Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hello sunshine

Tea Mountain rock
Lina "interpreting" some construction on Tea Mountain
Tea Mountain locals
We're not the only visitors

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In front of others, I always pretend to be cheerful

This weekend we spent in Chongqing with the purpose of running in the Chongqing Marathon and celebrating St Patrick's day. It turned out to be a lot of fun. There were seven of us from the school running various distances and Lina and I took up the challenge of collecting everyone's race packages before the event office closed at 6pm on Friday. Despite Chongqing only being 70km from Yongchuan it takes ages to get there and involves a frustrating variety of transport types to get there. Still, we made it just before closing time and got involved in some good old Chinese bureaucracy to collect all the race packages from separate desks. We fueled up in Subway, which is s special treat for us these days as a tuna sandwich is not a common sight in these parts.

The race itself started right outside the blinging Sheraton Hotel which we sneaked into to use the bathroom. The decorations committee for the marathon had apparently received an unlimited budget and the mandate to "go nuts" as there was synchronized drumming, dancing dragons, and wall-to-wall red and gold stuff... but no toilets. Minor details. Waiting for the start of my half marathon as the only foreigner in sight I made about fifty new friends and had my photo taken with all of them. I wonder what happens to all these pictures of me with smiling Chinese people. Then we were off. Then we stopped again as it wasn't really the start, but everyone was so excited they thought it was. Then we were really off, at a gentle stroll as twelve hundred of us navigated our way around the barriers and TV cars. Despite the lack of pace, everyone was having a great time and I picked up an entourage of two young guys who were to run either side of me for the entire race.

Half-way into the course we looped around a bizarre theme-park (but not this one) with plastic aliens and miserable looking birds of prey chained to posts.  This is where we passed under a banner, thoughtfully translated into English as "In front of others, I always pretend to be cheerful". Not bad advice for marathon runners surrounded by TV cameras I suppose. I had a bit of a low point from 13km to 17km and was in danger of losing my running companions. Their constant glances back to see where their pet foreigner had got to kept me motivated along with the enthusiastic yelling and waving of things from the crowd. Apparently 30,000 people had turned out, but Chinese statistics should be regarded with some caution. I clawed my way back to my companions and narrowly lost a sprint finish to one of them, which is only fair in their hometown I think.

We arrived back in time to see the full marathon winners come past (Kenyan, obviously), closely followed by the Chinese Olympic hopefuls who were being selected from this race. I made another hundred new friends and had my photo taken endlessly (I need to start charging for that) before finding the others from Yongchuan and enjoying some post-race "recovery drinks" concealed in an orange juice carton. Stealthy. Lina came over the finish line so intent on meeting her target time she didn't notice the five of us yelling at her.  After a few minutes she was also ready for a few recovery drinks, so we retired to The Harp for some horribly expensive imported Murphys. It tasted great though.

My conclusion is that half-marathons are much more fun than full marathons as I didn't feel like my legs were going to fall off. Unfortunately this information has come too late as we're registered for the Beijing Great Wall Marathon in May. That will quite certainly be the second and last road marathon I ever do. What happens in China, stays in China.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How is a gas different from a solid?

I'm marking homework and have discovered the best answer to this question ever written:

"Gas is different from a solid like wind is different from dung"

If St Patrick had come to China...

...maybe he would have visited the Intercontinenal Hotel's Irish buffet. I wonder what you get in an Irish buffet. I would hope there's Guinness cheesecake at least.

Or perhaps St Patrick would have run in the Chongqing marathon followed by a pint in The Harp as we'll be doing. Either way it's good to know that's there's always an Irish pub wherever you go in the world. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Here for a long time, not a good time

In my defense (for not writing anything on here in ages) I have been grappling with the twin-headed beast of coming back to work after a nice long holiday, and almost immediately being the most ill I've been in years. I do seem to be almost fully repaired now, which means I can look back and find the amusement in feeling like crap in China. So here's the story.

We got back from our holiday finale in Hong Kong, which was unexpectedly really amazing. Why did no-one tell me that there is s city in Asia where you can run over mountains, surf, mountain bike, and eat Mexican food all serviced by public transport? Why are we in Yongchuan when such a place exists? The one thing good old YC does have going for it is that everything here is about a tenth of the price of Hong Kong which made coming "home" a financial relief if not a recreational one. But I digress. One day of work later I found myself with what I thought was a cold. No problem. However, large problems emerged the following morning when I had a really high temperature and could barely stand up. Ah... "'flu" I thought to myself and stayed in bed, hoping to feel better in time to teach my first class later in the morning. This was turned out to be a dose of some real manly 'flu (not to be confused with man-flu) though which had me fearing for my life by lunchtime. 

Something I remember saying a few months ago when we were walking past the hospital in Yongchuan is "One thing I really hope for while we're in China is not to have to go to the hospital". I guess I now have to be careful what I wish for as I might get it, or not. Wishing is obviously a bad idea. Our principal, the school driver, and our secretary (acting as translator) transported my sweating and aching body to the glittering edifice (?) that is the Teaching Hospital in Yongchuan. As foreigners, we have private health care, which provides us with a mysterious "VIP" hospital card. I had hoped never to find out what exactly "VIP" treatment consisted of in a provincial Chinese hospital, but there I was. We were advised by some helpful nurses that the doctor had gone to lunch and would be back in about an hour, and that he was more "professional" than the emergency doctor so we should wait. We found a place for me to slump while we waited and time passed in a haze of feverish 'fluiness. It turned out I did have a really high temperature, so I at least felt justified in looking for some medical advice. Once the doctor re-appeared we were sent all around the hospital to get blood tests and a chest x-ray. As I staggered around the corridors I remember passing a large pool of blood with a pair of flip-flops in the middle of it. I was pleased that while my illness was feeling pretty unpleasant, it didn't mean losing my footwear and bodily fluids.

Tests completed, I moved to the next stage of diagnosis, which in a Chinese hospital is to stand in line while a doctor reviews your lab results on the computer. I was surprised that the doctor didn't seem to want to look at me, or come anywhere near me to perform his diagnosis... but perhaps that is just a Western extravagance I have become used to. My diagnosis was given as "not serious" and I was dispatched with a carrier-bag of medication labelled in Chinese. Back at home I struggles to focus on the computer screen long enough to decipher what I had been given. There were some bottles of some kind of herbal infusion, some herbal pills, a mucolytic agent, and some painkillers. I figured I must have been diagnosed with 'flu. Fair enough. Luckily there weren't any beds available so I didn't have to be put on an IV drip and stay the night, which I think is what you usually get for showing up with a VIP card. Sometimes not being treated like a VIP after all is a relief.

Skipping forward a few days, things weren't going well. I seemed to be getting slowly worse and breathing was becoming painful so it was time to "seek medical attention" once again. Our principal fortunately knew of a Plan B for medical help in Chongqing. Global Doctor seems to be an Australian company that provide reassuringly expensive western-style health care all over China. Luckily our health insurance covers Global Doctor so after a bus ride to the big city I found myself in a very convincing doctor's surgery actually being examined by an English-speaking doctor (from Paraguay). Dr Deniz and Chinese Dr Emma spent a great deal of time poking their endoscope camera in my ears and up my nose and performing a very entertaining House-style diagnostic routine which like the price, was reassuring. The team's opinion was that I did have 'flu, but had then picked up a secondary sinus infection which was the cause of my current problems. Respiratory infections are a big problem in Chongqing due to the damp climate and horrendous pollution and Dr Deniz seemed very familiar with my situation. At least I didn't have pneumonia, bronchitis, or any other nasty thing that I had been worrying about.

So I went home with some powerful Chinese nasal spray which had a pleasingly similar effect to drain-cleaner on my nostrils, and some antibiotics at a dose large enough to exterminate a horse. I was told that if things didn't get better quickly I needed to add a second antibiotic to really hammer the message home. Serious business. Skipping forward another couple of days, most of the contents of my sinuses had been removed by the combination of antibiotic sledgehammering and nose-scouring spray. After nearly two weeks of feeling awful I was finally on the mend. This process continues and I'm nearly back to normal, having learned a few things:

Firstly, I trust Western medicine. This is probably a good thing as I've spent most of my career furthering it (in a small way).  No doubt Chinese herbs have their place and probably have plenty of biologically active ingredients in them, but a bit of rigorously-designed testing wouldn't do any harm before we assume they work.
Second, I'm very glad my flip-flops and bodily fluids aren't on the floor in the corridor of Yongchuan hospital. Third, I think technology in medicine perhaps shouldn't entirely replace examining the patient.
Finally, life can imitate art, at least in the case of a doctor's office and TV medical dramas.