Saturday, January 09, 2010


After taking a year of Herbology classes that focus on learning around 300 of the most frequently used herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica, I've finally started a formulas class.

Putting together a formula is like organizing the government of one of those epic historical simulation computer games. there's an emperor, who dictates the main action and purpose of the formula; below him is the minister, who supports the emperor by either having a similar function or by addressing a second, coexisting symptom. the emperor and minister generally have the highest dosage range in the formula. at lesser doses are the assistants and envoys; the assistant can reinforce the actions of its superiors, it can reduce their unwanted side effects, or occasionally it can have an opposing effect when the disease has a complicated manifestation. the envoy focuses the actions of the formulas on a specific area of the body, such as the throat or the eyes, or else "harmonizes" the formula, sort of like taking the rough edges off. licorice root seems to be the most common envoy- it's very sweet and can make a particularly nasty potion a bit easier to get down.

sometimes the roles of each herb can be unclear: it's easy to pick out the emperor when it's dosed at 60g and everything else is 15 or 6, but certain herbs might be the emperor even if their dosage is small. wild ginger, for example, is an extremely warm herb that is used for severe chills with copious thin mucus; it generally is not dosed higher than 3 grams because it is so warm and drying. in a formula with wild ginger dosed at 3 or 4 grams, it will serve as the emperor even when the other herbs outweigh it by far.

despite the overall Confucian nature of herbal hierarchies, this last fact strikes me as rather Marxist- from each according to his ability, right?

In the past few months I've developed a fairly broad and varied group of friends. some of them are like me and have a lot of free time; some of them work way too much. the few people that I think of as my closest friends all fall into this latter category. I rarely get to spend time with them, but when I do, it means a lot more to me than when I hang out with people I see every day. their presences in my life are the most important, despite the fact that I might see them for only a few hours a week, or even less. My best girlfriend from back home and I rarely get a chance to sit down and talk on the phone for hours like we used to, but she's still my best friend. I can't remember the last time I got to spend a few hours with my closest friend here, but the twenty minutes every couple days and the waving at each other from our neighboring apartments' windows mean the world to me.

if you can't see the metaphor here, well, I don't know what to tell you.

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