How many pharmacy workers does it take to help a laowai get his medicine?
No, that is not the opening of a joke–though it could be.
This afternoon Julianne and I went on a hunt to find an over the counter muscle relaxant for my shoulder (it’s having ‘issues’). We walked into the pharmacy armed with a small list of over the counter relaxant names we’d found on the Net hoping that we might get lucky and find one of them here in China . . .
About 2 seconds after we entered and I pulled out the list we were surrounded by five pharmacy workers–I won’t use the label “pharmacist” because I really doubt that translates both culturally and in terms of training and knowledge from English into the Chinese context.
Two of them began examining the list with a look I know all too well from inside the EFL/ESL classroom when, at the beginning of my career, I would have mistakenly selected a reading passage that is too difficult for a lesson . . . the “I’m-trying-as-hard-as-I-can-but-have-no-idea-what-this-is” face is one I know well, and the girls, while trying to hide it, had full on expressions of it.
I should say that I really appreciate that here in China the store clerks will actually try to communicate and interact, regardless of English language ability, with a foreigner because in South Korea the clerks all too often get a case of the ‘oh-shit-it’s-a-waygook/migook (‘foreigner’)’ and all too often give you terrible service and attitude/hide/runaway, etc. At least here most of the Chinese clerks/service people Julianne and I have interacted with will TRY–we both really appreciate that!
Back to the story . . .
Another worker, upon seeing that neither Julianne or I have enough Chinese language skills to converse in a pharmacy situation (seriously, that is SPECIALIZED LANGUAGE), began yelling across the hall to one of her friends who speaks some English . . . which was nice of her, but I also thought to myself how many Chinese people are able to speak English in a pharmacy situation? It’s not easy for them too!
Thus it was that Julianne and I were surrounded by six Chinese women all very curious and wanting to help but unable to help that I had a very brief chat with the nominated girl-who-speaks-English who was VERY happy to get to practice her speaking skills (minimal as they were) . . .
After visually confirming for myself that there were no names of over the counter relaxants I was trying to find on the shelves, or anything that looked like it might fit the bill, I gave up and we said thank you and left.
The band of girls dispersed as we left the store and the ‘English speaker’ said, “Thank you. See you next.”
I guess the ‘moral,’ or rather ‘lesson,’ of this story is don’t go to a pharmacy without a Chinese friend who is fluent in English, has an English-Chinese dictionary, and possibly an electronic translator that also has medical terms too . . . and maybe even better do research at home on the Net to find the terms and words you need in Mandarin with your Chinese friend before you even venture out to find a pharmacy.
The problem is that even after all of that you may not be successful. I guess then if you still need the medicine it’s time to go see a doctor . . . but I’m trying really hard to avoid that if at all possible as there is a whole other set of issues that come up.