Sunday, December 20, 2009

Herb Medicine Museum

The weather is bitterly cold but still I must walk to keep at bay the pinched nerves in my back and neck. Walk and freeze, walk and freeze. Was walking near Chegi-dong and remembered there was an herb museum that I had been meaning to visit ... didn't figure any of it was in English (and I was right) but needed to escape the brutal wind. I went inside and the elderly woman greeting the rare visitor grabbed my cold hands and warmed them as she led me to the entrance of the museum .... whereupon I was greeted by an elderly man who escorted me throughout the museum, all the while telling me in Korean, "I'm sorry I don't speak English" while I'm telling him "I'm sorry I need to study more". Ah, he was wonderful as he showed me what he thought I needed to know and as, when I had a question, he would zigzag me through the museum to a display that would visually explain more about my question which he furthered with a simplified explanation ... interspersed with Japanese! [Japanese is the language for group tourism now but he probably learned some in elementary school during colonial times.]

Heo Jun and the Donguibogam
Heo Jun (1539-1615), a royal doctor, is believed to be a father of Korean herbal/traditional medicine. He was commissioned by King Seonjo (1552-1608, Chosun's 14th monarch) to compile the traditional medical philosophies and treatments of East Asia of the time. His 25-volume compilation, Donguibogam, is based on some 80 Chinese medical books and took 10 years to compile; it then took another 3 years to engrave in wood blocks for printing and distribution purposes. The Donguibogam is divided into 5 categories: (1) internal diseases, (2) external diseases and somatology, (3) miscellaneous diseases in gynecology and pediatrics, (4) medicinal decoction [extracting chemicals from mostly plants through boiling], and (5) acupuncture (the body is charted as having 365 points for specific acupucture treatments!). While a vast majority is very enlightening on a very advanced medical system, some of the medical beliefs are certainly to be questioned in modern medicine - examples being, "becoming invisible", "how to see ghosts" and "how to change a fetus from a girl to a boy". There is one, however, I think I must try to alleviate my pinched nerves in my back and neck: "Stiffness of the neck, front or back, is often caused by humidity in the body. A Chinese quince is effective when you cannot move your neck due to tensed muscles."

The Donguibogam was designated in 1991 as Korean's National Treasure #1,085 and as of 2009 the Donguibogam has been accepted as another (Korea's eighth) of UNESCO's Memory of the World Registers. To understand about Heo Jun and his Donguibogam is important for understanding the purpose of the museum.

The Museum Itself
Because Heo Jun is instrumental for starting the theories of body types and what those bodies can eat, the human body has been classified into 4 categories: the taeyangin, soyangin, taeeunmin, and soeunmin. To understand a person's type, the body shape, skills and talents, constant state of mind, personality, mental desires and food affinities must be taken into consideration. The elderly man was a bit surprised I knew about this and asked me what my type was - I told him I THOUGHT I was was a soyangin but didn't know. He showed me a display but there are too many considerations for me to self-diagnose myself accurately. That said, however, according to a traditional medical doctor, nowadays with globalization and access to forces outside the traditional environment, it is very hard if not impossible to accurately categorize people now on the 4 sasang constitutional types.

Inside the museum are huge displays of plant products - 760+ - that have been identified for use in Korean medicinal therapies. Also are minerals and animal products of a much lower count. I noticed there was black rhino horn in one of the displays and that was an item that was very precious but had to be transported across continents to procure. Next to it was a bear's gall bladder, an item that is still used. Even now in Korea are bear farms where bears are caged with ducts put in their gall bladders to drain them; the bile from the gall bladder is very expensive and is regarded as a great restorative. I also asked about tiger parts (hearts, etc) but the elderly man said there were no tiger parts in this museum; when I asked again, he said there were no tiger parts used in medicinal therapies, but I have read about tigers as having great medicinal value, inspiring valor and bravery in men and having superior healing qualities. Anyway, tiger parts were nonexistent in this museum.

The wild ginseng display caught my attention. Wild mountain ginseng was contrasted with Chinese ginseng, domesticated ginseng and one other type. The wild (Korean) mountain ginseng was guestimated to be valued at around $5,000 and it was just a tiny little root! Seeing the ginseng led me to ask about the simmani, the people who petitioned the gods of the mountains for ginseng and prepared their minds and bodies for several days before going up the mountain in search of the wild ginseng. The man took me over to another display of people petitioning the gods of nature as they gathered their medicinal herbs from the mountain for healing their human ailments. The man thinks that the simmani still exist but not as devout mountain petitioners of former times.

1 comment:

  1. The 4 body types probably involve the yin and yang in their classification. My guess and I think I'm right!