25 Innovative Technology Companies Showcase Talent and Celebrate Community At NextBC

On May 15, the top 25 tech companies in BC gathered together on the second-floor concourse of The Telus World of Science to showcase their latest innovative breakthrough and to celebrate the influencers and visionaries of the future.

NextBC, presented by DigiBC, the Digital Media and Wireless Association of BC, invited out a diverse collection of game/life-changing companies, from experienced money managing tools [Payfirma] to digital health advances [Conquer Mobile] to HD cameras in the exosphere, shooting perfect images of the Earth [Urthecast].

“At DigiBC we recognize that technology is changing our lives in so many ways,” said Howard Donaldson, President of DigiBC. “Our objective is to promote innovation and that is really what inspired this event.”

NextBC was designed not only as a conference with keynote speakers and panelists, but also as an award show, highlighting the company that has excelled and continues to show great potential.

The top 25 companies, at the end of the night, were chiseled down to five. From there a panel of judges were selected to ask important questions that focuses on four factors that include; breakthrough or rapidly advancing technology, the potential for broad impact, the potential for significant economical impact, and disruptive impact that transform how people work and live. The five companies chosen were: General Fusion, D-Wave Systems, Avigilon, Urthecast and CapTherm Systems.

 

How many years from commercialization do you think you are?

“Eight years,” responded General Fusion’s representative. “We want to build a power plant; that is not something you can whisk up in an afternoon.”

“Hopefully in the next few years we’ll demonstrate the physics that the power plant is based on, which when we compress this very hot gas, we can make fusion energy,” he continued. “Demonstrating that will take around two years, but this will not be a power plant, this will be a test that can show that it can be done. After that we need to build a piece of hardware, which will take some years and a lot of money, and just raising the money will be difficult to build a power plant like that.”

 

What is disruptive about your business model?

“We have the ability to stream data from space in utterly new and innovative ways, disrupting how it was done for everyone else,” said Urthecast’s representative. “We can democratize the view of Earth for free for anyone with Internet connection. That free platform that we put out to everyone in the world allows us to generate huge numbers of eyeballs. And those eyeballs can in turn be monetized much like the classic model of Internet companies.”

“I’m happy to say that we are very profitable,” said Avigilon’s representative, “and we are the fastest growing software company in North America. We go to market through certified Avigilon dealers. We directly sell to them and they sell to stadiums, transportations, etc. That’s pretty disruptive because a lot of our competitors mass produce to market distributors, and they dilute their product and their pricing model.”

 

Why are you here in Vancouver?

“From a national level, the support for research and development in Canada is second to none,” said CapTherm’s representative. “We feel really fortunate for the support we received from national research councils and scientific research and experimental development. We do utilize the ETC tax credits, we got a substantial portion off the pie last year and overall I couldn’t find a better place to run the company out of.”

“As you might imagine quantum mechanics take some pretty smart people to do what we are doing,” said D-Wave System’s representative. “So when we started the company here, we were able to attract some of the world’s best physicists to work on the dream that we had. People have come from all around the world: a lot of European countries, all over the States and across Canada. They always had this dream and that’s why they are here.”

When it was all said and done, the tension had built and the drum roll had fizzled out, General Fusion was awarded the Gold honours, D-Wave System with the Silver and Avigilon with the Bronze—and Fusion Pipe Software Solutions took the People’s Choice Award.

Ricepaper Magazine Exclusive: Poet and Musician Janice Lee

Filmed and Edited by Elliot Chan for Ricepaper Magazine. April 15, 2014

What is slam poetry and why is spoken word important to our own social understanding? 

 

Ricepaper Magazine sits down with Asian-Canadian poet, song writer and community organizer, Janice Lee at a house show in Vancouver. The Kitchener-Waterloo native discusses the power of spoken word and music, and her role in YouthCanSlam 2014 and CBC Searchlight Competition.

For more on Janice and where she may be performing next, check out her website: http://janicejolee.ca

Hotspots for happy campers

Parks Canada introduces Wi-Fi

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Originally published in the Other Press. May 5, 2o14

Canadians live for the wilderness, especially British Columbians. We anticipate our camping trips all winter long, and for many it’s our vacation from a stressful urban life. We want to escape our emails, our social media, and anything else linking us back to our offices and desks. Camping brings us back to the majesty of nature—and there is nothing natural about Wi-Fi.

The current initiative by Parks Canada is to install Internet into 150 national parks locations over the course of three years. While some spots will offer the Wi-Fi for free, others will charge a fee—either way, it is implemented so that visitors can stay connected with all their worries back home. How wonderful, right?

For those like me, who work mainly from the computer, having accessible Internet everywhere is a great commodity. But do I want to do work while I’m camping? Hell no! I always have this romantic idea of taking my work on vacation and doing it in the midst of travelling. I believe that type of work ethic is harmful to both the product and the worker. Separating work and play is essential to living a happy, healthy life. “I’m going camping” should still be a valid excuse for a break, even if Wi-Fi is available.

It is true that we are becoming addicted to our mobile devices, laptops, and other technology. Whether we are on social media or we are playing games, technology has proven that we no longer need to go outside or even converse with real life human beings. One can live perfectly happily from the confines of their home or office. If you think Wi-Fi in parks are going to get people outside, then you have missed the whole reason for being outside.

Going out into nature should be an opportunity to reconnect not with your digital devices, but with the world around you—the world you probably forgot while you were busy studying for your finals, or working overtime, or simply doing other things. There is a lot to see out there and you might miss something because you were too busy looking down at your phone.

Technology is excellent for bringing people together, but once people are together—at camp grounds for example—then it’s best to spend some quality time with them and not worry about others far away; there will be time for them later.

Parks Canada has stressed that there will be many places in the back country where Wi-Fi will probably never be enabled. That’s good, but the fact that so many outdoor locations will have accessible Wi-Fi scares me. What if one day Wi-Fi disappears and we can’t YouTube a video on how to build a fire or set up a tent? What will happen when we aren’t able to get lost in the beauty of Canada? What makes us Canadians great is the fact that we are survivors in the wilderness. Take pride in having a weekend where you go to the bathroom in the bushes, or cook meals from a can, or log off of the Internet, because in a world where we can take it or leave it, it’s always harder to leave it. Better memories go to those who take risks, so be a courageous camper and power off.

Bad Data, a Usability Gap, and the State of the Wearable Economy

Consumers demand the most out of their wearables. From the days of simple prescription-reading glasses to the Google Glass of the present—if it’s going to exist, it needs to work seamlessly with our lifestyle. But at this early stage, consumers may be expecting a sophisticated Xbox One when their wearables are at an adolescent-Atari stage.

During Wearable Wednesday Vancouver on April 23, moderator, Redg Snodgrass CEO of Wearable World, a couple groups of panelists and a large crowd of innovators, entrepreneurs, designers and investors gathered together to discuss the state of the wearable economy.

While some big companies, such as Nike are bowing out of the wearable-tech arms race, the doors are open for smaller companies to make the next innovative leap.

“The fact that Nike is leaving this market is a compliment to the market,” said Nikola Obrknezev, Technology and Partnership Lead at Fatigue Science. “Consumers are telling the manufacturers what they want and what they don’t want. It is our belief that wearable devices are going onto a platform, be it the iWatch, Android or Samsung. So they are going to build within an ecosystem. I mean [Apple’s CEO] Tim Cook wears a Nike Fuelband; he sits on the board—the fact that [Nike is] getting rid of the hardware team—they didn’t say anything about the software team. Who knows what they are building behind the scenes.”

While wearable developers are transitioning from constructing hardware to creating platforms, the ecosystem shifts into the next phase as data accumulates. But the challenges and the model of development remains the same: prototype, measure and learn.

“Putting something on a person’s wrist—making something that they are actually going to wear—is incredibly complex,” Liz Dixon, CEO of MIO added. “I think people get hammered all the time for making technology that is far too complex to use. Nobody likes to read instructions.”

There is a general public demand for wearables, we can all use another innovative way to communicate, etc. But there is also a demand for wearables in a niche market that includes security and medical. Mike Morrow, CEO of CommandWear, is seeing a lot of potential for technological growth between different sectors.

“Once we know that police and security buy into it and start using it—guess who they work with: Fire, EMS, medical, industries, utilities and on and on, and it grows,” said Morrow. “Of course, as we grow we capture the attention of the big boys. We are already working with Motorola for example. They are more focused on the backend systems, they’re in with police, and they are interested in the big data and analytics side of this business. They are hungry for data feeds from the field.”

Still the gap between innovative technologies, integration between platforms and devices and the usability is one that will take time to close. And it cannot be done when marketable and actionable dishonestly occurs, a mistake that many pioneering manufacturers made.

“Right now we have a lot of devices out there that are being marketed as doing A, B, C, D and—people look at it and say ‘Wow, I really want that,'” said Bayan Vandrico, Lead Researcher and Hardware Engineer at Vandrico. “But they buy it and realize it wasn’t really what they thought it was. That’s because those products aren’t really actionable.”

Collecting data is one thing, turning that data into something useful is another. If a wearable device wants to stay on our wrist or on our face it must serve a greater purpose than telling us how many steps we take or how much we sleep. If our habits don’t change, then the wearables have to.

But with so much data entering the ecosystem, distorted information is blended in with the accurate ones. Tracking location is an example of something that sounds so simple in a technological sense, but is incredibly complicated in a data-heavy ecosystem. It has evolved significantly since GPS tracking to cell tower triangulations to WiFi RSSI and advancements still continues.

“To me the trajectory is figuring out the broad solution,” said Shane Luke, Chief Product Officer at Recon Instruments, “and having someone that really focuses on that problem. It’s okay for it to take awhile; you can still do a lot, even with data that is not quite right.”

Luke added, “It’s an important principal, if you are in this space and you are building stuff, to look around at what others are doing and what they spend all their time on. They are going to do it better than you if you only spend 25% of your time on it, guaranteed.”

Wearable tech currently stands on the threshold of something very exciting. With so much new data, ideas, devices and platforms appearing in the local, national and global economy, partnerships are bound to take the state of wearables to the next level—a stage where wearables will be of the time and not a relic of technological trial and error.

Nir Eyal Advises Canadian Entrepreneurs to Develop Habits, Not Addictions

Posted by Elliot Chan on Apr 23, 2014
Formerly published in Techvibes Media.

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On April 16, author and entrepreneur Nir Eyal approached an intimate group of Vancouver entrepreneur with a series of important questions. As a part of the Hooked Workshop sponsored by Work At Play, Eyal explored the concept of habits and addictions in regards to technology. Then he asked us all questions that steered us in the direction of creating habit-forming technology:

“Is your product a vitamin or a painkiller?” Eyal asked. “People want to invest in painkillers. Because painkillers address a burning need. They stop the user’s pain. They have a quantifiable market, they address a clear need and investors want to hear that your product is addressing a painkiller. As oppose to a vitamin—vitamins are ‘nice to haves.’ We don’t know if that vitamin we are taking every morning is actually doing its job.”

Technology is a part of our lifestyle now, whether it is built to alleviate pain or to generate pleasure. But what caused us to Google without considering the alternatives or to log onto Facebook when we should actually be getting work done? According to Eyal, there is only two reason we formed those habits: the frequency of use and the change in attitude. As a business model, that is a good thing.

“First, habits create higher customer lifetime value,” said Eyal. “If a customer uses our product for a longer period of time, then suffice it to say, they are also adding to our bottom line.” Then he added, “Second, we have greater pricing flexibility if the customer forms a habit. So when a user depends upon a product and it becomes a part of their normal routine, we have greater flexibility in changing our pricing structure.”

Growth is vital to a company’s success, but going viral—but being unable to engage customers—turns your company into a “leaky bucket business.” A product must keep customers coming back and through that consistent use, they can’t help but develop a slight loyalty to the product.

Why do we use Google? Because it’s the best right? Not necessarily—stripped of logos and banners, most people can’t even tell the difference between Google and the number-two search engine, Bing. But since we have been using Google for so long, we make ourselves believe that it must be better, because why would we use an inferior product, right? That is how strong habit-forming technology increases defensibility against competitors.

Eyal presented to the crowd the Hook Model, an infinity sign with arrows starting from the top left corner and looping around in a figure eight. This model is designed to assist entrepreneurs and designers aiming to create a habit-forming product, with the hypothesizing process of building a prototype. The Hook Model consists of four phases: Trigger, action, reward and investment.

Eyal quotes the co-creator of Twitter, Jack Dorsey at this point as he explains the method of understanding internal and external triggers of a customer. “[If] you want to build a product that is relevant to folks, you need to put yourself in their shoes and you need to write a story from their side.” So why is someone using your product? What is the trigger? How do you make them use your product as a solution?

According to BJ Fogg, behaviours occur when there is a motivation, an ability to act and a trigger that enables the action to occur. “Here is a key question for us considering how we design our products,” Eyal said. “Should designers move motivation or ability first?” The answer might not be obvious, but Eyal strongly encourages us to move ability first. Making things easier for consumer is always a plus if you want them to do something.

After the action is completed, the user will anticipate the reward. You search Google, you sit and wait for the results to pop up—perhaps your search is over, perhaps you are not so lucky and you need another keyword. “The unknown is fascinating,” said Eyal. That is why we read books, watch sporting events and develop relationships. Variability is a good thing and it helps increase the reward factor for customers.

At last we reach the investment phase of the Hook Model. At this point Eyal suggested that we all consider how we can get costumers to invest in our product after feeling the reward. How do we get them invested? “The investment phase stores value and improves the product with use,” said Eyal. “Because unlike products in the physical world: laptops, phone, the furniture in your house, your car. All these things in the physical world depreciate over time. The more you use them the less valuable they become. They age. However, habit-forming technology, when done correctly have the opportunity to appreciate. The more we use it the better it becomes.”

For example, the larger our library is in iTunes, the more value it has. The more followers we have on Twitter, the more visible our tweets become. And the more we comment on Quora and get up-voted, the more legitimate we are.

So for your next product consider the customer’s daily usage, the habit they’ve formed and the Hook Model Eyal presented in guiding your product into the lives of millions.

Sweetening the deal with a ‘honey’

Microsoft offers PC users $100 to upgrade

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. April 1, 2014

Marketing ploys by big name companies are nothing uncommon. We get coupons, discounts, and bargains all the time—if we look for them. So it seems that Microsoft’s recent incentive for consumers is nothing to go crazy about, right? Right. In fact, their $100 store credit seems more like  bait than a real great deal.

Until June 15, Microsoft will be offering current Windows XP users a $100 discount to upgrade to the new Windows 8.1 computer. In other words, Microsoft wants users to continue spending money on their new products instead of riding out their old ones.

This marketing strategy is similar to their console-war strategy earlier this year, when the PlayStation 4 was duking it out with the Xbox One for gaming supremacy. PlayStation owners can go to a Microsoft dealership and exchange their PS4 for a Xbox One and receive a $100 off. For financially strapped individuals, this may sound like a great deal, but on a closer look, you’ll realize that you would just be paying roughly the same amount for the Xbox One as you had for a PS4 (approximately $500).

We often shun and make fun of those who have inferior technology, as if high-end and new electronics are a status symbol worthy of pride. Computers are built to break, like cellphones, automobiles, and microwaves. Yet, computers are one of those things where we, as a society, don’t say, “If it ain’t broke… yadda yadda!”

Right now, my iPhone is telling me to update my software, while my MacBook Pro is informing me that there is a new OS X update available (whatever that means). I don’t want to update. I updated last week, last month, last year—just let me use my computer without forcing me to restart it. It’s not broken; you don’t need to fix it!

Know this: it’s not worth keeping pace with such minor advancements when we live in a world where today’s state-of-the-art technology is tomorrow’s laughable artifact. There will always be a newer version of whatever.

Don’t be swayed to pay extra fees to upgrade, unless it’s something you actually want, it’s at your convenience, or it’s absolutely necessary. We all want the newest version of whatever, and we all want the top-of-the-line products in our house, but purchasing blindly, just because it’s financially appealing, is not the right move.

Microsoft wants to tell you that your old computer is out of fashion. Well, Microsoft doesn’t understand that we aren’t all crazy about the latest updates and computers—we just need them to be working properly. Sure, the $100 is a nice thank you for your loyalty and that should be commended. But why not just offer that $100 into improving what is already working instead of forcing the user to buy a new $599 to $2,299 computer?

The new Windows 8.1 might be newer and shinier, but after 13 years of using the same operating system, you can’t just lure consumers out with a little bribe.

Game On In Vancouver: Videogame Industry Finds Comfort In Hollywood North

Posted by Elliot Chan on Mar 14, 2014
Formerly published in Techvibes Media.
For a while there, it seemed as though BC’s insubstantial tax credits and the immergence of the mobile gaming industry were causing many Vancouver-based video game developers to lose their jobs. Big name developers such as Microsoft, Radical Entertainment, Walt Disney Co., Propoganda Games and Rockstar Games were rather laying off employees or relocating.

But now in 2014, the digital industry fostered by “Hollywood North” is ready to win back game creators.

Earning the trust of Japan and Silicon Valley was the key to Vancouver’s come back. The exodus of some big name console developers made room for external developers to move in, namely from the East—no, not Toronto, but Japan. In the past year, more than a handful of the top Japanese game developing companies took up camp in Vancouver, including Namco Bandai, Capcom and DeNa Co. These foreign gaming giants are claiming that Vancouver is a perfect hub to do domestic and international business.

For one thing, Vancouver is in the same time zone as San Francisco, another location teeming with videogame innovation and talents. That made communicating between headquarters more convenient—while a non-stop flight from Japan to Vancouver was only a mere 10 hours—thus establishing a global network of gamers and developers.

The second is the consolidation of console games and the “freemium” model of mobile games had forced many gaming companies to seek assistance from local developers. Japanese developers aren’t exactly coming in and rehashing their successful products to the North American market, no, in fact, the objective is to take what has been working in the East and build upon it here and market it in a different way to an audience that has their own distinctive gaming culture.

The accessible geographical location and the healthy breeding of skilled gaming contractor have made Vancouver a hotbed for an industry constantly adapting to new technology. At the end of 2013, Entertainment Software Association of Canada reported that there were now 67 video game companies in British Columbia, behind Quebec and Ontario by approximately 30. British Columbia has 5,150 employees, in relation to the 16,500 that work in the country. With earnings of $2.4 billion annually, Canada holds the spot for the third largest video game industry, behind, you guessed it, Japan and the United States. Famous game developer Namco Bandai announced, after establishing The Centre of Digital Media in Vancouver, that it will strive to develop new online social games.

With all that being said, videogames in Canada are neither a dying art nor a dying industry. Gamers want more and developers want to create more. Studios, both local and international, are constantly seeking talented people with video game design and development, 3D modeling, animation, computer graphics background to help shape the future of video games.

Yes, that landscape of games is indeed changing. But whether it is on the plasma screen or on the smartphone screen, Vancouver is right in the mix in terms of innovating, developing, and influencing the next phase of gaming.

How the Sacred Movie-watching Experience Survived the First Round of Extinction

When I graduated from film school in 2008, the landscape of the entertainment industry was changing, morphing with the technology and trying to catch up to new innovations.

Young filmmakers, like myself, anticipated the expiration of television and were just starting to accept all that YouTube had to offer. Meanwhile, grand cinematic spectacles were calling attention, i.e. Avatar in 3D. Yes, it seems as though there was going to be a whole spectrum of viewing habits.

But will movie watching experience be as sacred as church? Or was it going to be a secular pastime, one we try to catch up on like talking to an old friend at a party or a novel on our nightstand?

Inspired by the recent Oscars, I give you the five nominated movie-watching experiences as voted by me—nope, not movies, but movie watching experiences.

NETFLIX

For a while Canadians were reluctant to subscribe to Netflix, mostly out of envy—subscribers from the States were getting more than three times the content—but the on-demand-movie-and-television service suggested that if more people join Netflix, the more content it can generate, both by hammering out legalities through traditional licensing models and by producing their own shows.

House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Arrested Development won many viewers over, and once they got hooked to the binge watching lure of Netflix—it’s not so easy to quit.

TORRENT/STREAMING

The pirated movie and television distribution market is competitive market, albeit an illegal and risky market. With memories of Megaupload still fresh in many downloaders and streamers’ mind, this well-known paradigm is still one that most are treading lightly on.

While many consider this method to be a hassle, others consider it the most reasonable. Viewers are paying by sending traffic to the hosting sites, dealing with pop-up ads and the occasional glitches in download and streams. “Just let it buffer!”

The “no honour among thieves” mentality lives on in this movie watching experience that have existed since the dawn of the digital era. As long as the leaches and seeders continue feeding off of each other, this category will not disappear anytime soon to the chagrin of the big media companies.

APPLE TV and WEB-ENABLED TELEVISION

Bridging the gap from your phone and computer to the television—this relatively new all-in-one model is bringing viewers back to the couch. At least that was the plan.

Unfortunately I don’t know many people who use Apple TV, or even consider getting it. The living room battleground is a tough one to win, even for a trusted brand like Apple. After all, just look at all the different boxes and consoles you have under the television. Needless to say, there is still a lot of convincing needed to prove that cable is obsolete and that the video game consoles won’t suffice. But I think that is just a matter of time.

REDBOX

Since the closure of many video rental stores, Redbox have been the alternative. Standing tall, proud and unobtrusively at a grocery store, the video vending machine offers hot new DVD releases the same way ol’ Blockbuster used to. Comforting to many and laughable to some, Redbox fulfills a service that is still in demand.

As a result of having a secret Santa that no longer cared for the physical medium, I received an arm full of DVDs and BluRay last Christmas. I still relish the nostalgia of DVDs. Seems like just yesterday my family was arguing whether to buy a HD DVD player or a BluRay player, I’m still not sure if we made the right decision. Unlike VHS, DVDs have a bit more to offer in terms of bonus features. And they are compatible enough to remain an impulse buy. But being compared to VHS is never a good thing.

MOBILE

We watch movies everywhere: in bed, at work, on the bus, at a coffee shop, on the john and even in the movie theatre waiting for the movie to start. Personally, I can’t watch a three-hour movie the same way I check my Tweets. But content on the go is what the public wants.

Last year’s study by Motorola Mobility’s Fourth Annual Media Engagement Barometer showed that 55% of smartphone or tablet owners have downloaded and stored movies and TV shows onto their devices. There is so much content in the world that if we were to spend every living moment watching something new, we would not do anything else. Mobile devices are fostering that challenge and allowing people to consume on the go, in addition to hoarding content.

As much as filmmakers want to get people into the theatre, they must also consider the other audiences, and choose to whether nurture the new platforms or not. We’ve come a long way in five years—who knows where we’ll be in another.

The recipe for wellness

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Traditional Chinese medicine and the balance of life

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 21, 2014

I grew up with Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). My mother has always been an advocate of it. On various occasions, my house would reek of a bitter, yet familiar odour. On the kitchen stove would be a large pot of miscellaneous herbs, while my mom hovered over it performing Chinese alchemy. Hours later, after the dark tea had stewed for long enough, she would insist that I drink it because (1) it would help me see better, 2) it would give me energy, 3) it would improve my joints, or (4) because she said so. The concoction tasted awful—always—like the Orient’s version of Buckley’s. I’d be coaxed a few more times before I either downed it all or abandoned it.

Many years later I still wonder if it did me any good. Did it make me healthier? Did it really work?

The history of traditional medicine

Over 2,000 years ago, before Advil and Pepto-Bismol were available to combat headaches and upset stomachs, ancient Chinese doctors found remedies in a practice that continues to this day. To call them doctors would be incorrect, though: during the Shang Dynasty (14th–11th century BC), there weren’t any doctors, only those seeking solutions to ailments.

The Chinese saw illness as disharmony between the human form and the world around it. Instead of approaching sickness as a chemical imbalance the way Western medicine does, TCM seeks cures by looking at the functionality of the body. Inspection, auscultation, olfaction, inquiry, and palpation are the five main methods used to diagnose patients. The practitioner does not hone in on one area of the body, but rather attends to the failing functionality in relation to external elements (wind, cold, fire/heat, dampness, dryness). The human form is one entity and any deficiency pertains to the whole body, not just the stomach or the arm or the brain.

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Sweet, sweet herbs

You’ve probably passed by Chinese herbal stores at malls and China Town promenades. Odds are you haven’t had a reason to enter any of them, except to alleviate your curiosity. You’ve peered inside and seen their shelving units and jars upon jars of mystery herbs, extracts, containers of macerated remedies, and fossilized animal carcasses. Such an establishment seems pulled out of the middle ages, just leasing real estate in modern society. Although the effectiveness of herbal therapy is still relatively unproven in 2014, many people live by it.

“People choose traditional medicine because it’s the natural solution,” said Kitty Tsin, employee at the Wah Fung Medicine Company. “You can never be sure how much of what is in pills or capsules. You can’t even be sure what it is. The capsules themselves are made out of gelatine, which isn’t healthy either. The Chinese tradition is that we boil medicine every day and drink the soup as a whole family to improve health. Capsules, tablets, and pills are only meant for individuals.”

TCM comes in a wide variety. Some have little effect, and function only as delicacies. Others are rare and exotic, and have been known to enhance the immune system, in addition to aiding the sickly.

Some common medicines are ginseng (used in many forms to provide energy, reduce the risk of cancer, and even treat erectile dysfunction), sea cucumber (has a property that helps treat arthritis and high blood pressure), and fritillary bulb (can be brewed as a tea to remedy coughs).

Rarer medicine can often cost hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars, and they may be more obscure. Examples include hasma, the fallopian tubes of frogs (known to revitalize internal organs, as well as enhance complexion); and cordyceps, a highly sought-after fungus, also known as the caterpillar fungus (can reduce the effects of asthma, reduce the risk of cancer, and balance out a person’s yin and yang).

The Chinese notion regarding health is based upon the importance of illness mitigation and prevention. While Western medicine tends to focus on treatment, TCM approaches well-being as a life-long pursuit.

Hokey-Pokey

In 2010 I sprained my MCL playing hockey. It took me off the ice for six weeks and the recovery process was agonizing. I re-aggravated the injury a few more times and thought it would never heal. I went to doctors and chiropractors, and when I exhausted all my options I consulted an acupuncture therapist. I’m not going to lie, I was quite skeptical—and perhaps a bit fearful—of the process. After all, lying down in a strange room with needles and cups sticking out and sucking on me was not my ideal day.

My acupuncture practitioner, Dr. Duzy Duyong Lee, punctured a hole in my injured knee, then warmed up a glass cup and placed it over the open wound. The objective (from what I remember) was to suck the blood clot out of my knee so that the healing process could start over again. At first the procedure seemed a bit farfetched—after all, the family doctors and chiropractors merely told me to wear a brace and stay off my leg. It’s hard to say which solution cured me in the end, but now I’m walking and skating just fine.

“The skin acts as a meridian to our organs,” said Bonalife Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Clinic’s Dr. David Kuo. “I don’t touch the organ, but I touch the meridian; I use this meridian to adjust the organ.”

Acupuncture stems from the meridian system, a technique that addresses the human’s functionality and the flow of “qi” or life-energy. Qi includes the body’s circulation, the capability of the limbs, the defence against pathogenic factors, the emission of bodily fluids (urine, sweat, blood, etc.), and the intake of nutrients (food, air, water, etc.). By recognizing the body’s stimulation points, the practitioner can effectively correct the imbalance and restore the flow.

“Every part of your body has a function,” said Dr. Kuo. “When someone coughs, it’s not a coughing problem. There is something inside that is making you uncomfortable that makes you cough. I ask my patients why they are tired. They say, ‘Oh, I’m sick,’ Why are you sick? ‘Because I have a stomachache so I cannot eat and so I’m tired.’ Western medicine hears stomachache, they give you antibiotics—sometimes it’s right—but it’s always wrong. What do antibiotics do? It makes stomachache go away, but when antibiotic goes away, the problem returns. We need to understand the problem, not just the cure.”

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The future of traditional medicine

As our technology advances, so do bacteria and viruses. Vaccines, immunizations, and hospital treatments are tackling health with science, but can they ever snuff out the holistic approach of TCM?

A recent report in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that traditional medicine still has great potential in the Western world as well as the East, and it might be a solution for those with diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Tianqi, a Chinese herbal mixture that has been shown to improve glucose levels, was the TCM up for the test. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, a sample of 389 people suffering from impaired glucose tolerance participated, where 198 were offered Tianqi and 191 were offered a placebo. The study showed that Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes by 32.1 per cent. Of those in the Tianqi sample, 63.1 per cent reached normal glucose tolerance, compared to 46.6 per cent of the placebo group.

Many are starting to buy into TCM, making it a profitable market. And the modern science and medicine communities are implementing more studies to identify quality methods of treatment in relation to their own practices.

We live in a world where we are on the edge of medical breakthroughs and global pandemics. Our conditions are getting better and worse—but there is no room to panic. Instead, we should all take the time and find the necessary balance; the recipe that TCM has been cooking up for millennia.