Fighting the Common Cold in Kunming

July 6, 2012

I was really looking forward to my time in Kunming. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Kunming is famous for its consistently mild temperatures.

I don’t tend to think of China as having consistently mild anything, really.

Even the tofu in this country could put some hair on your chest.

Spicy tofu. Not for the faint of heart. Or stomach.

So I was pretty excited.

After all, I’m a mild temperature kind of girl. I burn too easily and sweat too much to enjoy the heat. And I like using my fingers and toes too much to enjoy the cold.

In Harbin at the Ice & Snow Festival. I don’t even know how I took this picture, as I don’t remember being able to feel my fingers for most of the trip.

Having spent the last month or so suffering through hot and sticky summer weather in Wuxi and a few days in the even hotter and stickier Chengdu, I was pretty eager to take a break from sweating out of every single pore of my body.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time outdoors frolicking in the cooler Kunming climate. I was too busy holing myself up in my hostel room sniffling and suffering from China’s latest attempt on my life.

You see, on my last day in Chengdu, I woke up sneezy, woozy-headed and scratchy-throated. This situation was not exactly helped by the eighteen-hour, hard sleeper train ride I had to take from Chengdu to Kunming. Which is about like taking an eighteen-hour ride in a giant human petri dish – a really smoky, giant human petri dish. Because, remember, this is China, where the men smoke pretty much all the time — even when they’re doing things you’d think would prevent them from smoking. Like visiting the hospital or working out or sleeping.

Welcome to the petri dish

By the time I reached Kunming, I was in full-on, what-is-my-name-again-and-where-am-I, head-cold mode.

Like all the colds I’ve gotten in China, it was one of those long, drawn out, lingery diseases that involved lots of wheezing. It was the kind of disease that made me feel like I’m the heroine in some Nineteenth Century novel. You know, like I’d end up spending the rest of my days in an iron lung and eventually I’d just wither away and die.

And, if you’ve met me in person, you know I have a ways to go before I can technically start withering.

Yeah, not quite withery. Probably because I eat too much bacon.

I spent most of my time in Kunming catching up on reality television on Hulu and sniffling – both from my cold and from watching episodes of Master Chef and So You Think You Can Dance. Because, seriously, there is no way I can make it through either of those shows without losing it at least half a dozen times. There is just something about watching people pursue their crazy dreams that makes me cry.

And then I’d start to feel guilty.

Because there are people in the world capable of whipping up perfect apple pies even though they CANNOT EVEN FREAKING SEE. And other people who can bust out amazing dance moves despite having been DECLARED DEAD SIX FREAKING WEEKS AGO.

And I couldn’t get out of bed because of a measly cold?

I should be out there pursuing my crazy dreams, too!

Okay, so maybe I couldn’t remember what those crazy dreams were because my brain was no longer capable of coherent thought. But why was I letting a little thing like brain-fog stop me?

So I’d jump out of bed to go do something. But then I’d have to give up because even putting on my flip-flops required a bit too much energy.

Occasionally, I would shuffle out of my room to go visit the Walmart across the street from my hostel to stock up on important cold-fighting stuff like juice and fruit and chocolate.

I’d never been to a Walmart in China before, but it turns out the Walmart in Kunming was a lot like an American Walmart – crowded and noisy and full of people with big hair.

I wouldn’t say it is the best place to go when you’re already feeling woozy and light-headed.

I kept on seeing weird stuff for sale that I was convinced couldn’t possibly exist in real life. So I had to take pictures of all of it just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

First, there was the pizza with dragon fruit on top of it.

You can see this, right? Please tell me you can see this.

Then, there were the peppermint-flavored prunes.

Why, China, why?

And there was this:

Okay, now I think China is just messing with my head.

Despite the fact that I didn’t get to see many of the fine sights and wonders of Kunming (aside from, you know, the dragon fruit pizza… which truly should be considered a wonder), I have to say that Kunming wasn’t such a bad place to be sick.

First of all, they have some of the best chicken noodle soup in the world.

With the poetic name of across-the-bridge noodles, the soup is served unassembled. This means you get to dump all the bits together into the big bowl of steamy broth.

It’s all very DIY.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a very strict order in which you’re supposed to dump the bits into the broth. If you dump them in all wrong, apparently your soup will explode.

Or you will.

I’m not really sure.

Because it may be explosive.

The restaurant where I ate even provided helpful photo instructions at each table.

First, add the meat. Then whatever the other stuff is.

But I was too woozy-headed to notice. Plus, I tend to think if something’s written in Chinese it must not apply to me.

I started dumping things in all willy-nilly-like which caused a small amount of hysteria among the staff. Luckily, my waiter set me straight, so that when I came back to the restaurant (as I did… more than a few times) I was able to dump the bits in according to the proper order like a total pro.

Secondly,  if you’re going to pick any city in China to laze about and basically do nothing, Kunming is a pretty much the place to do it.

In fact, doing nothing seemed to be the Kunming way of life.

There was a small park near my hostel, which I would wander through during my more lucid moments.

At any given time of the day, the park was full of people playing cards or mahjong.

Or chatting.

Or doing absolutely nothing at all.

Watching people in the park made for a nice break from watching reality television shows. At least, it didn’t make me feel all guilty.

Sure, I wasn’t out there baking perfect pies or ballet dancing my way to reality television stardom.

But neither was this guy:

And he seemed pretty cool with that.

How do you cope with getting sick on the road?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On July 6, 2012 at 10:34 am Edna said:

    Dragonfruit pizza and peppermint prunes…Oh how I miss China.
    Edna recently posted..Why I feel lucky to be American

  2. On July 6, 2012 at 11:02 am Dyanne@TravelnLass said:

    Pssst… I’ll let you in on a little secret.

    I always start off reading your posts from the bitty window of my Google Reader. I mean, I can see the pics and everything, so why bother to click it into full screen mode, right?

    The truth is – seldom, I dare say rarely, do I get past the 2nd paragraph before…

    It becomes crystal clear that I’m just going to HAVE to comment on your latest blather, so I laborioussssssssly click the stupid title to pop it into full screen mode (all 17″ of it here on my laptop), just to say…

    Thanks for yet another delightful, LOL read. I mean, it’s a gift girlfriend. You truly CAN make even SNOT entertaining! 😉

    That and… hope you’re feelin’ better now, my dear.
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..My Stash for the Wilds of Outer Mongolia

  3. On July 6, 2012 at 11:13 am Deedee said:

    The last two times I traveled to Asia I’ve gotten sick. The first time was in Thailand, when I started feeling that stuffy, achy, scratchy-throated set of symptoms on Koh Tao, and by the time we’d taken the 3-hour boat to Chumpon I was really feeling sluggy, and then by the time I got off the 10-hour bus ride to Bangkok, I was full-on sick. I couldn’t really do anything about it at the time because we arrived so early in the morning. Finally I found an open pharmacy and got some cold meds (loved that you can buy pseudoephedrine without having to show nine forms of ID and sign your firstborn away), but I still had a 14-hour train ride to contend with before making it to Chiang Mai. I was in CM for about two days before I felt semi-well again. I guess I just coped because I didn’t really have a choice! I was on the move, so I couldn’t really stay in one place (unless it was a bus seat, a boat chair, or a train bed) for very long.

    I got sick to my stomach in India on the third day, and I basically dealt with it the only way I could – I didn’t leave my room! LOL! And then just as that was going away, I came down with a cold. Apparently the antibiotics for the intestinal bug had lowered my resistance. So I went to the pharmacy and bought this awful, nasty, disgusting stuff called Joshina and some herbal supplements called Septilin, and within 36 hours I was as good as new. I brought the Septilin home with me, but not the Joshina because it was a liquid. I have since found out that the Joshina comes in powder form as well. See if you can find it in China!

    • On July 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm Sally said:

      Oh, I’ve been plied with Chinese herbal medicines before. The first time I got a respiratory infection, I was given these little bitter pellets that were supposed to cure my “wind energy” along with whole bunches of other stuff. It really didn’t work for me. I ended up going back and demanding they give me antibiotics.

      • On July 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm Deedee said:

        Septilin is made by Himalaya Herbals, which is a HUGE company similar to Nature’s Way, Solgar, etc in India. It’s actually supposed to help boost your immune system to prevent future colds. I think Joshina is an Indian thing, too. The active ingredient is an herb called Jashtimodhu. I avoid antibiotics whenever possible because if you have a virus and not a bacterial infection, they’ll do more harm than good (and even when they do good, as in the case of my intestinal woes, they produce lower resistance to other infections by killing the beneficial bacteria/probiotics that you need to keep you healthy). I guess you just have to know your own body, but I was RAVING about this Joshina stuff. I couldn’t believe how quickly I felt better. I went from miserable cold to feeling like I was never sick in less than two days.

  4. On July 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm jan said:

    I am touching wood as I say this and my fingers are crossed #$kl.. but, I don’t get sick when I am travel. Marty my other half, usually does get sick. In cold weather he gets a cold, in Asia he gets a stomach bug. THE only thing that makes him feel better is food – but what food? I volunteer to get him whatever food he desires, then I have to offer a squillion suggestions because he can’t think of anything he could possibly eat. In Marrakech I ended up cooking him vegetable soup at our Riad. It must be L O V E!
    jan recently posted..The Left Bank – Townsville Riverway – Fantastic Friday

    • On July 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm Sally said:

      WHAT? How can you NEVER have gotten sick while traveling? I consider myself to have a pretty strong immune system (or at least I did… before China started to want me dead) but I usually get sick at least once on a long trip. You must have some major good karma, lady.

  5. On July 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm Selly said:

    I don’t think that a thing such as the common cold exists. At least I have never made acquaintance with it (not that I’m in any rush to do so) since I always only ever get to meet the common cold’s family which is some sucky cross-bred version of said cold that just bugs me for ages. Still, lazing about in a city that offers something so cool as dragon fruit pizza can’t be a bad thing at all…well done you! I thought the sudden climate change from soggy, wet Ireland to hot, sunny China would get the better of me but it appears there’s a limit to how much wet you can take before you body comes up with some sort of superpower immune system…at least that’s what I hope it is but it may just be wishful thinking or dreaming.

  6. On July 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm Waegook Tom said:

    Wait…..dragon fruit pizza? And I thought Korea was odd with its whole potatoes on pizza and sweet potato crust thing.

    If I get sick on the road, I hole myself up and watch whatever’s on the TV or on my laptop. I spent a week in Turkey watching C.H.U.C.K., Gossip Girl, and emptying the contents of the mini-bar in the room.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..The Mission Burrito

  7. On July 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm Kelly Mac Donald said:

    I am new to your blog but had to chime in to tell you what a subtly funny writer you are. I loved this post!
    Kelly Mac Donald recently posted..Responsibility

  8. On July 6, 2012 at 10:28 pm Daisy said:

    If not for the photos, I would have sworn that those food and flavor combinations were hallucinations! Dragonfruit pizza? I am glad that you captured that!

    Sorry though to hear that you were sick on the road. It’s terrible to be ill while you’re traveling.

    Once, a friend of mine in college, was traveling around West Africa via BUSH TAXI while suffering from malaria AND Dengue fever.

    I am amazed he made it home.
    Daisy recently posted..Mission Chinese Food New York

    • On July 6, 2012 at 11:38 pm Sally said:

      Malaria AND Dengue? Sheez. I think if I just got one of those I would fly directly home. (Can you even fly if you’re that sick? I don’t care. I’d want my couch and my TV to comfort me.)

  9. On July 7, 2012 at 3:46 am Ruth said:

    Hey, Sally
    I lived in Kunming in 2000-2001. The WalMart there used to have glazed dugh it’s and smoked yak (like Montreal Smoked beef) in the deli. You probably haven’t had enough doughnuts while in China, right?

    You really need to stagger down to Pizza da Rocco and try his food. Amazing! He’s from Northern Italy and has a wood fired oven, making amazing pizzas and calzone. Drool! Tell him the Canadian with the red headed little girls was asking about him. Remind him of the year, too.
    My little girls are 18 and 21 now. Yikes!
    Hope you are feeling a wee bit better now.
    I got deathly ill when living in Gumare Botswana in the mid 1980s. Then the local clinic gave me penicillin. Gee, I got worse!! Luckily I hopped a lift to Maun by plane and saw a real doctor. The rash was very exciting, the swelling up of my throat and ear passages and everything else not so.. All the nurses wanted to see my rash since it’s not so apparent on dark skinned folks. I got to flash my stomach to all.
    Cheers from Ruth, now safe and sound in Canada

    • On July 7, 2012 at 6:43 am Sally said:

      I didn’t see the yak, but, then again, I figured even going anywhere NEAR the meat section of the store would bring on even bigger hallucinations. 🙂
      Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Pizza da Rocco this time. But hopefully I’ll be back in Kunming again. I’ll have to try it!
      And, wow, Botswana? Whoa. I don’t think I could deal with being sick there. I can hardly deal with getting a cold in China!

  10. On July 7, 2012 at 3:48 am Ruth said:

    Wtf?? Dugh it’s? Damn that auto correct.
    Doughnuts!! Donuts!!

  11. On July 7, 2012 at 6:52 am Daniel McBane said:

    Just wait until you’re out of China–you won’t get sick for a few years at least. After a longer period of time in China, you’ve been exposed to every single pathogen and contaminant known to man and many that remain unknown. Nothing anywhere else in the world can touch you now. Unless you’re going to India; in that case you should probably learn to find some perverse enjoyment in being miserably ill.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..How to Survive a Chinese Internet Cafe

  12. On July 7, 2012 at 7:48 am Ross said:

    Hope you are feeling better. I got a little sick in Kunming. I went to the edge of town and found an out of the way little market and ate at… well a place I should not have been eating but the tofu looked so good. Not nearly good as the spicy tofu in your post. Could you buy some and FedEx it to me? And include some across-the-bridge-noodles please. They are the best noodle. There was a warning sign where I had them too. I think it was warning that the bowl was very, very hot. I also embarrassed and confused the waitress by asking for a pearl milk tea the way they say it in Taiwan. Evidently what they call it in Taiwan means something like big boobs milk tea.
    Ross recently posted..Get out the shovel and start diggin’

    • On July 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm Sally said:

      Umm, I have a feeling FedEx is going to have trouble with my sending tofu and noodles… but don’t worry, I’m sure I ain’t enough for the both of us!

  13. On July 7, 2012 at 11:45 am Jen Ryder said:

    You always make me laugh out loud, I so look forward to reading your posts every week! I don’t really get colds, usually just stomach sick, which has happened to me in China, India and Cambodia. Cambodia was the scariest. I was living at an orphanage in the countryside and I’d eaten A LOT of these purple flowers that you dip in a spicy sauce for dinner because, well, that’s what was for dinner, and I had gotten a little cocky after four months living there and no serious tummy troubles. The next day I literally thought I was going to die. It seemed like all my fluids and then some were completely drained from my body out both ends within hours. I wanted to go to a doctor, but was about two hours from the nearest major city, and the orphanage van was busted, so the only other way in was by tuk tuk or motorbike–so not happening when I needed a toilet every 15 minutes. Plus, they say if you get sick in Cambodia that you should just go to Thailand. Not comforting. So I just gulped water and gatorade packets I’d brought and rode it out for a few miserable days, with no TV and no computer 🙁 Now I always bring ciprofloxacin and my laptop when I travel, and stear clear of purple flowers!
    Jen Ryder recently posted..Pen Pal Project: A Step-by-Step Guide

  14. On July 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm @MsBoice said:

    Love! “Plus, I tend to think if something’s written in Chinese it must not apply to me.” I’m totally that way.

  15. On July 8, 2012 at 2:38 am Leah Travels said:

    Ahhh…Wal-Mart in China. That was some of my best entertainment. I could spend an hour just looking at the crazy chip flavors. The dragon fruit pizza? That’s even a new one for me.
    Leah Travels recently posted..A Brush with Fame: BBC & My Cruise Contempt

  16. On July 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm Scott - Quirky Travel Guy said:

    Fortunately I haven’t gotten seriously ill while traveling, but I often bring afflictions home with me. Right now I’m dealing with a flu-like thing I apparently picked up in Alaska. At least I can sleep all day in my own bed to recover!
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..Lost luggage and frozen tents: lessons in perseverance from Alaska

    • On July 10, 2012 at 4:54 am Sally said:

      Yes, getting sick right before you get home is much better than getting sick when traveling. You don’t feel quite like such a slug if you just hang out at home… after all it’s your home! That’s what it is for!

  17. On July 9, 2012 at 1:18 am Victoria said:

    That salty soda made me chuckle, and of course the dragon fruit pizza. Wow. Although, I suppose we do put pineapple on pizzas in the UK…
    Steve (my boyfriend) and I have both been sick with a blasted common cold in Argentina recently. Our remedy for survival mostly consisted of watching Big Bang Theory and occasionally flicking over to a telenovela, which had pretty much the same effect as your trip to Walmart – is this REALLY happening?! If you’ve ever seen a telenovela, you should know what I mean. Ifyou haven’t, then save it for next time you’re ill. Hope you’re feeling better now. Love the blog by the way. Victoria

    • On July 10, 2012 at 4:53 am Sally said:

      Thanks, Victoria! Telenovelas — now that’s a good idea! I used to watch the Brazilian equivalent in Brazil, and I never had any idea what was going on even though I could understand quite a bit of the dialogue (and had a roommate who was often willing to help translate).

  18. On July 9, 2012 at 1:40 am Naomi said:

    Dragon fruit pizza! That takes the cake.
    Best thing about being sick in Asia is you can always find a nice hot noodle soup to comfort you. then again, I had noodle soup daily anyway…
    Naomi recently posted..Counting down

    • On July 10, 2012 at 4:52 am Sally said:

      Yep, I ate a LOT of noodle soup. Even when I was like, “I’m not going to have noodles tonight. I’m sick of noodles,” I still went and got noodles.

  19. On July 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm Laura said:

    Oh my goodness, Walmart is my favorite place to go in China, but I’m sad to report that I’ve never found any dragonfruit pizza. Have you seen this list of best things to find at Chinese Walmart?

    They should include your finds, and I’m still desperately looking for a Walmart that sells crocodiles.

  20. On July 10, 2012 at 12:18 am Ceri said:

    Awww, poor you. Did you have a private hostel room? I got food poisoning over Christmas and then a chest infection and was stuck in the worst dorm in some dingy basement the whole time. I felt like I wanted to die. :S At least you made an effort. I sat in my bottom bunk playing on the internet and feeling sorry for myself.
    Ceri recently posted..Visiting Frida

    • On July 10, 2012 at 4:45 am Sally said:

      Umm, I ALWAYS have a private hostel room. Partly because I sleep really lightly. And partly because I know I will spend at least one day of my hostel stay lounging around on half-clothed my hostel bed eating chocolate and watching Hulu (even if I’m not sick), so I’d rather I not have an audience. 🙂

  21. On July 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm Chrystal McKay said:

    Whats not to like? Pizza? Good. Dragonfruit? Good. Put them together? GOOD! I’m on board with China’s wacky Walmart concoctions. ANd I love mixing my own soup – I was yelled at in Japan a few times. But can’t they tell that my Western upbringing taught me nothing of food blending? Everything comes pre-packaged in Canada! Hope you feel better soon!

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:48 am Sally said:

      I’m really not going to agree with you on the dragon fruit pizza thing. I believe some good things shouldn’t go together… no matter how much Asia tries to put them together. Like in Japan they were fans of potato salad on pizza. Potato salad: good. Pizza: good. Potato salad pizza: ummm, no.

  22. On July 13, 2012 at 3:03 am choi kum fook said:

    Miss Sally, the symptom of sickness was mostly caused, from my experience, by sudden changed of weather.Please take more relax indoor and take some suitable vitamins. Try to keep out of oily food and eat simple food when necessary.Take Chinese herbal medicine first,antibiotic is the last choice for remedy.I hope you feel better by now!? Miss Sally, Have you visited the ” Stone Jungle”? It is a awesome sightseeing in Kunming, I heard.Or you just have no idea of it!? Finally, Have you asked permission for taking picture from Mahjong players? I don’t think so,because they were all playing so naturally!Ha! Ha!

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:39 am Sally said:

      Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit the Stone Jungle as I was sick for most of my time in Kunming. I guess I’ll just have to go back!
      And, no, I didn’t ask the Mahjong players their permission. But I took their picture very sneakily, so I think it’s okay. 🙂

  23. On July 31, 2012 at 3:54 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    Wait … Walmart … in China? Ok now my head hurts.

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:53 am Sally said:

      Oh yes. They actually have lots of foreign grocery stores there. I used to go to this French place all the time. It didn’t feel particularly French (I don’t French grocery stores sell pork floss in bulk), but it was very nice.

      • On August 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm Montecristo Travels said:

        pork floss … sounds like something I would find at the vet to go with the chicken flavoured toothpaste! See this goes to prove you can’t know a country until you’ve been in person… and yes – the dog gets his teeth cleaned – go ahead – laugh – I know you want to.


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