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February 23, 2005

Cha bu duo (more or less): A trip to the pharmacy

Having long been interested in "alternative" remedies, one thing I've enjoyed about living in China is the ready availability of various herbal remedies -- including Formula 101 for hair growth (final results not in yet).

I have made several trips to three different pharmacies to pick up cures for cold and stomach conditions. At two of the pharmacies, the reception was a little chilly. I was serviced by stern women behind counters, like the people that still filled retail service positions in some department stores when I first visited China in 1991.

At the third, though, the people have always been friendly -- interested in what I'm doing in China, how I like living in Nantong, etc. Last week, for the first time I decided to see whether I could buy a "Western" medication that I take every day. I take theophylline to keep my asthma under control. When I showed the friendly clerk my bottle from the US, she summoned a young pharmacist to help. He brought out a small bottle of some kind of capsules. I asked, "Zhige bi nage yiyangde ma?" ("Is this the same as that?") He initially replied, "Yiyangde" (the same), then hedged with "Cha bu duo yiyangde" (more or less the same). I bought a small bottle for less than $2, but determined to do some research.

While we addressed this pharmacological issue, we engaged in light conversation and Pharmacist Ji expressed an interest in studying English with me, as did one of his assistants. I invited them both to come to our apartment at 7:40 any Monday evening, which is when I host what has become kind of an "English corner" for adult friends we've made here.

After spending an hour or so on bilingual medical websites that evening, I determined that the medicine Ji sold me is indeed an asthma remedy, but is definitely not theophylline. So, I returned to the pharmacy the next day, this time armed with printouts in Chinese. Ji acknowledged that he understood what I wanted, but he only had aminophylline, which is a fast-acting version, whereas theophylline is time-released. I asked whether he could "yu ding" (special order) 100 tablets of theophylline, and he said he could.

The next Monday evening, Ji showed up at our apartment, along with assistants Ms. Wang and Ms. Shen. To my surprise (since we'd conducted our pharmacy business about 95% in Chinese), he speaks soemwhat better English than I do Chinese. Ms. Wang is about on my level, and Ms. Huang a little lower. No one else came that evening, and we had a really delightful visit with these "xin pengyou" (new friends). Also, Pharmacist Ji brought me 110 tablets of theophylline. They are 100 mg, vs. the 300 mg I get in the States. After doing all the calcuations, I determined that I can buy for about $.27 in China the same dosage that costs me $.32 JUST FOR THE CO-PAY in the US. We'll, we're all reading about overpriced American drugs, aren't we?

-- Norty

Posted by now at 04:38 PM

February 17, 2005

Going Home and Coming Home

The funniest thing has happened - I have now started to feel as if I have 2 homes. We just went home to Kansas for a visit, and now we are back home in Nantong.

It was wonderful to be back in the US to see friends and family. We took a short trip to Sioux City to see Norty's dad and sister. Cousin Larry and Debbie came up from Omaha, so we got to see them too. We had planned to stay until late Monday, but a winter storm began brewing and we thought it would be a good idea to get back to KC when we could, so we left on Sunday. We just beat the storm back. Aside from that, we spent a lot of time with Inga and Noel, shopped for things we can't get in China, and saw friends from synagogue. Ohev seems weird without Rabbi Horwitz, but everyone is muddling alone pretty well. The day before we left to come back to China, we went with a group from Ohev to work on a Habitat for Humanity house. So many people showed up that we actually wound up working on two houses! Inga went along with us, so we had a nice family experience, too.

Our trip back to Nantong had the usual glitches. First, our suitcases were packed to the 70 pound international weight limit - mostly due to the 116 books I was bringing back to China. One suitcase was actually over the limit by 5 pounds, so Norty had to remove a sackful of books and take them as carry-on so we could get under the weight limit. Then, when we got to Minneapolis, we found out that the connecting flight to Portland was going to be delayed nearly an hour due to a mechanical problem. Since we only had 1 hour and 9 minutes between flights in Portland, we could see that we were probably not going to make the flight from Portland to Tokyo. Norty and the nice Northwest folks worked out an alternative itinerary which took us to Detroit to catch a flight to Tokyo and on to Shanghai from there. Then the flight to Detroit was delayed, so we got there with only about 20 minutes to spare! Fortunately, our arrival gate in Detroit was very close to the departure gate, so we made it - and so did our luggage! Turned out that the Detroit to Tokyo flight was the first part of a flight that continued on to Shanghai, and the Tokyo to Shanghai leg was the one we would have been on anyway. The only real hassle with the change is that we weren't able to get our requested vegetarian meals on the Detroit to Tokyo leg. There was a fish option, which was fine with me, but Norty is a stricter vegetarian than I am, so he was kind of out of luck. The flight attendant made something with rice and vegetables for him, so I guess he didn't starve. At any rate, he got his vegetarian meal on the Tokyo to Shanghai leg, and by that time, I wasn't hungry any more (you wouldn't believe how much they feed you in Business Class!).

When we got to Shanghai, we went through customs and went to get our luggage. We waited as suitcases went round and round the conveyor. First suitcase, second suitcase, third suitcase - wait, wait, wait - no fourth suitcase! ARRGH!!! Norty goes to the luggage claim help desk. They tell him the computer says the fourth suitcase is still in Detroit ... or maybe Minneapolis, or maybe Tokyo. Who knows? Just as Norty is completing the insanely long lost luggage claim form, he looks up to see a cart piled with suitcases, and right in the middle is our lost lamb. No one seems to know how it got there, but at this point, who cares?

Before we left for the US, we had arranged for a driver to take us back to Nantong because we figured it wouldn't cost much more than taking two taxis (because of the luggage) to a hotel, staying the night, taking 2 taxis to the bus station, getting a bus to Nantong, and then taking 2 taxis to our apartment. Not to mention how much more comfortable and convenient the trip would be by car. Anyway, by the time we found our last suitcase, our driver had been waiting outside for nearly 40 minutes, and was getting agitated (and calling us on the cell phone to say so) because the airport cops didn't want him parking out there for so long. Finally, we got out to the curb and managed the seemingly impossible task of getting 4 people (us, the driver, and another guy whose presence we never did understand, but who helped with the driving) plus our 4 huge suitcases and various carry-on stuff into the car. Fortunately, the car was what I would call a small stretch limo, so we got everything in, even if we did have to put the biggest suitcase between us in the back seat. The last glitch was that the ferry across the Yangtze River was closed due to fog, so we had to go west about halfway to Nanjing to take the bridge and then come back east to Nantong. There's a good highway and no traffic that late at night, so it didn't take much longer as compared to taking the much slower ferry, but it cost us an additional 400 RMB (about $50) for the detour. So, we wound up paying $150 for the driver, instead of the $100 we would have paid had the ferry been open. Still quite a bargain for a 4 hour drive, I'd say!

So here we are back home in Nantong. The landlady had cleaned the apartment while we were gone and had only turned off one of the heaters we had left on, so it wasn't too cold. Naturally, we were wide awake, even if it was 2 am, so we unpacked some of our stuff, and finally went to bed at about 3 am. We got up again at 7 am and put in a full day yesterday, so we got to bed at the usual time last night. I think we're pretty much back on China time today. (For some reason, it's easier to get over jet lag when we come back to China than when we go to the US.)

That's about it for now. Today, I'll start on my lessons for next semester. Later, alligators.

Posted by now at 08:54 AM