I walked past a kind of fool’s gold in South China Plaza; plastic bobble-headed cats nodded ni hao in windows full of glittering souvenir kitsch, inviting my gaze to skim the surface. Crossing Cermak Road and feeling unnerved by the sense of culture up for sale, I spotted a blue-eyed Siamese cat peeking its head out of the shop door at 243 West Cermak. Above the cat was a sign: “Nam Bac Hang.” Entering the tiny shop, I saw rows of boxes with Chinese characters written on them, and glass jars filled with mushrooms and dried herbs. Locals were walking up to the counter asking for tea and formulas for their colds and allergies. Curious, I asked a young man standing nearby about the nature of the shop; he told me it was owned by his father, Long Huynh, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine whose family traces their healing lineage back to the days of the emperor in ancient China. Intrigued, I sat down with Long Huynh to ask him about his family’s history, qi, and his medicine.
How long have you been in this location?
We have been in this location at the very end of Chinatown for thirty years.
Where does your family come from in China?
Our ancestors came from Guang Dong province a couple of thousand years ago, but because of a misunderstanding the emperor was offended, and my family had to move south. But the south was already occupied, so we moved to Hakka, which is mountainous. Hakka means “guest”—because one day we must go back to claim our land—this means the family of visitors.
Can you tell me about acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine?
Acupuncture is noninvasive, but what makes it so useful is the Chinese belief in qi, or the source of energy that already exists on the planet. There is no English equivalent for this word. Qi is a thing you cannot see; it can be likened to a mist. It is an internal source of power. We do acupuncture to motivate the qi. What makes the qi is the physical interaction with our planet. Most of the diseases that we treat today existed four thousand years ago.
What causes sickness?
Most of sickness is artificially created. It is the need to want. Our society wants us to show that we are successful, and the way society wants us to show success is possession of objects—this makes people go crazy.
How does Chinese medicine work?
Our body has something like a river, which we call meridians. They have junctions that we manipulate that we can turn on or turn off so they will not flood, or the place will be too dry. Fortunately, the Taoists studied this and wrote the knowledge down. They were farmers called Divine Farmers. They tasted the herbs and had the ability to neutralize the poison. They could also tell which meridian the herbs could go to. All the formulas to treat patients were written thousands of years ago.
What makes traditional Chinese medicine powerful?
We are able to modify the ancient formulas to fit you; that is what makes it so wonderful. The formula fits exactly to your condition. Chinese medicine is not in a pill as in Western medicine, instead it is in the root, the tree, the bug.
How are people able to maintain optimum health?
Chinese medicine is not just about taking herbs, or putting the needle in—we also have abilities through meditation like the Taoists. Mediation allows us to empty out the world and calm the mind. This is how the ancient Taoists saw the meridians and acupuncture points.
Doctor, are you able to feel the points?
No, then I would be a master, but I can feel their meridians. This medicine is not about me treating the patient. This medicine is about partnership. The patient has to be ready to participate. If the patient continues to eat bad food and not take herbs, this medicine will not take effect. A good doctor treats, a superior doctor teaches. I can teach you to fix yourself so that you can teach others.
Can people of the community come to see you?
A lot of Westerners come in because their health insurance copay is too expensive. I cater to very poor, all the way up to people who have more money to spend. People don’t leave here empty handed because they are poor.
Can people call and make an appointment for depression, flu, or even to be more beautiful?
Yes, they can call, but we do not want this to be formal. They come here first and they tell me their symptoms. If they want faster results I charge $20 and create a formula specific to you. Some people want acupuncture, the results are faster but you need herbs between visits. The combination of herbs and acupuncture is beautiful. Acupuncture is an experience; we are not treating a disease, we are treating you. It is a moment in time to realize who you are. Your body can talk to you, but you are not listening. And because you are not listening you separate yourself and your body. You are not synchronized. With acupuncture we are going to put it back together—the spirit, and the physical being. That is why after the session everything feels activated. All the qi is flowing.