Objects That Talk! | In Conversation: Megan Chen with Carol Yin

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4 issue #0

In conversation: Megan Chen

with Carol Yin on why she continues to believe in Chinese Medicine, even with no reason to at all.

Carol's own personal cupping kit

J Sunday, March 15, 2020 · Megan Chen and Carol Yin Megan: What is cupping? Carol: Cupping is a form of traditional form of chinese medicine practice. Cupping is a process in which you take several small glass cups and use them to create tight suction vacuums onto one’s body. This suction leads to a superficial bruise ¹ due to broken capillaries, which promotes circulation to the site of injury that is being treated since more blood reaches one area to promote healing. Alongside the basic foundational practice of cupping, there is also fire cupping – a process that is very much the same, but done with fire – wet cupping, and dry cupping. I was introduced to cupping by my mother at a really young age. It’s interesting on one aspect because my mom is and has always been very gung ho about traditional chinese practices & medicines, but I’ve grown up to be someone who is studying to be a medical professional – many of my medicinal beliefs are backed by what I think of as “real science” steeped in facts and numbers, not supposed pressure points and energies. Therefore, I can say confidently that fire cupping has no scientific method to back it up. It’s interesting how cupping is supposed to take away “yin” , when you have too much of yin or yang – one or another – you have to do certain things or eat certain foods etc. to regain balance in your yin and yang. That’s why there are foods that are seen as “hot” and foods that are “cold”. Cupping, therefore, is a practice that is seen as being able to balance out the yin and yang. If you’re harvesting a lot of bad energy in your body, then the bruise that the cupping makes is believed to be darker, the colour of the bruises will also indicate which parts of your body is having the most issues. Cupping in western medicine is used as a massage, which is very different from its original associations. I think culturally too, we also see pain very differently.

Megan: I think I agree with you and can relate with my fascination around how different cultures see the cycle of life and death. I think it’s always worth noting the differences in how we position death as well.

Chinese people don’t want to hold on to any mementos of any sort from dead loved ones, in fear that it’ll ground them to the earthly realm and hinder them from transcending into the spirit realm. I remember when my dog passed away ( he was really close to my mom especially, just so you know), my initial reaction was to keep some of his fur in a locket of some sort, to keep a part of him with me at all times; my mother, of course, chastised me quickly and told me that if I truly loved him deeply, I would let go of this selfish tendency to “hold onto him” and let him move on fully, no matter how sad and hard it was. Carol: In the western world, pain is something to be medicated quickly; whereas in some cultures, pain is just a natural part of life. When you pass on you are pain free. My mother has always been perplexed by how quick people are to medicate for the “smallest inconvenience”. In her mind, if it’s pain that you can stand, then why should you suppress it? Pain to my mother is the indication that something is wrong, but by taking pain medication you’re covering that warning sign. That’s where this slight fear of hers comes from I think: Western medicine is treating the symptoms, whereas chinese medicine treats the root causes.

Megan: Why did you choose this object? It’s interesting that you bring that up right off the bat: the fact that you and your mom have polar opposite belief systems when it comes to medicinal practices. Why do you think that’s an important aspect to take note of ? Carol: I think I chose this object because in a way, the ritual of cupping, represented me and the way I felt growing up as a Chinese immigrant, I connected to it. Cupping is a very traditional and old form of Chinese medicine that wasn’t really accepted until most recent years

In conversation: Megan chen with carol yin

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since cupping wasn’t really popularized until Michael Phelps used it; to me, this just showcases an endless cycle that I saw a lot of growing up: aspects of my chinese culture that would otherwise be branded as horrifying or weird were only accepted by others when they were approved by the western population. Cupping then became the cool new thing to do for big star athletes and lululemon wearing moms in Kerrisdale. Growing up, when I had cupping done on me, my mother would even tell me to be careful not to show it to people at school, “ they might think it’s from us beating you, not cupping treatment...” Now, I don’t think I ever have to explain to anyone my cupping marks. For some reason, I just can’t let go of cupping even though I know it’s not scientific. In fact, I still believe largely in Chinese medicine at times. If a white person asked me why, I would explain it scientifically “why” it worked: the whole spiel about superficial bruises drawing more blood to the area of injury etc. But if my or someone else asked me to practice cupping on them, I would pull out a traditional pressure point chart ³ and use that to see which parts would need to be tackled in order to promote healing.

Megan: What was it like when you first moved here? Carol: I got bullied a lot, more so by the teachers than the kids. I came midschool year, started in November actually, and it was all just a brand new slate when I got to school; no english, no nothing, so it was really difficult for me to catch up in my classes. Some of my clearest memories from that time would be my mom taking me to the library where I would read a picture book a day with her to try to improve my english.

Megan: Amidst all this, what were your feelings towards your cultural identity? Towards your Chinese culture more specifically. For me, I have strong memories of being incredibly annoyed and even embarrassed by how “ Chinese” I was. Being super “white-washed” was something of a gold star for me

1.) superficial bruises caused by cupping methods 2.) Michael Phelps and his cupping bruises



back in the day, I think. Did you feel the same way as well? Carol: That’s interesting, because I feel for me it was the exact opposite of that. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t born here like you, but immigrated here. I remember my mom would try really hard to do things so that I could “fit in” with the other kids. She would pack me little mayo + cheese sandwhiches cut into triangles, lunches that characters in cartoons and storybooks would have, even though I didn’t request any of that – in fact, I really hated those sandwiches and would have much preferred rice or noodles. I didn’t really want to immerse myself in “canadian culture” until I was in grade 5 I think – the year I realized I was being ostracized for being too asian. That was also when I became a bit envious of people who were “white-washed asian kids”, kids who were like fifth generation, kids like you who were very “white” already!

Megan: Hmm...being too asian. That’s an interesting thing you bring up because I feel like I definitely felt that way too, well into high school as well actually. It’s funny how that works, I remember plenty of other kids with black hair and brown eyes, who were all lumped together under the umbrella category of “asian” defined by certain aspects of our composure and stereotypes etc. I also understand what you’re talking about too, about me being “white-washed”. I have really strong memories of being proud, in a sense, of how “white” I was. For the longest time, I always just thought of myself as Canadian, and it wasn’t until I became older that I really began to think of myself as “Taiwanese-Canadian”. I didn’t

A booklet that came with Carol's personal cupping kit. This is a traditional pressure point chart.


A sweater that Carol's dad brought back for her from China

“Sometimes, I catch myself feeling ashamed of being Chinese.” want to be associated with being “chinese” at all in elementary school since that was so uncool, and I tried my hardest to do all the things the other white kids were doing. Carol: That definitely happened to me too. In fact, kids would be quick to point out things that made me super embarrassed. I had a jacket that my dad bought for me from china ( side note: have you noticed that places like China and Taiwan always have clothing that has the weirdest graphics and slogans on them?!) that had a big ass pink barbie logo on it, it was horrifying. One time, my dad packed me chicken nuggets for lunch but with chopsticks and not forks, which some girl in my class pointed out... I found a lot of comfort being around people who were extremely “chinese” back then. I feel like at one point I definitely moved on to being more “canadian-ized”. I used to hang out with this girl in my class for the longest time because I could see she was just as chinese as I was (whatever that means), and at some point, I stopped and didn’t feel comfortable hanging out with her because she was so different and it was so clear to me in what ways. Even now, I find that at times I am very proud of how I can speak chinese to my parents, but at some moments I will only speak in english to demonstrate almost how “white” I am – as if that was something huge to celebrate, rather than being Chinese.

Megan: Did you ever feel this sense of protectiveness towards your mom as a kid? That’s a super specific question, I know, but the only reason I’m asking is because as a child, I certainly felt a degree of protectiveness towards my parents. I think this just stems from witnessing my parents struggle with English in everyday life. I remember being a kid and having to order at the Tim Hortons Drive Thru for my parents if it was a long order that extended

beyond just ordering a small coffee double double, or having to attend doctor / diabetes specialists appointments with my mom and acting as an interpreter – translating what the doctor was saying to her ⁴, but also translating my mother’s responses back to the doctor – struggling to find words for complex medical conditions and/ or symptoms. In fact, I would always have this waking nightmare that I would translate something improperly and it would be a crucial piece of information, a mistake which would eventually lead to my mother’s death...All this sort of culminated into a type of stress for me as a child, and resulted in me being constantly worried that my parents weren’t getting what they needed or something due to the language barriers they faced, it made me simultaneously panicked and fiercely protective of them. Did you ever experience anything like that? Carol: I think for me, I was more annoyed that I had to translate things, like at restaurants I have to translate the menu and order for us. I remembered when we moved to my current house, in grade 4, my dad took me to Canadian Tire and wanted me to translate for them so that they could buy a lightbulb for a car. I didn’t know how to say “van” or “lightbulb” in english even, but they brought me anyway because I had more of a grasp on english than they did. Even now, my mom would ask me to look at her tax forms to translate it, which I still don’t even fully understand myself... There was this other incident where my dad had really wanted to return something at costco, but he needed me to go with him to explain to the customer service desk the situation. We got into this weird little argument about it, becuase I really wanted to just stay

Foreword: how do objects talk? · megan chen


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at home and in the end, I just didn’t go with them. When he came back, he was more angry because he had to “look stupid” and fumble around I guess. I just feel like other kids would never be asked to do any of this. I hated the fact that, as a child, I was exposed early on to my family’s burdens. Like even when we took a family vacation to the Dominican Republic, the expected me to know and translate everything. I’m just sitting here like, everything here is in a different language for me too, how am I expected to anything!? I don’t know, I get quite mad when this happens still. I think when I was little, it was just this sense of: you’re the adult and I’m not. I’m the child, you’re supposed to be taking care of me.

Megan: Is your cultural identity something that you think about today to some capacity? Why or why not? Carol: My struggle now in the present, is more so with my identity. Sometimes, I catch myself feeling ashamed of being chinese. Looking at new immigrants, I find myself thinking “why were they not taught anything about the western culture before coming here?” which I recognize immediately as being unfair, since I didn’t know anything at all when I first came over to Canada. My other friend, whose parents are also Chinese immigrants, is able to connect with me on the struggles we face with our parents. She talks a lot about her parents are always trying to have a say in her relationship, even though she’s 25. She grew up in Squamish, surrounded by white people, so the response she usually gets from them is “ Oh, you just have to talk it through with your parents, that’s what I do! Communication is key.”

Megan: Can we just pause for a second here so that I can say how I fully relate to your friend’s sense of frustration with her white friends here? Growing up, that was definitely the response I got to any of my complaints surrounding my overprotective parents. It’s so hard trying to explain to someone how communication in traditional immigrant families of Chinese background is just so...difficult? I think that’s due to many things, but for me a big part of it was definitely how strict my parents were. I never wanted to tell them anything, because I knew that it would somehow erupt and become a whole “thing” in and of itself...

Carol, age 3 or 4, with both of her parents

march 24 2020 · Vancouver, bc 2

edition of 100

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the editor's desk  2


How can objects talk? And what exactly are they saying?

to be continued  2

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