Dispatches from the motherland: Cold meds, moving trucks, and bride prices

I have a cold. When I lie down facing up, it’s like my head fills up with mud while some other substance drips into the back of my throat to tickle it. I hate being tickled. The only way to get rid of the muddy ticklish feeling is to sit up, blow my nose, and cough, which makes it hard to fall asleep.

In another life, I would writhe around in bed making pathetic whiney noises knowing that someone – my mom, a boyfriend – would take pity upon seeing me so incapacitated, so depleted of whatever vitality I normally have, and revive me with a bowl of chicken soup made from scratch, the layer of oil lovingly scraped from the surface, and maybe stroke my hair and tell me, “There, there, get some rest.” 

But this is not my reality anymore. I live alone in a city where I don’t feel close enough to anyone to let them take pity on me and make me soup from scratch. Besides, there’s no more hair on my head to stroke.

What’s a person to do when they just don’t have the energy to make chicken soup and pull themselves from the deep dark depths of a cold? Here’s what I did. I went on Meituan’s medicine-buying platform, which operates 24/7 and delivers medicine to your door within half an hour, and bought myself some 999 感冒灵颗粒. Because of the country’s zero Covid measures, if you’re buying cold and flu medication, the app asks you to enter your identity card details and fill out a health declaration, including whether or not you’ve recently been to a medium- or high-risk Covid area in the last while. 

You know when someone phones you and you pick up and it turns out they’re right at your door and you can hear your voice over the speaker on their end, which gets fed back into your receiver in a weird loopy effect, and as you approach the door, alien noises begin to interfere with your phone call until you just HAVE to hang up? Well, A Meituan delivery man called me half an hour after I placed the order. I opened the door, and he handed me a yellow paper bag, but before I could say thanks, he went charging down the stairs to make his next delivery.

999 感冒灵颗粒 is a box of little satchels of brown granules that you mix with hot water. Gulp it down and it will chase away cold and flu symptoms. The taste is neither too sweet nor too bitter. You will neither get addicted to it nor find its flavor so offputting that it sits on your shelf for years, only for you to find it two years past its expiry date when you have a cold again and you’re making a final desperate attempt to find cold medicine in your house.

Anyway, I chugged a cup and would have been knocked out were it not for the intermittent drilling sounds from next door’s renovation work and the megaphone downstairs calling residents down to get a Covid test. But after 6 p.m. both noises ceased. I can try to sleep in peace now.

I have to say, though, these internet platforms are handy for people who live alone and don’t know anybody in a city. If you don’t have friends who can help you move house, you can hire a van on Taobao, and two guys from Jiangsu will come and help you. They’ll clear out the empty Coke cans and cigarette cartons from the front seat so you can ride in the cab of the truck with them, and they’ll tell you all about the ridiculous bride prices in their home village and ask you what the bride price is in Hong Kong (I have no idea). They will arrange your belongings in small piles, bundle the piles with a thick strap, wear the bundle like a backpack, and haul your possessions up seven flights of stairs because your building has no elevator. They will reject the popsicles you offer them even though it’s 40 degrees outside. They will do all this without complaining. The only thing they will complain about is the bride price in their home village.

3 responses to “Dispatches from the motherland: Cold meds, moving trucks, and bride prices”

  1. This is my favorite of your posts so far!

    Remember when we sat in the cab of the moving truck from your spot in Sheung Wan back to DB?? That was so fun and I bet the driver thought we were so weird.


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