese, which I've spoken since I was little."

However, despite Teng's language proficiency, she says studying TCM is not easy for her and other foreigners.

She cited frequent cultural misunderstandings as an example. Once in a class, students were being taught about the meaning of qi, one of the basic tenets of TCM that, according to traditional Chinese culture, forms part of any living entity.

However, some students who consulted their Chinese dictionaries found that the word has a more general application when it relates to air.

"The teacher laughed and said they had got it wrong," Teng says.

She also recounted a lesson she attended that related to the human body.

The teacher asked a male student standing in front of the class to take off his T-shirt to indicate where his meridian points were. Other students were so self-conscious they were unable to look at him.

"We were shy at first, but later we got used to this and found that it's really useful to learn from experience rather than just looking at diagrams of bodies in textbooks," Teng says.

During her first year of study, she managed to obtain an internship at a TCM hospital. When the doctor, who also taught her practical skills, saw patients and felt their pulses, Teng usually took out her notebook and wrote down what she observed.

She says this experience prepared her well for the future.

"What I want to do after I graduate is return to Malaysia to become a TCM doctor at a hospital. After working for a few years, I hope I can fulfill my dream of opening a clinic."

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