The Diarrhea Clinic and Why I Think It’s Funny

This clinic is a short walk from our home.  I laugh a
little every time I walk by (don’t judge me).  I find it ironic
that “diarrhea” is spelled correctly in a country where the
rest of English is not.  I only know because I have
spell check.

Know how to say “diarrhea” in Chinese?  Want to?  

Your answer to that question speaks volumes about you.  

Some of you are saying “Stink YEAH I do! Tell me tell me tell me!”  You’re the ones who have already skipped ahead in your mind to the people who are going to crack up because you can say a word that you can’t even spell in a language which you know zero other words.  You’re going to say, “yeah . . . I speak a little Chinese” and they’ll say, “yeah me too, ‘ching chang willy willy bing bang bong‘” and you’ll be like, “no, seriously I know some real Chinese like the kind they speak in China” and they’ll say “oh yeah? like what?”

And then you’ll say it.
And they’ll say “what’s that mean?”
And you’ll say “Diarrhea!” 

And you will laugh so hard your ears hurt.  You know who you are.

Then there are those of you who are saying, “that’s disgusting and I cannot even believe that you would squander my valuable time and so desecrate internet space with such a juvenile, repulsive proposition . . . no I most certainly do NOT wish to defile my brain cells with such blatant and utter tomfoolery.”

You are sophisticated, refined and fooling no one but yourself.  It’s time to take a look deep inside my friend.  NO ONE doesn’t want to know how to say “diarrhea” in Chinese.

How we handle things like flatulence and diarrhea speak volumes about our culture (if you just made a joke in your mind you’re proving my point).  Why are natural, normal, universally experienced bodily functions just plain funny? Is it inherent or inherited? Nature or nurture? Is it from repeated exposure to cultural cues or does it run in the jeans? (sorry).

I was recently standing in the vegetable market near our home.  Just me, Lotus (our friend who runs the shop) and one older woman in a tiny little shack filled with fruit and veggies.  Lotus knew that I had been sick and asked me what my afflictions were (she regularly does this because she likes to look after the foreigners who know nothing about which foods treat which ailments).  I told her I had a headache and then in a quiet, embarrassed tone I waved my hand over my stomach, squinted and grunted as if to say . . . “eehhhh you know . . .”  She looked confused for a single moment and then the light went on.  “Ohhh” her eyes opened wide with understanding, “you have diarrhea?”  She spoke in Chinese but I know that word so I shook my head to confirm.

Then it began.

She wasn’t quite sure which pickled vegetable or spiced root to recommend so she shouted to the old woman.  “Hey, he has diarrhea, what should I give him?”  And the old lady said, “Ahhh DIARRHEA . . . Hmmm.”  While she was thinking it over another person entered the shack who was obviously a friend.  ” Oh you would know . . . the foreigner has diarrhea, what do you eat for that?”  The new lady was baffled and shouted out the door, “Hey honey!  There’s a foreigner in here who has diarrhea! do you remember what’s good for that?”  One by one they piled in and I swear (this is how I remember it) in less than three minutes more than 400 of my Chinese neighbors were crammed in a building the size of two Buicks to openly discuss my loose bowels.  I could only understand half of the conversation but the part I caught loud and clear was diarrhea, diarrhea, the foreigner has diarrhea.

And no one . . . not a single person . . . laughed . . . but I was biting my lip because as much as I wanted to crawl under a rock and pretend that I did not, in fact, know the Chinese word for diarrhea . . . I wanted to laugh even more.


“La duzi” (Try pronouncing it “Lah doodzuh”).  That’s how you say “diarrhea” in Chinese.  Enjoy that.

author’s sidenote:  when I wrote “does it run in the jeans?” I laughed so hard my ears hurt.

A couple of videos – just to prove my point.  Millions of people have watched these (including you?).  And they have all laughed.


  1. amazing post, as usual. wish i’d been walking out of the complex when everyone was swarming lotus’s shop and yelling “the foreigner has diarrhea!” oh, it would have been great to see!

    the best part, for me, is that i’m much more comfortable talking about “la duzi” then diarrhea. even around other foreigners. i’d tell them i have la duzi, but never say diarrhea. because talking about la duzi is culturally acceptable (even if it’s not my culture) and talking about diarrhea, well that’s just not.

  2. One of the funniest blog posts I have ever read.

  3. Steph,
    It’s like learning swear words in another language – they don’t have the same link to the mental recoil that they do in your own language. (I’ve read that the reason people who lose some of their mental processes and can’t speak can still swear is because those words are wired differently in our brains. I believe it, though with the prolifity of swearing these days I wonder if, when this generation gets to be senile, they’ll be completely mute.)

    Of course, it’s probably also just a part of living overseas – I once read a “You know you’re living in China if…” sort of list and freely discussing diarrhea was on it.

  4. I LOVE THIS. Our staff in the Czech Republic has repeatedly cackled over our pastor sharing FROM THE PULPIT that his wife is home today with diarrhea. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t not laugh about the “d” word. One of our teammates even taught our kids the song, “when you’re climbing up a ladder and you feel something splatter…..”. Perhaps an astute cultural anthropologist can explain why Americans are so tickled by any ailments relating to our posterior.


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