"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China


A Kafka-esque Christmas
December 30, 2010, 7:34 am
Filed under: holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Dalian!

On Christmas morning, I did not awake to the thrill of unopened presents under the Christmas tree, but I did learn how to say “acute outer intestinal infection” in Chinese.  So, sadly, I spent Christmas morning wandering a dark, cold, unhygienic hospital in daze, unable to even wish I were home eating popovers and omelets because my stomach hurt so much. Luckily, I was with someone who spoke fluent Chinese, because I was too out of it to be of any use.

Not many people like hospitals, but this hospital that I went to was downright Kafkaesque.  Everywhere we went was cold and filthy.  First we were given a number and told to wait to see the doctor.  After about half an hour, my friend took me to a small, bare doctor’s office, where people line up from the desk, waiting to be interviewed.  This means that there is no privacy at all; if the doctor declares that you have some life-threatening disease, everyone else knows it.  As the only foreigner patient in line, I was apparently a source of amusement for the other patients.  People grinned and laughed when the doctor asked if I get regular periods, if I was pregnant, etc.

From then on, I was constantly being shuffled from a cold room to an even colder hallway, and then from another cold room to yet another colder hallway; this continued for about an hour or so.  I went to a room where they drew blood, waited in the coldest hallway in Dalian for a while, and then I was sent back to the same doctor.  She gave me a diagnosis, but the only thing I understood was “this is very serious.”

They then sent me to yet another cold room that looked like a hair saloon: big chairs, covered in standard hospital blue cloth, lined the room, some back to back and some facing each other.  All that was missing were hair steamer caps.  Instead, everyone was hooked up to their own IV.  Getting an IV in China is about as common as getting a tattoo back home.  People will do it even for a cold.

As the nurse plugged the IV into my hand, she asked where I was from.  “She doesn’t speak Chinese,” the other nurse said with more than a hint of glee; and, very foolishly, I looked her straight in the eye and said, “America.”

“Oh America!”  she declared, and then looked at me conspiratorially.  “So, which is better: China or America?”

“They’re completely different,” I said. “But both are good.”

All the nurses giggled.  “Ha ha! China is so much better than America!”

And because I didn’t know how to say a few choice in words in Chinese, my language skills, in effect, forced me to turn the other cheek.  Just as well, I suppose.

It was by far not the worst way to spend the holidays, though.  I was staying at a friend’s house, and people floated in and out to quietly celebrate.  Of course I missed my family like crazy, but it was far from lonely.  The day after Christmas, we made potato and pumpkin pierogies (using dumpling wraps) as well as sour cream (whipping cream and vinegar).  They were quite good; though I will admit that, once I started to get my appetite back, I did miss popovers and omelets.

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3 Comments so far
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Hope you are feeling better! Belated Merry Christmas and Happy 2011! Loved your previous story about the students!

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Comment by Barbara Kiperman

wow. I am checking going to the hospital in China off my bucket list.

Did you ever go the health center at MHC? They would ask all the personal questions there as well. And seemed to ask gleefully if I could possibly be pregnant. Even if you went in because you had a cold or a sprained toe. Yeah no… this has nothing to do with my menstrual cycle, but thanks. I’ll let you know if I ever decide to be impregnated without my knowledge or through immaculate conception, until then just concentrate on my toe.

On another note at least they didn’t keep referring to it as menses as they did to me in my headache of a tour of South Korea. Menses? Really people? I am no elephant or other mammalian creature other than a human. This isn’t field biology. Be a doll and please refer to this as my period or menstrual cycle. Thank you awkward conversations. 🙂

I hope you are doing better and are staying away from creepy hospitals that are too cold!

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Comment by Whitney

Your hospital visit brings back memories for me in China. I lived and worked just up the road from Dalian, i was in Liaoyang from 2005 to 2009. We had to go to the hospital to give blood and take an x-ray every year. This was the most unsanitary place in town! There was NO heat in this 10 story hospital what so ever, good thing we were only there maybe 2 hours. The nurse took my blood and gave me a Q-tip to hold on the injection site, i ask where is the band-aid, there is no band-aid in this hospital? Other people standing in in the hallway were smoking and spitting on the floor, as i was looking for the trash can to throw away the bloodied Q-tip, i notice a pile of them on the floor! The guy that took my x-ray had the x-ray button in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Then i had to give a urine sample, the nurse gives me a plastic clear cup, about 1 ounce with no lid on it, no label on it and when i turned it in back to here she placed it on a table with 50 other samples, still have not figured out how they knew which one belongs to whom. Thanks for sharing your experance there.

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Comment by James




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