Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ice Never Tasted So Good

If you ever get a cold in Vietnam, lock yourself in your room until it’s run its course. If you don’t, you risk compounding and extending your sniffles through sheer stress and frustration.

For one, there’s a myth that will haunt you. When you’re not raised in “don’t drink cold drinks when you have a cold,” it’s very easy to mock the irrationality behind it. But then, I can’t be too condescending, as it’s just as irrational as the Western “don’t tell anyone you’re pregnant in the first trimester.”

In any case, the no-ice myth is just as irritating as it sounds. I first experienced it when I was on a holiday with four local women I barely knew. They were incredibly nice but were, for a variety of reasons, excruciating to spend time with, so I tried to abandon the trip a day early by feigning a cold. It didn’t really work – by the time I had formulated my plan, the morning bus had already left, so I ended up leaving only marginally earlier than I was originally going to.

More importantly, my fake illness meant that for the entire day I was denied cold drinks. A round of refreshing iced teas would arrive at our table, but before I could get my hands on one, one of the women would say something in rapid-fire Vietnamese, immediately after which it would be snatched away and replaced with its piping hot evil twin. There are few things less pleasant than sweltering in the Vietnam heat while drinking something made from freshly-boiled water.

Like all myths, this one annoys me because of its profound lack of logic. When you have a cold, what you need most in the world is hydration. Water, orange juice, Gatorade- anything to keep your fluids up. It’s not easy to choke down hot tea in the tropics, and it’s impossible to drink a lot of it.

But I made it through this ice-free day and went on with my life. Four months later, I actually got a cold, and the whole process repeated itself, albeit with different people.

Usually, I let my immune system take care of my illnesses, as I figure the boys could use the real-world experience to supplement their grueling training regimens. But when a café I frequent literally refused to serve me iced tea – supposedly for my own good – I decided to make an exception because I didn’t want to cause unacceptable loss of face by screaming at a kindly waiter who was just trying to help me out.

So I went to the pharmacy and described my symptoms, expecting something like sudaphed. Instead, I was given a three-day course of ten pills a day and advice to spit phlegm out my mouth to avoid a chest infection. I took the former and knocked them back, thinking to myself “when in Vietnam…”

I’m retrospectively reminded of an interview I once saw with my hero, Seth Rogan, who talked about when he got a cold and, for some reason or another, drank bourbon to cure it. Like him, I definitely felt good after taking my “medicine,” but “good” is significantly different from “cured.”

I was loopy. First, I felt fantastic. Cloud nine fantastic. I was relaxed, with as light smile on my face, going about my business in a fog of medicated bliss. Sure, I was still stuffy, but I didn’t really care anymore.

Then I started to feel active. And not just in contrast to the tiredness brought on by my cold. I felt like I’d washed down a pile of amphetamines with fifty or sixty cups of coffee. My fingers positively flew across the keyboard as I sat in a café and facebooked the finer points of life with everyone who had the pleasure of being online at the same time as me.

Then I left the café, bought some lunch, and entered the next stage. All that energy had its price, and I was exhausted. More exhausted than, I think, I’ve been in my entire life. I collapsed on the couch, leaving my lunch half-finished, which is probably a first for me. Leaving my lunch, not sleeping on the couch.

I woke up in a fit of paranoia. Everyone was out to get me. I was jumping to conclusions about people I’d met that weren’t just unreasonable, they were absolute fantasy. I’ve never been a particularly paranoid guy, so this was a brand-new and wholly unpleasant experience.

I went to take another nap. This time, however, I was in a strange no-man’s land that wasn’t alert, wasn’t tired, but certainly wasn’t normal. I would close my eyes and lapse immediately into incredibly vivid dreams while still being aware of my body, pillow, and blankets. They were a cross between dreams and hallucinations, and were thoroughly unrefreshing.

All through this, by the way, my cold remained completely undiminished. And I’m not a doctor, or even anything approaching an expert in the sciences, but all these effects seem profoundly worse than some sneezes and coughs. In the medications’ defense, I was distracted from my cold for awhile as I turned my brain to these more pressing matters. Maybe that was its purpose.

I opted to avoid the cold medication in the evening, but still went to work, where I felt a bit bad over the fact that all the Vietnamese teachers were now coughing and sipping hot water. I couldn’t resist some smugness, though –those same teachers had been religiously wearing masks when I came in hacking and coughing the day before, not to protect themselves from me but to protect themselves from the dreaded H1N1. Suckers.

Over the next few days, I recovered with little fanfare. Now I’m a first class citizen again, being served the same drinks as everyone else. Ice never tasted so good.

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