23 September 2007

Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine prescribed for my coldAfter two weeks in Shenzhen, I had finally adjusted to the new time zone, harsh climate, and maximum 6-7 hours of sleep per night, and was actually starting to feel normal again. Unfortunately, about a day later I started feeling like I might be getting sick...

My head was congested and my throat was scratchy, and I couldn't sleep more than 4-5 hours without having to get up to blow my nose. It was hot and humid every day, all day, and I could feel myself getting grumpier and grumpier as we worked in the office until 8pm--9pm--9:30pm. By Thursday I was feeling horrible and ended up leaving early (7:30pm) to try to find some cold medicine to help me get a good night sleep.

On Friday morning, I thought I might go into the office for a few hours to make sure everyone else on the team had the direction they needed for a productive day, and then go back to my apartment and back to bed. However, I found out that this sort Me when I was sickof thing is simply not done in China. If you go into the office, you should be prepared to work a full (11-hour) day. If not, it's better to stay home. So I decided to take a sick day.

A little later that morning, I got a call from a colleague who said that the client was concerned about my health and was in the process of scheduling an appointment for me at a nearby hospital. Although I would have preferred to stay in bed, it would have been rude for me not to accept such a thoughtful gesture. So that afternoon, I had my first encounter with the Chinese health care system.

When my colleague came back to the apartment to escort me to the hospital, he explained that I would be getting much different treatment than most Chinese receive. My client had personally called the chairman of the hospital (who apparently was a friend) to ask him to take special care of me, and had arranged for some sort of medical concierge to meet us at the hospital to ensure I received VIP treatment all the way.

After filling out a simple form (name, phone number, allergies) and paying cash (100 RMB) for the doctor visit, I went into a room with my colleague and the concierge to explain my symptoms to two people sitting at a table. One of them took my pulse from my left wrist for a couple of minutes, and then from my right wrist, and then looked at my tongue. They asked all sorts of questions in Chinese, while my colleague translated and the concierge listened. I was relieved I didn't have any embarrassing symptoms to explain.

In the end, the one who had taken my pulse turned out to be the doctor. He figured out that I had a cold, and prescribed two types of traditional Chinese medicine which my colleague could only translate as: one that makes you stronger, and one that makes your body function properly.

My colleague reassured me that it was nothing out of the ordinary--mostly herbs and things that Chinese people take all the time. One medicine was in powder form, with about 20 packets of different ingredients that needed to be mixed with hot water and taken twice a day. The other was ready-to-drink vials of brown liquid that I was supposed to take 3 times a day.

After a full recoveryI took the medicine as prescribed for the next five days, and it didn't seem to have any major side effects. After a week of Chinese medicine and almost 7 hours of sleep every night, I am happy to report that I have fully recovered.

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08 September 2007

Working in China

View from my hotel in ShenzhenI've been in China for over a week and am starting to grow accustomed to a few aspects of daily life that are very different from anything I've experienced before. The biggest differences are related to the work day in China.

Each day at the office starts with a 10 minute pep rally of sorts, when all employees gather around television sets scattered throughout the office for their morning dose of company spirit. They sing the company song and recite the company values in unison, and then hear about industry news and recent company sales. Each session includes at Morning Pep Rallyleast one life lesson to encourage all employees to live happier, healthier, and more balanced lives.

At lunch time, there is a song that comes over the loudspeaker to encourage everyone to leave for lunch. If you haven't left the office by 1pm, they turn off all the lights. They also lock the conference rooms at lunch time to discourage employees from eating their lunch there.

Around 3:30pm, another song blares out of the loudspeaker, providing step-by-step instructions for relaxing. It mostly involves massaging around your eyes. The relaxation song is immediately followed by the get-up-and-do-some-exercise song. I think this song attempts to lead us in a round of jumping jacks, but I'm not sure since I've never actually seen anyone do it.

My WorkspaceThe dress is formal office attire, and there is a law prohibiting companies from cooling their buildings below 25 C (77 F). I'm skeptical that our building ever gets that cool.
Everyone is allotted about 7 sq ft (1/2 sq meter) of personal work space, where they sit quietly and work from 9am to 8pm nearly every day. There are no coffee breaks or afternoon trips to the vending machine to provide an excuse to get up and walk around, and the typical lunch break lasts less than an hour.

Even at 8pm (or 10pm on the nights we have dinner together), the traffic back to the hotel is unbelievably bad. Getting anywhere generally involves a lot of lurching forward, hard braking, honking, and moving in and out of traffic lanes within inches of hitting another car or bus. I've heard locals estimate that around 15% of drivers generally don't obey traffic laws. Fortunately, most taxis have at least one functional seatbelt. A few even have two.

Traffic in ShenzhenThe traffic laws most frequently ignored are related to yielding right-of-way, staying in one's own traffic lane, and the direction one is supposed to drive on any given street. For example, drivers like to stay in between lanes as much as possible, for quick access into either lane as the need arises. And since there aren't any signs warning that a freeway exit is approaching, many people miss their exit and simply put the car in reverse to get back to it. One evening this week, I witnessed a group of my colleagues get into a taxi which proceeded to pull out directly in front of a moving bus and come to a complete stop as the taxi completed a 2-point u-turn. Fortunately, the bus slammed on its brakes and stopped a few inches short of hitting them.

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02 September 2007

Journey to Beijing

The Great WallAt the end of a 36-hour journey, I arrived in Beijing, more than 6,500 miles (10,500 km) away from home. In the 3 days since then, I've met a few of my Chinese colleagues and a number of friendly Australians, explored the Great Wall of China, and briefly visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I've also managed to squeeze in a few hours of sleep, so I'm up to about 70% of normal functioning.

Forbidden CityMy first night in China, I went to the hotel restaurant for a quick meal before collapsing into bed, and I got the distinct impression that people here don't dine alone very often. My waitress didn't seem to know what to make of the situation. She took my order, and then came back a few minutes later to ask if a friend would be joining me. She seemed sorry to hear that no one was coming. A few minutes later, she came back and told me I looked lonely and asked if I wanted a newspaper to read. Accepting the newspaper seemed to make her feel better, and she left me in peace after that.

On the Great Wall of ChinaMy first day at work went well. My Chinese colleagues spoke excellent English and were possibly even more sensitive to my state of jet lag than I was, so they didn't push too hard. In fact, the only real challenge of the day was when I didn't accept my colleague's advice to take a taxi to the hotel from the office. I could see the hotel out the window of the office, so it seemed crazy not just to walk there.

The problem turned out to be getting across a really busy freeway with no pedestrian crossing point in sight. I asked many people for directions to a crosswalk, but they didn't understand anything I was saying. When I communicated via sign language and pantomime, it seemed like people understood that I was trying to get across the freeway, but everyone pointed in a different direction and said something different in response. I was essentially going in circles. Finally, a sweet girl, who didn’t speak a word of English, took a detour from wherever she was headed and actually walked me there.

Hanging with the Aussies in BeijingAt breakfast that morning, I had shared a table with a friendly Australian who had told me about an expat happy hour at a nearby hotel. By the end of the day Friday, I felt like I was walking around in a sleep-deprived fog, but I was feeling a bit isolated by the language and didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hang out with English speakers. It turned out to be highly worthwhile. The Aussies really are a warm and friendly bunch, and they had lots of interesting stories about their experiences in China.

On The Wall with my new friendsSaturday morning, I went to the Great Wall with one of my new Australian friends and his gracious Chinese hosts. It took an extreme amount of determination for me to get out of bed that morning, and I was beyond exhausted (and even feeling a little queasy) when I left the hotel. However, this would be my only opportunity to visit the Great Wall, not to mention my first visit to a Wonder of the World. After a 2.5 hour drive, swerving in and out of traffic on winding roads, our guide opted to take us on one of the steepest and most difficult paths to the top of the wall. This was the most famous part of the wall, called Badaling, where Chairman Mao had left a personal inscription for anyone who was able to make it to the top.

The Great WallSurprisingly, the physical challenge made me feel much better. The view from The Wall was amazing, and from time to time we would go into a little tunnel or feel a light breeze to provide some relief from the hot sun. By the time we got to the top, I was feeling almost normal again. Unfortunately, that feeling only lasted a few hours. After making it back down the wall and eating a delicious (and very large) meal with my new friends, I could feel my mind slipping back into the fog.

I managed to stay awake until it was morning in the U.S., so I could chat online with my husband for a few minutes before collapsing into my longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep so far (almost 6 hours).

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