14
Jul
10

生病 getting sick

Looks delicious? Too bad these noodles might be more than you bargained for.

Unfortunately, not all my time here in China can be spent studying or having fun. It is inevitable that I am going to sick at some point probably from some badly prepared food; I just didn’t know it was going to happen so soon… 😦

After orientation here in Hangzhou, one of my classmates very quickly fell ill. That is when our resident director told us about the 地沟油 (sewer oil) that lots of small snack carts and less than ideal restaurants use to cut costs. Through some ill-conceived and rather disgusting scientific process it is possible to take waste oil and water, treat it with highly carcinogenic chemicals, and create useable cooking oil. So while all those really cheap hot snacks in the back alley behind the school look and smell really tasty, I never really eat them because I really don’t feel like ingesting refined human waste on a day to day basis.

Did I get sick from this kind of oil? Maybe, maybe not, it’s almost impossible to know. What I do know is that woke up Monday morning feeling great, ready to tackle a new week of school and once again impatiently awaiting the weekend. After my early gongfu course I grabbed breakfast in the school’s cafeteria, which has much stricter food codes and is a safe place to eat. After my morning classes, I once again ate in the cafeteria (even the cafeteria food over here is really great). Seeing how I probably wouldn’t get sick from the cafeteria, it must have been whatever I ate for dinner.

After completing that night’s homework, my roommate returned from his internship at a different college and we headed to a restaurant with a couple of other friends. At first, when we were walking to the restaurant, I had no idea where we were headed. There are literally hundreds of different restaurants strewn around the campus so we’ve got our fair share of choices. As soon as we turned down the dirty alley with a lot of small carts that use the “special” oil, I started getting a little bit nervous. However, the restaurant we went to, a Xinjiang place (a Western Chinese province) looked clean (and had really nice tables and decorations) which eased my fears. I ordered a bowl of 鸡蛋炒面 (egg chow mein) which was actually really delicious. I remember telling Wang Su, “wow this tastes really great, these noodles are kind of similar to spaghetti, let’s come back again”. Little did I know that in about 24 hours away, slouched over a toilet, I would be cursing that exact plate of noodles.

We returned to school and I had some free time because I had already completed my homework. Wang Su and I watched X-men 2 together (with Chinese subtitles). Reading the subtitles really helps to undertand the more colloquial side of Chinese that is harder to learn from a textbook, and I can proudly say I  know how to say mutants in Chinese (变种人)! After that, I went to bed, feeling fine.

The next day I woke up and could barely eat even one 包子 (steamed bun) which I can normally put two down in the morning. I went to my classes and was fine for the first hour, just a little stomach ache. The second hour I started concentrating on the pain in my head and stomach more than I was on the lesson, so I asked my professor if I could take the next two hours off and rest in my room.

I went down to my room and fell into a very comfortable sleep for the next 8 hours. When I finally woke up six, my head was burning, my stomach wrenching, and I had a really bad case of diarrhea. It was horrible. I really didn’t want to eat anything but I ended up forcing down a banana and orange, hoping my sickness would soon subside.

When my roommate came back, I found that my newly learned sickness related vocab came in handy (yes I’ve got diarrhea, a fever, but I haven’t vomited yet). I tried to go to bed around 8, but just sat twisting and turning in a Hellishly hot bed (one of the most uncomfortable circumstances I’ve ever encountered). At around 11:30 my sickness peaked and I climatically vomited. However, after that, I felt completely fine. I ate some more fruit and a piece of bread, took some ibuprofen, then went to bed.

I woke up this morning feeling pretty well too, but didn’t go to class as this is my first time being sick in a foreign country and I really didn’t want to move things too quickly (ended up sleeping until 11:30). Now, I’m feeling really great. I ate some lunch, went to my afternoon course, and am starting to prepare for tomorrow’s test (which is coming whether I was in class or not).

All in all, it could have been worse. I guess I need to start paying more attention to what I eat  and where it comes from. But it is tough to assess a restaurant’s cleanliness by just looking around the place. It’s really more hit or miss. What can you do? This was just another way of me really “experiencing” Chinese culture and just another step on the way to integrating myself in my new surroundings.

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5 Responses to “生病 getting sick”


  1. 1 Kitty
    July 14, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Oh Christopher, I’m so sorry you got sick – could it have been a virus instead of food poisoning? That sewer oil sounds pretty bad – stay away from the alley food! Do the think the locals there have built up a tolerance for it? At any rate, another interesting post – I find them fascinating, especially the detail you provide. Just sorry you were sick for this one. Take care!

  2. 2 Richardo
    July 14, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Oh no, I’m sorry you went through that ordeal. The posts here are always worth reading, btw. Good luck with whatever lies in store next!

  3. 3 Amber Dostie
    July 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Maybe it will take a little time to get used to this “new” way of cooking???? I really do feel for you as I have also been sick in a different country. It is not fun, and I am glad to hear that you are feeling much better!

  4. 4 Mark Houdlette
    July 14, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I certainly could live with that type of “experiencing Chineese Culture”, but I’m glad your safe and feeling better. Will take more than that to hold you down, thats for sure.

  5. 5 Christine Wintersteen
    August 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    The only thing worse than being sick in China in your dorm room is being sick on a moving train to Dunhuang—that happened to me 9 years ago and I still remember it!


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