Chinese Proverb

The informant is an eighteen-year old student from Irvine, California currently studying in Los Angeles. His dad was born in India, and his mother was born in Hong Kong before they met in San Jose, CA and moved down to Orange County. He speaks some Spanish and can understand Cantonese, which is how he learned many of his proverbs. He shall be referred to as KT.

“Bitter medicine is the best medicine.”

KT told me that this came from his mother when she tried to get him to eat bitter melon as a child. She always believed that the healthiest foods are often the least appetizing and thus worth suffering through. KT then said that he initially believed that this was meant to encourage him to eat bitter foods because of their health, but later interpreted it in a broader context. He now believes it has more to do with how the best things in life often come at some expense, but are ultimately rewarding.

I felt this was largely reflective of KT’s Chinese culture, which emphasizes hard work and discipline. KT himself exemplifies this in his studies, as he is an honors student majoring in biology. The proverb recognizes that life is not always easy, but asserts that the best rewards come with the greatest challenges. Furthermore, the use of the term “medicine” has a corrective value to it. Thus, it seems that discipline is more than just a path to being exemplary: By KT’s broader, life-based interpretation, it is the cure to mediocrity.