The next time you catch a cold, buy a pear. Any old pear will do, but the Chinese “duck pear” is the hacking cough’s worst enemy, as I recently learned.
Three days ago, in my family’s two-room apartment in Shanghai, I woke up with my head throbbing and my throat scratchy. I could barely swallow. Perhaps it was the dust that clouds the Shanghai atmosphere. Or perhaps I stood, drenched in sweat, in front of the air conditioner one too many times. For whatever reason, my immune system has not been enjoying China.
Falling ill in a foreign country is never fun, and China’s polluted and overpopulated streets are prime dwellings for all kinds of germs. But restoratives come in many different, obscure forms, including traditional remedies many of the older Chinese generation still turn to.
The first day, Mom made me gargle salt water — a common fix for a sore throat. It helped, but only for a couple of hours. I sneezed and coughed my lungs raw for two days until my aunt, a Shanghai native, suggested the pear. That night, Mom came into the bedroom with a bowl of mushy pear halves and melted sugar, which I learned must be all-natural and stuffed into the core of the pear. The entire thing is steamed in a pot of boiling water for two hours. Delicious to the taste buds, soothing to the throat.
Even now, I am waiting for my second “cup o’ pear” in two days to cool. The duck pear mixture is resourceful, yet it’s one of many antidotes that have become outdated. But in China, with a history that consists of more dynasties than we have fingers, tradition is how the people hold on to their roots.