Wednesday, September 22, 2010

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.


Global Butterfly said...

I am a Chinese Medicine Doctor! I think it's great that you tried it out. It's pretty amazing stuff. How awesome you go to try it out in the country of origin. :)

AngelaCorrias said...

I would have preferred to try it when it wasn't SO urgent, but I'm still taking the herbal tea and it's giving me great results. I find it very fascinating and I certainly want to dig deeper into it so that I can adopt the philosophy of prevention myself ;)

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Carrie said...

It works. I've tried traditional techniques like ba gua, cupping, acupuncture, and Chinese massage. I can't say that everything worked, but I didn't feel any worse, and in some cases, particularly cupping, I had a noticeable improvement.

As for cold remedies, I try to keep an open mind. Licorice for sore throats really works, and pears really do make you feel better. We have some vile brown concoction for sore throats and coughs in Taiwan. Your symptoms usually disappear within a day or two of ingesting it.

AngelaCorrias said...

I'm sure it works, in fact before winter comes in all its fury I need to find a proper Chinese medicine place not only with practitioners but also that sells herbs and stuff so that I'm "covered" every day!

Fly Girl said...

I'm especially prone to getting weak in air-conditioning too so I usually avoid it when I can. When I can't, I have herbal tablets and sprays given to me by my acupuncturist. I've practiced Chinese medicine for years and believe me, you got off easy. Traditional herbalists will prescribe the actual bark, roots and leaves, none of the pre-packaged stuff. It is truly nasty to drink but it works. I'd suggest you keep drinking the tea as you're doing because it will probably strengthen your immune system overall.

AngelaCorrias said...

Thanks for your comment Fly Girl. I'm keeping drinking the tea because it has truly helped me when I was ill, so now I'm using it as prevention. Besides, I actually like its taste of licorice and I don't even need to add honey as I usually do with herbal tea.

Today I went shopping and saw so many different teas, I wanted to buy some but the descriptions were only in Chinese and it's definitely too soon for me to understand. Next time I'll go to the store with some bilingual Chinese so I can choose a proper tea to get ready for the coming winter!

Ancient Mysteries said...

This is really good to read about Chinese medicine and i appreciate it that you shared so useful and helpful as well.
Your site is also very interesting, very calming effect just reading it. Will spend more time with certain areas. Well done and good luck with your work.

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