A Visit to a Chinese Hospital

Guan Ci Memorial Hospital entrance

Well, well, well, the time had finally come for me to pay a visit to a Chinese hospital (what we call clinic). Nothing serious, just the start of a cold, that knowing my own body as well as I do, would undoubtedly develop into a chest infection if not nipped in the bud with antibiotics.

A week ago, I had 2 little cute kids not-so-cutely sneeze on me. Yes, I had to wipe snot off my arm. Ewww! The next day, my body felt like it belonged to an alien. Two days later, I was croaking like a frog, and my manager sent me to the nearest Chinese hospital in the care of  one of the Chinese staff members. The visit was an amusing experience, to say the least. First, I had to have my temperature taken while registering. So there I was, filling out a form, with a thermometer stuck under my tongue, which had been handled by both the nurse and my helpful companion, with their bare hands. (Hey! You don’t survive in Asia if you are squeamish about sharing germs!) Once it had been established that I didn’t have a fever, I could go to the Teller to pay my registration fee of 11,5o Yuan (R11.50). Next we went upstairs to wait till my number and name popped up on the gigantic electronic screen. About 30 minutes later, I was sent to a room, in which 2 doctors sat at desks, while patients stood in line to be ‘examined’. My Chinese companion had to translate my symptoms and the doctor’s questions. The doctor looked at my throat, and did a cursory examination of my chest. after entering the info into his computer, I was sent back downstairs to pay for a blood test (20 Yuan). Back upstairs to have my finger pricked, and then another 30 minute wait for the results. Back downstairs to see a different doctor in the Emergency section, since by this time, the other section had closed. According to the blood test results, my White Blood Cell Count was normal, it was determined that I had a cold, and I was prescribed some traditional Chinese medicine, which consisted of sachets of granulated herbs/tea/elephant dung or whatever the ingredients are, which I had to drink twice daily. Back to the Teller to pay for my medicine (15 Yuan), and finally, after 3 hours, I was free to leave. So for 46,50 Yuan (R46,50), that was my visit to the local Chinese hospital.

On Sunday morning, I couldn’t speak, and I had Parent-Teacher meetings scheduled for that entire afternoon, so had no choice but to go in to work and slog my way through. After 2 hours of elephant dung/bat wing/octopus eyes tea drinking, I could finally speak.

Come Monday morning, and I could hardly breathe. So off I went to an international hospital, called Guan Ci Memorial Hospital, where there were patients from France, the USA, as well as Chinese, etc, etc. Finally, after a ‘normal’ Western medical consultation, another blood test, and 1000,00 Yuan (R1000,00) I finally had my desired confirmation of a high White Blood Cell count, a chest infection, and loads of medicine, including those wonderful-yet-bad-for-you antibiotics! Happy patient! (Until the following week, when it was then Kevin’s turn to be an unhappy patient!)

Conclusion? I wouldn’t waste my time again with a local Chinese hospital. As a matter of fact, even my Chinese students don’t waste their time going to Chinese hospitals for traditional Chinese medicine. They say it’s ‘inconvenient’ since it takes too long to recover, and treatment for almost everything is to be put on a drip. Even tiny tots walk around with drips. It was quite something to see…. They actually have ‘drip’ cubicles, like tiny office cubicles, for patients to sit while their medicine drips away into their veins. Whereas, treatment at the international hospital is ‘Western’, despite all the medical staff being Chinese. They have either studied and/or lived in Western countries, so one can actually communicate the same as one would ‘back home’. One thing they do, though, which I appreciate, and wish they would do back home, is to check your blood readings first before prescribing medicine. I think our Western doctors are too quick to prescribe antibiotics, whereas here they will only do so, if your blood indicates an absolute necessity to do so. So, we can still learn some things from the Chinese!

Drip treatment

A Life of Convenience

Gosh! Shanghai has certainly heated up! Kevin’s favourite catch-phrase at the moment, is “Hot, steamy Shanghai nights!” (And yes, he IS talking about the weather!) But, we are very thankful to be living in a coastal city, so we can enjoy lovely, cool sea breezes which make the heat bearable – yes, just like Cape Town 🙂

So, I decided to write about the small things that make life conveniently bearable here in Shanghai.

The Chinese currency, Renminbi (or Chinese Yuan) is on par with the South African Rand. So, I no longer have to do conversions when I go shopping. I can shop with the convenience of thinking in Rand. This way, I am better equipped to know if something is a good bargain, or if I am being ripped off. I just need to get American Kevin used to it, since almost everything still looks cheap to him. Now, even though 1 Chinese Yuan = 1 South African Rand, things are still cheaper here in China than back home.

100 Chinese Renminbi note

100 South African Rand note

Speaking of shopping, we do most of our household shopping at Carrefour, where we can get every kind of fruit and vegetable that we would in South Africa, even more actually, since this is Asia. So we have the added benefit of getting Asian fruit and vegetables, too! Fruit and vegetables are really cheap here, which is a huge relief after paying exorbitant prices in Korea. In addition, every time we shop, we get loads of coupons! I LOVE it! Carrefour also imports quite a decent range of international food products, from Australia, New Zealand, Italy, the USA, France, etc, etc. But if you still can’t find that little something you’re looking for, you can go online and visit City Shop, place your order, and they’ll deliver your imported goods to your door, CASH ON DELIVERY!

And if you are too lazy to walk, or you want some exercise, or perhaps you are simply in a rush to get somewhere, but you have to travel with public transport, you can hire a bicycle, ride to your next connection, be it subway station, or bus stop, etc, park your bike, swipe your transport card, and continue on your way. For instance, just outside our apartment complex, there is a stand of bicycles for hire. There is another one on the next block! So easy and convenient! And for those who don’t want to exert themselves too much, there are electric bicycles! I love that I get to live here and have a glimpse of the old, traditional Shanghai when people rode bicycles, and ladies strolled with their parasols. You can still see it, amidst all the skyscrapers and modernisation. I, too, stroll with my parasol!

Public bicycles for hire

We even used to have our drinking water delivered to our door. But then we discovered that we can simply refill our own water at next to nothing. There is a water refill station at the entrance to our complex. For just 3 Yuan, you can refill your water canister with about 20 litres of filtered water. You see, Shanghai residents don’t drink the tap water here. There is just far too much industrialization which results in too many metals etc in the tap water, so we stay on the safe side.

One more little convenience, is that even the Shanghai dialing code is the same as that of Cape Town…..021. How much more convenience can I ask for, hmmm?

China Gold Rush

Going for gold!

China impresses me more and more. It’s a wonderful thing to behold…the workings of a socialist market economy.

“What on Earth is she on about?” you might be wondering. Well, what I’m on about is how opportunities seem to be available to all. Bear in mind, I am no economist and do not pretend to be knowledgeable about socialist vs capitalist systems or how the Chinese socialist market economy has more capitalist features than it should have, yada-yada…. All I can write about is what I see and encounter here in my insignificant day-to-day observations.

So, what have I observed recently? The Chinese Gold Rush! There are gold bullion stores a dime a dozen here. Everyone is encouraged to buy gold as a solid investment, instead of putting your hard-earned cash in money savings schemes which can easily crash and you have nothing real to show for it, as has been evidenced by the recent Wall Street saga. How many people lost years of savings, which, really, when you think about it were just figures on paper? Gold, or silver, however, is something tangible, that you can purchase and take home with you, or store in a safety deposit box in a bank. Whatever your fancy, it’s something you can touch, see and hold, with the secure knowledge that it is yours, you bought it, you own it, and what’s more, the value just keeps on increasing.

A Chinese gold coin

Never mind the gold bullion stores, just walk into a bank for standard personal banking, and you’ll see an advertisement and gold bullion on display for anyone to purchase. My goodness! Looking back, the thought of buying gold used to be something for ‘rich’ people, a special nugget (pardon the pun!) reserved for the privileged minority who could afford it. It was never an option that was so widely offered to the general masses. Or perhaps, it was that the general masses lived (and perhaps most still do) under the false doctrine that gold is out of our league.

Well, not so in China. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you want to buy gold, you can. Simple as that. What impresses me the most, is how everyone is encouraged to do so. Just the other evening, on the news, they were talking about the gold rush, how more and more people are buying gold in China, and how they are becoming discerning gold buyers, comparing prices of gold in mainland China with those of Hong Kong and Macau.

Well, that’s it from me for now. I don’t know about you, but I’m going for gold!

Dancing China

Fan Dance Exercise

One of the things that amazes me the most about China thus far, is how relaxed people seem here. I see this in the surprising number of people that I see dancing on the streets.

Previously, I had mentioned the dancing that takes place in the evenings on the open air square at the mall where I work. The weather is now perfect, it being well into Spring here. So on these balmy Spring evenings, hundreds of ladies dance the day’s stresses away. It’s an impressive sight. If you think the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony was incredibly mind-blowing, the way thousands of people moved in unison, then you’d appreciate this ‘impromptu’ dancercise.

Then, there are the open air dance clubs that one can see on street corners around Shanghai. Don’t be surprised, should you come to Shanghai one day, to see couples dancing the night away on the streets. Apparently, these are community groups that have organised these open air dance clubs. So, if you’re the kind of couple who enjoy dancing together for fun and exercise, you can join a group, and join other couples dancing on the street corners on perfect Spring evenings. The dance style is similar to what we call ‘lang-arm’ in South Africa. For those of you who don’t speak Afrikaans, it’s a type of formal/casual folk dance for couples, a mix of waltz and the jive.

Street Dancing Couples

The dancing, however, actually begins early in the mornings, when one can see the older ladies practicing their tai chi in the park. It’s such an idyllic way to start the day. Go for a morning stroll in the park, and you can hear beautiful, traditional Chinese music playing and watch the old ladies moving gracefully in tune with one another. The music, together with the fresh morning scent of newly sprung spring leaves on the trees make for an unbeatable start to the day. Our local tai chi ladies also use parasols in their tai chi. In Kowloon, Hong Kong, they were dancing with swords, and there were men there as well. It’s truly a fantastic sight to behold, and to think I get to witness this all in person, not on some tv documentary in a living room somewhere on the other side of the planet.

Tai Chi ladies in the park

Speaking of TV, the other day on the news, they featured the student body at an elementary school somewhere in China. Now, all Chinese students start the school day with an exercise routine. Like we used to have morning school assembly in the school quad (well, when I attended school, that is!), the Chinese students assemble in the school quad and perform their physical exercises before putting their brains to work for the day. Well, this particular elementary school had decided to use Michael Jackson’s choreography from the ‘Dangerous’ music video as their morning routine. So, every morning, when they arrive at school, they dance to ‘Dangerous’! As they used to say on the Cape Flats, “Dayn-dje-rus, my broer!’

And so, I leave you for now with thoughts of dancing China. Why not dance your way over here to Shanghai and see it to believe it?

Birthdays and Team-building

Life here in Shanghai continues at a pleasant pace. Despite the “weirdness” of my previous post, there are also many wonderful things to share.

On Sunday evening, after work, we all went to celebrate Eric’s birthday with him at a lovely bar-cum-restaurant in the city. (Eric is the Canadian with whom I work.) It’s a lovely spacious place, with a huge lawn in the back, a little pond and a braai (bbq) spot. However, this is Chinese bbq, which I can very easily get used to. They bbq everything sosatie style. They place dishes of various raw goodies on sticks for the guests to select. There were whole fish (head to tail), giant prawns, chicken ‘steaks’, beef sausage meat, hotdogs, whole squid, etc – all on sticks. The only food not on sticks, were, of course, the clams! Even the veggies were also on sticks. Japanese mushrooms (the ones with the really long stalks and tiny heads), bell peppers, mielies (corn-on-the-cob), eggplant, etc were also on sticks. It’s so convenient and easy, and it was so, so yummy! We just had to pay 100 RMB (about R100), and we could eat as much as we could. We just stood around at the grill, selected what we wanted, gave it to the grill master and he and his team cooked for us. As it came off the grill, they handed it to us, and we mostly just stood there eating as the food came off. How easy! There was also a live jazz band, so it felt just like home!

Then, on Tuesday morning, it was our regional team-building outing. About a hundred teachers and customer relations staff from 3 schools went along. We went to Chongming Island, about 2 hours drive from our school. It’s a huge island in the middle of the Yangtze River, with a beautifully sculpted National Park. We had to travel through the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel and Bridge, which is actually a combination of traveling both under and above the river to get to the island. This tunnel/bridge combo is 25,5km long. We spent the afternoon at the park, boating, zip-lining, cycling, horse-riding, go-karting, rock-climbing, running obstacle courses, and generally playing around, having tons of fun, just  like the little kids we teach. After all the fun and games, (otherwise known as exercise and exertion and feeling one’s age) there was another bbq (yay! for me). In the evening, we went out to explore the nightlife, but we were just so exhausted from the day’s exertions that almost everyone turned in early! Before midnight!

This morning, we visited an ecological village on the island. There are only 784 people living in this village. They all live in big houses, which are solar-powered. There are forests of trees planted everywhere, as well as ponds and lakes where people catch their own fish, and grow their own vegetables. There are also wind farms in the area, so it was a very heartwarming thing to see here in China, this push for ‘green’ living.

We then visited a traditional village, called ‘Yingnong Garden of Ancient Styles’, depicting ancient Chinese living. It had a “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” look and feel to it. We half-expected kung-fu warriors to come flying over the rooftops at any moment! Thereafter, we visited a wood and stone museum, with the most amazing samples of ancient wood as old as 1,5 hundred million years! Beautiful wood carvings as well as rocks and stones from various regions of China.

All in all, it was a lovely trip. And the best thing was that all classes had been cancelled for today, so I’ve really had 3 days off from school, and only have to be at work at 2pm tomorrow! (which is early for me here). Hence, a very pleasant life here in Shanghai. Thank you, China!

Weird China

I was thinking about what I could tell you about China next, and thanks to one of my colleagues showing me something strange the other day, I finally hit on it! Some of the strange and weird things you might see if you were to visit here.
Firstly, Kevin had mentioned to me that he had read about how toddlers are dressed in pants that are split at the backside, for easy and quick defecation when the need suddenly arises. I thought it was just one of those ‘weird’ things that foreigners come up with when visiting a strange land. And then I finally saw it myself…. a little toddler, obviously being weaned off his nappies, was in his granny’s arms, bum facing out, so it was easy to spot….his pants were split at the back, neatly seamed along the edges, with two little bum cheeks peeping out! Shame! I felt so sorry for him, since it was a bit chilly that day, and I thought that his little behind must be freezing! Thankfully, that was the only case I saw in my 3 weeks here 🙂
So that was the strange…now for the weird and slightly disturbing, depending on your perspective. Brian, the other South African I work with, took me and Kevin to see something weird at a herbal stall in the mall where we work. Whole dried seahorses! Big ones and little ones. Now, after having already spent 2 years in Asia, and thus being almost 100% shock-proof, especially after seeing whole cooked dogs in Korea, this was somewhat disturbing. I, along with most of my friends, had grown up to believe that the seahorse was akin to a unicorn, a mystical creature to be revered and oohed-and-awed at. Now, however, thanks to China and a web-search, a seahorse is, apparently, a fish. If you can get your head around the fact that it is a fish, and not a mystical creature, then I guess you can easier cope with this devastating information. The Chinese use dried seahorse for medicinal purposes, for the treatment of liver and kidney problems, asthma, throat infections, insomnia, abdominal pain, skin infections and sores. The whole seahorse is used, usually cooked in a soup, or it is ground to a powder, for purchase in either powder, pill or capsule form. When you think about it, we eat other fish, like salmon and even buy salmon oil in capsule form for healthy brain cells, skin and hair. Even lobster and crab, a firm favourite with many I know, are cooked alive – not exactly a humane thing to do, is it?
Well, in our first week in Shanghai, we walked past a restaurant that had its fresh seafood on display, swimming around in tanks on the sidewalk (as is also the case in Korea). Here, however, one of the tanks actually had 2 small sharks in it. (I remember seeing a small dead shark on display – on ice – in Thailand, as well.) Now, I LOVE sharks, the living fish, not the food form. But, who knows, one day I might be able to bring myself to eat shark meat. But it would have to be in an instance where I know for sure that the entire shark is being used, and not the way sharks in the wild are currently being hunted, where they are caught, their fins sliced off, and then their still living bodies cruelly thrown back in the ocean to sink to the bottom and slowly die. There are many countries guilty of this form of shark ‘fishing’, along with Japan’s hunting of whales and slaughter of dolphins.
Having said all that, I have chosen to live in Asia, so I am challenging myself to be open to trying new things. One day, I just might try fried bull frog, and pig’s ear soup, but in the meantime, despite my newfound perspective regarding unicorns and seahorses, I shall be avoiding the Hippocampus (seahorse), along with shark’s fin soup.

A Sombre World

I hope this finds everyone in good health. I have been watching a lot of news lately, and it makes one grateful for the life that one has. Between the natural disasters taking place in Asia, radiation leaks from Japan and war in Libya, it’s a sombre world we live in these days.

Here in Shanghai, everything’s okay. Some radioactive iodine has been detected in the air from North-east China, down to Shanghai and even as far as Hong Kong. We are assured that the level of radiation is far below what is harmful to humans, and that the Chinese government has set up over a hundred testing stations to closely monitor any radiation leaks coming from Japan.

Anyway, once we had signed our lease and moved in, we had to go and register with our local police station. Now, I know many people in the Western world might think this a strange – or controlling – thing to do, but when you think about it, it’s actually a good idea. This way, if there are any dangers, or natural disasters, or the like, the police know where to find us, and take proper measures to ensure one’s safety. When you think about a huge country like China, with all it’s billions of people, there needs to be some form of control. And on this note, please be aware that if any of you come to visit us, you, too will need to register wth the local police. This is a very simple process, there is nothing scary about it. Everyone has to do it, including all the Chinese people, too.

The weather is finally changing very nicely from the dregs of Winter to the beginning of Spring. Internet has finally been installed here at home this morning, and so it feels great to be back online at home again.

Other than that, I have slowly started teaching classes again. The little ones are just too cute. The youngest ones I teach are only THREE years old! But so, so cute. I am really enjoying them. It’s so rewarding to see these little bambinos enter the classroom, clinging to their parents, and then to see how they eventually relax with me and the puppets, and how they come into their own, while their parents hover nervously outside the door. I find that I end up having to reassure the parents that it’s okay to leave us alone now. LOL. Like, this evening, I had one little boy who was crying when he arrived. He didn’t want to let go of his mom and she ended up talking to him for almost 15 minutes, trying to calm him down. I had decided to arrive at class a bit early, to set up, and also just to give the little ones time to get used to my presence, since it’s the first time they were meeting me. Eventually, I decided to bring out a puppet, to use to speak to this little boy, and what do you know? It worked like a miracle! He stopped crying, started talking to the puppet, and his mom could leave. By then I had everyone’s attention, and so decided to start the class while the going was good, even though it was early! And this little boy was unrecognisable for the rest of the class. He was the star of the class! Many people cringe at the thought of working with such tiny tots, but thus far, I have found it to be more rewarding than frustrating. Let’s hope this good fortune continues.

And so, life goes on. In the evenings when I leave school, they have dance-ercise at the mall. You know how in Chinese movies, sometimes they show all the old Chinese ladies doing their tai-chi exercises in public parks? Well, here where I am, they do funky dance. Every evening, on the square outside the mall, one can see about a hundred or more ladies of all ages (sometimes a few guys join in, too) doing their exercise. And there is nothing old fogey about it at all. They are doing funky dance moves to Chinese pop music as well as American hip hop music! I just want to know where to go to learn the moves! It’s like a bit of line dancing mixed with tai chi mixed with music video choreography mixed with some aerobics. And everyone’s doing it…. in their workclothes, boots, jackets, exercise clothes, you name it. It’s like anyone can just join in. One evening, I even saw a husband-and-wife just dancing for the heck of it. He just grabbed his wife and took her for a spin at the back! What a lovely thing to see. I look forward to it every evening. I have yet to join in, because I’ve usually had shopping bags with me, on my way home to cook dinner. But I am going to join them very, very soon. Will keep you posted on that!

One thing stands out for me about the Chinese – well, about the Shanghainese, at least. They know how to relax! They take time out to enjoy their surroundings. You see them going for coffee, or walks in the park, or just relaxing outside, soaking up the sun. It’s so different to Korea. In Korea, people tend to rush around constantly. Even a leisurely mountain hike can be rushed. I remember once when I went on a weekend tour to Jeju Island, south of the Korean peninsula, all the Westerners were complaining about how they never wanted to go on a Korean-organised tour ever again. The schedule was so jam-packed with activities, that you were lucky to get 40 minutes to spend at a site. Everything was strictly timed, and there was no time to rest and relax. The bus would stop at a beach, and you were told firmly that you had to be back at the bus in 10 minutes! Whereas, in both Hong Kong and here in Shanghai, I see the Chinese taking time to relax. They will spend their lunch hour sitting at the beach, reading, or dozing, or going for a walk to clear their head. Yes, they are busy, but they also make time to balance things. Now, there’s a simple explanation for these difference, in my humble opinion. You see, just 50 years ago, Korea was one of the poorest countries on the planet. They pulled themselves out of the rut by working like crazy. The problem now, is that they didn’t learn to slow down, so even now with their booming economy, they are still rushing around like crazy. China, on the other hand, has a history and culture that is thousands of years old. They have been around forever, so there is no need for them to rush. There is also no need for them to kowtow to the Western world’s demands, especially America’s. And WOW! Do I respect them for that!