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When I'm under the weather the cure is colleagues

Updated: 2012-09-13 11:21
By Ellie Buchdahl ( China Daily)

When I'm under the weather the cure is colleagues

I should never have gone to Happy Valley theme park. It wasn't that I don't love lethal roller coasters, chaps in psychedelic bumblebee suits who look about as "happy" as a morgue, or teacup rides that threaten to hurl you into orbit at every turn. The problem was that I loved it too much. I expressed my excitement rather too loudly for someone who already had a "frog in my throat", or a "a bit of a cold".

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The result was that, by Monday morning, I had gone from mild Kermit to completely mute. Nothing would leave my throat but a faint hiss. I had lost my voice - completely.

Complaining is a major part of being British. The weather, work, foreign food and people anything and everything is worthy of a moan.

On the other hand, the British law of the "stiff upper lip" states that nothing is ever so bad that you should actually do anything about it. Indeed, this would remove the source of the complaint. Complaining itself isn't broken, so don't fix it.

When it comes to sickness, a true Brit will ensure everyone knows exactly what he or she is suffering from - in loud, graphic detail that includes information on the number of toilet trips and the decibels of the noises produced. But should you suggest that he or she visit the doctor or take some sort of medication beyond cheap supermarket painkillers, he or she will respond with a long-suffering sigh of: "No - I'll survive."

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This tendency is even stronger in my family. Both my parents are doctors and so will christen whatever you are suffering from with fatal-sounding Latin words, before declaring, "But then a little cough never killed anyone." When I was about 12, that "little cough" turned out to be pneumonia, but as dear Mummy said at the time, "A little bit of pneumonia won't hurt a big girl."

Fast-forward to that post-Happy Valley Monday morning in Beijing, and you see me preparing to go to work in a manner of which Mummy would be proud. I wrapped my thickest scarf around my neck and eagerly anticipated the first opportunity to flaunt my lost voice to my Chinese colleagues.

But when I responded to the first pleasantry of the day with a disgusting hiss, the response from the office was not the mutual British-style griping I expecting.

"What have you done to your voice?" cried my colleague, who had just asked me how I was.

"I've got a cold " I tried to say, but every chair in the room had already turned to face me.

My boss was beside herself. "You're sick!" she cried. "We'll take you to hospital!"

"No!" I whispered with as much volume as I could gather. "I'm fine!"

The chaos of concern from all angles was terrifying. I desperately tried to take things back to the more comfortable realms of self-deprecation. "It's my fault, I went to a theme park "

"You must have medicine!" my boss commanded. I was frog marched to the pharmacy to buy a bottle of thick black "pear grease".

For the rest of the day, people prescribed me cups of tea, bowls of porridge, massage treatments, herbal concoctions their grandmother had made them I began to feel like a proper fraud. I wasn't dying yet.

At 5 pm I staggered home, exhausted.

By the next day, I was speaking again. It was almost a miracle.

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Perhaps the flood of green tea and the "pear grease" (which turned out to be oddly addictive in a way that made me suspect it was not just pear grease) had worked. Or perhaps - unlike in the UK, where I would have proudly nurtured my lost voice for all its worth - all this concern had overwhelmed my sickness.

In China, you're not "a bit under the weather". Either you're sick or you aren't. So obviously, I had had to get better. With their kindness that bordered on hysteria, my colleagues had cured me.

Since then, I've rarely had a cold in Beijing. I definitely haven't lost my voice again.

I still buy the pear grease though. Occasionally. As a special treat.

Contact the writer at elliebuc@hotmail.com.

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