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I’ve been burning my way through as many new experiences as I can with these last two months in South Korea. One of those experiences has been getting acupuncture.

In Korea, you can get them at Oriental medicine clinics (in Korean, 한의원) and they are covered by national insurance. Each of my hour-long sessions cost me about 7,000-8,000KRW (USD$7-$8).

On the recommendation of a friend, I tried out two places in my neighborhood. Day after day of “desk warming” and sitting in an unfortunate chair gave me back aches, so I thought I’d check out what they could do about an old problem that always came back.

I knew acupuncture involved needles, but I wasn’t expecting all the other stuff. I wasn’t expecting electric octopus tentacles-looking things to be strapped on my back or the cups and moxibustion. I still to this day don’t understand what the red lamp is supposed to do. I did realize that I’d actually had some of these treatments before, when I had gone to get my ankle checked out.

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(They told me this was “physical therapy.” It looks like an electric octopus sucking on my leg.)

Overall, I thought the treatments were all very restful experiences. I lay on my stomach and drifted between sleep and the waking world. Everything was happening on my back so for the most part, I didn’t see anything. Which is probably a good thing, since the sight of things protruding from your back can be really unsettling. There was only really a couple of times where my brain screamed, “I AM PINNED DOWN BY A GAZILLION NEEDLES STUCK INTO MY BACK.” I apologize to the squeamish who probably just swore off acupuncture from that sentence. I came home, every single time, with a set of impressive looking “tattoos.”

Was it effective? That’s a mixed bag. I’d walk out of the clinic with the original pain gone but with new pain from the treatment to replace it. This would go away and I would feel as good as new. At least, until the next episode with the horrid chairs at work. I suppose the real solution is to get replace the chairs with things that are kinder to my poor back.

Acupuncture was a very interesting experience, and compelling enough that I went four times. The doctors who treated me didn’t speak a great deal of English, which was a shame. I would’ve loved to get a full assessment and tips on how to improve my health from a Oriental medicine perspective. I would definitely want to consider Oriental medicine for treatments for future problems.

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