the best is yet to come

Living healthy in China is exceedingly hard

a.k.a. How to survive Shanghai despite your daily diet of gutter oil and smog.


I rather not know how badly my health has suffered from being in China for the past year and a half, because I never quite feel 100% whenever I’m here, partially because there’s this dry-cough in the back of my throat that never goes away, and partially because I spend entire months (like January) on antibiotics for the 拉肚子 that inevitably comes from trying to eat adventurously.

Over time, I’ve learned the hard way to never eat the strawberries that smell so deeply of Spring, the ones sold in fruit stalls on the sides of the streets, because washing them under tap water makes them not just dirty, but also full of heavy metals. I’ve found that the third bottle of Tsingtao in, you’ll never make a good decision about street-side meat skewers, and go back for seconds of lamb (or so they say…) with cumin and MSG. I’ve learned that if I don’t check the Air Quality Index in the morning on a bad day (200 and above), my throat will burn even harder, because on those days, Shanghai becomes a toxic sludge of factory air and exhaust pipes.

And it’s hard, feeling as if your body isn’t your own. I’m constantly under the weather, too tired, under caffeinated, under nourished, too dry, too sweaty, too cold, too warm – depending on the day and where I am in China. It’s frustrating, because I am trying to normalize all of those things, even if it’s taken me a year and a half to even take the baby steps necessary.

I finally gave in and bought my own food processor/immersion blender on 一号店 and I will make my own hummus, I promise (once I spend at least an afternoon trying to decide exactly what J. Kenji Lopez-Alt wants me to do to the chickpeas and the garlic), but I’ve already been blending smoothies almost every morning (are they healthy? that’s another question). I’ve become one of those girls that slathers her face with face creams every night, because otherwise my skin would start peeling  from the dry winter air. D and I finally invested in one of those 5-gallon water drums that people use in China, because that beats being perpetually dehydrated from running out of water bottles.

I keep oscillating between living in this ‘bubble’ that we create by buying 60RMB avocado smoothies and salads with kale  (or whatever the Chinese equivalent of kale must be) and going back to immersing myself in China and trying to understand it, to make the experience really matter. But when I try to get under China’s skin, it gets into mine (or more frequently into my digestive tract) and I revert back into the comfort of kombucha and kale until I feel disgusted with myself. I’m still not quite sure where the balance between the two is, but I’m doing to keep trying to find it.



15 thoughts on “Living healthy in China is exceedingly hard”

  • You may not want to hear this, but there has been a surprising news story over here lately. We banned smoking in pubs and public places in 2006 and the surprising result of this is that the rate of heart attacks have dropped massively by 42%. This isn’t smoking-related heart attacks, I don’t think, but down to the drop in passive smoking amongst none-smokers. It just shows what big effects the quality of the air have.

    Stay away from those heavy metal strawberries!

    • I absolutely believe it! It’s sad how cheap cigarettes are in China, because it’s such a widespread habit among the working class. I feel like almost 1/3 of the male population here smokes.

    • oh man, I consider moving out of China every day! It’s such a fascinating place to be in, and it’s powerful to realize that there are many countries out there that don’t have access to clean air or water, thankfully in places like Russia you’re able to drink the water after it’s boiled though

  • Oh yeah the heavy metal strawberries. My in-laws have a tap water filter and thus you can actually drink tap water at their place (as long as the filters are being changed regulary) but before it was the same as you have. I remember I wanted to wash my apple there with tap water back in 2011 and my father-in-law got nearly a heartattack 😀

    • ohh haha yeah i’ve generally stopped buying fruits that can’t be peeled, because it still feels indulgent to wash them in bottled water. I have a friend who uses Brita filters that he gets from a friend who works at Brita, so that might be a good idea to consider too

  • I love hummus a lot! But I have to confess I’m too lazy to make it on my own. So I buy hummus in the supermarket and I’m hoping they put something healthy into it 😂🍽

  • I lived in Beijing, China for about 6 months and I really loved my experience there, but air pollution is the worst. The air quality index was the first thing I would check in the morning. Good thing though is that it really made me appreciate blue sky!

    • It really did! I do a lot of staring upwards when I am back in the States and noticing the sky a lot more (to the great detriment of being able to walk forward at times.. )

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