Happy, Healthy, and Fit in Shanghai


The girls and their optometrist, Dr. Lisa LaGassa, at Pointe Vision Care this summer.

The girls and their optometrist, Dr. Lisa LaGassa, at Pointe Vision Care this summer.

There is a history of heart disease in my family, which is one of the many reasons I take health care and fitness so seriously.  Health care and how to get it was one of my greatest fears about moving to Shanghai.  Before we moved, I was convinced that in the years we lived in China, we all would have to do our doctor, dentist, orthodontist, allergist, optometrist, and dermatologist visits during our brief summer visits back to Michigan.  If we got sick in China, or worse, well we would just be screwed.

I read about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices when I learned we were moving to Shanghai and none of it filled me with confidence.  TCM utilizes preventative and treatment practices such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and dietary therapy.  It has been used by the Chinese for more than 2,000 years, and according to the TCM Information Page, follows the philosophy that “the understanding of the human body is based on the holistic understanding of the universe as described in Taoism.”  Interesting, but that wasn’t going to work for me and the family.  I’m accustomed to Western practices that involve regular check-ups with licensed medical professionals, violations of various parts of my body during those checkups, and good old fashioned drugs as needed.  And I prefer all of the above to occur in clean, sterilized medical facilities.

So health care in China worried me.  I had expat friends tell me stories of themselves and others flying to more Western-oriented cities in Asia Pacific to be both examined and treated for various ailments.  Even before I got to Shanghai, I heard of one friend who had gone to Hong Kong for shoulder surgery, while another had recently flown to Bangkok for a full-body physical.  I thought if these guys had to leave the country to get this stuff done, what does that say about our health care options in Shanghai?

That question was answered about two months into our first year in Shanghai when I tore the meniscus cartilage in my knee while we were vacationing in Phuket, Thailand (that actually makes it sound less painful than it was).  Your meniscus is critical to how well your knee functions, and hurts like hell when you tear it.  Fortunately, it was a minor tear and I hobbled around Shanghai for a couple of weeks until my friend James told me about a physiotherapist named Ozgur Surenkok.  In Shanghai by way of Turkey, Ozgur practices out of Sino United Health here and is an orthopedic and sports injury specialist who eventually healed my meniscus through physical therapy (sinounitedhealth.com.cn).  I’ve sent many people to Ozgur and he has mended every one of them.

My second encounter with the health care system in Shanghai actually involved my good friend Ann, who has appeared in this blog many times.  About halfway into both of our first year in China, Ann’s daughter Paige had to have an emergency appendectomy.  Ann’s head was right where mine was on health care in China.  Her first thought was to get Paige out of the country to have the surgery, but Paige’s doctor said there was no time to do that.  The appendix needed to come out immediately and she needed to get to the hospital.  So with much trepidation, Ann took her daughter to Shanghai United Family Hospital in Puxi (ufh.com.cn).  One of the first doctors Ann met was the guy who would be the number two surgeon for Paige’s operation, and who turned out to be from Ann Arbor, Michigan!  He quickly put Ann at ease and the surgery went perfectly.  I have never seen a person so happy to be in Shanghai as Ann was after Paige’s surgery.

My friend Jenn had to go to Huashan Clinic for a minor ear ailment when she visited us recently.  They fixed her.

My friend Jenn had to go to Huashan Clinic for a minor ear ailment when she visited us recently from L.A. They fixed her fast.

My next couple of experiences with health care in Shanghai involved our girls, which even if minor, is always scary.  Stephanie had the backing of one of her earrings get lodged in the piercing hole in her earlobe.  It was painful and clearly infected.  So we took her to the Huashan Clinic (525 Hongfeng Lu, Jinqiao, appointment #5030 9907), which is affiliated with Shanghai United Family Hospital (see link above), and is about a five-minute walk from our house.  The clinic looks very much like a Western hospital and has lots of English speaking personnel and a very well stocked pharmacy.  The doctor saw Steph almost immediately, and after a few tears (from both of us), got the backing out.  We returned to Huashan Clinic soon thereafter when Cassidy developed a seriously high fever that freaked us out.  After a battery of tests at Huashan, we were sent on our way with meds, and Cassidy was back to normal in a couple of days.

dentist shanghai, china

Our dentist in Shanghai, Dr. Alex Shaw.

So my preconceptions about health care in China were slowly unravelling.  When it became clear last Fall that Cassidy was ready to start orthodontics, and probably needed braces soon, I was prepared to wait until the following summer to have her looked at in Grosse Pointe.  Then I noticed that a lot of my friends children here had braces and retainers, and I started asking questions, which is how I found Pure Smile Orthodontics and Dentistry in Jinqiao (puresmile.com).  Now, I love our dentist back in Grosse Pointe, Dr. Kathleen Gibney, and her offices are modern and comfortable, but the Pure Smile offices were something I never expected to see in China.  Also modern and comfortable, Pure Smile is about as technologically sophisticated as any dentist office in the States.  They use only digital x-ray machines, (which produce 90% less radiation than traditional machines), have laser teeth-cleaning capabilities, and a welcome system where the patient checks themselves in via computer for their appointment.

Our dentist in Grosse Pointe, Dr. Kathleen Gibney.

Our dentist in Grosse Pointe, Dr. Kathleen Gibney.

Needless to say, while we did see Dr. Gibney (office@drgibney.com) this summer, we are doing all of our dentistry and orthodontics at Pure Smile while in Shanghai.  We are also doing a large chunk of our doctor appointments in China now as well, a situation I never expected to find myself in.  Along with health care, I also brought to Shanghai with me a fear about how I was going to keep in shape, which is incredibly important to me.  In Michigan, I try to work out three or four times a week, and squeeze in a Yoga class on top of that.  I wasn’t even sure China had gyms, or yoga studios, like we have in the States.

My monster of a physical trainer in Shanghai, Jessie...

My monster of a physical trainer in Shanghai, Jessie…

As I have said before about so many things in China, I was completely wrong about fitness and health care in Shanghai.  Not only do the Chinese work out, they are monsters at it.  Since week two in China, I have belonged to a great gym called MegaFit Sports Club, which is where I met my amazing personal trainer here, Jessie (megafitchina.com).  She is about half my size and kicks my ass weekly.  Jesse is the Chinese version of my equally ass-kicking trainer in Michigan, Sarah (goalspecificbodies.com), and she focuses my workouts on core strengthening, cardio, and muscle toning.  She and the other trainers at MegaFit stay up to date on the latest workout trends in the U.S. through monthly seminars and classes.  Though I’m a MegaFit guy, another good gym here in Jinqiao is the Kerry Sports Center, which is the largest hotel health club in Shanghai (shangri-la.com/en/shanghai/kerryhotelpudong/health-leisure/).  It is big and has all the bells and whistles you would wish for from a Western-style health club.  It is also expensive.

…and my equally monstrous trainer in Michigan, Sarah.  Both pics taken right after each put me through a torturous workout.

…and my equally monstrous trainer in Michigan, Sarah. Both pics taken right after each put me through a torturous workout.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we have a history of heart disease in my family, and I am not going out like that.  So along with exercise, I also take the meds my Michigan physician, Dr. Benjamin Osowa, tells me that I need to stay heart-healthy (benjamin.osowa@stjohn.org).  So far, all of that has worked and my cholesterol numbers (good and bad) are great, as well as all the other measurements that determine heart health.  When I went to Dr. Osawa’s office for my annual physical this summer, I was incredibly nervous about the outcome, particularly after having lived two years in a relatively toxic China.  When I left his office I was practically crying with happiness, hugging and high-fiving his staff and startled patients because my numbers were good and the physical was near perfect.  The last thing he said to me was, “whatever you are doing there, keep doing it.”

Dr. Osowa, my most excellent physician in Michigan….

Dr. Osowa, my most excellent physician in Michigan….

One of the things I do, and have done for the last two years, is have my pharmacist send me back to Shanghai with 365 days worth of my daily meds, since I assumed there is no way to get them in China.  When I arrived in Shanghai last month, I realized I didn’t have two of my daily meds with me.  When you are more than 9,000 miles from the medication your doctor has prescribed for you to take daily, freak outs are not uncommon.  Fortunately, my wife’s cooler head prevailed and she called SOS International, a worldwide medical services company with a huge network of international clinics and health care providers (internationalsos.com).  They put a doctor on the phone immediately to discuss what medicine I was missing, then set up an appointment the next day for me at Parkway Health in Jinqiao.  And that’s how I got my physician in Shanghai, Dr. Steve Misch.  He helped me figure out how to get the medicine I needed here in China, then had prescriptions filled right at Parkway (parkwayhealth.cn).  Oh, and shocker, he’s originally from Michigan.

…and Dr. Misch, equally awesome in Shanghai.

…and Dr. Misch, equally awesome in Shanghai.

So now we have doctors and dentists on both sides of the world.  We have even visited an optometrist here, when Stephanie lost her glasses.  It is a very modern looking Lenscrafters, with a great selection of glasses, and is located on the first floor of Laya Plaza (on Fangdian Lu, across from Thumb Plaza).  They will never replace our great optometry staff at Pointe Vision Care (pointevisioncare.com) back home, but Steph got a really cool pair of specs from them, and we go back whenever we need glasses tightened or fixed.

My partner in healthy eating, Line Fricke.

My partner in healthy eating, Line Fricke.

I have a wonderful Danish friend here named Line Fricke, who is a blogger and has devoted herself to living healthy in Shanghai (shanghaihabits.com).  She said to me the other day that yes, China is toxic, and the air quality is a crapshoot, but we should not let that stop us from continuing to live the same healthy lifestyle that we do at home.  As I begin my third year here in China, I realize she is right.  There are more Western-style doctors and medical, dental, and vision resources in Shanghai than there were when we first got here.  There are also numerous health and fitness facilities opening up all the time, including a crossfit training center adjacent to our development called Icarus Crossfit (crossfiticarus,com) that opened a couple of weeks ago.

My friend Carmen with one of Icarus Crossfit's owners, Iosif.

My friend Carmen with one of Icarus Crossfit’s owners, Iosif.

Living in China will change you, and trust me, it is all good.  But China doesn’t have to change how we live.  We play hard in Shanghai, both my Chinese and Western friends alike.  To continue to do so, we all also have to workout like monsters, and maintain good heath.  That is harder to do in China than in the U.S., but nowhere near impossible.  Like many people here, I’m a little wary of the longterm consequences of living in a toxic China.  That said, I truly believe that focusing on diet, exercise, and staying healthy through regular checkups here and at home will keep us just fine.  As my doctor said, “whatever you are doing there, keep doing it.”  I hope to do so in Shanghai for as long as possible.


Our dermatologist in Grosse Pointe, Dr. Shauna Diggs, who is a walking ad for her business.

Our dermatologist in Grosse Pointe, Dr. Shauna Diggs, who is a walking ad for her business (drshaunadiggs.com).


My friend Rachel at her gym, Kerry Sports Center.

My friend Rachel at her gym, Kerry Sports Center.


Cassidy in the dental chair at Pure Smile.

Cassidy in the dental chair at Pure Smile.


7 thoughts on “Happy, Healthy, and Fit in Shanghai

  1. It’s great to read about all your experiences with healthcare here in Shanghai. And funny to see all the places in Jinqiao I was using my first period of living in China. I had (believe it or not) braces on for 3 months back in 2012 and that was Pure Smiles work! I also had a trial at megafit but decided it was too expensive for me. And I have used Parkway Health since I came to Shanghai, their service is amazing. I now use a Chinese dentist who has her own clinic around my place here in Puxi and it is not as modern as Pure Smile so I was a little bit worried when I had to go in for a root canal treatment (my first) but Dr. Kong was super nice, super efficient and I’d rather go to her than to any dentist I’ve been to in Denmark. Funny how things change and our understandings change (:

    Great post Howard!

  2. As always Howard, really great stuff! Now, when I injure myself parachuting from the Pearl Tower I can rest assured that I will be in good hands! Tony

  3. Hey Howard, your comments are spot on. I had to take my Chinese girlfriend to the hospital to get a filling and cleanliness was to be desired…It seemed like they had one tool for the entire office so we had to wait for one dentist to get done using it before our dentist would use. And they immediately put the tool in my gf’s mouth. I asked if the tool was clean. The dentist replied that it was clean, but it was not. I just saw that being used in someone else’s mouth. In the future, we will go to a private dental clinic. Yikes.

  4. Pingback: Staying Healthy Living In Shanghai « Healthfood Tips

  5. Hello! Thank you for your comprehensive and terrific post!
    I’m working as an intern at a Startup company The CareVoice helping expats find hospitals & any medical care in Shanghai in English. Sharing your experiences by completing our survey will help our community find the best hospitals and doctors and you’ll get a FREE Yoga voucher at the Four Seasons hotel in Shanghai! at: http://api.kangyu.co/surveys/fd84512c-5ca2-45dd-9ba7-1d813c4e96ae Also, you can find us on WeChat and Facebook by searching The CareVoice.
    Once more, great post and thank you for helping the community! 🙂

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