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 willÉ 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
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