Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Night at ShiGe Zhuang

My wife had promised the Zigen workers a short presentation and a discussion on public and personal health at Zigen’s Community Center. I had accompanied my wife a couple of times to Zigen’s old community center at Sandy River. But since my last visit, Zigen had left Sandy River, along with many migrant workers, and re-located to ShiGe Zhuang village.

With the usual end-of-the-year frantic-ness and busy-ness, it was hard for my wife to find a free evening. Which was why we ended up going to ShiGe Zhuang on Christmas Night. ShiGe Zhuang (史各庄, or the Family Shi’s Village in Hebei province usage), like Sandy River, is a village north of Beijing city. ShiGe Zhuang is actually two exits before Sandy River on the Badaling Highway (and about 14 km from the Fourth Ring Road), but it took us much longer to get there since there are no express buses that go to ShiGe Zhuang. (I assume there will be express bus lines once people move to the new real estate developments there. In any case, the soon-to-be-finished subway/light rail Changping 昌平 line will connect the Number 13 subway line with Changping and points north.)

We arrived at dusk, after our bus sat in heavy traffic all the way until the stop before ShiGe Zhuang. From the bus stop, we saw that the land to the east of the highway was entirely made up of rubble of concrete, brick, wood and glass, remnants of the demolished houses. In the smog, we could see a few buildings, seemingly rising from the rubble, dotting the desolate horizon.

We crossed the pedestrian bridge to the west side of the highway and walked right into a cold but lively ShiGe Zhuang. We met Xiao Zhuo, a Taiwanese volunteer who is spending 6 months at Zigen. Xiao Zhuo took us past the ShiGe Zhuang Elementary School. All along the sidewalk there were carts already set up or being set up, selling stuff of all sorts, from slippers to frying pan, from socks to toys, from buns to pancakes, …  Xiao Zhuo eventually led us down one of the side streets, which, though asphalt-paved, reminded me of the dirt roads I remembered from Taiwan in the late ‘70s, but with more dirt, and with grungier shops.


It was heartwarming to see the old Zigen billboard. This community center is a lot smaller than the old one at Sandy River. The familiar blackboards still outlined Zigen’s aims and list the schedule of workshops. The single large room now doubles as both the activity room and the library.

The lights were out when we got there. According to Xiao Zhuo, the landlord was called, but he couldn’t fix the lights. One of the Zigen workers had to string up a light bulb in the middle of the room. We then set up the LCD projector for showing my wife’s powerpoint presentation.

The audience started showing up a little after 5:45 PM, coming in alone or in small groups of two or three. When they came in, they greeted the Zigen workers heartily before finding foldable stools and their spots in the activity room. The Zigen workers started the small make-shift coal-burning furnace in the corner to keep everyone warm. I probably wore more than anyone else there, but felt the coldest and they let me sit next to the furnace.  

My wife started out the presentation with a slide reminding the migrant workers of a popular Chinese saying, “地位是暂时的、荣誉是过去的、金钱是身外的、只有健康是自己的.(My poor translation: “position / social status is temporary, honor / glory is in the past, money is external / a mere worldly possession, only health is yours”)

Then she outlined her presentation, 健康方面关心的问题?(Health Issues You Should Be Concerned About): 

  • 职业病(噪音、粉尘)professional hazards (noise and dust)
  • 外伤急救 emergency treatments for trauma
  • 感冒、发烧、肺炎 colds, fever and pneumonia
  • 用药安全(抗生素)medicinal safety (use of antibiotics)
  • 吸烟与健康 smoking and health
  • 营养与健康 nutrition and health

My wife mentioned that to stop bleeding, one should elevate the wound above the heart and put pressure on the major artery between the wound and the heart. The picture of the bottle of erguotou二锅头 (er-guo-tou) on her slide served to inform the audience that 65 degree (i.e., 65 percent alcohol) erguotou (along with iodine and juice from garlic) can serve to disinfect. (It is more likely for these migrant workers to have erguotou on hand than rubbing alcohol or iodine). She reminded the audience that they may need to get tetanus shots if they had been wounded by rusted objects and that if they were to come down with a fever they should go to the hospital immediately.

The slide on Medicinal Safety (Use of Antibiotics) showed a box of amoxicillin from Sijiangzhuang Pharmaceutial Company. My wife noted that this particular brand of amoxicillin was not only cheap but trustworthy, and added that whenever using any antibiotics, one should read the instructions carefully before using (how many times a day, how many pills each time, double the dosage for the initial use) and that one should take the course (at least 5 days, and not stop once the symptoms subside). She further mentioned that she preferred Sijiangzhuang’s amoxicillin as it was in powder form and came in capsules so one can add a drop or two of water to the powder and use the paste as a disinfectant.

The first slide on smoking showed a healthy lung next to a smoker’s lung

And then she started the discussion on smoking. First a show of hands demonstrated that just about everyone in the room smoked and that it was a substantial portion of their daily budget. No one knew the healthcare costs associated with smoking-related health issues. Some had family arguments because of persistent smoking. And no one knew the hazards of second hand smoking.

The last slide was on nutrition and health. Given that all the migrant workers have their meals covered by their construction companies, my wife feared that they would be eating meals that is not nutritionally balanced. Especially in this last year with severe inflation, she thought that the workers meals would be low in protein and so she suggested that they cook eggs for themselves, drink yogurt, boil peanuts, fry soybeans, buy some prepared foods with meat (but avoid the vacuum-sealed ones) and drink soymilk. (In fact, the last few months, according to the workers, their lunchboxes were basically rice and Chinese cabbage. Not even tofu…)

After the last slide, my wife led the room in a lively discussion. She made special note of one of the workers (a certain Mr. Wu, see photo below) who already knew most of the health information she tried to convey. She told everyone that they should consult Mr. Wu if they had questions. She also tried to answer the questions as best as she could and made notes of those she couldn’t, promising to answer these questions on a return trip.

 Mr. Wu is the one on the right.

At around 7:30, the laptop was swapped for a DVD player. The Zigen workers had been showing the TV serial “Battle for Peking” 战北平 on Saturday nights. On this Christmas Night, the migrant workers started to watch episode 22. A couple of them were impatiently waiting for my wife’s presentation to be over and voiced their opinion loudly when the DVD player was taken out. But these few were immediately hushed by the others. My wife was very touched by the support, as we left and found our way back to ShiGe Zhuang bus stop to wait for one of the buses that would take us back into Beijing city.

Miscellany and Afterthoughts: During my wife’s presentation, I noticed that some of the migrant workers got up and left the room. But they came back in too quickly for a trip to the communal restroom (more than 3 minutes away). So they step outside for a quick smoke. In this regard, these migrant workers respected the “No Smoking” sign more than some of my wife colleagues at the CAS or even some of my colleagues at PKU. When asked, some noted the sign and told us that they did not think it was appropriate for them to smoke inside where there were Zigen workers who were running these community events.

Only one couple came. They sat next to the furnace and next to me. (See photo to the left.) The rest of the migrant workers came up to Beijing without their wife or family.

Most of these migrant workers were from the province of Henan, which was where one of the Zigen workers was from. Henan, 河南, means south of the river; whereas Beijing is in the middle of Hebei, 河北, i.e., north of the river. The river is Yellow River.

It turned out that just about all the migrant workers were owed their paychecks for the last 1-3 months. The construction companies were only covering their meals during this period. Some of the workers tried to get the Changping county government to intervene to no avail. Now they are just hoping to get paid in time for Chinese New Year.

The antibiotics commonly in use are amoxicillin, erythromycin, and tetracycline.

Erguotou (er guo tou) 二锅头 is a typical Beijing spirit, made from a mixture of grains (wheat, corn, sorghum, …), so-called because it is the “head” () of the “second pot / distillation” (二锅).

My wife and I are not in any way affiliated with Red Star (红星) which makes the Erguotou in the image above or with Shijiazhuang Pharmaceuticals. It was my wife’s intention to list items that were cheap, safe and easily accessible to the migrant workers.

And finally, a Happy New Year to Everyone!

Written by a newyorkerinbeijing AT gmail dot com on New Year’s Eve 2011.


Allen said...

"buy some prepared foods with meat (but avoid the vacuum-sealed ones)"

What is the issue with vacuum-sealed food ? Not that I enjoy vacuum-sealed food, but what is the health issue ? Possible melted plastic on hot food ?

New Yorker in Beijing said...

dude, in general, the less processed the better! do you trust the food packing?!