Reprinted with permission from the Zionsville Times Sentinel, LIVESMART, Wednesday, September, 12, 2007
In my 25 years of experience in Chinese treatments and medicines, this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to talk about the changes taking place in The People’s Republic of China.
In May 2007, I took my boys, Akis, 13, and Dennis, 11, and my friend Connie to introduce them to the country in which I spent nine years studying Western and Chinese medicines. It was not the first time I had returned to China. Five years ago, I was there to hear about the latest research in Chinese medicine at Hangzhou Zheng Jiang Zheng Jiang Yi Xue Yuan, one of the country’s largest schools of traditional Chinese medicine.
While in Beijing, I found my former school, Beijing Medical University, now called Beijing University Health and Science Center. I didn’t recognize a single building. There was a new science center, library and foreign students’ dorm. The teaching hospital had been replaced by a state-of-the-art, multilevel building.
I met with Professor Han Ji Sheng, Director of the Neuroscience Research Institute of Beijing Medical University. For 42 years, he’s researched the neurochemical basis of pain relief using acupuncture. For the last 15 years, he’s also researched the clinical effects of withdrawal in the addicted. Today, he’s involved in a National Institute of Health/National Institute of Drug Abuse study on alternative therapies for alcohol and drug abuse and the prevention of cocaine relapse using electro acupuncture. He is also a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Center for Alternative Medicine.
After talking with Professor Han, I became interested in studying how to suppress withdrawal symptoms in those taking morphine and other opioids. Professor Han encouraged me to apply for a National Institutes of Health grant to support the study. Most striking on this year’s trip, however, were the dramatic changes in both Shanghai, in the south, and the capital, Beijing, in the north. Back in 2002, Shanghai looked almost like cosmopolitan Hong Kong. But Beijing still had a conservative northern look, with bicycles and vendors on the streets, and ancient narrow alleyways and parks side-by-side with apartment complexes, small shops and restaurants. It was a friendly and relaxing environment. The cost of living was quite affordable for locals and visitors, but I sensed concern about where the city was headed.
I observed that changes in politics, new laws, stricter regulations and opportunism have erupted in the last five years. I thought Beijing, as the capital, would preserve its cultural traditions. After all, the south had always rebelled from the north. The north was always known for being conservative and slow-to-change. But today, its economy, people, streets and buildings have changed. In my wildest dreams, 1 never imagined I would visit a modern Beijing. I would even compare it to New York City!
The streets are six-lane highways with high-end cars no more than five-years old — mostly European models made in China with names like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen. Virtually everyone carried a satellite cell phone. New buses were everywhere, taking smart cards for payment, and featuring flat-screen TVs and air conditioning. Grand, multi-level • department stores offered name-brand products and a Starbucks coffee shop sat on every corner. Restaurants offered free drinks while customers waited to be. seated; some even provided complementary manicures for the ladies. When asking for directions, I was told that every three months a new map of Beijing is needed to update its changing face.
The third week of our trip we visited Hangzhou, which I remembered as the most beautiful city in the country. But now it was nothing like what I remembered from five years earlier. It all looked new. What had happened to that beautiful, old city? What had happened to the countryside? It was all gone. I instead saw pedestrian bridges, six-lane highways and new architecture. Along with these advances, both prices and air pollution have risen.
Overall, my trip to China was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this new world, and while there I was given a new direction in my own life.