Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Escaping the cameras

I'm free! I feel like Truman in "The The Truman Show" when he escapes the cameras. Like in the spy movies when they manage to sneak through the cracks in observation.

The Shanghai/Beijing part of this trip has felt like I'm traveling in a Communist country. Oh, wait. But I mean that it has felt very orchestrated. Not because we are a threat but because the organizers were very ambitious and crammed the schedule, allowing no room for spontaneity or independence. We actually surprised them when we visited a river/canal town near Shanghai, Zhujiajiao. They thought we wanted to see something historic, and we did, but then we MBAs went mad over the shopping and negotiating process. After the extraordinary massiveness of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao has a scale that is small and cozy and the familiarity and freedom of instant-gratification shopping (until then, our shopping had been at the LVMH flagship store in the huge mall). We bought a lot of crap. I don't think they expected us to go so nuts over the tourist souvenirs, but the shopping bug took over for all of us. We all needed that freedom.

I thought Beijing would provide more free time, but no. The problem with these cities, versus my beloved Hong Kong, is that they are so big and we take a bus everywhere, so every trip takes 30 to 90 minutes. In Hong Kong, everything was under 15 minutes away, and travel was not passive: you had to consciously get on the right train or walk down the right street.

But now I have a really bad cold. Yesterday the organizer, who was also getting sick, and I went to a Chinese medical facility and got Chinese meds. I had no voice, laryngitis, at the time. The pills they gave me immediately restored it. Cool.

I felt so crummy as we began tonight's 40-person pizza dinner that I bagged out entirely. And I think even the freedom is causing me to feel better. I walked into the hotel and immediately asked the concierge where I could find a pharmacy, because no matter what eastern meds I'm taking, I need Robitussin. He pointed across the street to the big sign that said, "Supermarket."

Crossing a dajie, a big Beijing street, at night in the cold, all by myself! No American voices next to me. Going into the supermarket, it had the familiar smell of fresh vegetables. I found the pharmacy, which looked just like the place I'd visited yesterday. That particular pharmacy did have a western section with several flavors or Robitussin. I mimed coughing (actually, I coughed), and they pointed me to the right counter. I thought, how do I see where the Robitussin is? Then I noticed the large advertisement for it on the counter and pointed to it. Whoo-hoo!

I ended up talking to a very nice pharmacist via his medical complaint translation book. He gave me another med as well. I have bought meds on my own at a Chinese pharmacy where they don't speak English!

Then, after super-strongly considering buying a green pig-shaped humidifier (I still might have to do that -- my hesitation is that the instructions are not in English and look complicated ... but, after all, it's just a humidifier so I could probably figure it out) for $15, I bought some apple juice and re-crossed the street. No caucasians around! I joined a small group, including a woman holding a very ugly shih-tsu in a sweater, that was doing the pedestrian-inch-across-the-street-in-traffic-before-the-light-changes thing. Such a free feeling.

And now my chicken soup has arrived from room service. Who knew that having a cold could be so liberating?

Clockwise with Robitussin at the center: asthma chewables (red box), syrup to treat runny nose and sore throat, sore throat lozenges, immune strengthener tea, voice restorer pills, something else for throat tea.

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