(101 Things About Shanghai) Self-Medication

I’ve had a bad cold for about a month now. I blame my students entirely. They have been coming to class with such dedication that the absentee rate is nearly nil and the cough-cough-hoark-hoark-sneeze-snort rate is very high. The desks and floor are littered in crumpled tissues, eyes are watery, noses snuffly, brains foggy, heads falling to desk in a daze. But they are dedicated and I do appreciate that.

Cissy's root tea and Mrs Mu's pressure point guide for colds and other ailments

I don’t, however, appreciate the ever-evolving, ever-mutating cold they have passed on to me.

I work in a 100% Chinese workplace, in a microscopically tiny department (me and two admin women) within a very large public university in North Shanghai. There are no Western concessions up there.

At home, I can fully inhabit a deceptively laowai expat existence, eating and reading and speaking absolutely nothing Chinese unless I venture outside and actually, like, interact.

At work, as soon as the metro creeps up past People’s Square on Line 1, it’s a whole other matter. I fully inhabit China. This means that all attempts to relieve my cold have been Chinese and it’s a head-trip down Unrecognizable Lane.

Take two and call me in the morning

First of all, there are the Warming Foods. It’s nearing winter now, so one’s diet needs to shift from cooling foods to warming foods if you don’t want to get sick. In the admin office across the hall, Cissy and Iris have stockpiled a huge bag of still-earthy hóng shǔ (aka dì guā or possibly hóng tiáo- everyone I asked gave it a different name), which is a kind of orange yam, much smaller than the gigantic ones sold by the men on street corners, baked in huge old oil drums.

They’ve been handing them out to everyone on my floor, so all the guys from the Mechanical Engineering department down the hall have been wandering around eating hot microwaved yams like ice cream cones. I’ve got a few raw, spare yams in my desk drawer, gifts from Iris because she’s worried I’m lacking in warming foods.

A spare yam, some flower teas, and an office-Chinese glossary

In addition to the yams, they’ve brought in a huge pot of fermented glutinous rice, which is apparently a warming winter food down where Cissy grew up, somewhere south of the Something River (I couldn’t catch the name, but it’s definitely south of here). She called it ‘brewed’ but it tasted more like a seriously boozy unsweetened unmilky rice pudding. For about a week when I first got my cold, I kept finding little paper cups filled with a few scoops of the fermented rice on my desk, concerned gifts from the office. Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly sharp fermented taste made me gag so I’d eat a few bites then carefully bury the rest in the bin, under my old tea leaves and steeped flower blossoms.

I prefer distilled rice

Yesterday, most of my students were quite ill (but still came) and my own cold decided over the course of the day to return in full force after a few days of near-health. This prompted Mrs Mu to act as informal TCM consultant.  Aside from an unexpectedly unChinese declaration that I needed to up my vitamin C tablet intake, she also taught me several new pressure points to work away at, specifically for colds. One was around the sinus area on either side of the nose, which makes sense. The other, totally unexpected one, was up at the top of the skull. If you have a cold, it becomes super-tender, which she proceeded to show me quite forcefully. I yelped a bit. It was definitely tender and I definitely have a cold.

Mrs Mu, kneading away at my skull, quite painfully

As I left work yesterday evening after nearly a dozen hours sniffling and snorting away in the office and classroom (as Fridays are my crappy 7am-5:15pm days), Cissy gave me a bag full of sachets of Banlangen root granules (see first photo, above) and told me to drink two packets at a time in hot water regularly over the weekend. I’ll make my first cup as soon as I’ve had another coffee. I have my priorities.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.