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It’s good for your health

If there’s one thing that this year has people thinking about, it’s their health. With a billion and a half citizens, it’s not surprising that most people in China implore you to “Look after your health” as if you’d just been diagnosed with a deadly disease. The real question is: How?

I’m one of those people who will always get a sinus issue after an international flight. I expected it, so I packed a number of meditations that I knew worked. After I ran out, I had my first experience with the differences in the Chinese system of health.

Back in the states, your average drugstore has aisles for candy, cards, toys, home appliances and liquor. Here in China, drugstores sell drugs, that’s all. The friendly white-coated staff are more than happy to help some foreigner with some sickness, but I have no idea what kind of training they have. As a person who likes to know the credentials of anyone telling me to put chemicals in my body, I was unnerved. At my first post-supply cold, I went into the local drugstore and had my phone describe my symptoms. The cheerful woman led me to a rack of boxes and picked out my medicine for me. She gave me two boxes: One “western” medicine, and the other “Chinese” Medicine.

Parallel to the advent of medicine, the Chinese people have practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. This mostly consists of herbal and animal product remedies that have been discovered by what I can only imagine is hundreds of years of trial and error. TCM takes a more holistic view of medicine than “western medicine” did 100 years ago. In modern times, the medical establishment has adopted a more holistic rather than symptom based-approach.

This was not what I was getting at the drug store. I had nose water, and I needed a small root that I would take four pills of, three times a day. Either that, or a single pill of dextromethorphan. When I get sick, I tend not to mess around, so I opted for both. Sure enough, it worked. I was well.

But the Chinese concern for health is pervasive. Any decent-sized community has along it’s walkways, machines that resemble playground equipment. These are for the elderly to exercise on in range-of-motion fashion. They get used, every time I walk home, there’s some elderly Chinese grandma using the equipment like she was angry at it. There’s usually an elderly pair right next to her, vigorously hitting a shuttlecock back and forth without a net.

For the old folks that don’t like gym equipment, there’s the common practice of public dancing. Almost every morning in my square there is a crowd of about 40 women who are dancing to some choreography that I never see worked out. I never hear their music anywhere else, nor anything like it. On the weekend nights, they switch to popular music and free dancing.

Actual gym membership is common here. Most of the places I looked at to live made a point of where the local gym was. I rented a place where the gym was the lowest floor, Which has improved my attendance, but not enough

All of this focus on health has a down side: There’s a lot of medical misinformation. My Chinese teacher takes a daily dosage of vitamin C that, while not harmful, is more than any human body can possibly metabolize. I try to tell her this, but she’s certain that she needs it. Vitamin C is water soluble, so she can’t cause herself any harm, so I drop it.

At almost every meal with someone Chinese I’ve had, at some point they put a morsel into my bowl and say “Eat this, It’s good for your health”

“Says who?” I’m likely to reply.

“Oh, everyone knows.” What I never mention is that last week, I was told that I should never eat that “It’s bad for my health.” Maybe they’re just being polite in offering me food.

The Chinese like to drink hot water, and most people think it weird that westerners like cold water. I’m told this stems from a belief in TCM about body heat needing to be preserved. This also leads me to a rather odd dichotomy about heat. Chongqing buildings aren’t usually centrally heated, so most places are heated by individual units. But on the same token, fresh air is important to your health, so the windows are open too. This leads to everyone wearing their coats indoors. I tend not to wear my coat indoors, which causes my co-workers to always ask me “Aren’t you cold?”.

So, when my teaching director called me into the office one day, and pointed to a crate, saying “Everyone takes two.” I was not surprised. Inside the crate were dozens of melon sized citrus fruits that none of the Chinese teachers could find a translation for the name. “Ok, Why are we getting fruit?”

“It’s good for your health” as if that explained everything.

Through the first part of 2020, most of China was shut down due to COVID. Chongqing was no exception. We taught online classes. When the schools opened back up, we started teaching through surgical masks. Being a cautious fellow, I keep wearing my mask up until today.

Halfway through the lockdown, I got really sick. Somewhere in my mind, I remembered the valuable fact that OWEN has health insurance for its teachers. I was whisked away to the hospital. The hospital I went to was modern, but was run slightly differently. The first major difference is that in a western hospital, they feed you. In my hospital, relatives would provide the food for the patients. Having no relations, in China, I was forced to ask the nurse to pick food up. The second major difference is that every day in the afternoon, the itemized bill arrives. Patients are expected to pay if they are stable. I was told about our insurance policy so I wasn’t’ worried about the bill.

The hospital I went to was crowded, with three beds to a room. It was full of activity. My follow-up was at Raffles Hospital. In sharp contrast, Raffles didn’t seem to have anyone there. The hospital translator was quickly by my side talking to my doctor. I make a note to be careful even when I am sick enough to be taken to the hospital.

Much like in the west, there are certain words that are fetishes for health. In the west, “all-natural” is a popular phrase. Snake venom is all-natural, but somehow that means healthy. In China, the largest advertising phrase is “fresh”. When I had a cold, a friend of mine went out of her way to buy “fresh bread” as opposed to the bread I bought the day before. While nobody likes the idea of old ingredients, it seems to make a real difference to get the food at the exact moment of freshness. The obsession with the freshest ingredients is strong here.

The one thing I never hear, or if I hear it, I don’t understand it because of my poor Chinese skills, is a medical disclaimer. I’m used to seeing medicines and treatments with lightly disclaimers saying, “This garlic facial scrub has not been evaluated by the FDA, the NHS, or the QVC, and is not intended to treat, diagnose, alleviate or absolve any disease, condition, neuralgia, or neuroses. Consult a physician.” In China, they just don’t have that. Health decisions are made differently here. It seems more personal. It should be noted that I am not a medical professional and am not licensed to give medical advice of any kind. Do not take medical information from a blog.

That advice is good for your health.

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