What You Need to Wind Your Clock

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What You Need to Wind Your Clock

For those who have grown up reaping the benefits of Western medicine, Oriental medicine can seem mystical and unfamiliar. There are many differences between the two, but the general idea behind treating patients with Oriental medicine is simple: nature is a big universe and man is a smaller one; the two universes must have harmony within themselves and in relation to each other.


In Western medicine, a disease is treated as one problem area in the body. Oriental medicine considers the disease a result of disharmony between different areas of the body and seeks to regain harmony.

For example, a patient could go to an Oriental medicine doctor's office with a toothache, but leave with an herbal medicine prescription for the kidneys. Sounds disconnected, but in Oriental medicine, the teeth are symbolically connected to the kidneys. A toothache could mean there is actually something wrong with the kidneys.


Oriental medicine doctors diagnose their patients based on four categories.

* mangjin - overall appearance.

* munjin - voice pitch, clearness and huskiness of voice and body odor.

* jeoljin - pulse and status of ki (ki, or energy, is said to exist near the lower abdomen and back).

* muljin - a series of questions and answers.


The types of ailments a hanuisa (Oriental medicine doctor) may treat could include anything from menopause, cancer and back aches to indigestion. But there are also seasonal problems, which have related herbal remedies.

Drinks that are believed to give a boost to the immune system are popular requests during spring and fall. Two such drinks are sibjeondaebotang and yukmijihwangwon. During the summer, people request saengmaeksan for its effects on perspiration. Ssanghwatang is popular in the fall. It relaxes muscles and promotes circulation.

Walking under the arches that mark the main boundaries of Gyeongdong Yangnyeong Sijang (Gyeongdong Herb Market) is like going through a time warp. The noise of traffic fades into the distance and sunlight streams in between rows of low buildings, illuminating sacks full of herbs and the occasional pair of deer antlers on display in storefronts.

Gyeongdong Herb Market is not a place to pick up sprigs of thyme. You are, after all, in the Far East. This market is stocked with both common and rare herbs used for hanyak, Oriental medicine. Here you'll find dried ginseng, arrowroot and locally grown or imported cinnamon. In the hands of practitioners of Oriental medicine, the herbs can make extremely potent therapies.

Gyeongdong Herb Market is the hub of Oriental medicine in Korea. The Seoul market, which ranks second in the world to the famed Tong Fang Medicine Market in Ankuo, China, accounts for 70 percent of Korea's herbal medicine distribution. In Korea, Daegu Medicinal Market is a distant second.

Oriental medicine, which is gaining as optional therapy in the West - has deep roots in Korea. Press release material from the Seoul Gyeongdong Herb Market Association reads like a solemn proclamation from a religious text: "From the Age of the Three Kingdoms, Oriental medicine contributed to the suppression of diseases prevalent at that time and improved the health of the Korean people."

It seems that a quiet spell has been cast on this strangely peaceful place, but inside the stores and clinics, the atmosphere is alive. At Dongmyeong Haniuwon (Dongmyeong Medicine Clinic) it is difficult to see a doctor without an appointment. And at Pyeonghwa Gunjae Yakubsa (Pyeonghwa Dried Herbs), phones ring constantly with callers wanting prescriptions.

"Most of these herbs you can find elsewhere," admitted Yun Seok-tak of Pyeonghwa Dried Herbs, which stocks 500 to 600 herb varieties. "But not in one concentrated area like here."

Located near Jegi Subway Station, the market is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Sunday. They're usually closed on the first and third Sunday of each month.

The Gyeongdong Herb Market festival is held on June 1 to commemorate the day the Seoul city government officially recognized the market. Festivities usually include taste testings, free clinics and a herb cutting contest. If you have any questions, call the association at 02-969-4794 (Korean only).

by Joe Yong-hee

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