I experienced a lot this past Saturday.
My first priority was going to the hospital to get those damn stitches out! They’d already been in for twice as long as they should have and I wasn’t sure if that was really bad or just a little bad, but I’m very good a worrying and was seriously considering just pulling them out myself.
Rachel wanted to go to the library, which is very close to the hospital, so she offered to take me there and help me navigate the system. Without her, I would have been a lost little lamb with only a brief note in Chinese to explain what I needed help with. Together, we were slightly less lost than I would have been on my own. On our walk over, we picked up her cousin. Rachel and her cousin hang out every weekend.
From my understanding, there aren’t many private or family doctors in China. If you need medicine for a cold, a bandage for a scratch, a lozenge for a sore throat, you go to a clinic. For everything else, you go to the hospital. Rachel took me to the hospital for women and children. (I didn’t realize this until I made a comment as we were walking out about all the freakin’ babies in that place.)
The hospital was new and very clean. We walked in the front and approached a nurse at the welcome desk who directed us to the second floor on the other side of the building. We went, found a nurse there. She told us to go back to the front entrance and wait in one of many lines to speak with another nurse. We went back across, down to the first level, and into line. We got to the front of the line and were told that I didn’t have the form that I needed. I went to another desk, filled it out, came back, cut in front of the line, handed the form to that nurse. Ugh oh, I didn’t have the proper identification! Well, never mind that…it would be just as well if could tell the nurse what my ID would have said. Ugh oh, my name was too long. How about a nickname? Katie was good enough. Now I have a special ID card issued by the hospital so that if I ever need to go back in the future, I’ll be able to skip that whole registration process. That’s the idea, anyway.
Rachel, cousin, and I went back upstairs and waited a half hour for the doctor to return from lunch. I got a little coughed on, a little sneezed on. When the doctor came back, we joined a small mob that had formed around the medical room the doctor was in . We were a little slow and she had already started working with another patient. The door was wide open, so the mob stood in the doorway and watched. One woman got impatient, so she actually stepped inside the room with the doctor and the patient and stood next to the doctor’s desk. At one point, the doctor invited us all in to place our medical booklets around the computer.
When the doctor was ready to see me, she took me to the dressing room next door and took a peak at my stitches. She closed the door this time to protect my modesty since I had to take my shirt off to show her. She told Rachel she thought she could do the job, but I’d have to go back downstairs to pay first.
I went down and waited in another line. I paid. It was 23 Yuan, very cheap. Then back up we went, the doctor saw us after about 5 minutes. She rushed me into the dressing room again, I took off my shirt, she grabbed some tweezers, and then the stitches were out. I didn’t even know she’d done it because I’d hardly felt anything and she hadn’t even told me to sit down.
And that was the hospital. Clean, irritating, full of babies.
After stopping at the library so Rachel could get a library card, she and her cousin took me to a model village styled after traditional Chinese architecture of the Canton region. It was beautiful. I took some pictures on my film camera, so we’ll have to wait until they’re developed and digitalized before I can post them for you to see.
After that, Rachel and her cousin took me to a favorite restaurant of theirs to eat traditional Cantonese food. This particular tradition of preparing food is passed down to boys only (and I mean boys—none of the cooks could have been older than college age). It was more like a café, actually. On the corner and open on two sides. It was packed to the gills and we were lucky to get a table just as one opened up. Right as I was thinking “Wow, it’s really crowded in here” Rachel said “Oh, it’s not very full today.”
She ordered two soups for me. Soup seems to be a staple of Cantonese cuisine. One soup, the one she was especially excited about, was black. Completely opaque. It looked like thickened pen ink. Or tar. I’d never seen food that looked so inedible. It was served hot and by the time we got back to our table, a thick film had formed over the top that made it look like fine Italian leather. Of course, I dug right in. I was a little apprehensive, yes, but also intrigued and ready to have my mind blown. It was sweet and surprisingly delicious. I don’t know what it’s made from, but I’m guessing a type of berry or other kind of fruit. This soup is supposed to be very good for a woman’s complexion.
The other soup was also sweet and had large chunks of sweet potato and another root vegetable in it. Rachel asked me if I wanted to try something else and I said yes, but something that wasn’t sweet. She ordered me an egg dish that is given to women after childbirth to help them recover their health. In my bowl were two boiled or pickled, whole eggs in a dark vinegar sauce. She told me it would be very sour, but like the soups, it was sweet and rich. My stomach was getting overwhelmed at this point. Plus the heat (yes, it’s finally hot!), dehydration, noise…you can imagine.
We had a nice long walk back home. We strolled through a large street market (imagine several long and winding alleyways brimming with goods for sale) and I bought another cactus! This one is extra spiky. I don’t have a name for it yet, but it has snowflakes on its pot and I’m thinking it’s time for me to learn how to say “snowflake” in Chinese. The alley we walked along to find the cactus was dedicated to plants, animals (for pets I think), and flowers. It was hard for me to see how the animals were kept. They were all stuffed into cages or buckets just big enough to hold them, but not allow them to move around. In many cases, there wasn’t even room for them to turn around.
By the time we had gotten home, I was absolutely exhausted. We were gone for a total of five hours, four and a half of which we were on our feet. Most people would take a bus to cover the mileage that we did. Also, as I mentioned above, I was very dehydrated even though I’d been gulping down water the entire time.
(A tangent: I notice that the Chinese that I’ve been around at the school and in town don’t drink very much water. You can’t drink the tap water here and there aren’t any public water fountains that I’ve seen, so the only ways to acquire potable water are to buy it—name brand only because some will put tap water in a used bottle and try to sell it—or boil tap water. At this point, I was still trying to figure out a cheap and efficient way to keep potable water on hand, and as a consequence not drinking very much water. At the school, the canteen serves a very watery soup everyday. I wonder if that’s how the other teachers and students keep hydrated. Who knows…it’s a bit of a mystery to me because the other teachers don’t carry around water bottles and they don’t drink water with meals. )
More so than walking the distance that we did and feeling dehydrated, learning how to be a pedestrian in China did me in. It’s overwhelming. Cars, people, and bicycles are constantly flying at you from all directions. Traffic (foot, automobile, bicycle) rules are mere suggestions, hardly obeyed. The whole idea of stop-and-go traffic does not exist in this culture. Right-of-way is your way as you see fit, as long as you manage to avoid collision. And how they manage to avoid collision beats me. Even on an empty sidewalk, people purposely walk into your path as if they just didn’t have a choice but to cut you off, force you off the sidewalk. When the light turns red, don’t expect traffic to stop. When you cross the street, don’t expect the lit-up person sign to offer you a safe path across the street. That lit-up person is a false guide! A Chinese friend of mine explained that drivers are taught to drive offensively. In a country with so many people, you must be assertive. She was taught to go! go! go! and break only within a few feet of any person or vehicle. I’ve seen cars stop a few INCHES short of running pedestrians over. And nobody goes in a straight line either, so it’s impossible to anticipate a person’s next move.
To put a positive spin on it, people live by the Daoist concept called “wu wei.” They move instinctively and fluidly, like molecules of water. I must abandon my attachment to logical motion.
Here’s a nice visual: Toddlers poop in the street. Often to the side of the road or against a tree, but in full public view. Many toddlers wear pants with giant splits in them, a great convenience when the need to defecate arises.