Po Chai Pills and Other Items of Interest

When I was reading National Geographic Traveler, I came across an essay by Daisann McLane, an American living in China who writes the blog, Learning Cantonese and is the “Real Travel” columnist for the magazine. Her essay was about getting sick and taking some mystery pills, meaning she didn’t know what they were exactly, but the doctor- told her-to-take-them pills. They were called Po Chai and they worked. Daisann’s experience reminded me of my own.

Getting medicine from in Asia facinated me when I lived there. In Singapore, the doctor I went to had an office in an apartment complex. This is typical in Singapore. Mega apartment complexes often have grocery stores, beauty parlors and a doctors office for anyone to use. You don’t need an appointment, you just show up. The doctor I went to was excellent. After she found out what was wrong with me,( nothing much really), she sometimes gave me a prescription.

Before I went on a trip, I’d also head to the doctor to get a supply of pills for stomach ailments. She’d count some out and put them into a tiny zip lock bag. By the end of the trip I never could remember which pills were for what problem. Once in awhile, I’d take my pill stash to her so she could again tell me what was what.

In Taiwan, the doctor, also a walk-in type, gave pills in a strand of packets, each packet a separate dose. If there was a 10-day dose, there would be 10 little pouches attached together. When you got to the last pouch you were on the last dose. If two or more pills were to be taken together, and there always seemed to be two or more, those were in the same pouch. There was never an indication of which pill went to which purpose. The advantage of this method is there weren’t a lot of bottles to keep track of. The disadvantage is those packets could take up a lot of room.

Daisann’s subject matter goes beyond medicine, each month she adds new essays with photographs, and provides some language lessons besides. Her recent essay, “Hong Kong is Always With You” is linked to another essay she wrote that was recently published in Slate.