Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

aiya Collective: Practicing Better Futures with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): Reclaiming Health in Community

Saturday, May 27, 2023, 1 – 3 PM PDT

Centre A (Zoom Webinar)


Register HERE


Learn ways to support your health and well-being with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), one of the oldest wellness systems in the world. TCM Practitioner, Brenda Le and aiya auntie Wai Ling will guide us into an exploration of how TCM can be a way to cultivate balance and harmony. With a focus on holistic remedies for people who are doing anti-oppression work, we will learn how to build strength and resilience, tap into our inner resources, and nourish our body, mind and spirit with TCM herbology, acupressure, and philosophy. For the diaspora, TCM can be a way to reconnect and honour ancestral traditions. We will look back on the history of how TCM offered glimpses of community care in China in the 20th century and the early formations of Chinatowns. With these two historical references, we explore how TCM can offer ideas to make better futures collectively.


aiya creates spaces to remember the emotional and geographic loss of amiskwaciwâskahikan/edmonton’s chinatown. We are an intergenerational group of artists and Chinatown community members who are seeking to form openings for better futures.

Brenda Le is a Registered Acupuncturist and Dietitian based in Edmonton, Alberta, who runs a practice called Vitamin Qi. She has a passion for helping people restore their health, and her practice is heavily influenced by the traditional knowledge of East Asian Medicine.

Born and raised in Canada, Brenda feels fortunate to have strong ties to her Chinese heritage. She speaks three dialects: Mandarin, Cantonese, and Teochew, which has allowed her to connect more deeply with her cultural background. Growing up, Brenda attended Chinese bilingual schools and frequently visited Chinatown for food, groceries, grandparent visits, classes, and summer camps.

The vibrant Chinatown community has played a significant role in shaping Brenda’s life and career, and she is grateful for the nourishment she receives from returning to her roots. Her keen interest in learning about the history, philosophy, culture, and medicine of East Asia has led her to incorporate traditional practices into her work as an acupuncturist and dietitian.

Wai Ling Lennon is one of aiya’s aunties, a teacher, lifelong active community member, and grandma. For over four years she was the president and a volunteer teacher for Student Volunteers Campus Community (SVCC) at the University of Alberta. Now retired from twenty five years of teaching, she is an Intercultural consultant with Edmonton Public Schools. Some notable projects include: leading an oral history project with the Edmonton Chinese Library Foundation; and with aiya: a key contributor to the “Wishes to the Chinatown Harbin Gate” project and led the “Still in Chinatown” community event. Wai Ling is a sharer of stories, language, and cultural practices. 

Practicing Better Futures with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): Reclaiming Health in Community

By Lee Rayne Lucke with TCM soup recipe by TCM practitioner Tabitha Lin

ni chi fan le ma? / Have you eaten yet?

Four years before the start of the pandemic, I was shopping at a herbal store in Chinatown with Auntie Wai Ling. We were preparing for a gathering to share a Traditional Chinese Medicine soup, “qing bo leung tong”, a soup for clearing, protecting, and cooling the fire. When we drink the soup, we say “yum tong”. The warm soup goes deep into my spirit as if the language of my ancestors is awakening my body, calling forward my body’s inherited wisdom. I remember the love language my culture teaches me: ni chi fan le ma? / “Have you eaten yet?” means I love you and I remember the care my mother gave translated most well with tong/soup and hugs. 

huan tang bu huan yao / A change in form but not in content.

Just as I’ve done since a child, I prepare to take a deep inhale before I walk into the underpass that inadvertently acts as a gateway to Chinatown. Entering into the dim light of the tunnel, my body recalls the smell of urine and I hold my breath as I step over suspicious pools of liquids. The passage walls are textured with writings of declarations of love and longing, punctuated with encouraging words to “stay strong!” I think about the people living above the underpass and the orange banners that were erected on both sides of the bridge “survivors still live here!” during the country’s first “Truth and Reconciliation Day”. Entering daylight at the other end of the tunnel, I exhale.

I feel safe enough, but I plan to move efficiently through Chinatown. In the middle of the pandemic, I was followed and accused of being a carrier of COVID. For blocks they pursued me: taunting, hollering, whistling and pointing. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it is enough to keep me on alert.

Stepping into Hiep Tanh Supermarket, I by chance entered into witnessing an act of care. Against the backdrop of shrines and incense to the deities, a grocery store worker is kneeling to offer a bowl of warm soup to a man who slipped on ice. Here I see evidence of the first reasons for Chinatown’s existence. In its beginnings, Chinatown began as a site of mutual care. When white dominant systems refused care for racialized bodies, we created our own systems of care. Chinese Benevolent Associations and family name associations are legacies of these systems of mutual care. 

The walk through Chinatown shows me that cycles of violence are perpetuated until we can collectively deal with the trauma. Capitalist culture isn’t designed to teach us how to deal with pain. When there is little capacity available to metabolize the hurt within ourselves, blame is shifted onto others. The rise in Asian-hate during the pandemic follows an ongoing historical scapegoating pattern of racializing diseases. Other scapegoating patterns mutate like a virus: Slavery continues to exist in incarceration; Colonial patterns continue with urban displacement. We outsource our pain to other bodies, particularly racialized poor bodies; and Indigenous and Black bodies are on the front lines. 

Violence and care are intertwined in our cities and are a material reflection of our humanity. All of this complex big mess up makes an unholy mix that is concentrated so loudly visible in Chinatown that it cannot be ignored. 

liu de qing shan zai, na pa mei chai shao / If there are trees on the mountain, there is no need to worry about firewood. 

When we are well then we have the capacity and clarity to offer care to our communities.

In these times when the debts of the past are coming due, I’m pulled towards healing my inherited intergenerational tribal traumas. The TCM system of herbs, acupressure, acupuncture, and qigong have been used throughout history for the maintenance of health. In the workshop, TCM practitioner Brenda Le offers a beautiful interpretation of the methods of acupressure as a way to connect with the ancestors. Auntie Wai Ling shared examples in the 1st Century where the techniques of TCM were used to cure diseases such as typhoid, for the everyday person and not just for the privileged. Likewise, during the 1970s the Black Panthers and Young Lords introduced acupuncture into addiction treatment. 

To honour Chinatown’s first beginnings that are founded in mutual care, I asked Tabitha Lin, a TCM Practitioner, to offer a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) soup recipe. In TCM, food is medicine. May this everyday soup that comes from the wisdom of my ancestors nourish our bodies and spirits. 

qing bo leung tong recipe

2-3 Honey dates (mi zao)

30 grams Lotus seeds (lian zi)

30 grams Gorgon plant seed/Fox nut (qian shi)

30 grams Lily bulbs (bai he)

30 grams Solomon seal (yu zhu)

15 grams Pearl barley/job’s tears (yi mi or yi ren)

15 grams  Adenophora glehnia root (sha shen)

15 grams Longan (gui yuan rou

30 grams Chinese yam(huai shan or shan yao)

2 – 3 litres Broth (vegetable/pork/chicken)

4 thin slices of Ginger, fresh

Salt to taste

Simple directions to make the soup:

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Turn on high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately lower the heat and let soup simmer for 3 hours. Remove soup from heat and add salt to your taste. Serves well as a starter with dinner. *The dried herbs are completely edible, though some people like to drink just the broth.

aiya collective creates spaces to remember the emotional and geographic loss of amiskwacîwâskahikan, also known as Edmonton, Chinatown. Through arts and culture, this intergenerational group seeks to form openings for better futures.

Lee Rayne Lucke is an artist, community organizer and cultural worker. Their work addresses issues of spatial justice in order to call attention, mobilize, or divert structures of power with collective artistic gestures and participatory processes. Together with an artist and Chinatown community group called aiya, they offer spaces to remember the emotional and geographic loss of amiskwacîwâskahikan’s Chinatown at its intersections. Through the lens of Chinatown, the work is postured to envision and practice decolonial and better ways of being in the city. The work spans public interventions, satirical performance, capacity building with anti-oppression workshops such as “still in chinatown on indigenous land working space for artists and cultural workers”, organizing to form openings for better futures, and making social spaces of cultural care. For Lee, making soup is a practice of sharing and passing on the culture of care that comes from the cultural wisdom of their ancestors.  

Tabitha Lin‘s approach to learning and sharing a wholistic way of living was sparked by an enthusiastic curiosity of the relationship between humans and their environment, in particular the observations of her ancestor’s cultural practices. Though born and raised in Canada, she ventured back to the birthplace of Chinese medicine to embark in a fully immersive formal training in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Tabitha graduated with a bachelor’s degree in TCM at Shandong University of TCM. In tandem, she worked alongside her TCM master, Dr. Liu Zhao Qiang and prepared herb prescriptions for patients in the herbal apothecary. Tabitha enjoyed studies of the Chinese language, Taoist philosophy, Qigong, Chadao (tea ceremony) in order to piece together the all-encompassing approach of traditional Chinese wellbeing.

Lee and Tabitha are friends who share a yearning to keep TCM practices alive personally and in community. They have collaborated on projects and gatherings such as a “Moon Gathering” during the 2020 mid-autumn festival and a TCM recipe for aiya’s “Still in Chinatown on Indigenous Land” working space project in 2021. 

Accessibility: The gallery is wheelchair and walker accessible. If you have specific accessibility needs, please contact us at (604) 683-8326 or [email protected]. As the workshop will take place in the format of a Zoom Webinar, audio transcripts will be available upon request.

Centre A is situated on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. We honour, respect, and give thanks to our hosts.