(CNN)Gelatin produced from donkey hide is a key ingredient of one of China’s favorite traditional remedies, known as ejiao, which is used to treat a range of ailments from colds to insomnia.
But as the rising power shifts towards advanced industry and away from traditional agriculture, donkeys are in decline. State statistics show the population has fallen from 11 million to six million over the last 20 years.
“Da-ji-how! I’m Howard Ruark. I’m a graduate of Harvard University, with a PhD in physiology and am the director of Asia-Pacific Pharmaceuticals.”
Thus, began my 10 minute sales presentation to between 500-700 Chinese countryside folks at zero-seven hundred hours in the municipal theater of a city famous for its donkey cuisine. My handler-translator and I arrived the night before, checked into our shared room at the local one and a half star hotel, then headed out for the best donkey restaurant.
I had the full-Monty of five dishes from donkey soup, stir-fry and filet. Donkey meat has that large dog taste, lean and not a threat to the beef industry. I had, had the donkey experience in Zhengzhou a few times – even an illiterate can spot the silhouette over the entrance.
However, as Howard Ruark, I was there to put my American face on the promotion of ‘Nah-Dough,’ Japanese health food capsules labelled as an American product. But the real selling feature that got 500-700 people to the show – oh, I forgot, they were old married couples – was the implicit benefit of Chinese Viagra.
Following a contract dispute, I fell back on my ESL teacher role and proceeded to immerse Henan Province doctors going to Africa in my beginners’ course “Green Eggs & Ham.” Once they mastered the linguistics of “Not here, not there, not ANYWHERE,” we moved on to “The CAT in the HAT.”
My students covered the medical field from acupuncture to brain surgery and I initially sought their advice for my osteoarthritis. But around the sixth week I manned-up the face-losing nerve to ask for their Chinese Viagra recommendation. A doctor getting ready to go on his second two-year stint to Zambia gave me this script: 条鱼，两条鱼，红色的鱼，蓝色的鱼
We moved to Yantai in 2013 and when I took my script to the neighborhood pharmacy I discovered why China is buying up the global supply of donkeys. After, the usual pleasantry “Knee-How,” I show my note and she gave me the “May-Low” NO! The pharmacist suggested ejiao tea. I quickly responded with my third Chinese vocabulary word “Dew-Ow-Shall” or how much? 900 yuan or $150 for three of these brown bars.
The Google search of ejiao put Yantai , China as famous for their donkey hide concoction that increases the blood flow and circulation system. How the hide of a donkey turned into gel bricks could do that remains a mystery but for 900 yuan I sensed it was meant for something else besides colds and insomnia.