Charlie Teo looked out at me. It was an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ and he was in Melaka, part of his heritage and my birthplace. I was intrigued. This world renowed neurosurgeon was talking about how his childhood and his racial heritage had shaped his drive in his work and ethics. I found some similarities but also differences.
A new immigrant
Emigrating into middle class white surburbia in the early 80s, the lack of tolerance I encountered as a teenager also drove me to deny my Chinese identity for many years.
My veterinary beginnings
In my last year of vet school, I attended a veterinary acupuncture seminar presented by the late Dr Ulrike Wurth. The nature of Chinese medicine having hot and cold properties; certain food being good for the blood and qi resonated. It was what my mother talked about in our everyday living; what we should eat for different seasons; different stages of our lives and most importantly for colds and sore throats. I was hooked. The rest could be history but was actually the beginning of my journey into ‘Chineseness’.
Unlike Charlie Teo, I don’t feel the need to find a hero in my ancestry. Maybe I’m not ‘old’ enough or maybe because Chinese medicine has already taught me about the Yin and Yang of balance and acceptance. Choosing to investigate the mysteries of acupuncture, meridians, herbs and so on has taught me that being a vet is not about me. I have learnt to listen to my patients’ bodies and their relationship to their owners and the environment. It is not what I think is wrong but what the patient has shown me is out of balance.
Along the same vein, there is not the need to live up to a labelled identity either. I am who I am regardless of my ancestry. My mother once told me that it doesn’t matter what other people think of my chosen area of work, as long as I believe in what I do, it is enough.
I am Chinese, Australian and an Integrative veterinarian
My journey into my ‘Chineseness’ took another step forward when I went back to study Mandarin as an adult. My teacher opened my eyes to my culture. I wasn’t strange, I wasn’t ‘not like normal people’. The things I did, what I believed in and the buttons that pushed me were often part of a long heritage of being ‘Chinese’. I was one among more than 1.4 billion, the medicine that I practice dating back more than 2000 years old. I could embrace this, empower myself and move forward. Mine is a journey of a Chinese brought up in a western culture and a traditional medicine practitioner taught in a western medicine paradigm. The result is an ‘asian fusion’ that can offer so much more to my patients, my life and my children.