Over the years, many things Asian have crossed overseas to infiltrate themselves into American fads, but especially those imports having to do with health and well-being have been particularly popular. Feng shui. Acupuncture. Herbal medicine. Yoga. The Asian Diet. All pretty recognizable buzz words. On the TLC, a feng shui expert advises desperate home sellers on how to make their homes as presentable and energetically-positive for prospective buyers on the show “Please Buy My House.” A quick search on Amazon for “Asian Diet” brings up this first hit: “Feed Your Tiger: The Asian Diet Secret for Permanent Weight Loss and Vibrant Health.” Charlotte in “Sex and the City” visits an acupuncturist famed for having the magic touch with women trying to get pregnant – it doesn’t work for her.
There still seems to be a certain mystery surrounding these health fads that more and more Americans are starting to follow, and probably justifiably so. After watching the infomercials for Kinoki footpads, you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous “it’s a miracle!” sort of tone that the narrator takes on while explaining that these foot pads not only come from the far-away land of Japan but will also help cleanse your body of harmful toxins that you, as an American, just are not aware of. The Japanese, however, are very knowledgeable about this and use footpads all the time. The portrayal of Asian people harnessing a sort of secret and ancient knowledge that the hard and cold technology of Western biomedicine cannot crack is not recent. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institute of Health, was established in 1998 and claims to be testing different complementary or alternative methods, such as acupuncture and ginseng, with scientific criteria. The fact remains, however, that Chinese medicine appears to work and the biomedical community cannot come up with a good explanation of how that might be happening. Some doctors recommend their patients to acupuncturists, not fully understanding why it works but knowing that it does, and researchers are investigating different herbal medicines and finding to their surprise that the plants do, indeed, have special properties (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950CE2D7163FF934A15752C1A9619C8B63&scp=2&sq=%22Chinese+medicine%22&st=nyt).
The striking thing about the Asian-influenced healthy lifestyles or medicine is the lingering presence of “otherness,” of being the unconventional way to do something. Even the name “complementary” or “alternative” medicine implies that there is a mainstream and “right” way that will try to swallow an alternative method into its own if they can justify it. Thus, there was and still is a great hesitance to accept Chinese medicine, for example, even though it had been practiced for much longer than biomedicine because it did not fit the socially constructed Western criteria for healing and treating people.
So, it will be interesting to learn more about the history of Asian influences on the American people’s lifestyles and see the current trends in accepting Asian-ness as the smarter, healthier, other choice.