Recently Unni and I made a visit to a haniwon, or Korean traditional medicine clinic, on the recommendation of our friend Jongshil. Unni has recently been suffering from headaches, aching shoulders, and hair loss, while I am still engaged in my life-long battle with acne, dandruff and hand tremors (before you start with your own personal miracle cure for any of the above, let me advise you that in two decades of living with these problems I have heard helpful suggestions from all manner of people: professional dermatologists in three different countries, friends, coworkers, relatives, random people at bus stops who take one look at my skin and declare that they know exactly what will solve my problem; none of these cures has made any difference).
We visited Myungbo Kyunghui Haniwon, a small clinic near Mia Samgori station. According to Jongshil, this doctor treated another foreign woman for chronic knee joint pain and within a month she was completely healed. Unni had high hopes going in; I am not yet convinced of the efficacy of Korean traditional medicine, but I will try anything once.
In Korean medicine all humans are divided into four chejil, or body types: greater yang, lesser yang, greater yin, and lesser yin. Different body types have different needs and therefore must be treated in different ways, even if they have the same problem; treatment mostly involves eating certain foods and avoiding others. Thus our first item of business was determining our respective chejil (Jongshil had already examined our pulses and declared that both Unni and I were lesser yang, so I was eager to see if the professional concurred with her diagnosis).
First they had me put my face up to a machine that took extreme close-up photos of each eye, dilated and undilated. The technicians had some trouble getting the device in position because my big nose kept getting in the way. I never did learn what the eye thing was all about.
Next they strapped me to a device similar to a blood pressure gauge, except that it strapped onto my wrist instead of my upper arm. This measured my pulse and spit out a series of numbers. The strap left a series of circular marks on my wrist.
So far so good, but the next step is where things really seemed to detour into witchcraft. The doctor took my arm, held out a peculiar gold pendant, and dangled it over each of the marks in turn.
The idea is that if we eat a lot of the foods on the "healthful list" and avoid the "harmful" foods, we will see a gradual improvement in our various ailments. I was disappointed by many items on my list, particularly chicken, potatoes, garlic, and onions, which are not only delicious but hard to avoid here in Korea. There are also a lot of items on the "healthful" list that I'm not crazy about, although "beer" was the one silver lining on the whole list. Unni was appalled to learn that mugwort, honey and ginger are no good, since she specifically makes tea from these things whenever she's feeling ill.
We've been on our special diet for a month now, and just went back for a refill on the hanyak packets. I've noticed no real improvement in my face and scalp, although Unni swears my face looks better. However my hands do seem to be less shaky of late. It's something that comes and goes, so it's hard to be sure, but I haven't had a really bad tremor in weeks. Unni's still complaining of headaches and hair loss, but she did not expect to see results very soon and seems more willing to believe in this stuff than I am. We'll keep at it for a bit longer, but if there isn't a big difference in a couple of months, I'm going to get myself a tub of garlic fried chicken to celebrate the failure of yet another "miracle cure."