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My New Year Resolution

It’s been some time since I last blogged.  And my new year resolution is … to BE MORE REGULAR AT BLOGGING!

I actually have an excuse this time.  In November, my grandmother – with whom I am close – passed away.  In December, my second son was born…

This period of change has gotten me to reflect more deeply on life … and for here, to reflect once more why I spend the time to blog.

Life can be so short … so precious.  There are so many people to touch, relationships to build, places to travel, creative endeavors to pursue.  And blogging as I often do about the heavy hands of politics and history can be emotionally draining.

But I still blog because I am still passionate about fighting against prejudice.  I don’t mean prejudice in terms of the traditional context of racism …  And I also don’t just mean prejudice against Chinese – in the sense of bad will toward the Chinese nation, people, and society.  (If people are going to have bad will, no amount of my pontificating is going to take any of that away.)

What I mean is the ideologies and fog of thoughts that so often separate men from men – that dupes men to think of other peoples, cultures, traditions, as less, as irrelevant.

These things can start all so innocently enough… with simple prejudice.

For example, I love the doctor that helped recently deliver my second son.  He is very skillful … and can be humorous at times, too.  However, when he found that my wife is doing the traditional Birthing ritual (月子 Yue zi yue zi) still common in certain parts of China … he sternly advised:

Eat what those caterers provide, but make sure you don’t any of the Chinese herbal medicines they provide.  I have heard of this patient once who followed the traditional Chinese Birthing regimen, but in avoiding salt during the first month after delivery, she eventually got diagnosed with sodium deficiency.  Those guys really ought to be sued.  These traditional approaches are just a bunch of hocus pocus…

Now, I have no way of verifying the details of that case.  But I know there are many causes of sodium deficiency, often having little to do with diet.  Did the herbal medicine really cause this patient’s problem?  Or was it simply “presumed” based on my doctor’s pre-conceptions?

Also there are many “schools” and approaches to doing yue zi. Just as there might be problems and side effects to certain approaches to dieting – say Atkin’s diet – it does not necessarily follow that all diet regime are dangerous.  I can also point out the many dangerous vaccine out there, and the many bad drug effects out there with currently approved drugs (many of the effects are not well-known).  Does that mean categorically that all Western / modern approaches to medicine is bad?

Why draw a ‘big lesson’ when there is none to be drawn?

It’s ok to be careful – to be vigilant. But it’s quite another to pick out a bad apple (you can find them anywhere) – and attribute them to the bushel.  That’s looking around for facts to justify one’s biases.  That’s looking at the world through colored lens.

Debunking smug, uninformed ways of looking about the world is the main personal reason I blog.  It can be hard work.  People will often ignore you, or smear you. But it’s important.

As Martin Luther King had said once:

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Or:

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period … [is] not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

So here is a Happy New Year to all – and a toast to revitalizing our commitment to be conscious, to be aware, and to be conscientious.  We live in a world of falsehood, distortions, and lies.  Don’t be discouraged.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” King once said.

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,” the great physicist Max Planck once noted.

And, remember: “Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done” (U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis).

May you be Happy, Productive, and Healthy this coming year…

Cheers!

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  1. January 5th, 2013 at 10:03 | #1

    Cheers, Allen, to 2013.

    Modern forms of racism and prejudice are now cleverly hidden behind political correctness and dogma in the West. Obviously dogma and political correctness do not mean racism and prejudice. It takes a lot of effort to tease them out.

    Looking forward to more of your writings.

    I am sorry of your lost and congratulations to new baby.

  2. Zack
    January 5th, 2013 at 17:34 | #2

    hi Allen,
    Congratulations on your second child and i look forward to seeing more of your articles in the future!

    i do think your doctor is being overly cautious however; “absolutely don’t take any of the Chinese herbl medication”? even the pharmaceuticals that have been derived from traditional chinese medicine such as the anti malarial drug artemisinin?

    You’ll find that in hospitals in China and Taiwan, doctors there will prescribe chinese herbal formulas for the new mothers, to be taken whilst they’re on maternal leave (assuming they work)-which is about a month or so.

  3. Hong Konger
    January 5th, 2013 at 21:38 | #3

    Congratulations on your baby!

    When I gave birth at a local Hong Kong hospital that was almost entirely Chinese (both patients and medical staff) they were very adamant that nobody take traditional Chinese medicine or any sort of unprescribed herbs, roots or home remedies.
    This was repeated to us in pre-natal check-ups and post-natal babycare class. It was also printed in big letters on our discharge sheets. They were very serious about this.

    I asked a nurse, who said too many Chinese moms, particularly new migrants from the mainland who might not have access to information or good medical care, were self-prescribing, getting scammed by unlicensed “traditional healers” or listening to old wives tales.
    She said that some Chinese medicine was OK, but that it was too complex to vet every herbal remedy taken at home, so they defaulted to telling everyone to avoid it since it was unneccesary.
    This is similar to Western medicine. When you are pregnant or nursing, the doctor will tell you to avoid ALL unprescribed medicine, even painkiller, cold medicine, cough syrup — since they don’t want to take a chance.

    The HK hospitals were also discouraging the more extreme practices of the “first month” traditional Chinese confinement. The less educated mothers were bundled up sweating in the summer heat, refusing to move from their beds, refusing to wash after labor. The nurses told them this was unhygenic and bad for circulation. Most HK women I know do a modified version. We stay home most of the first month and eat ginger rice or fish soup, but avoid unprescribed medicines or herbs.

    I’m not sure this advice is anti-Chinese discrimination, as everyone at my local hospital was Chinese, and this city is generally very open to TCM, even at Western clinics. There are probably legitimate medical reasons why doctors are extra-cautious with new moms.

    Anyway, the best thing is to take no medicine. I took neither Chinese herbs nor Western drugs during pregnancy and nursing. And I got up and walked around the morning after birth.

    Best health to your wife and child in the new year!

  4. January 5th, 2013 at 22:50 | #4

    @Hong Konger

    Thanks for sharing your experience. My family (my grandpa) was in the Chinese herbal medicine. And we’ve definitely heard a lot of crazy stuffs. Some stuffs, we believe, are really just hocus pocus – rituals that borders on superstition.

    You also made a very good point about avoiding all medicines. Perhaps my doctor really just wants to avoid complications from any medication – Eastern or Western.

    And in my case, my doctor was actually ethnically Chinese. He was originally from Taiwan. Yes – it sometimes does feel better when your doctor share similar experiences as patients…

    Still, in this case, I feel he is simply ignorant about traditional Chinese medicine. And in his ignorance – one case of sodium deficiency can be proof enough that traditional Chinese medicine is all bad.

    But he sure was willing to prescribe us pain medications after the pregnancy. He was also willing to put my wife on other medications during the pregnancy as well. So in our case, I don’t think it’s a simple case of wanting to avoid all medications.

    Maybe he is super careful. Maybe he just wants to be sure we operated in the realm of his expertise. Maybe it has nothing to do with prejudice. Or maybe it was prejudice. His smirk. His certainty of his position. These suggest the latter…

    In any case, you made good points that I also accept and appreciate.

    I want to clarify that in my post, by “anti-Chinese,” I don’t necessarily mean anti-Chinese as anti ethnically Chinese.

    What I mean is anti-Chinese, as in anti traditional Chinese beliefs.

    I have no doubt that many traditional Chinese beliefs – many traditional Western beliefs for that matter – many modern beliefs in general as well – are hocus pocus, built on superstition and folk legends or other collective biases.

    What I am talking about here is however not a willingness to question beliefs, but a tendency to diss certain beliefs (systems, histories, traditions, narratives) categorically. With no attempt to reach out and understand. That’s what I am talking about.

    Happy New Year to you, too! 🙂

  5. perspectivehere
    January 6th, 2013 at 01:33 | #5

    Allen, my sympathies for your grandmother’s passing.

    Congratulations on the birth of your baby.

    Your piece about prejudices is very good.

    Recently I’ve been thinking about the concept of “blind spots”. Each person has blind spots which affect their perception of things. Blind spots are literal or metaphorical. Each person may be aware or unaware of those blind spots.

    A literal blind spot is this: the human eye has a certain spot in its physiology where the retina cannot process incoming spot. People with two eyes can compensate for that blind spot because one can still see the light peripherally from one eye while the other eye is blind. What is interesting is that within that blind spot, the brain compensates by making up its own image of what is there – the brain projects an image for something that doesn’t exist!

    To illustrate this, take this blind spot test. It’s fun.

    There are some interesting philosophical and emotional observations one could make about this.

    When confronted with one’s own blind spot, most people react negatively. For example, when a driver misses a car in his blind spot and switches lanes, to be greeted by angry honking, the typical reaction is to say “the other car came out of nowhere” and blame the other driver. This is natural and to be expected. In fact, it cannot be helped because most people will start from the premise that they see what they see. It takes time and repeated examples until they themselves come to the realization that they do not see. Sometimes they never admit it.

    This short essay is pretty good in illustrating that point:

    “One of the very first things they teach you when you’re learning to drive is to watch out for “blind spots”: those areas that are so close to us that the rear-view mirrors cannot pick them up. We must therefore get out of our comfort zone, turn our heads around and ensure that it is safe to stop or make a necessary turn.

    We can apply this metaphor to our own lives at those times when things are “too close” to be properly seen: when our ego and self-love cover up our shortcomings, especially those that only the people closest to us can notice.

    I know of someone who, only at the age of seventy, discovered that he tends to talk too much about himself and does not show much interest in others. The price he paid for this was that people were avoiding him. “I wish someone would have pointed it out to me fifty years ago,” he said.

    There are people who live in denial all their lives and everyone around them is treading on eggshells, afraid to point out what they are doing wrong. Perhaps this is because, in the past, when their blind spots were brought to their attention they reacted very harshly. Because they were not prepared to acknowledge and correct their minor faults, they eventually end up being hit with much bigger problems that could have been avoided.

    Wise people are prepared to accept that, as human beings, they are not perfect and that they too have blind spots in their personality. They may appoint a good friend whom they respect and can trust to be honest and open enough to point out their shortcomings. The friend could then, at the appropriate time and place, bring the matter to their attention and may suggest ways to rectify the situation.”

    ********************

    The concept of blind spots applied to philosophical and scientific knowledge was recently explored in a book by William Byers, The Blind Spot, Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty

    An excerpt from the introduction is here and well worth reading.

    “Clearly, a philosophy of science must begin with what is real. However, science is not identical to reality; science is a description of reality. The basic difference is what I meant by the difference between darkness and light at the beginning of this chapter. What we need to do is investigate the relationship between the description and the reality that stands behind it. The first thing that is necessary is to break the mistaken identification of science with reality. Of course, science is not arbitrary; it has a profound relationship with what it describes. Nevertheless, science is not to be equated with the real. This is a statement that is completely obvious yet bears repeating since it is necessary to differentiate between science and the mythology of science, between what science actually does and the story that is told about it. Just as the brain renders invisible the physiological blind spot and gives the illusion that the visual field is continuous and complete, so the mythology of science has the function of hiding from view the holes in the fields of consciousness and rational- ity. So, like the child viewing the emperor’s new clothes, it is necessary to point out this blind spot.”

    A big “blind spot” in modern sciences and medical training is how to treat unproven traditional remedies. Basically the history of human civilization up to the 1850’s produced medical and scientific knowledge. However, modern medicine (and the modern medical system) which found its roots in 19th century German universities adopted the system and procedures of “scientific evidence” as a means to its special professional status for licensed practitioners. The licensing served to create a set of criteria for what medical knowledge was regarded by the medical profession as proven, and what was not. This process had good and bad effects.
    One of the bad effects is that much efficacious remedies derived from thousands of years of cultural experience was thrown away – all over the world.

    In the Chinese world, many traditional remedies and practices survive. But they are continually under attack. Like any field of practice, there are good practitioners and bad ones, good remedies and bad ones. In Hong Kong, one tends to rely on word of mouth to find a good practitioner. In my personal experience, I’ve had many situations where the Chinese traditional remedy worked better than the modern scientific one. But at the same time, I’ve also experienced cases where the Chinese traditional remedy did not seem to work so well. So in Hong Kong I tend to pick and choose a little of both, and avoid the extremes.

    Medicine is wrapped up in cultural practice, and faith, feelings and relationships have a lot to do with it. It is an area where “what feels right” is as important as “what actually works”, because “what feels right” affects “what actually works”. I think one of the linkages is stress. Where one has faith in a course of treatment, that faith reduces stress and increases healing. A person who has ultimate faith in a supreme being that is loving, kind and compassionate may be able to bear a lot of suffering with courage and hope. A person who believes that the yuezi performed by one’s mother (or mother-in-law) is helping one to recover, is also accepting to the care in a loving family relationship. These positive feelings and the expression of giving and receiving caring acts (which some call a “love language”) are at least as important as getting the right amount of sodium, and in the long run perhaps even more important for happy and healthy married life within an extended family.

    Wishing you and your wife and children a happy and healthy future ahead!

  6. perspectivehere
    January 6th, 2013 at 02:19 | #6

    This talk is very powerful.

    TEDxSIT: Lee Mun Wah “But…I am an American”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_872528&feature=iv&src_vid=Oax_57U91_Y&v=7DWl5KXvCGA

    Published on Jun 28, 2012
    Lee Mun Wah is an internationally renowned Chinese American documentary filmmaker, author, poet, Asian folkteller, educator, community therapist and master diversity trainer. For more than 25 years he was a resource specialist and counselor in the San Francisco Unified School District. He later became a consultant to private schools, working with students that had severe learning and behavioral issues. Lee Mun Wah is now the Executive Director of Stirfry Seminars & Consulting, a diversity training company that provides educational tools and workshops on issues pertaining to cross-cultural communication and awareness, mindful facilitation, and conflict mediation.

  7. perspectivehere

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