The idea of health, both as a concept and a profession, has been, and remains, very much a journey for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner Alex Tan, who operates his Straight Bamboo TCM clinic at The Hutong, a cozy and welcoming courtyard located in Beixinqiao, Beijing.
TCM practitioner Alex Tan at his Straight Bamboo clinic at the Hutong in Beixinqiao, Beijing. (Picture courtesy of Alex Tan)
Tan, 38, an Australian citizen from Sydney, with Chinese roots on his father's side, originally came to China on a Chinese medicine internship program in 2005, and has been here ever since. His journey to becoming a TCM practitioner, though, took him first into engineering and the construction industry, which, perhaps unusually, brought him in touch with the concepts of Daoism.
"I did a construction management degree for four years at the University of Technology, Sydney, which is one of the oldest-style universities in Australia. We had to take General Studies classes, which included studying the world's religions. I was introduced to the concepts of Daoism and ended up doing the readings and followed up on that on my own."
He continued: "Being an engineer, I was very interested in Western sciences and I was fascinated by how the concepts of science and health could be combined together-and with the ancient principles of Daoism. This gelled with me and with my own studies."
Tan's journey also led to a gradual exploration, and understanding of, his cultural roots.
"My father is Chinese and was born in Shandong Province," he said. "But I was born and grew up in Australia with an Australian mother. My father eventually came to study in Australia and stayed in Australia, where he met my mother. He's kind of been Australianized, but I suppose my own individual culture was very much influenced by my father, who is very much steeped in Chinese culture. And that took me a long time to understand."
Tan's discovery of Daoism and the ancient concepts of wisdom and health provided the spark that would eventually ignite his passion for Eastern ideas of health and wellness.
After completing his 4-year degree in construction management, he traveled for a year, before working for a construction company, building high-rise apartments. However, he continued to feel the pull of eastern ideas.
"Increasingly, [my interest grew] in Daoist ideas, and I met a qigong teacher who was teaching me qigong and I was doing an informal apprenticeship with him, in terms of philosophy and martial arts," said Tan. "Then I became increasingly interested in Daoism and traditional Chinese medicine, and increasingly dissatisfied with my career choice."
Tan's sense of dissatisfaction saw him return to the University of Technology in 2002, to study full-time for a degree in acupuncture and Chinese medicine at the age of 28. "I finished that degree at the end of 2005, and then came to China on an internship program, he said. "I did the internship, learnt Chinese, got in touch with my Chinese roots, traveled around China, and to my family home, and then met my wife [in China], who is actually an American."
Tan then began giving education clinics at The Hutong, where many expats and tourists come to learn about Chinese culture and take classes in a range of subjects, including Chinese cookery, art, photography, Chinese tea culture, and now, TCM.