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Don F Gates
Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
   

Grand Acupuncture Center
3931 Grand Ave, 2nd Floor
Oakland  CA 94610
510-428-9430

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Why I Chose the Path of Traditional Chinese Medicine
South Pasadena is home to a homogeneous society; not culturally nor in terms of ethnicity, but in the residents' shared goal of crafting a perfect slice of Norman Rockwell Americana out of an otherwise unremarkable suburb of Los Angeles. I spent most of my first eighteen years in South Pasadena, among children of several dozen different ethnic backgrounds all striving for the same degree of monoculture you might see in a Benetton advertisement. It thus came as a surprise to me when, during my first year in high school, I began to hear stories of Mister Goto's senior-level Asian Cultures class.

Mister Goto was one of those "talked about" teachers, so confident in his manner that he couldn't help but be respected among the students. To top it off, although it was said to be the hardest humanities class on campus, his course was the only one that the students all but universally looked forward to—shirkers, perhaps, excepted. Mister Goto taught the difference between Islam and Hinduism, when most of us didn't know there was one, if we'd heard of them at all. He spoke of Jains and Sikhs and Shintoists and of the meaning behind the yin-yang symbol and the belly on the Buddha. Mister Goto's students took notes in his class, per his advice, on 3-by-5 notecards and carried shoeboxes full of them around the school, lest they be lost, stolen, or somehow damaged. Students were known to break down in tears when their boxes accidentally spilled a semester's structuring just before a big exam. In all, people took Mister Goto's class as seriously as they took anything at that age, and a good deal more seriously than most.

That class introduced me, a white-bread Boy Scout from Pleasantville, to Eastern religion and philosophy, peeling away the Otherness of "exotic East" and replacing it with a piqued curiosity and a living sense of the mysteries to be found outside the Western philosophical canon. From South Pasadena I went on to UC Santa Cruz, where I studied tai chi, Confucian and Taoist literature, and other aspects of Eastern culture. Some time after I left Santa Cruz, I met a sixty-year-old Spaniard who had practiced traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in France and Spain for over twenty years. His were the first acupuncture needles that found their way into my experience, with moxibustion and Chinese herbs soon to follow. I was amazed, as are most upon their first experience, at their healing abilities and followed up my treatments in Spain with others in Berkeley when I came back to the US.

It wasn't until after a year's worth of appointments with Patricia Lollis, a fine Bay Area acupuncturist, that I began to notice the similarities between her love for her work and that of Tomás in Spain. Both had been practicing for longer than I'd been earning my own living and still both adored their practice. I, on the other hand, had been working as a writer and editor of travel guides for a total of five years by then and was already feeling oppressed by the routine. Sitting in front of a computer monitor, pulling prose from scattered facts and figures for eight hours a day had left me with a decent sense of geography, sore wrists and eyes, and little in the way of obvious alternative prospects. The idea of practicing TCM as a viable path for my own life—as opposed to relying on it to repair the toll of my lifestyle—came to me at the end of that year as a welcome epiphany. In retrospect, I find it hard to believe it didn't occur to me earlier.

I went on to study at San Francisco's American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) for four years, where my understanding of the rich traditions of TCM both deepened and broadened considerably and my interest in the subject continued to grow. After graduation, I built upon this experience by traveling to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in China, to study in a TCM hospital for three months. There, I found I'd been well prepared by my studies and, to my surprise, discovered that our school has a reputation for turning out well-trained practitioners even in Chengdu, one of China's five "Ivy League" TCM universities.

Now, having graduated and passed both the state and national licensing examinations, I feel my education has just begun. With a lifetime opportunities before me to learn and grow as a practitioner, I'm as excited today about my studies as I was when I began Mister Goto's class as a teenager. Only this time, the classroom will be my own clinic and my patients will be my teachers.