Archive for March 29th, 2011


Pharmacies and Ping-pong

I had forgotten how much fun it is to play in Chinese pharmacy. You get to bounce from counter to counter like the ping-pong computer virus of a few years ago.

When I visited the ophthalmologist, I was given a “prescription” for eye-drops – you don’t actually need a prescription for them, but the doctor thought it would be helpful to assist me in asking the pharmacist for what I needed. Wise man!

[For the record: I had just had my pupils dilated for the retina exam and my eyesight was seriously blurry, affected by bright lights etc, so I walked around with a sort of scrunched up, squinty outlook on the world… I trust that no adults, elderly citizens, children or animals were harmed during events that followed.]

Stage 1: Enter the pharmacy and head for the nearest counter. Benignly smiling elderly male pharmacist looks at my brandished script and waves in a vague friendly way to direct me to the next counter. I manage to avoid the glare of sunlight coming through the window and notice a long counter with ladies in white coats scattered along at regular intervals.

Stage 2: My next attempt at seeking assistance meets with an equally friendly smile and wave further along the counter. [Thinking….this could go on for a while.]

Bounce 3: Jackpot! I must be at the right place: pharmacist No.3 is ready to assist. She checks the script, scribbles a product code and a quantity on a scratchpad, tears off the page and tells me I need to go somewhere else to pay and then I can come back to collect the eye-drops.

Bounce 4: Not thinking (or seeing straight) I head back to the elderly male pharmacist, who gleefully waves me away in the opposite direction. Struck out, again!

Bounce 5: Duh! There is a sign saying “Cashier” (in English!) I hand over the scrappy piece of paper and my cash (foreign credit cards are not welcome here). I get my change and a till slip indicating that I have paid.

Bounce 6: Back to Pharmacist No. 3 who pounces on the till slip and digs the eye-drops out of the counter and hands it over. But not until I have signed my name on her list of products issued for that day. I am also instructed to sign the till slip in order to continue with my mission. She manages to convey to me that if I need a fāpiào 发票- the generally accepted document as proof of payment  for tax purposes – I need to head over in THAT direction. I don’t really need one, but I feel that if I bail out now, I won’t get full credit for completing Level 1 in my pharmaceutical ping-pong endeavour.

Stage 7: Head towards the door, bypassing the bemused elderly male pharmacist (who doesn’t seem to do anything except traffic control), I spy someone with a computer and terminal near the exit. I hand over the duly signed till slip. A look of horror crosses the fāpiào lady’s face as she struggles to read my signature. I then comprehend that I should have printed my name, not signed this piece of paper. As she starts struggling to spell it out verbally, I help her out by rewriting it in capital letters. Luckily her computer can handle Chinese and English. After one failed attempt, I retrieve the “chopped” (stamped) fāpiào (with a sort-of Russian version of my surname) and….

Home-straight: I am ready to exit stage left.

Level 1 – Game Over!


As an aside…I just have to make reference to the wonderfully appropriate Chinese characters that are used for the game of pīngpāng! Don’t you think they depict the game perfectly?



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March 2011
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