a podiatric interlude


china2009 travel

chinese voodoo medicine
modern voodoo

I’ve had some on-again off-again mysterious chronic foot pain for
the past year or so, and the hours of relentless walking in
Beijing took their toll in the form of a flare-up that resembled
a mini-case of elephantiasis.

I won’t say that it was miserable, since I reserve that word for
situations where actual death is possible, but it sure wasn’t
pleasant either. Turns out when your body is trying to decide
what to do in the battle of extreme sleep deprivation versus
agonizing consciousness-inducing pain, the loser is you.

Our itinerary called for a flight to Kunming, and I hobbled
through the Beijing airport in a fog. At some point, Victor and I
got separated from the group, and we ended up losing the pack
before the security line. No matter, we had our boarding passes
and gate number so what was the big deal, right?

Apparently, even though the TSA now allows you to carry an
unlimited supply of certain fluids like contact solution, this
little nugget of knowledge has not trickled down into other
countries. I found myself arguing with the Chinese security goon
about being able to keep my big bottle of solution, but he was
having none of it. In retrospect, I really shouldn’t have lead
out with “In America, this is no problem” and his response of
“This is China, not America” was exactly what I would have
retorted with as well. At the time, I wished for more curse words
in my limited Chinese vocabulary, but also in retrospect, that
would have probably been a bad decision. I’m no Jarrett Bialek
after all.

Eventually, I found the gate, limping, sweaty, and frustrated. It
was not a fun day.

Anyhow, I knew my mom would go into maxi-fret mode about my
temporary discomfort, but I hadn’t counted on inheriting thirteen
other equally worry-wart aunties as well. As one who believes in
the power of the bedrock of western medicine (aka ice and
ibuprofin), I found it quite difficult to fend off all the
well-intentioned but crazy-sounding ancient Chinese folklore
voodoo hoodoo medicine that the aunties offered.

Like, for example, drinking the tincture of yunnan baiyao, which
according to the label, is indicated for:

bruises, contusions, injuries, wounds, swelling and pain
due to blood stagnation, rheumatism and numbness, pains
in bones, muscles and sinew, pain due to arthritis,
chilblain, etc.

I asked my dad what the ingredients were, but they weren’t
listed.

Seriously.

Think about that for a second. Medicine that comes in a bottle,
with a child-proof cap and its very own little graduated dosage
cup (like Robitussin) but DOESN’T LIST THE INGREDIENTS.

Well, I drank it just to humor my dad, and as far as I can tell,
it’s equal parts gasoline, fermented tiger penises, worcestershire,
orangutan back hair, and AIDS.

It did not help.

I did manage to beg for some ibuprofin and someone in the group
had an ACE bandage, and between those two things, along with
dutifully applying a yunnan baiyao plaster each day in addition,
I’m somewhere in the ballpark of normal again.

Note to self, I’m adding an ACE bandage to my international
travel kit from now on. This is the second time in an
underdeveloped country that buying one has proven to be next to
impossible, and it’s a pretty cheap form of insurance. Just
something to consider for yourself next time, dear reader.

elephantiasis?