Archive for March, 2013

Chinese vs. Western Medicine

March 17, 2013

One of the things I find infuriating is the Chinese insistence that Chinese Medicine is best, even when it patently isn’t. I’m going to set aside the whole “period pain issue” (girls here seem to think it’s virtuous to suffer without painkillers) because I’m, well, a guy, and getting into that just feels weird on a bunch of different levels.

Anyhow, returning to the main focus of this entry, I had a pop at a kid who skipped a class because he had a headache. Now I get migraines when I get stressed. They can be blinding, and always involve me “up-chucking” eventually (I earned a degree of astonished admiration from the kids at my first school by vomiting in class, and continuing with the lesson), so I asked if he had one of those.

No, he said, he didn’t. So, I countered, why didn’t you take an aspirin get yourself to school (I’m sorry, but I come from the well you’re not dead yet so get your bum to work school of thinking)? Well, he replied, “I took Chinese Medicine for the headache.” This is where my head started hurting. It always does when I have conversations like this, because I know I’m going to come up against some crazy-ass Chinese logic, which makes no sense. The rest of the conversation went like this:

“So why didn’t you come in to school after taking the Chinese medicine?”

“I was waiting for my headache to clear.”

“How long did that take?”

“12 hours.” (I’m really not kidding, he really did tell me 12 hours)

“Have you heard of aspirin?” (which I found out was pronounced asPEErin here, but that’s a whole other story)


“Have you ever taken it?”


“Did you have some?”


“How long does that take to clear you headaches?”

“2 hours”

“So why didn’t you take that?”

“Chinese Medicine is better.”

“How do you come to that conclusion?”

So we had a discussion about “evidence based medicine”, which was pretty well timed, because I was at that point of the curriculum anyway.

What I don’t understand is this dedication to a crazy idea, in the face of the evidence to the contrary. This kid know how we made aspirin, knew that it was stronger and more effective, and still chose Chinese medicine.

Incidentally, for those who think I was being a hard-arse, maybe I was, but he’s never been absent from my lesson, and he’s got the potential to better in the subject he missed. Equally, he swore up and down he wasn’t just skiving. This is China, he he couldn’t lie well if his life depended on it.

Life in China

March 11, 2013

One of the things that worried me about coming to work in China was the whole political situation here. I had visions of the “Great Firewall”, and wondered how far they’d progressed from Mao suits, waving the “Little Red Book”, bicycles, and clamping down on Tibetans.

Well, the thing is, I probably worried to much. China is backward in many ways. The paperwork (or more accurately the randomness with which it will appear) will make you think “Remind me again why I have to do it for that?” The hideous over-staffing is remarkable (they have people to tell you where to park your bikes, when people cope on their own, no problem). If they were efficient, China would be scary, trust me on thatBut they aren’t.

China is a paternalistic, top down, society. It’s not communist. Trust me on that. It just isn’t. Paternalistic? Yes. Paper hungry? Totally. Determined to know what you’re up to? Absolutely. But I’ve never been worried about what “the people in charge” think of me. Asking them to explain stuff gives me a good idea where they’re coming from, and saying “So tell me about…..?” is a good way to get people (even adults) thinking about issues.

The other thing they respond to is being open, and balanced, about stuff in your country of origin. I’ve had students ask me what people thought about Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush, The difference between British and American government, what the difference between Christians and Catholics where, and why the Puritans left England. If you give them honest answers, they’ll respect you for it, and respond when you ask about China.

A surreal conversation here in China

March 3, 2013

One of the things I’m probably most embarrassed about, when it comes to my life in China, is my lack of language skills. I’ve got maybe 10/20 words, and I get by with that, and a lot of pointing. Given I’ve been here almost 3 years, it’s not good. I could defend myself by saying that I’m a visual learner, and that I have no chance of grasping the script, but let’s face it, that’s bunk.

Anyhow I was in the bank today (yes banks in China are open Sundays) to pay my electricity bill (£6 or $10 for the month for those of you who care). I was queuing up when I had a conversation with what the Americans might call a “greeter” that saved me 10 minutes in line. It went like this (with English translations afterwards):

“No card, no card” (You do know sir that if you have an ATM card, you can pay you bill electronically).

“Yes card, yes card” (Interestingly enough I think I have the card I need).

“Card, Card?” (You have an ATM card?)

“Card, Card” (Is this the card I need?)

“Card, Card.” (Yes that is the right card. If you’ll follow me).

“Card, Card” (Good but I can’r read Chinese).

“Number Number” (Put your card in the slot).

“Number Number?” (Do I put my PIN number in?)

“Number Number.” (Yes then I’ll press some buttons)

“Number Number?” (So I enter my Account Number now?)

“Number Number.” (Yes)

“Green Green.” (That button tells the machine you want to pay your bill if the amount is correct).

“Card Card?” (How do I get my card back now I’ve paid my bill?)

“Card Card.” (Press that button)

“Shi Shi.” (Thank you).

“Bye Bye”