Thursday, November 10, 2005

In the throes of a cold and breathing through an open mouth, I sniffled my way through the day. I haven't taken sick in quite a while. I should be sleeping but there're miles to go before that happens. Following up yesterday's mention of a visit to a Chinese pharmacy which, although relatively uneventful, may provide you with a better view of this place...

Left the house and walked in the cold evening and warm meat waft along the sidewalk lined with Chinese neon and spit circles. Dozens of people eating and moving about. Walked past the restaurants and the Quik-Mart until I was standing below a small white square sign with a green plus on it. The indication that a pharmacy was inside. I turned into a wide passage between the glass walls of a hot pot restaurant and another restaurant in which I'd never eaten, turned right at the end of the passage, and then, after passing a dry cleaner, left through plastic flaps and into the pharmacy.

They're wide, thick, plastic strips of soft, flexible plastic which hang down from the tops of door frames and cling to you when you enter. They hang down all the way to the ground and stretch across the width of the doorway. Most places of business have such a decorated entrance in lieu of an actual door. I suppose they serve to keep out insects, and that's my best guess having never asked a national. Touched by everyone coming or going, I call them germ flaps (they encumber the cafeteria doorways at our school). I'd seen similar doorway decor in Italy, but they were much more stylish and colorful. In Beijing, they're simply utilitarian and I have grown accustomed to having to pass through them regularly.

I knew what I was looking for, cold tablets, and made my way down one of the four short aisles in the sparsely stocked pharmacy. I noticed the green-smocked ladies conferring, there were about eight floating about with their receipt pads in one hand and ball-point pens in the other, and one finally approached me as I was looking for a recognizable picture on the various medicine boxes. I looked at her. She was neither smiling nor pretty, but rather looked as if she had drawn the shortest straw and was just fulfilling her end of the bargain which was addressing the foreigner. A young Chinese woman with a greasy face, succulent cheeks and a big pimple on her temple, she began speaking to me in a little more than a whisper. I couldn't really hear her or understand the Chinese but, staring at her face as she spoke, I noticed her glitter-green eyeshadow and asked: "Do you speak English?" Her Chinese response indicated that I wouldn't get much further. "I know what I'm looking for," I said, and tried to ignore her, returning my attention to the shelves. I walked to another aisle, doing my best to ditch the woman in the store which was no bigger than my living room.

I found what I wanted, a box of Tylenol Cold, and moved to the front of the store to pay. The woman who'd spoken to me found me and filled out a receipt. They always have to write a receipt. I had exact change, 12.50 RMB, which I left on the counter and walked out through the flaps.

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