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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 February 23, 2005 04:38 PM