Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Writing Is On The Pill

Since it took me a month to get that last post up, I figured two in one day would be a good way to redeem myself. Essentially, I was working on the post, trying to craft some nice words for you folks, when my computer did that stupid hibernate thing. I lost half my post and frankly, it royally ticked me off. Before I could brush myself off and make my way back to recreating what I lost, I got sick. This brings me to my topic for today.

If you tell someone you have gotten ill in China, they immediately think food poisoning. It's not an unreasonable guess really. If you come here, you will eventually eat something funky and then you're body will be forced to take action. That's right.
That action. Well, there's two really. Not really sure which is worse, except getting both at the same time, which is pretty much just like dying I think. I have been fortunate in this respect so far. I have gotten sick two times, but I don't think it was food poisoning and it was over quickly. Friends of mine, however, have not been as lucky, and usually there is a loss in the downward direction, if you get me. In Chinese, the word is ladutza, which my friend swears is an onomatopoeia, just like "Zap!" "Sizzle" and "Guffaw!" LaDUTza! LaDUUUTza! Shout that in a deep voice in a subway in China. Trust me. Good way to make friends.

Anyway, it wasn't
ladutza, but I didn't know what was going on. I felt like I had heartburn, but only in my stomach. It didn't hurt all that much, but it was nothing I had ever felt before. Guess what happens when you feel that way in a foreign country? You freak out.

What if I pass out? What the hey is the number for an ambulance? Wait, didn't people say you'll die in an ambulance, take a cab instead?! Wait, what's the word for hospital?! What's the word for help for that matter??!

It's times like these that I regrettably don't have a proper brown paper lunch sack to hyperventilate into. Luckily, I had a rockin' headache that first day, so instead of totally panicking, I collapsed into a desperate nap. I woke up later with the headache and stomach thing still going strong. Twas a bad day, indeed. Same story the next day too.

Two days later, the headache was finally gone, but the burning, weird feeling in my gut was not. I ate bread and it burned. Cola and fruit were out of the question. Even water was dicey. Very depressing. Well, depressing except for the green light to eat ice cream all the time, since it seemed to settle a bit better than most food and drinks. Sweet!

Even doctor's orders to eat ice cream didn't make me feel that much better once I was going on 4 or 5 days with no improvement. It was about this time that I started feeling hungry all the time, but eating didn't seem to be doing any good, for the pain or the hunger. I had a breakdown at day 6 when things seemed to be getting worse. David called right as I was panicking.

"I don't know how to take care of myself here!" Being alone in a foreign country when you do not feel so hot is just scary, plain and simple. He talked me through how to go to the hospital if I had too, told me I was going to be okay and I felt a little better.

So, after 9 days of this silliness, David took me to see a doc. She was really nice and she spoke English. The place was nice too. Even though I live here, I still get this image of foreign countries being way behind in modern technology and medicine, so I pretty much picture a cholera ward from the turn of the 19th century with people moaning on cots. But it was very modern of course. It was actually a foreigner clinic, so it was even better than most and quite nice. That helped. I wasn't really eager to experience roughing it in a Chinese hospital.

She asked me a bunch of questions and said she would give me meds to reduce stoamch acid and see if that helped. She also gave me meds she said were for protecting the mucus lining in my stomach. Hrm. Great. The lady at the medicine desk (which was in the same place! How convenient!) told me to take the granules, or as I like to call them, mucus granules, three times a day without water. Gagola! Are you serious lady?

"You can take a little sip if you can't get them down, but not much."

Oh how generous. Sounds like a party. Sounds like I will feel sicker after taking them than before. Good plan.

I decided to start the meds the next day. Now, I am not normally very hung up on where things come from or whether they could have asbestos in them, but this is CHINA after all. So I consulted our friend Gregg, who just so happens to be Dr. Gregg. He had already given me advice earlier in the week, but I wanted to run the names of the drugs by him. He had no problem with the pills, but he seemed puzzled by the granules.

"Can you send me the name?"

I sent him the only English words I could find on the packaging. A few minutes later I got a return text message.

"I don't know what that is and it's not in my US drug reference. Maybe stick to the acid meds and tums."

Whoa. That freaked me out a little. Can't say I was disappointed not to have to take the mucus granules, but it was weird. I hadn't expected an unknown drug. Gregg is pretty even keel too, so I knew he was serious when he told me not to take them. Better safe than sorry. Best case, it was just cornstarch or something. Perfectly harmless, but ineffective. Worst case...well, I'd rather not get stomach cancer if I can help it, thank you.

So, I went ahead and popped a pill out of the bubble pack. A little picture was carved into the one side. I flipped it over and my eyes bugged out.


No, that's what was written on the pill. OMG. Oh my god! My pill says 'OMG'!

My thumb was actually covering the 2 that made it 20MG. The two and zero were the same size as the MG, so it definitely looked like OMG for a second. Ha ha....ha.....ha......It just says 20 mg! No problem! Haha. Right? Ha....gulp.

I threw caution to the wind. Down the hatch. I started to feel better a few days later. So, maybe the OMG sign was more like "Oh My God, a cure!" Well, I guess we'll see once the meds run out. Until then, I'm trying to find creative uses for 3 dozen packs of mucus granules...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Joyful Apocalypse

We've seen it all before. We stuff our faces all evening with freshly grilled hamburgers and potato salad and maybe some corn on the cob and if we're lucky, apple pie. Everyone gathers on the blankets with an ice cold coke and light sticks and then we wait, eyes to the darkening skies. Then a tell-tale silver streak makes its way from the horizon to above the tree tops and then explodes in a dazzle of strawberry twinkles. Everyone in the neighborhood cheers. We watch for half an hour, as the frequency increases with time, until the stream eventually tumbles into the mass of fire balls, whistles, flashes and bangs that no reputable fireworks show would ever end without. We clap, we smile, we find the cats hiding in the closets, we go to bed.

Ok, so take that, multiply it by 5000, stir in some element of surprise, raise it to the power of echos created by a skyscraper forest and add a healthy dose of crazy men with lighters. That, my friends, was Shanghai on Chinese New Year's Eve.

Year of the Ox!

Fireworks have been set off since the day I arrived in China. The folks in the neighborhood set them off for all sorts of reasons: weddings, festivals, boredom. It's mostly on the weekends and in the small alleys close to our apartment. They set off the loud strings of those suckers, which basically sounds like a pile of bombs lit in the street. But the Spring Festival, which starts with the New Year and goes for about 2 weeks, is the pull out all the stops, take leave of one's senses, fireworks hootenanny extravaganza! Seriously, businesses pay out big bucks for their displays, easily dropping half a million buckaroos in some cases. That's one business. Shanghai has over 16 million people, give or give a million or two. Individuals buy fireworks too. So if every single person bought just one firework or cracker...yeah, that's right folks. It's almost as good as the old question about whether the earth would move if everyone in China jumped at the exact same time. Crazy things happen when the most populated country acts in unison.

So we had heard tell of this fiery free for all. We figured it would be impressive, but we made no real plans for watching the show. We met our friend Daniel to go out for
jiaozi, or dumplings, which is apparently very traditional for New Year's Eve. However, hardly any place was open. Most Chinese folks get a week off around the New Year, so the place is oddly like a ghost town with a majority of the shops and restaurants closed down. many people leave to visit family out of town and those who stay, stay inside.

After walking around for at least an hour with no luck, we were darn hungry. I was willing to get some McDonald's at this point. We finally found an open hot pot restaurant, and as luck would have it, they had the
jiaozi too. Perfect. So we chowed down, sampled some Chinese alcohol that didn't taste like battery acid, and then moved on to the next order of business: bowling.

I hardly ever bowl in the States, but hell, how many people can say they've been to a bowling alley in China? A bowling alley in China on Chinese New Year's Eve, no less. Plus, they were showing the celebration program from Beijing on the TVs. This was much like the celebration in Yanzhou, although I must say the acrobatics were far more impressive. I had never seen one person sitting on another person's shoulders, while the first person is balancing on a springy pole held between two groups of people, and then just to show off, the two people on top of each other do a back flip,
together, and somehow manage to land on the beam again. Several times in a row, too. Wha??? I was completely dumbfounded and amazed. I made a note to see a live acrobatic show live in the future.

Our own physical displays were not so glorious. We bowled a couple games and David and I never broke 100. Daniel turned out to be pretty good though, utilizing skills from a former daily after work bowling habit with his coworkers. Show off. We switched to the pool tables later, but I stink at pool even more than at bowling. It didn't matter for long though, because that's when we realized there was a heckuva lot of commotion going on outside. It was close to midnight at this point.

The bowling alley didn't have glass windows, so we couldn't see anything, but we could certainly hear. We asked the staff to open the black shutters and revealed a world gone mad, the noise exponentially more deafening now. We were on the third floor and from there we could see a small piece of Shanghai, ablaze every 100 feet from the crackers on the street up to the huge fireworks littering the sky in every direction. We could have seen more if not for the smoke that had now joined forces with the smog. Directly below our window we saw at least 20 people setting things off on the sidewalk, running to and fro, switching between smoking their cigarettes and using them as lighters. It's the kind of thing you can never imagine and once you do see it, you can never quite capture in words to convey the way it makes you feel, the way it makes your heart flutter and your lungs forget to fill with air; a rare experience of utter wonder. It was like a joyful apocalypse, a disorienting assault on all senses.

And of course, this does not do it justice, but it's a sample!

We watched for a long time, but the show barely slowed down. It was almost 1 am now and David could no longer hold back the urge to get in on the action. If you don't know David, he loves setting off fireworks. Loves it. I have never seen him grin so much. He was like a 5 year old caught in a rainstorm of chocolate bars. So we hurried downstairs. The big glass doors at the entryway were the only thing standing between us and the madness outside. Before I knew it, David was out the door, armed with my camera. I stayed behind with Daniel, who was not as impressed since he grew up in China around this "very noisy" tradition. I stood at the door, covering my ears and tried not to picture a wayward firebomb crashing into David's face. (I'm really good at worse case scenarios, in case you don't know me.)

David disappeared from view for a while, but eventually returned, beckoning us outside. In a brief ceasefire, we scurried past the lines of red firecrackers and I found myself wishing I had brought my umbrella with me. Then I saw what David had been up to. It seems a few guys were setting off small crackers that you actually hold onto when they go off. The whole shell blasts out of your hands into the air and explodes. And you guessed it, David had made friends with them. I think he earned some serious Chinese cred with these guys that night. They could see he was really pumped about the festivities and they thought it was great. I half expected them to say, "You very Chinese. We are brothers now!" as they clasped their hands on his shoulders in a show of camaraderie. I was offered the chance to hold my very own cracker to fire off, but I declined. I have very bad luck and I figured I was pushing it enough just standing outside. The blasts were lessening now, but still going at a steady pace.

The thrill died down a bit after over an hour of explosions, so we decided to head home. Daniel caught a cab, but David and I walked for a bit, away from the major launch pads onto some semi-quiet streets. The sidewalks were a sea of red paper shreds and empty cardboard shells, but the skies were still filled with sprays of sparks. They remained that way long into the early morning hours. When next we ventured outside, the streets had already been cleared by the few street sweeping folks who had to work on New Year's Eve, but the smell of gunpowder was still in the air. And as we found out later, that was just the first of three major nights of fireworks during the festival, but the other two could never compare to our very first New Year's Eve in China, in the land where fireworks were invented so many centuries ago.