Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dispatch from China: A Chinese-(Ugly) American's Adventure in China

By Dr. Gale A. Yee

After we arrived in Shanghai, I developed a sore throat, which is always my warning sign for future bronchial problems. Touring the markets after our lunch, I searched in vain for a drug store for throat lozenges. When I returned to the hotel, I asked one of the attendants for the nearest drug store. I told him I had a sore throat. His English was minimal, but he told me that he only knew of a Chinese medicine store. He wrote something in Chinese, saying this is what you want for the throat, and wrote in English the name of the store: Tong Han Chun Tang. At least that's what I thought! For directions, he told me to go this way and that and then turn right at the McDonalds, which fortunately I knew.

So I turned right at the McDonalds and walked several blocks looking for Tong Han Chun Tang. Of course, there were no English store names, but I saw a sign with a green cross, and thought that it might be the equivalent of our Red Cross. There were women dressed in white uniforms and I thought, Nurses! I showed them my little piece of paper which I thought was my sore throat medicine. They sent me upstairs where there were more women in white. I showed them my little piece of paper, and they pointed me to another woman in white, who looked at me blankly when I gave her my little paper. I finally clued in that the Chinese writing was simply the name of the store and not the medicine.

So, to communicate what I needed I pointed to my throat and made some sort of gurgling sound. She pulled out two packages, wrote out a note and sent me to another woman in white to pay for the medicine. One contained a bottle of liquid and the other tablets, which I hoped were my throat lozenges.

I thought I'd better have Pui Lan check out these medicines. She didn't quite know what they were either, but she said I take 20 ml of the liquid 3x a day, and four of the tablets 4x a day with water. I'm sure glad I checked with Pui Lan first before I sucked on those tabs!

I am happy to say that the medicine seemed to work, or perhaps I am just glad that I wasn't given medicine for in-grown toenails.

Dr. Gale A. Yee is Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies at Episcopal Divinity School. 

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