It seemed destined, as I look back, that I am to write about macrobiotics.
In 1985, when I was 30, I was introduced to the idea of natural health. I had grown up sickly and was constantly visiting doctors every few weeks, with endless bouts of flu. All that changed when someone who was practically a stranger – Mr Han Vo-Ta, a financial adviser whom I met for the first time – lent me a book on natural health.
It wasn’t about macrobiotics, but quite the opposite – about raw vegetable and fruit juices. That book introduced me to the idea that foods are both the cause and the cure of our illnesses. It changed my life. Since that day, I have not gone back to seeing doctors.
At that time, I was working as a journalist with the Business Times. Shortly after, in 1986 or 1987, I have forgotten, I began writing a weekly health column in the newspaper.
On the day my first article appeared, I received a telephone call from a reader telling me about macrobiotics. There was a macrobiotic teacher in town and she invited me to meet her over lunch.
My first macrobiotic meal was, needless to say, a culture shock!
Instead of rice, I was served a yellow grain called millet. And I found out that millet is commonly used as bird feed!
It tasted quite good, though, helped by a raw carrot sauce made from simply blended carrot with lemon juice. It was very refreshing.
There was also seaweed, I cannot remember whether it was arame or hijiki, but it tasted ok to me. There was a mushroom dish, the one food that was not unusual, plus a few other dishes that I could not remember.
Oh yes, someone had made a cake as well. It did not turn out right as it did not rise and was quite hard. Apart from that, I remember that the rest of the meal tasted quite good to me. It must have helped that I am generally an adventurous eater who likes to try new things.
The teacher and cook was a lady from South America, called Monica. She told me about how she balanced the meal and I was impressed since I was new to all this.
Shortly after, I bought my first macrobiotic book, The Cancer Prevention Diet by Michio Kushi. I thought the book was quite expensive, at $30+ at that time, and it took me a while before I decided to buy. Little did I realise then what a wealth of information it contained. I must have been one of the very few non-cancer patients who bought and read the book.
One key idea that struck me was the statement that everyone is different and therefore everyone has different dietary needs.
This is actually very much common sense. But at that time it was new to me. I am sure that even now, it is new to many, many people – including many so-called health writers who continue to recommend one same diet for everybody.
I was also very much impressed by the mountain of evidence linking diet to cancer. I never realised there was so much convincing evidence.
My macrobiotic journey had begun. . .
I was eager and excited to share this new found knowledge and began to write about macrobiotics – in my newspaper column and, in 1989, when I published my own newsletter on natural health – even though my knowledge was barely scratching the surface level.
For the first few years, however, I was very much an intellectual macrobiotic – who only read and marvelled about the theory, but did not quite put it into practice apart from maybe eating some brown rice.
First “cancer patient”
Until 1990 when my father was diagnosed with liver cancer at the age of 75. Frantically, I sought out David Tio – who had introduced macrobiotics to Singapore some years earlier – and had my first, very elementary macrobiotic cooking lesson.
Trying to treat my father was an eye-opener. I had read some cancer recovery stories in books, but never expected the results I got with my father, even though my macrobiotic knowledge was equivalent to only kindergarten level.
Almost immediately, my father’s condition improved. He became more energetic and more positive. Many of his minor health problems went away.
My father had a big patch of dark, scaly skin – ezcema? – around one of his ankles. It had been there for decades, ever since I was a child, probably long before that. After he switched to macrobiotic foods, patches of his skin started to clear. This was totally unexpected.
Also unexpected was the change in his facial features. For some years, the left side of his face had drooped so that his left eyebrow, eyes, cheeks, etc were lower than the right. We simply assumed it was due to “old age”, perhaps because some nerves were weak. However, his face soon became balanced again!
These were things I did not read about in macrobiotic books.
There was “medical proof” of his improvement as well. One indicator of liver cancer, I learnt from his doctor, is the level of alpha fetoprotein in the blood. For a normal healthy person, it is supposed to be less than 15. In my father’s case, it was about 2,700.
A month after he started macrobiotics, however, the level dropped to about 140 – an improvement of 95 percent. So great was the improvement that his doctor said, “This must be a mistake. Let’s test again.”
Physical feeling around the liver area also suggested that the tumour had shrunken or at least softened. However, there were no x-rays to prove this.
His doctor absolutely refused to accept that perhaps the change in diet had helped bring about the improvement. Well, most of my other family members, too, refused to accept that.
My father was beginning to get tired of it all. He saw that doing macrobiotics was a lot of trouble for me. I had to cook all his meals. Moreover, I was having frequent quarrels with my brothers who did not believe in what I was doing and they felt that I should merely leave everything to the doctor.
He decided to stop macrobiotics. He felt that he had lived long enough and he was ready to die. During that week, he ate two pieces of chicken. Went he went for his second blood test, the level of alphafetoprotein rose to 210. It could have been due to the chicken wings, it could have been normal variation. I don’t know.
What happened next, however, was frightening.
My sister, who had migrated to Canada, had returned to visit her father. We had a family reunion dinner at a restaurant with roast suckling pig, roast duck, chilli crabs, and the usual “party” dishes.
I was very unhappy about the event but tried to console myself that, perhaps the goodwill and the happy occasion would do my father some good.
The next day, or the day after (I cannot remember now) my father was back in hospital, half dead. Now, he had two tumours instead of one. Blood tests showed that his level of alpha fetoprotein had shot up – to more than 33,000!
A few weeks later, my father passed away.
Power of food
I had witnessed the power of food both ways – the power to heal and the power to kill. The incident was, truly, a great macrobiotic lesson.
It made me, and my wife, a lot more committed to macrobiotics. Two of my sisters were somewhat convinced. Sorry to say, those incidents did not seem to leave any impact on my brothers.
My eldest brother died six months after my father, apparently of a heart attack, at the age of just 51. He had gone to the toilet one morning and never came out.
For some time, his lips were black and the family merely brushed it off as a result of his smoking. After he died, I read in a macrobiotic book on facial diagnosis – How to See Your Health – that black lips are a sign of impending death!
So my brother actually did not die as suddenly as most people thought. The signs were there, just that we did not know how to read them at the time.
I used to have very dark lips too. Not black, but very dark. All my family members have and we assumed it was genetic. After I changed my diet, my lips slowly turned pink.
The early 90s were active macrobiotic years for me. I began to conduct macrobiotic lectures and cooking classes at my home, I also began to give macrobiotic consultations to people with cancer and other illnesses. I wrote much about macrobiotics in my newsletter, The Good Life.
In 1992, someone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, organised a seminar by Michio Kushi. I organised a trip up together with more than 20 friends who had been Good Life readers. There, I extended an invitation to Michio and he visited Singapore the following year.
Michio’s Singapore seminar was in June 93. In August, myself and seven friends attended the International Macrobiotic Summer Conference. Before the year ended, we had Adelbert Nelissen from the Netherlands giving macrobiotic classes here.
The following year, myself, Kheng and John started Brown Rice Paradise as Singapore’s first fully-stocked macrobiotics store as we were tired of the other smaller shops being frequently out of stock of important food items like seaweeds and sea salt.
By this time, we also had an active macrobiotics society running. Lots more seminars were organised, averaging two to four a year. Once, we had three macrobiotic teachers simultaneously teaching at my home. Over the years, we brought in about a dozen.
My home had, by then, been specially renovated to cather for classes, with the cooking stove facing the living room. It seemed, for a while, that my wife and I were going to dedicate our lives to macrobiotics.
But that was not to be. In 1997, I stopped publishing The Good Life because it was losing too much money and because I was tired – in fact, exhausted, from writing.
I ventured into the hi-fi business and the macrobiotic classes ceased. Running a hi-fi store also meant that I was no longer able to be the house-husband who does marketing and cooking. I ate out most of the time and, over the years, became less and less “macrobiotic” – meaning I ate less and less macrobiotic quality foods. But in a very broad sense, I still follow macrobiotic principles.
All this had happened because my marriage was not happy. In 1999, my wife and I separated.
The past few years have been truly difficult for me. My hi-fi business never took off and I lost lots of money. It closed last November. I have a girlfriend – a major but not the only reason for my marriage break-up – but my relationship with her has not been smooth either.
I had regained my energy for writing only a few months ago, after a break of nearly five years during which I could hardly write a thing. I was simply exhausted from writing.
About a month ago, I re-learnt web design and started putting these pages together – to share and sell my writings and other talents.
I began to write the macrobiotics section of this website only over the weekend. This morning, I somehow felt prompted to write about my personal macrobiotic journey. So here it is.
The journey has not ended. I do not consider myself ever having left it, even though I had not been eating brown rice and other so-called “macrobiotic foods” on a regular basis for some years. I considered myself “macrobiotic” – in the broadest sense of the word – all along.
I continued to give macrobiotic consultations on the rare occasion when I was asked and I honestly told my patients that I had not been practicing – at least not the diet part. I share with them the difficulties I face in practicing. I know they understand.
The bigger macrobiotic practice, however, is to find a balance in life. That’s what I am doing now, as always. That is what every person is doing, whether or not that person knows about a particular teaching called “macrobiotics”.
Where my macrobiotic journey will take me, right now I do not know.
But for some reason, I feel a surge of energy as I write these pages. Last night, I was up till past 3 am writing about whether macrobiotics is dangerous. It’s coming to 2 am now and I will be stopping soon.
Isn’t there a macrobiotic teaching about going to bed early, preferably before midnight? Oh well, that, as with all other macrobiotic teachings, is merely a recommendation, not a rule.
I leave you with this thought for now.