I met Mary Huang, when I was surfing in Costa Rica during a really fun 2.5 m swell window. She has an incredible zest for life and is a rich story teller. This coupled with her sense of humor and badass attitude made for a very interesting and enlightening interview. Her CV is unlike any other. She has worked as a clown, a scuba diving instructor and so much more. She is currently staying in one of the most beautiful places in the world where she is now taking time to learn how to surf and write her two books; a personal experience story and one on her passion and work, Chinese Medicine.
Could you tell me about your first job?
Well as kid, I did baby sit and work at an ice cream place but my first office job was after graduating high school. I got a summer job in a bank counting money. Because we had a lot of money going through our hands, they had a permanent security camera above our work stations. We worked in pairs. One shift, one million dollars went missing. My partner and I knew we didn’t take it but then where did it go? We looked everywhere for it into the after hours. By that time, all sorts of things were going through our heads. What would happen if we couldn’t find the money? Were they going to cuff us and take us away? Just as we were about to give up, we finally found it. One of packages of money had fallen over the back of desk where we couldn’t see it. Phew .
After that summer stint I realized I wasn’t cut out to be in the office desk world of “nine to fivers”. That was my first and last office job.
How did you get into traveling?
I wasn’t allowed to play sports as kid. As my parents were first generation immigrants from Taiwan, my dad had very specific ideas of what a proper girl was. In his traditional views girls didn’t have muscles and certainly didn’t play sports. However, my nature is a love of play whether it be games, sports, and most anything outdoors. I was always interested in seeing what my body was capable of. So in high school I snuck behind my dad’s back and tried out for some school sports teams. I ended up playing field hockey for 3 years in high school and then getting offered scholarships to play in college. But after four years of playing competitively in college my hockey career was over. As it was only played by woman in the States and not a very popular sport, there were no feeder programs or competitive club teams to play on after. However, I wasn’t ready to stop. I was only twenty-one. So I took off to play in New Zealand where men and woman played competitively. That was the beginning of my international travels.
That started my travel bug. I taught English in Taiwan, continued to play hockey competitively in different countries and became a scuba diving instructor. Teaching scuba allowed me to continue my international travels, hopping from one beautiful tropical island to the next.
Traveling for me was an endless treasure trove of new and exciting adventures. It was a total privilege to be able to connect with and experience all the different countries, cultures and people I met. It opened me up to a whole new way of living and being. I work/traveled for 7 years and never regretted one moment of it. In hindsight, it is so clear to me now how it shaped my perspective and built the very foundation of how I was going to navigate the rest of my life.
Can you give a little insight into what this new way of being and living was about and how that affected your life?
Throughout my childhood I was taught, that my education and my career defined me and my value as a person. This coupled with the American ideals of consumerism and the fast pace of the rat race made for a pretty intense upbringing. It was not about who you were as a person but what you did and more about what you had rather than how you chose to walk through the world.
As I spent time in other countries I realized how differently other cultures approached life and this new perspective brought an ease and joy into my life in a way I never experienced growing up in the states.
Often it was the simplest moments or experiences that made lasting imprints into my psyche. I watched this family in Au Lok, a small bay in the Southern Islands of Thailand, daily sweep and clean, as if in ritual, their simple stilted wooden huts with pride. Each morning, the father would climb down the wooden ladder and pause part way to sit on one of its rungs to watch the sunrise and then pause again at sunset in the same place at the end of the day. I began to embrace the daily rhythms of this family and many other communities I spent time with. This particular family gardened and lived off their land. They did not have much in the way of things but what they did have they used resourcefully and with good intention. From what I could see their simplicity created an ease as they kept in tune with the flow of life.
This among many other experiences in the 7 years I spent abroad slowed me into a pace that allowed me to absorb the value of how we do things rather than what we do and focus on the quality of life versus the quantity. These cultures and communities had a different connection to nature and the environment.
How did you get into Chinese Medicine?
I was teaching scuba diving in Roatan, one of the bays islands in Honduras. One day I couldn’t find my wetsuit. I was starting to run late searching for it, when I finally saw a boy coming off the boat from the morning dive wearing it. By that point, I only had a minute to throw it in the rinse tub and quickly change into it. The next morning I woke up with a heat rash on my entire belly. The boy must have peed in my wetsuit. For days, I tried all sorts of creams and cooling powders from the pharmacy but it just wouldn’t go away.
One day, Stash, one of the local rastas I had befriended walked by as I was talking about this horrible rash. He asked me to show it to him. He had a good look at it and then told me to stay put. He walked towards the mountains further into the jungle. I waited for him curious to see what he was up to. Thirty minutes later he came back with some vines with orange flowers on them. He told me to boil the vines and flowers in water and rub it all over the rash.
The next day I woke up and the rash had completely disappeared. I was so blown away with how seamlessly it went away just from using one application of the right plant. I learned the flower was called servirosa vine. A few weeks later I was in one of the small local stores. A small container on one of the shelves caught my eye. It was labeled “Servirosa powder: for diaper rash”. Wow. It made me realize that this was herbal plant medicine that all the locals understood and that’s why Stash knew the tea of the vine and flower would work for my issue. It was like a diaper rash, heat and irritation build up from constant exposure to urine on the skin. It was amazingly effective and miraculous.
That experience was one of my first introductions to local traditional medicine.
Over my years of travel, these experiences started to reshape my general understanding as well as the possible potential of my own health. As I found new ways to empower my body back to health through natural healing, understanding that what nature has given us has the potential to create the healthiest and best versions of our self, I knew that my next chapter in my life was going to be studying and practicing wholistic medicine.
Chinese medicine is over 2,000 years old and well established in many countries for proper licensing and education. I chose Chinese Medicine partly because it allowed me to practice easily with a recognized license but even more so because I found a school with masters and mentors who really embodied the essence and principles of how nature heals the body.
Could you tell me a little more about the difference between traditional and western medicine ?
In Chinese Medicine there are 12 primary organs. The way we describe how the body systems work together would be like a community or family unit. Each organ has a specific personality and character to help them do their job and work together as a team.
I will tell you a story to give you an example.
One day the Large Intestine gets depressed and in his depression he stops taking out the trash. The Stomach, who is the cook in the system, notices that the trash is piling up by the kitchen door and she says to herself. “Hmm. I wonder what’s going on? Well, I like the Large Intestine. I will help him out.” So she goes to take out the trash and when she returns she realizes that she left the stove on and burnt the rice. The Liver, who is the dog in the family, starts barking because his dinner is burnt.
In Western Medicine the approach would be to silence the dog. The dog would either be brought to obedience school or be yelled at or maybe even hit to make it stop. Then when the dog stops barking, the diagnosis would be that everything has resolved. All is fine and back to normal again. But the problem now is the Large Intestine is still depressed and not taking out the trash and the Stomach, the cook is still doing 2 jobs at once and burning the rice.
In Chinese Medicine, the method would be to find out why the Large Intestine is depressed and help him resolve that issue. That way, it addresses the root of the problem, his depression. Then we would figure out how to better support and inspire him so that he feels re-empowered and ready to do his job again. The Stomach, the cook, then can go back to doing her one job and not overwork and the Liver, the dog, stops barking because his rice is no longer burnt and is eating well again.
If you look at western drugs you can see how they silence the dog. They treat the alarming symptom by suppressing it, not letting it express and then consider the problem resolved.
Additionally, one can only imagine what will happen over time. As the Stomach, the cook, continues to overwork and the Liver, the dog, is continually suppressed and not allowed to bark yet still not getting what it needs and the trash continues to pile up, what other unforeseeable symptoms will appear. And as we know from our experience, western medicine will yet have another drug to deal with that issue and will continue to go in circles chasing the symptoms.
Just to be clear, I am not saying western medicine is ineffective. It definitely has its place. The science of western medicine and what it has been able to develop, create and do is without a doubt, amazing. The issue I have with it, is that it limits itself by only focusing on what can be seen, the physical symptoms.
So what brings you to Costa Rica now?
About six years ago, my whole life imploded. I split up with my partner who was the love of my life after fifteen amazing years together. One and half years after that, I had these crazy hyper reactive symptoms to a chemical insecticide that was sprayed in my house that made me very sick. After two and a half years of trying to clean up the mess, the symptoms never went away.
I did every modality under the sun to help myself for the physical symptoms down to the emotional trauma and PTSD I incurred from these experiences. I remember my last session with my EMDR therapist before I left for Costa Rica. He said to me, “It seems after seeing me every week for six months we were able to release and transform so much of your childhood traumas but the hyper reactive symptoms to this insecticide seem to remain the same. Are you okay with that?” My response was, “What you have done for me is amazing. I have my life back in so many ways and it has allowed me to walk through the world in a totally different way; self empowered, in a place of true compassion and an ability to be my authentic self without fear of being abandoned. That is more important than my crazy symptoms to this insecticide though I am clear they are interrelated. But Im exhausted after two and half years of trying to commandeer my intense situation. I need a break. So what am I going to do about this allergy? Don’t you worry. I am just going to strip down naked, get a new passport and credit card so there’s no way it can follow me and move to Costa Rica.”
And that’s exactly what I did. I sold that house, sold the shares to my two wholistic clinics I co-owned in Portland, Oregon, gave away my belongings and left for Costa Rica.
But everything that has happened is a total gift. If there is anything I am a professional at now, it is making lemonade out of lemons .
So much beauty can come out of loss. My situation left me in a place where none of the survival skills I learned throughout my life were going to help me. It stripped me down to bare bones, physically, emotionally and psychically. But through that experience it let me look at all my family dysfunctional patterns that I had inherited and internalized and transform them. It gave me an opportunity, to truly be who I am, rather than all the false constructs, I had created as an adult to survive my childhood traumas.
One of my dreams was to really learn how to surf. Now I am doing that and living from a place of self love and love of the world I never had before. Everyday, I practice being my true self and everyday I fall further and further in love with myself, my friends, my community and the world around me.
I have nothing in the way of material things but I am happier in my life than I have ever been.
Last but not least, what is your favourite thing about surfing?
There is nothing more freeing and invigorating then being in sync with the waves of the mother ocean. When I am on a ride and in her flow, I am fully present.