Thursday, October 20, 2011

Finally, Something that Translates into Every Language!

In the midst of all of the fun/difficulty/jubilation/headache (it really is a mixed bag) of learning Chinese, I finally found one sure-fire thing that translates well with minimal confusion.

Are you ready for it?

It's a cough.  Or, in my case, a massive, dramatic, whole-body-wracking, enough-to-knock-me-over-if-I-weighed-twenty-pounds-less attack of coughing.  As one might infer, I am sick at the moment.  As in, sick enough that I even took a sick day today (and have, naturally, spent the entire day babysitting my email just in case the substitute needs any help with my classes -- which she won't, because she is capable and brilliant, but I am such a teach-a-holic that I have to worry anyway).

I started getting sick earlier in the week, with the usual completely disgusting alien-goop pouring from my sinuses, a sore throat, and a chronic headache.  By Tuesday, the cough had arrived.  Tuesday night, the fevers and chills showed up, and I shivered and hacked my way through a very unpleasant night (but, on the bright side, got all of the freshmen projects graded since I couldn't sleep).

Wednesday was just plain miserable.  I had a three-hour department meeting and two classes receiving tests, and I coughed my way pathetically through all three (I ran and got some very odd-tasting but reasonably effective Chinese cough drops from our very kind school doctor so that I did not distract my sophomores too much during their test).  In the morning, I was cranky from being sick and stressed and lacking sleep, and I inadvertently put my foot in my mouth complaining about something being done wrong, only to run into the person who had done it . . . who graciously accepted my profuse series of apologies and even made a few of her own (have I ever mentioned how dearly I love the Chinese people in my life and just how kind, lovely, friendly, hard-working, etc. they are? -- now you know how horrible I felt when I accidentally said something negative about one of them).

By noon, I knew I should go home . . . but I had planned an afterschool help class for my freshman, who are taking their test as I write this very post, and I could not bear to cancel it and leave them hanging (some of them were really nervous about their test).  So, I battled my way through the day, though I did inform one of our Chinese co-teachers (i.e. designated substitute teachers and generally awesome people who do pretty much everything, while being unbelievably sweet) that I would need her to teach my classes the next day.  A sick day was no longer an option for me -- it was something I had to do.  I hate taking sick days . . . . I really, really hate it.  But, since I couldn't go more than five minutes without coughing, there was no way around it.

I foolishly forgot to bring Nyquil when I moved here from the US, and oh, have I suffered for that mistake!  What I wouldn't give for some of that wonderful, merciful, drowsiness-inducing potion that got me through so many past rounds of "plague".  With no other recourse, I decided to be brave and go to a Chinese drugstore after school in the hopes of finding something for, at the very least, the sore throat and cough.

When I entered the store, it occurred to me that I do not yet know any Chinese words related to illness, other than the words for diarrhea and vomiting, which were two of the first words I learned (you may draw your own conclusions from this revelation).  I do know "tong" (pain) from when I went for massage and "bu hao" (not good), which is quite utilitarian, but that is a pretty small arsenal to have, particularly in a city full of thousands of helpful, friendly people who want to help the poor foreigner by offering loads of well-meant assistance . . . all in words that the foreigner has not yet learned from her beloved Chinese teacher.  I boldly went forward anyway, confident in my ever-increasing charades skills.

I really need not have worried.  The smiling pharmacist asked me (I assume, since it was Chinese words that I don't know yet) what was wrong with me (or what I needed, or more than likely something to that effect -- although she could have been asking if I like to watch water polo, for all I know).  I pointed to my throat and said "Zhe shi bu hao" (This is not good) and then, before I could employ any charades skills at all, I erupted into a timely fit of lung-flinging coughs.  The pharmacist nodded sagely, said something sympathetic that I understood the spirit of if not the meaning, and then went behind the counter and got something for me.  I paid an insanely cheap price for it, went to the store for "sick foods" and then came home and opened the box to discover . . . . very nasty looking cough syrup (they all are, I know, but this one has the added bonus of being brown and a little frothy on top).

Since the dosage instructions were, of course, all in Chinese characters that I haven't learned yet (well, except for "ren" which means person and really doesn't help), I shrugged my shoulders, gritted my teeth, plugged my nose, and slurped down 20 milliliters of the stuff (it had a little measuring cup with it, just like in the States).  The flavor tasted strongly of ginseng and ginger, intermingled with . . . swamp water, perhaps?  I, fortunately, had had the foresight to have a chaser (Sprite) right at my elbow.  The stuff was pretty effective for a few hours, although it made my brain a little fuzzy (or maybe the fever did that -- who can really say?).

Today, my sick day, my nasty medicine and I have spent the morning curled up on the couch together.  My illness, whatever it is, apparently beat up my voice and stole its lunch money, but one really doesn't need a voice to sit on a couch huddled miserably under a blanket.  At around 10:00 our ayi arrived, so there has been the "Yay Duck" of actually getting to see and talk to her (in my limited Chinese, since the only English she knows is limited to "hi" and "sorry").  Our ayi is very sweet and concerned -- she checked me for fever and offered to do something that I didn't understand (so I politely turned her down).  She periodically checks on me in between cleaning, and says sympathetic things in her lovely language that I really want to someday be fluent in.  Although a cough does translate into Chinese flawlessly, I really can't wait until I know enough verbs and nouns to be able to carry on a meaningful conversation!

1 comment:

The Expat Wife said...

Oh I know exactly how you feel, we lived in a non english part of spain for a while and it was a nightmare asking for Medicine.

I hope you feel better soon.

I'm a new follower :)

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"