My first (unwanted) experience with Chinese medicine

I know, I always say I want to fully experience the country I'm visiting, and this is why I usually stay longer than a normal holiday. Of course this applies to China too, being the Giant Dragon a fascinating society and boasting one of the richest cultures in human history.

But let's face it, I would have gladly avoided experiencing Chinese medicine so early. Or at least in these conditions.

I believe this time the ever-present air conditioning is to blame. Although we are nearing the end of September, the weather in Shanghai was still humid and stifling hot. To put it mildly. Apparently, to please users and customers in China is very trendy to have the air conditioning at its maximum, and this has been lethal for me.

Shifting quickly and repeatedly between hot and humid to the dramatically low temperatures of the metro stations has caused my first Chinese flu.

The initial symptoms were the usual sore throat, cough, shivers and weakness, so I asked my Chinese teacher to write something to show the chemist in order to get the proper medicine. All good, except that by the time I got to the pharmacy I was also boiling with fever.

Due to an excessive weakness, I avoided new medicines and immediately opted for a common aspirin to make the temperature drop, but for throat and cough, I was still at the mercy of Chinese natural remedies.

Following my teacher's guidelines and some of my best gestures (in these cases being Italian, and able to talk with hands, helps), the chemist gave me a flowery box containing the herbs that will make my cough and sore throat go away.

The medicine is called Sangju Ganmao Keli, and is a mix of mulberry leaf, chrysanthemum, weeping forsythia, mint, bitter apricot seed, balloon flower root, licorice roots, reed rhizome. I've been taking one sachet in hot water three times a day and results are good so far: my throat is getting better, my voice has got back to normal, I'm not constantly blowing my nose, which is re-assuming its natural colour and abandoning that ridiculous red-ish look. In a nutshell, I'm breathing again.

What I have learnt, a little doing some research before coming to China, then listening to my teacher's anedoctes and being in touch with Chinese people, is that their philosophy is to prevent rather than treating, so they maintain a very healthy lifestyle and natural remedies are part of their daily routine.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who caught the flu despite the heat. My teacher came to class yesterday with weird red signs on her throat and forehead, and even before we could ask what had happened to her, she explained that it is Chinese medicine against the fever. Our puzzled look prodded her to explain further: basically when we start having fever, by pinching on our forehead and our throat, we make the temperature drop.

I'm not suggesting anyone to do it, as I believe there is a special way to pinch effectively and not just randomly to only cause awkward redness. I don't think I'll try that either nex time I have the flu, but I found it fascinating as an introduction to alternative medicine.

Finally today the weather has changed and is much cooler, a completely different season from yesterday, quite pleasant and certainly more appropriate to the end of September.

I was told Shanghai's coldest temperatures are around 10-8°C, but it feels colder as it's always very humid. This might be an incentive for me to start looking at different remedies in order to prevent a potential next flu.


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