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  Beijing Scene


If you've been here for more than a day, you've probably noticed that Beijing isn't exactly the most sanitary city in the world. It's as dry as a bone most of the year, the air is polluted and full of dust and the water is only barely potable (and that's after it's been boiled for half a day). Ever blow your nose in Beijing in the winter? There's enough soot in the air to make your nostrils blacker than a coal miner's underwear.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the ganmaojijie (cold & flu season) is back again. But your trusty Comrade is back with some sound advice to help you kefu (resist) all and sundry bingdu (virus), as well as some important illness-related vocabulary that should come in handy when you have to zhuyuan (have yourself committed...uh, I mean go to the hospital).

Lesson One: If you hear the yisheng (doctor) utter the words bingrugaohuang or wandanle you're in big trouble (both mean the patient's a goner). Cross your fingers, get a second opinion and hope your chart got switched with someone else's.

There seems to be some confusion as to what the difference is between wei and duzi. Wei refers specifically to your stomach, whereas duzi is the more general term "belly," referring to the whole lower abdominal area. There are as many different kinds of duzi discomfort as there are Changs in Chinatown. There's weisuan (sour stomach), exin (nausea), weizhang (bloated stomach), duzi jingluan (stomach cramps) and the all-encompassing weitong (stomach ache).

One of the first few words most laowai learn when they come to China - besides meiyou and laowai - is laduzi (diarrhea). As a matter of fact, many of you can probably set your clocks by it. I wish I could tell you that there are ways to avoid getting the laduzi, but there aren't. If you haven't gotten it by now, you will sooner or later. Some of the main causes of Beijing Belly are unclean raw vegetables, tap water, tainted or counterfeit bottled water or simply unsanitary dining conditions. Remember to drink plenty of water when you get the laduzi to avoid tuoshui (dehydrating). Take some zhixieyao (diarrhea medicine), but make sure not to leave out the word zhi when you ask for it, or you'll end up taking a laxative. The most common brand on the market is called Madinglin. If the laduzi persists or gets worse, try taking ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution), which, like fireworks, stun guns and electric riot batons, is available over the counter.

Lately it's been colder than a witch's rufang (teat) in Beijing, and sooner or later you're bound to get a ganmao (cold). Some typical bingzheng (symptoms) are liubiti (runny nose), kesou (cough) and houlongtng (sore throat). Take ganmaochongji (cold and flu medicine) to keep the ganmao at bay. Twenty years ago the last thing you wanted was to run a gaoshao (fever). Inevitably somebody would come along with a porcelain spoon and scrape it on your back until you sweated so much from the pain that the fever broke. While this method may appeal to you shounuekuang (masochists), nowadays you also have the option of simply taking some tuishaoyao (fever-reducing medicine). The addition of a jiashiqi (humidifier) to your home couldn't hurt, either.

For toutong (headaches), take asipilin (aspirin). If that doesn't work, try cizhi (quitting your job), lihun (divorcing your spouse) or huiguo (returning to your own country). For suan (sore) and tong (aching) muscles, there are numerous brands of gaoyao (plaster patches featuring the ground-up bones of several endangered species as active ingredients) and baihuayou (hundred flowers ointment) which, when applied to the affected area, will create a heat sensation that should alleviate some pain. Those of you with big gall bladders (i.e. people who are brave) might want to try the guanzi (a suction-cup type device that you smack onto the affected area, right after you set fire to it). Guanzi are also good for animal bites as well as clogged drains and toilets.

The recurring theme of yin and yang in Chinese culture, art and language is just as evident in Chinese medicine. While it may seem strange to inflict a burn in order to cure an ache, or to stick a needle in someone's neck in order to relieve pain in their foot, just remember the old saying yiduguongdu, or "fight fire with fire." Many laowai agree that there's no better cure for a hangover than a little "hair of the dog that bit you."

Speaking of hairs of the dog that bit you, I have found erguotou (Chinese moonshine) to be quite a miraculous panacea over the years, curing everything from cold symptoms to cold feet (if drinking the stuff doesn't warm you up, just pour the contents of a bottle over your feet and flick your Zippo). If you find that you need a shot of the old laobaiganr (slang for Chinese moonshine) to get you going in the morning, maybe it's time you sat in on a Beijing Alcoholic's Anonymous meeting.

For many ganran (infections) the doctor might prescribe kangshengsu (anti-biotics). If you're allergic to antibiotics make sure you know how to say it in Chinese: wo dui kangshengsu guomin. Other less useful phrases include wo bei shatoule ("I've been decapitated"), wode pigu zhaohuole ( "my butt is on fire"), and wo bei yitiaolong yaole ("I've been bitten by a dragon.")

If you frequent corner noodle shops or eat hefan (box lunches) on a regular basis, you should know how to say zhongdule ("I've been poisoned.") If you still haven't had all your necessary vaccinations, do it before it's too late. The Comrade recommends you at least get the Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Japanese B Encephalitis, Typhoid and Polio vaccines.

If you ever have a medical emergency while in Beijing, contact the Asia Emergency Assistance Center, the International Medical Clinic or any of the other expat hospitals or clinics listed in the Beijing Scene Guidebook. If you decide to go to a Chinese hospital or clinic for treatment, don't forget to bring a wad of RMB with you - you'll need it! Also, try to get someone to go with you, but don't bring a foreign reporter - bring someone who speaks Chinese!

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