After early morning qigong practice at Huntington Park, we stopped outside an apothecary in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Sifu Ko Wong was inspecting bottles of ginseng arrayed before him in the showcase.

“This one is wild, over $1,000 an ounce. This one is cultivated, only $100.” Leaving that place, few additional words were spoken as we walked downhill to one of our favorite breakfast spots.

After eating, we chatted while walking back to the Chi Kung Institute and, as we passed that same apothecary, he looked again in the window. “The expensive one has more power because it grows wild. The cheaper version looks almost the same but has little benefit.”

A long pause followed and then his eyes turned toward mine.

“People are like that,” he stated and then hesitated as if waiting for my response. Never at a loss for words, I explained how growing up in tough circumstances makes you stronger than being taken care of by others.

I sought acceptance of my response, but saw only his smile. Though this occurred over twenty years ago, I still do not know Sifu’s interpretation. Like so many great teachers, the lesson was to provoke the student to consider, not to implant dogma.