Monday, February 1, 2010

Of Pins and Pigeons

I met up with Cols at Serendra for lunch break. She's been complaining of migraine and her friend recommended she see the acupuncturist at The Spa. I'm not much on "alternative medicine". To me, acupuncture is a bit on the hocus-pocus side. But Cols' friends swear by it so she wanted to give it a try.

Unlike the usual acupuncturist from China who are typically old people, this guy is a Filipino-Chinese about my age. And he's actually a trained. licensed, and formerly, practicing neuro-surgeon. During one of his trips to China, he got curious about the Chinese alternative form of treatment and has since become a convert; preferring the less-invasive Eastern style of medicine over Western.

The session started with him putting his two thumbs on Cols' wrists with her palms facing up. Using his "powers", he seem to have correctly deduced several things. He said that Cols blood is "thick" making it hard to circulate. Because its getting stuck in certain sections of her veins, oxygenated blood is finding it hard to get to her brain -- causing the "migraine" and pain in her "batok".

Cols' blood really IS thick. In fact, her obstetrician made her take blood thinners during her pregnancy with both kids. As to how the acupuncturist was able to figure that out by just touching her veins was impressive. He went on to explain that she does not have enough water content in her blood making it thick also. If he starts telling me what Cols had for lunch by just touching her wrist, I would have fallen backward from my chair.

As Cols went to her cubicle for her session, the doctor chatted with me at the holding area. He explained to me the principles behind acupuncture. All bodies basically have the ability to heal itself. However, we fall out-of-tune with the natural rhythm of things every now and then. What the acupuncture needles do is re-orient or tune you back to the correct "station". And if you have to much heat, it adds cold, and vice versa. Its all about balancing the yin with the yang.

I've been experiencing pain with the sole of my foot so I asked him what he thought about it. He said that its not really my sole but more of the arch. I have to admit -- he's correct there too. He said the problem is my kidneys are weak. He explained that with Western medicine, the most important organ inside the body is the heart. But with Eastern medicine, its the kidneys. The heart does not except pump blood. But the kidney has a lot more function -- from cleaning our blood, to taking away the toxins and flushing them out through urine.

I also told him I've tried acupuncture once before because my palms are always sweaty and so are the soles of my feet. He said, again, its related to my kidneys. The explanation is that the kidneys are like reservoirs. If there's too much water, it "overflows". The overflowing liquid manifests through sweat on my palms and sole. This part takes a bit imagination to accept.

He could tell I was a bit skeptic so he gave several case studies where Eastern medicine supposedly triumphed over traditional Western forms of treatment. One other fact I learned is that a normal person's heart beat about 3 to 4 times within a single breathing cycle. If your heart beats faster than that, you're in trouble!

Cols' treatment lasted about half an hour. Then I got back to work for my next meeting at Mandaluyong. This meeting turned out to be also interesting and informative. It seems that there are these groups of pigeon enthusiasts all over the Philippines. These guys would conduct pigeon races every week. The mechanics is simple. They would all converge in an agreed place. Release their pigeons. Then determine which pigeon flew fastest.

The obvious question is -- how do you determine pigeon flight speed? Well, when you join a pigeon club (of which there are 70+ clubs all over the country), someone from the club will go to your house, which presumably is where you keep the pigeons, and take a GPS reading of your exact coordinates. Then whenever they have a race, they would also take the GPS reading of the place-of-release. Speed is determined by simply getting the distance from the place-of-release and its home (based on GPS readings) and dividing it by the time it took the pigeon to reach home.

The next obvious question is -- how do you then determine the time it took the pigeon to reach home. At the point of release, they would put a tag on the pigeon's foot. The tag has an outer code, and a "scratch-off" area which contains an inner code. At the time of release, the organizer sends an SMS to a particular number which acts as the time server. When the pigeon reaches home, the pigeon owner scratches off the inner code and txt-es it to the time server. The time server verifies the code and determines the time by simply subtracting arrival time from departure time.

What I can't figure out is -- does the owner actually sit out all night at home waiting for the pigeon to arrive? So that they can quickly get the tag; scratch off the code; and SMS it? I mean, what if the pigeon arrives in the middle of the night? Does that mean the owner does not get to SMS the code until the next day?

There is big money involved here. A race can fetch P500k up to P1M if there are several participants. It is not regulated by PAGCOR, even though I think its a form of gambling. The argument is that its treated more as a hobby and that only the owners can participate. This is unlike horse racing or cock-fighting where the audience (who neither own the horse nor the cock) can join and bet.

In any case, the only reason for the meeting is the organizers were looking at alternatives to the SMS-based time server and to discuss whether its something that we can develop for them.

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