Watsons Malaysia Explains Itself – Badly.

It’s been one week since I blogged about a bottle of tampered-with, over-the-counter medicine that I purchased at Watsons, Asia’s largest personal care chain (a drug store, basically). The blog post – and the story behind it – went totally viral in Malaysia thanks to Samantha Khor who wrote it up for says.com, a hugely popular Malaysian website. Since then, I’ve received a bit of clarity on what, precisely, happened.

But first, let’s back up to last Tuesday. Out of curiosity, I returned to the Watsons outlet where I’d bought that bottle of Panadol, looking to see if the chain was still selling tampered-with packages. What I found astounded me: not only were they selling a tampered-with package – they were selling the very same bottle of Panadol I had returned to the store several days earlier for having been tampered with (easily identifiable due to the serial number on the box)! Below, a photo of the returned bottle on the shelf. Compare it – and the serial number – to the photo I posted on Monday – they are one and the same (a fact later confirmed, which I’ll get to).IMG_2255

I was planning to blog that on Thursday, but before I could I received a phone call from Danny Hoh, Head of Marketing at Watsons, on Thursday afternoon. Continue reading

An Update on My Watsons/GSK Kerfuffle

My Monday blog post taking issue with Watsons Malaysia and its handling of product safety and social media has been circulated much more widely than I ever expected. This is, in large part, due to says.com, a Malaysian news site that covered it on Wednesday, with this story by Samantha Khor.

Thanks to that story Watsons reached out to me late Thursday afternoon, and again at 10 PM on Thursday night. During the second call Watsons agreed to give me a written statement on steps they’ve taken and will take in response to my post. I believe that I will have that at some point on Friday, and when I do, I’ll put together a blog post covers everything that’s happened – including the steps that Watsons told me on the phone that it will take to ensure product safety in its Malaysian stores.

[UPDATE: On Friday evening, just as I was about to publish an update, I spoke to GSK, the manufacturer of Panadol. Based on that conversation, I’m going to wait until Monday to publish an update.]

In the meantime, I have a request of readers in Malaysia: if you have a moment could you please stop by your local Watsons outlet and check whether the box seals on 50-tablet bottles of Panadol are intact. If the seal is broken, could you send a photo of the box, the broken seal, and – this is important – the serial number on the box, to ShanghaiScrap at gmail.com.

More soon.

Watsons Malaysia Isn’t Safe for Shopping or Social Media – a Shanghai Scrap investigation.

[aka the triumphant return of Shanghai Scrap, shopping avenger.]

Last week I badly wanted a bottle of Panadol (a product my US readers would know as Tylenol, ie acetaminphen), so I went down to my local Watsons (specifically, the Amcorp Mall location in Petaling Jaya) – the largest “personal care” chain aka “drug store” chain in Asia – and bought a bottle. When I arrived home and prepared to open it, I noticed something very, very troubling – the safety seal on the box had been cut open and then re-sealed. See photo below.

panadol

Now, that’s a safety violation of the first order. In the US, for example, it’s a violation of FDA guidelines – and I assume that’s the case the world over, including in Malaysia. The idea, of course, is to protect consumers from anyone who might – for whatever reason – tamper with the medicine inside (regulations inspired by the Chicago Tylenol murders of 1982). Out of curiosity, I opened the opened box, anyway (because I had a really, really bad headache). And inside it went from bad to worse: the bottle lacked a safety seal. In other words, thanks to Watsons, this package of Panadol was unsafe; anybody could’ve altered the contents. Continue reading

Would You Pay a Plastic Surgeon for an Eiffel (Tower) Nose?

Spotted in the back of a taxi in Chongqing: an advertisement for a plastic surgery practice that specializes in re-shaping noses to resemble La Tour Eiffel:

eiffel

A close-up of the model’s nose suggests that the surgeon in question has given serious thought to the precise measurements that create a genuine Eiffel Nose (and tower). And presumably, the model is living proof that he can pull it off.

photo

So why would one want an Eiffel Nose? My guess is that nobody really does. Rather, a particularly industrious cosmetic surgeon decided that he needed some way to distinguish his clinic from the other 34,000 cosmetic surgery institutions that are competing in China’s booming cosmetic surgery industry. Then again, considering the work that some surgeons have been commissioned to do, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were takers out there, after all.

 

In China, you’re more likely to beat the hell out of your doctor, than sue him.

On Thursday China Daily reported that 17,000 violent incidents took place in Chinese hospital in 2010, affecting roughly 70 percent of all public hospitals in China. What’s a “violent incident?” By and large, it’s an act of aggression by a patient, or a patient’s family, against a medical practitioner.

This week I take a deeper look into this issue in my column for Bloomberg World View.

The occasion is both sad and bizarre. Last Friday, a young medical internist in Harbin was murdered in his hospital by a disgruntled patient looking to avenge what he alleged was mistreatment by hospital staff. Hours later, an online poll was posted by People’s Daily Online (since deleted), asking netizens how they felt about the murder. Of those who answered, 65% said they were pleased. The poll was taken down, but the debate had just begun: why would anybody express happiness at a murder? The answer, for many, is that the murder served as a proxy for widespread dissatisfaction with China’s troubled health care system.

It’s an interesting topic, and you can find my take on it here.

[UPDATED: 4.3: This morning, Tom, the author of the very good  Seeing Red in China blog, writes to note that he might be one of the only foreign doctors currently working in a public Chinese hospital. Among other topics he’s discussed, he points me in the direction of three very interesting posts on patient-doctor violence that I’m very happy to recommend to my readers. They are:

Well worth considering.

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Late last week, long-time reader Jay left this comment on an older post:  “Why are you not accepting comments anymore? I tend not to read blogs that don’t want a two-way conversation or welcome the possibility of feedback.”

It’s a fair question that I probably should have addressed sooner. As long-time readers have surely noticed, I’ve significantly pared the amount of time that I devote to this blog. This is largely due to my ongoing book project (due soon). What blogging happens here is mostly concerned with my Bloomberg columns, and since those are published (and paid for) at Bloomberg, I think it’s only fair that any comments on those pieces are published at Bloomberg – and not here. Thus, I don’t open those posts to comments.

But that’s not the only reason. Over the last 18 months or so I’ve found that the comments left here were of an increasingly strident bent that advanced either racist and/or nationalist opinions that I’m simply not interested in hosting. Likewise, I’m not interested in becoming a comment/flame war moderator, either. So, rather than put myself in the position of having to allow only the comments that I don’t find offensive or stupid, I’ve taken the easier route and just shut down the discussion entirely. I may change my mind once the book is done, but until then, this seems like the best option. Apologies and much respect to those of you who left many hundreds of decent and thoughtful comments over the years. In all sincerity, I hope you’ll take them to Bloomberg World View until I come up with a better solution.

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And finally, since we’re on the topic of blogs that don’t allow comment, allow me to recommend a new China one – rectified.name – published by several of the most distinguished China (blog) hands up in Beijing. Some of the contributors are likely known to my readers already – Jeremiah Jenne, Will Moss, Brendan O’Kane – and some are not. In any case, it’s a group blog, which means – among other things – posting has proven to be frequent, interesting, and diverse. So by all means, go have a look: recitified.name.

 

Rich Gluttons Hold Extravagant Meal at US Embassy, Beijing, Congratulate Selves for Promoting Healthy Eating in China.

Bear with me, for a moment, as you read a passage from a dispatch now available on The Atlantic’s website:

[Alice Waters] put me to work beside her, cutting grilled slices of locally Beijing-made sourdough bread (from a bakery with the jaunty name Boulangerie Nanda) already soaked in olive oil from the McEvoy Ranch, in Petaluma, California; the oil, along with five donated Californian wines, was the only American ingredients used. I spread the bread with a crumbly, nicely cheesy handmade ricotta made by Liu Yang–a Beijing native who spent six years in France making cheese before moving back and starting a business he calls Le Fromager de Pekin–and drizzled more oil on top. And I broke into bite-sized chunks a Parmesan-like gouda made by Marc De Ruiter, a Dutch cheese maker in Shanxi, for his Yellow Valley cheese company (he recently closed it, unable to afford the expensive milk-testing equipment the government told him he must buy).

This is not, despite every indication, the account of a novelty dinner held at Waters’ famous, and famously expensive Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, but rather the truthful account of a meal recently held at, and partly sponsored by, the US Embassy in Beijing, ostensibly to “build awareness of organic food being grown by Chinese farmers for Chinese food.”

No doubt, that is a laudable goal. As someone who has been eating in China for nearly a decade, I’m quite aware – indeed, probably more aware than most of the organizers – of the food scandals that have plagued China for years. But I am also aware that food inflation is a serious quality-of-life issue ( and sometimes, a life issue) for hundreds of millions of Chinese, and thus I have no doubt that the visit of a wealthy Western chef promoting more expensive food is more likely to be ignored by, rather than improve, contemporary China. Alas, the effect of food inflation on a developing nation, it seems, was of little concern to Waters or the organizers of the event (I’m looking at you, US Embassy staff), who apparently couldn’t see past their own stomachs, to notice the needs of the Chinese stomachs just past the embassy gates. Writing of the fine cheese served at the event, the Atlantic’s correspondent, Corby Kummer, made it clear – and without irony! – that this event was first and foremost an opportunity to satisfy Western appetites (according to the Wall Street Journal, less than 1/3 of the attendees were Chinese):

Cheese is a great rarity in lactose-intolerant China, and many of the guests wanted to know where they could find it.

I’m sure they did.

There is much low-hanging fruit to shoot here (the image of Waters, and her well-known eco-grounded belief in locally-sourced produce, jetting over to Beijing with her staff and bottles of olive oil to cook a feast that is both unaffordable and unappetizing to 99.9% of China, is but one). But what really troubles me about this dinner is the lack of introspection that led the organizers, Waters, and the correspondent to believe that, via their own gluttony (and visits to expensive organic farms), they are somehow promoting healthy eating in China.

They’re not. Continue reading

Shanghai Sends Unsubtle Hint to Expanding Residents

Last night I walked into the lobby of my Shanghai apartment building and found long and narrow blue boxes protruding from most of the (100 or so) mailboxes. Here’s mine, unpacked:

The title of the book is “Shanghai Residents Guidebook to Self-Managed Fitness” [thanks, SLS], and if it’s not obvious, the device in the upper left-hand corner is a tape measure with a Body-Mass Index [BMI] calculator built into it. The BMI is a handy short-hand for assessing whether or not someone is obese (or underweight); meanwhile, waist circumference is a good way of assessing a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other weight-associated diseases. So, below, note the green and red zones on the tape, as well as that easy-to-use BMI spin wheel.

I think it goes without saying that – when somebody sends you a BMI calculator via the postman – it’s not without purpose. I also think that anyone who has spent any time in Shanghai over the last decade knows that waistlines are expanding here (and throughout affluent urban China). No doubt, China’s obesity problem dwarfs in comparison to the US’s pathetic, beluga-sized obesity crisis, but it’s er, growing, and so I interpret this uninvited package as akin to one partner saying to another: “Darling, don’t be offended, but please take care of this before you start looking like that American couple next door.”

Government paternalism [fraternalism?] at its best.

Cry for Help: I’d love to know how widespread this mailing was. If you live in Shanghai, and received one, could you let me know in the comments or via an email?

Addendum: Back in January, Beijing, always less subtle than its Shanghai cousin, skipped the mail slot and instead sent the BMI tape measures home with school kids, telling them to assess mom and dad, then report back.