Getting poked, smoked, and soaked

Reviewing The Meridian traditional Chinese medicine “spa” (I think of it as a “splinic” – cross between spa and alternative medicine clinic) was one of my favorite assignments. I spent 4 hours one June day “researching” the story, which involved some interviewing, but mostly falling asleep on a massage table while a crimson-robed man waved aromatic herbal incense around me. It was great!

Read it here or on China Daily:

From its indoor koi pond to traditional wood-paneled doors, The Meridian’s classic Chinese dcor and serene ambience resembles a high-end spa, in the vein of Oriental Taipan. But this is no simple spa. The Meridian, located in the posh Lido neighborhood, is the first Beijing leisure facility to combine traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice with luxurious spa-like services.

Named after one of the central concepts in TCM – the system of intricate pathways running along the body through which qi flows – The Meridian claims to be the capital’s “first national level authentic meridian conditional organization”.

What that mouthful means is that this “spa” has forged partnerships with the country’s most prestigious TCM institutions – the China Academy of Chinese Medical Science, Beijing Association of Chinese Medicine, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine and Guanganmen Chinese Medicine Hospital – to bring their expertise to its customers.

Visitors at The Meridian will be impressed by the lofty glass structure and portraits of doctors displayed on the walls. VIP customers (who prepay 50,000 yuan for services) have access to these professionals, including the head of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Science or a former expert with the Ministry of Health, among others.

The resumes of doctors who see walk-in clients at The Meridian are only slightly less impressive: a professor at the Beijing International Acupuncture Training Institute and a Tsinghua University Hospital doctor, to name two.

Well-dressed and well-mannered assistants greet customers and usher them into an airy reception area where glass jars filled with “secret recipe” cough drops and cups of specially brewed tea (in the summer The Meridian often serves lily lotus tea for a “cooling” effect) sit on a coffee table.

The assistants discuss patients’ general health conditions, fill out medical questionnaires, and recommend the right doctor. The Meridian prides itself in not administering any treatments without a doctor’s diagnosis.

One attending doctor, Dr Ji, is a sextagenarian who has the quiet thin appearance of a classical scholar. He diagnoses patients through a combination of traditional methods, such as taking pulse, assessing outward appearance, and detecting unusual smells.

These subtle methods are hardly considered science in the West, but they form the basis of TCM examinations. After hearing the patient’s ailments – which can be as severe as diabetes or as mild as fatigue – Dr Ji prescribes treatment from the seven main categories of services offered at The Meridian.

The menu of services at The Meridian is similar to what one will find at most TCM hospitals or wellness spas: tuina massage, cupping, scraping, spinal massage (including bone setting), herbal bath, moxibustion and the house signature treatment, “clearing the meridian”.

“Clearing the meridian” applies TCM principles through modern technology. A therapist places electrode pads on his feet and on the patient’s feet. Then, using his body to conduct mild electric currents, he presses specific acupoints (following the doctor’s instructions) along the patient’s meridians to alleviate symptoms and eradicate the roots of illness. The numbing sensation the patient experiences through the therapist’s fingers is strange, but comforting, to the point of inducing slumber.

Those who are wary of TCM need not fret. Initial visits and doctor consultations at The Meridian are painless – and free of charge. Once a patient decides to follow the doctor’s course of treatment (usually administered in an intensive 10-day sequence), an assistant discusses pricing options.

Prices for individual treatments range from about 200 to 500 yuan a session. Alternatively, visitors can become members of The Meridian by paying between 5,000 yuan and 50,000 yuan for various levels of service.

Members get a 10 percent discount on a la carte prices. The most exclusive customers receive additional perks, such as weekend lectures with TCM experts at The Meridian.

Whether it’s to cure a pressing ailment or to satisfy a long-held curiosity about TCM, The Meridian is among the city’s most relaxing and comfortable environment to dabble in Chinese medicine.

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