Having diarrhea in China is probably the most unusual thing I’ve written about.
Before you navigate away from the page, however, let me tell you that this blog may actually help you (and only partly gross you out).
By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of what can happen to your bowel movement in China, why it happens, and how you can beat it.
And, hopefully you’ll have a bit of a chuckle along the way.
Diarrhea didn’t affect me prior to China
Before I was teaching in China, I lived in Australia. Maybe I would have diarrhea once a year if I was unlucky.
(Note for grammar nerds: I’m using the American spelling, ‘diarrhea’, rather than the British/Australian spelling, ‘diarrhoea’.)
Although I have only been in China for three months, I have had more diarrhea in this country than I’ve probably had in my entire life.
That is not an exaggeration – and it is not just me it’s happened to.
Last week, I had a woman come into my class 20 minutes late because she had been busy on the toilet; not a pretty picture I can assure you.
Home is where the heart is. But does your stomach feel the same way?
My first experience with diarrhea when teaching in China came when I tried a taste of home.
There’s a KFC just down the road from where I live.
I ordered some spicy wings, some chicken legs, and their finger-licking-good burger, washed down with a hot-pink soda (I asked for Pepsi, but let’s stay on topic).
Not 20 minutes later, my body demanded I rush to the bathroom, because a premature evacuation was imminent! This annoying first case lasted for two days.
KFC in China gave teacher Nicholas a bad case of the runs.
But it was not the last. Twice I encountered similar problems from McDonald’s burgers and fries as well.
Don’t get me wrong – the equivalent of Western fast food in China tastes great.
There may be fewer options, with some additional Chinese flavours thrown in there to enthral the locals, but the taste is still what we quintessentially know and love.
Sugar is the enemy
The issue is the sugar.
Chinese food is synonymous for its high sugar count. I don’t know what it is, but the people here love their sweeteners.
You should try their bread. It’s like eating cake!
Your stomach can have trouble trying to process all that sugar, which can result in problems.
All the sugar in Chinese bread does not help with your diarrhea.
There was a time when I would eat fast food maybe two or three times a week in China. It is quick, easy to get to, and affordable.
Safe to say, I have changed my modus operandi.
Spice is enemy number 2
Another reason behind my first problem was the spiciness.
Now, there was a time when I could not handle spicy food at all.
It took me a while to train my body to accept it in Australia, and in so doing, I built up a tolerance.
Chinese food covered in spicy chilies.
I can accept a little spicy, but not too spicy. My stomach, however, sometimes cannot accept it at all.
The spicy chicken wings were just the start; some spicy two-minute noodles I boiled on the stove, and some spicy pickled bullfrog (don’t ask) also caused my colon to cry out for the nearest can.
Just because it’s popular in China doesn’t mean…
Walking around Ningbo, where I’m based, almost every second store sells milk tea. It is a new phenomenon in China, taking the country by storm!
But will your stomach feel the same way?
Some stores are healthier than others, including more fruit and less, well, whatever else they put in there.
I recently had two milk tea drinks in one day. One was watermelon, the other original.
Later that night, when my stomach demanded my full attention, all that came out was liquid. It was like my penis and my colon had switched places.
Avoid drinking milk tea in China if you're suffering from a bout of diarrhea.
Even one of these drinks a day might be too much for a stomach that is easily unsettled.
If you want a refreshment, go for bottled water. Tea, cola, soda and juice are also options, and despite the sugar, you at least know what the ingredients are.
On the other hand, any stomach that is already in a bad mood will become even angrier if you pour milk all over it.
Okay, I have a stomach problem. Now what?
I am a suffer-in-silence type of guy.
I suffered with a stomach problem for 10 days before I did something about it. I would recommend you don’t wait so long.
By then, I needed the hospital, and was given a big collection of pills.
If, however, you’ve only recently started having diarrhea in China, there are some strategies that can help.
First, befriend a box of oatmeal and porridge. Eating this at breakfast will make anything in your stomach become thicker and harder.
There’s nothing like starting your day in China with a diarrhea-fighting breakfast!
You should accompany this with a glass of warm water.
Though your body may demand you start your day with coffee, you can have this later. Plain warm water is much better at settling your stomach when you awake.
Don't start your day with a cup of coffee, says teacher Nicholas.
Second, consume less sugar.
This means no chocolate, no desserts, no fast food, and no fruit (yes, even fruit because of the fructose).
Third, eat less red meat.
Much like sugar, this can take a long time for your stomach to process. Make friends with chicken and fish.
Fourth, you will need to take up a monk’s diet.
Vegetables will make for great company! For me, I made sandwiches with carrot, celery, lettuce and capsicum.
It may not taste as delicious as the other dishes on offer in China, but your stomach will be more appreciative.
Never leave home without this
Now that you’re armed with a number of ways to ward off diarrhea in China, I need to let you in on one last tip.
You’ve probably heard that toilets in China, particularly public ones, aren’t too pleasant.
But did you know that they don’t supply toilet paper? Nope, you have to bring your own.
So for those of you suffering from diarrhea in China – if there is one thing you should never leave your home (or hotel) without, it’s toilet paper.
Don't forget your toilet paper or you could be left high and not-so-dry.
Final words from the 'diarrhea conqueror'
When coming to China, I imagined some of the problems I might encounter. Explosive diarrhea was not one of them.
When teaching in China, you will encounter lots of delicious food, and nothing should stop you from enjoying the opportunity to savour them all.
I hope my story and some of this advice proves helpful. I know I wish I had access to it before I made some of my decisions.
Let the consequences of my actions be a warning to you, dear reader.
Having diarrhea in China is a pain (literally). How have you overcome it? Share your comments below.