Gospel of Saint Cyr

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-8-24 11:08:00

Photo: Matthew Jukes

By Matthew Jukes

As the poison sky clouds over once again with Beijing's toxic fog, the worst for five years, herds of Beijingers are heading over to some of their favorite websites to find out how to better deal with living in their wonderful wasteland. Thankfully Dr Richard Saint Cyr is on hand to explode the myths behind Beijing's health issues. Not only a practitioner of family medicine at the International Medical Center Beijing, he's also the author of the expat survival bible myhealthbeijing.com.

"I was definitely annoyed that there were no simple resources for health in Beijing, just in terms of general health. There's a huge uncertainty as an expat," he says. In keeping with what the readers wanted, he decided to try and put together a guide for newbies who were about to experience the ordeal. After being resident in Beijing for three years already, Saint Cyr knew which issues were most likely to walk through the clinic doors. Top of the list were normally air pollution, and the continuing food safety scandals.

"I had a popular post, the top 10 wellness tips for newcomers. All the top things I summarized into points. It's true there are issues and things people need to know about here and I think people need to be educated and make their own decisions," he says.

Measuring miasma

By far the true gospels for the concerned of Beijing have been about air pollution, written not just out of concern as a medical professional, but also from personal interest which saw him take to the streets with a breathalyzer-like air particle monitor to measure the miasma that affects the city. It got him more than a few odd looks from the locals.

"I would stick it out of the window of my car at traffic lights. But Beijing has seen a lot stranger things. I'm naturally interested in it [air pollution] as a subject," he says. "The govern-ment is doing a lot of work, but the task is overwhelming. The number of cars on the road is increasing immensely. What more can they do? It's a really difficult issue."

Perhaps because it's in English, there haven't been any complaints from the powers that be, who normally insist that since the Olympics, Beijing has an air quality index similar to that of a beach in the Cayman islands. The results, although probably foremost among the suspicions of the city's inhabitants, were pretty rough, and it was surprisingly some indoor places that ranked worst in the study, with a particular favorite Chinese men's pastime hitting the scale hard.

"Very often it was worse in indoor places, about 15 times more than is healthy. Those were almost always smoking places with bad ventilation. Even in supposedly nonsmoking sections you can prove there was very little difference. The idea of a nonsmoking corner is just ridiculous. Hopefully Beijing will eventually have a no smoking law."

Strong following

Saint Cyr prefers to find studies with the information behind the issue before posting it online. Rather than from a passion for healing, it was having a history in the literary and creative arts that brought him to blogging.

"Actually I had no interest in medicine, I just liked to read books," he says. Prior to medicine he took a degree in English.

A Boston-born lad, Saint Cyr moved to San Francisco for university, and hit the city right around the time of the dot com boom. "That's how I learned to do websites," he says after creating several for his medical school at the time. "Obviously I didn't do what everyone around me did, they all sold their websites for 50 million dollars," he adds, mildly upset about not being a millionaire.

Even without the fortune, he now has a 25,000-string following on the web, and has just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the site. Being a literary techie has been an occupation that has paid off, even if it hasn't financially.

"I love medicine, but I love a lot of things; if I could live comfortably on poetry and art and photography it would be good, but you need to pay the bills," he says. "I was looking at condos thinking I will never be able to afford this with an English degree."

So after an upgrade to the equally noble pursuit of medicine, he launched out into Family Practice, (the hospital equivalent of a GP for Brits). Starting out a far cry from the pollution, traffic and chaos, it was the fairer sex that brought him away from the US and into the People's provinces.

"I was a doctor in Sonoma and the Napa valley, one of the most beautiful places in the world and San Francisco was only 45 minutes away. With all the valleys and blue skies, I really needed a good reason to leave."

Still optimistic

The good reason turned out to be a Beijing-born American who was looking to return home, bring-ing her husband with her. Despite posting about all the possible things that can kill you, harm you, poison you or cause general disarray in your daily life, he remains optimistic about the city, and hopes that he doesn't paint too negative a picture. Many of the messages he receives about the website are from concerned expats-to-be who just want to know how safe it is to live in the city.

"I love this city, the fact that it's busy and always changing at an extraordinary rate. It's different from living in San Francisco where you value how things don't change and you have the same neighbors for 80 years."

Away from the air issue, the future looks to be a long one as the good doctor is planning to settle down for another few years family style. On the professional side (and it's just gone up on the blog) a bit of herbal healing might not go amiss.

"I would love to do more, there's a TCM clinic here but we all practice Western medicine, but I'm very interested in holistic medicine, anything that's proven to be effective. If I'm convinced it works I can add it to my collection, or treatments."

With so many recommendations for others it's not always easy to keep on top of things for yourself. But despite committing the terrible crime of owning an E-bike, Saint Cyr claims he takes his own medicine on a regular basis… mostly.

"I follow my own advice, except exercise, I tell people to exercise a lot more than I do… I think about it all the time, but I make a lot of excuses. On a good day I'll pedal home every once in a while," he says. "My wife keeps me in line with the smoking and drinking."

For more information check out www. myhealthbeijing.com

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