Luo Dong

I was tired of my situation.  Tired of my Tai Chi teacher’s need to throw his students to the ground in order to demonstrate his prowess and infallible pride.  I decided to take to the road, hitch hiking to the distant village of Luo Dong, and a clinic that I had only heard about through other practitioners of Chinese medicine.

  As I left the looming city of Taichung behind, I felt the weight of its high-paced buzz lifting away.  I looked forward to the road and the people I would encounter.  It was typhoon season and rain poured down intermittently through the dark clouds of the late-summer evening.  The rides came easily.  Faces came and went into the night.  The conversations all blurred into one.  But, where was I going?  What was my quest?  And why on a night like tonight were all questions asked with the same amount of concern?  There was no end to the caring of the locals for this stranger standing along the road outside their villages, but I couldn’t have made them understand my compulsion, my reasons for leaving my teacher, nor the intuition that put me on the road that night.

After eating dinner in Yi Lan, I put my thumb out for what I hoped would be my final ride into the village of Luo Dong - fifteen miles to the south.  The wind had changed and the sky opened to reveal a blanket of stars that I hadn’t seen in months.  I felt my breath release.  A car pulled over and I told him my destination.  He smiled and said our roads were one.  As we drove he asked of my quest and I told him of Tong Ren Tang, the clinic I was in search of.  A large smile lit his face as he exclaimed that his good friend was the nephew of the head gynecologist at Tong Ren Tang.  He immediately picked up his cell phone and called.  After a short conversation he turned to me and said he’d drive me to a restaurant where I could meet his friend Chen Rei Xian.  At the restaurant, Chen Rei Xian looked at me as if to say “what chance do you think you have of being accepted to our clinic?”  But he could see that I was determined.  It was late, so he offered me a ride to a hotel near Tong Ren Tang and told me to come find him tomorrow.

That night I slept deeply.  I felt as if I had reached my goal.  My confidence was high that something was changing and only the wind had the answers.  The next morning I woke early and took the stairs up to the roof.  The Sun rose out of the ocean, sending the mists slipping into the mountains.  I stood receiving Qi deep into my lungs - letting my thoughts follow the mists.  My visions took me to Tong Ren Tang, the people there and the immense gratitude I felt for being allowed a chance to become an apprentice.  As I walked to Tong Ren Tang my mind was still - open to everything.  The smell of the streets gave way to the fragrance of the herbs in Tong Ren Tang’s Pharmacy.  I was directed upstairs to Chen Rei Xian’s treatment room.  He sat wrapping a woman’s ankle in a thick poultice of herbs.  Two other patients looked on from under a pair of heat lamps as their own poultices were absorbed deep into their muscles.  Chen Rei Xian looked up and smiled, handed the unfinished wrap to his apprentice and led me out of the room.  “My uncle would like to meet you,” he said as he led me into another office filled with secretaries and doctors filling out paperwork.  They offered me green tea as I waited.  Soon a grey haired man appeared at the door.  All business stopped and the room rose to its feet silently acknowledging the master.  This was a kind of respect for an elder master I had not experienced before in Taiwan.  I bowed - nearly dropping my tea.  With a wave of his hand everyone took an uncomfortable seat and quietly continued to work.  He signaled me over and I began to apologize for bringing him away from his work and tried to explain what I had come for, my dreams of being a practitioner of Chinese Internal Medicine, and on and on.  After my uncomfortable rant, and what seemed like an infinite pause, he spoke, “I have received many requests from the hospital in Taichung from would be apprentices...” he paused and smiled “...I turned them all away but you I will welcome.”  I stood and stared in disbelief.  “You may return as soon as you are able and we will begin.”
“Thank You,” I said dumbly, not sure of what had just taken place.

When I returned I spent five days a week in the clinic asking questions, seeing cases that I had never experienced, and learning from doctors whose depth of knowledge seemed unfathomable.  It was the most wonderful experience I ever had training in a medicine that I truly love.  But the question remained… why had I been accepted when others, their own countrymen, had been turned away?  One night, after two months of work and study, Chen Rei Xian invited me out to dinner.  We ate and drank late into the evening telling stories, sharing laughs, and taking in the sights of the city from a sidewalk restaurant.  Chen Rei Xian turned to me, “I have a story to tell you.”  His face turned somber.  “My grandfather was forced to fight by the Japanese in the Second World War.  When the Americans landed on Taiwan they set up hospital tents and treated the wounded Taiwanese and Japanese soldiers.  They didn’t believe they could help my grandfather, so they laid him down in the shade to die in peace.  An American bulldozer driver from the Army Corps of Engineers found my grandfather, and not realizing he had been given a death sentence from the field surgeons, tried to nurse him back to health.  He shared rations and kept him warm in the nights.  He saved my grandfather’s life.”  Chen Rei Xian looked straight into my eyes.  “My grandfather was never able to repay the American for his kindness, and my uncle sees you and your quest to study as a chance to repay that debt.”  I knew in that moment that my purpose was laid out before I had even decided to study Chinese.  And I realized that my debt and gratitude to these people and their wonderful medicine would take me a lifetime to repay.  I only hope that I am able in my own way to help more people with the gifts I have received, so that they might continue the chain of gratitude and help to heal the world.