Richard Saint Cyr (better known in Beijing as Dr Richard) has gained a large following for his blog about medical and health issues in the capital – a subject of no small concern to locals and foreigners alike. We often refer to the good doctor’s posts here on this site, so we though it was about time we sat down and talked with Dr Richard about about his background, life in Beijing and dealing with air pollution and the H1N1 virus.
It says on your blog you arrived here in 2006 from San Francisco. Where are you originally from and what brought you to Beijing?
I grew up in Boston, but after graduating from Columbia I moved to San Francisco and never left. I met my wonderful wife, a Beijing-born American, there and she slowly implanted the idea of coming back “home” for a few years. It took a lot of prodding I was very content with my laid-back lifestyle among the rolling vineyards and golden hills of Sonoma. That was three years ago, and it’s the second best decision I ever made. The first best was asking her to marry me.
Other than blogging, what are you currently doing in Beijing?
I am a full time family medicine doctor at the International Medical Center Beijing, in the Lufthansa Center. We are the longest running primary care clinic in Beijing, currently celebrating our 16th year of service to the expat community.
What kind of medicine do you specialize in? Why did you choose to go into medicine?
I am U.S. board certified in family medicine. I chose family medicine because I love that old-fashioned community doctor tradition, and I get a deep spiritual as well as intellectual satisfaction in developing long-term relationships with families. I feel very honored to be an intimate partner in their lives. I feel very fortunate that I love my career!
Your blog specializes in health issues in Beijing – what prompted you to start it? What do you hope to achieve with it?
After three years in Beijing I had noticed recurring expat anxieties and underserved health issues – a “top ten” of expat health problems. Last spring I started to provide such Q&A presentations to a local embassy and was excited with the positive feedback. I realized that I could share this same information with thousands more expats via the internet. I’d always noticed a dearth of expat websites really focused on health, so I decided to start my own. It’s not a new thing for me, as I’ve done medical websites since my San Francisco dot-com days in the booming mid-1990s. I really want this website to be a starting point for newcomers as well as long-timers looking for answers to their basic health care questions. I’m also pleased that many expats all over China have already found the website’s health information relevant to them as well.
What are some of the most interesting things you’ve posted about so far?
Air quality issues are easily the most read posts, and I’ve had a lot of fun researching that topic, especially running all over Beijing with a portable particle monitor. I think the second biggest expat-specific topic is food safety, and it’s such a broad topic that I’m still trying to find the best sources. I also like to filter through medical news and post practical tips like, “ibuprofen is better than Tylenol for infant fever,” or fun, but evidence-based data, such as, “chocolate is good for you”!
The posts about Beijing’s air quality have been most interesting – have you found out anything interesting (or alarming) in the process of putting those together?
Yes, my particle monitor readings upended a lot of my previous assumptions. For example, you would assume that running to the hills would give you some “breathing room,” right? And yet, my mountain air readings were much higher than on second ring road. Also, I was disappointed that my canal-side readings were exactly the same as on third ring road. But I still plan to take my morning jogs along the canals – after first checking the Beijingair index.
Likewise, the information you’ve presented about H1N1 and getting vaccinated have been invaluable – do you have anything to add to that info that you can share with our readers?
So far, fortunately, H1N1 infection is still fairly mild for most groups. I received the H1N1 vaccine and I hope that Beijing’s high-risk groups – even if they say no to the vaccine – at least have looked at the best evidence and made an informed choice. There’s a lot of misinformation swirling around, and I hope I’ve raised the level of debate with my evidence-based updates.
What do you do to stay healthy in Beijing?
I bike to work every day but it’s electric and I don’t get any exercise from it! I definitely could exercise more often and I make the same excuses as everyone else. But I’m a firm believer in preventive health and focusing on a healthy diet. I especially am concerned about the amount of pro-inflammatory toxins we breathe in and eat, and I’m very focused on antioxidants – diet first, but also supplements, especially fish oil. And mental and spiritual health is crucial. On weekends my wife and I love to joyride and find new parks or temples in the mountains. I also find my photography is a relaxing antidote to my “left brain” doctor work, and I look forward to restarting photo gallery exhibits here in Beijing as I did back in San Francisco.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in town and why?
Union Bar and Grille is definitely my top comfort food restaurant, and Morels a close second place. I’m a huge fan of Japanese food and often go to Sake Manzo or Yotsuba. My favorite local Italian is definitely La Dolce Vita. But sometimes the best “restaurant” is cooking at home with my wife, using organic produce and meats that we buy from Lohao City or Walmart.
How do you describe living in Beijing to friends and family back home? What’s the best thing about living here?
I tell everyone back home that living here is both infuriating and intoxicating. Really, it’s hard to conceive that any city could be a more fascinating place to live than Beijing. The best thing about living here is riding the Beijing wave of palpable optimism and energy, not just from the obvious physical transformations but also from everyday citizens enjoying their dramatic rise in living standards just within 30 years. It’s like my recent Turkish bath during vacation in Istanbul; your senses are alive and soaking up the stimulation, and your body may feel raw but you know that, years later, you’ll look back and the immediacy of those moments will still make your heart jump.
And the worst?
I have a Chinese driver’s license, but driving in Beijing has to be the most stressful time here for me. I had always thought Boston drivers the worst, until I came here! But once you get past Fifth Ring, it’s wonderful to joyride through the mountains and small roads.
Can you recommend any health essentials (i.e. equipment, resources, practices) for living in Beijing?
It’s essential not to smoke! Also, people need to continue their good habits from home, which means exercising at least 150 minutes a week, watching your diet, and keeping your weight at a good level. And yes, exercise outdoors as much as you like, as long as it’s a good air day.
How long do you think you’ll stay in Beijing and what are your plans for the future?
My wife and I have settled nicely here and bought a place near Second Ring. We plan to raise a family here, so we’re in for the long haul! Long-term, I plan to be more deeply involved in developing the Chinese health care system; establishing my website as a resource for all Chinese expats; raising my family; and getting my photography represented in Beijing and Shanghai galleries. And once my MPH is finished, maybe I’ll tackle Chinese again!