Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My First Experience With A Chinese Doctor

Now, I'm acutally writing this the day after I first went to the health clinic, as I was so traumatised yesterday from the whole ordeal that I just couldn't blog about it. As previously stated, I have been sick since I got here, and yesterday when I woke up, I had no voice. I asked the girls at work if there were any English speaking doctors around that I could go see. I specifically requested English speakers, because I thought they would probably have a better understanding of western medicine, as well as traditional. The girls talk about it, and decide that one of them (who's name is Jelly) will take me and show me where it is, so off we trot... to a governement-run Chinese health clinic, where they don't speak English...

I pay 1RMB, for the priveledge of first being allowed to find the doctors office (which is no mean feat - even with a Chinese guide), find the doctor, and sit down for an examination. She listens to my chest, and sends me off to another room to have a blood test. The lady takes my blood, then we wait for about ten minutes while she examines it under the microscope. She writes her findings, then sends me back to the original doctor. The doctor checks it, then sends me up two flights of stairs to a different doctor (pictured above), who checks my throat, and decides I need special medicine. We go back downstairs to pay for the medicine, and return to his office. This is where it gets scary...

It turns out that the medicine is a mixture of liquid from 4 different vials, and two different powders, that he mixes in a syringe. He then puts a tip on the syringe which is extremely long, with a kink in the end, which he is apparently going to shove down my throat, and squirt in. At this point I'm not happy. I think my exact words were 'Are you sure I can't just have an injection?' So he gives me a piece of gauze to hold my tongue with, while he proceeds to squirt this stuff down my gullet. Of course having someone stick something like that down your throat (particularly when you are already sick) activates your gag reflex, and you start coughing and dry-retching. I look up to find that actually he has only squirted in 2mls of this stuff, and there is still 6mls to go. Oh... did I also mention it tastes like stomach bile? It takes four goes to get this stuff down, and coat my throat, and then I'm told not eat or drink anything for 30 minutes. So I am now walking around with the taste of bile in my throat for 30 minutes.

We then get given a script for some other medicine and go off to the pharmacy for it. It turns out to be pills and some special cough syrup. We go back the school, and Jelly takes a look at the box and tells me when to take what. The conversation goes something like this (small language warning):

Jelly: 'You have to have lunch, so you can take the pills. You take them once a day, at the same time of day, and the cough syrup three times a day.'
Me: 'Ok, I have to go shopping, then I will have lunch, then I will take the pills and the syrup.'
Jelly: 'Ok, but don't take too long. We have to be back at the clinic at about 3.'
Me: 'What?'
Jelly: 'The doctor has to give you some more of that medicine, twice a day for the next four days'
Me: 'Fuck That! I'm not going back there!'
Jelly: 'Yes you are. You are sick, the medicine is good for your health, and you are going.'
Me: '...'
Jelly: 'Go have your lunch so you can be back here to take your pills, because you can't drink for half an hour before you go to the doctor either.'
Me: '...'

So, off I go to attempt to buy a vapouriser, which don't exist in China, and then return to the school only to be pounced on:

Jelly: 'Did you have lunch?'
Me: 'Yes'
Jelly: 'Good, take these pills (she pops them into my hand), and swallow this (she produces the most humungous table spoon I've even seen, fills it with syrup and forces it at me).
Me: (take the pills, drink the syrup) 'That is the most disgusting cough syrup I have ever tasted.'
Jelly: 'But it's good for your health'
Me: '...'
Jelly: 'Ok, I will come and find you at about three or four.'
Me: '...'

Sure enough, 4pm on the dot, I get a tap on the shoulder, she grabs my hand and marches me down the street to the clinic again, not letting go of me the entire time. And we go though the whole process again.

This morning I get a text from her, saying she won't be at work today, but she has arranged to have one of the other consultants take me down instead. I walk through the door and the first thing they say is 'Ok, so it's time for you to go to the clinic'. I then politely explain that I can't, because I have a class. Sure enough, none of my students show, and I'm marched back down to the clinic for my next treatment. This time I'm also offered an IV drip, but that takes nearly and hour, for which I don't have time. I also asked if something can be done about my cough, given that is the root cause of my problem, to which I'm told 'No, that has to heal itself and it may take a while'.

I didn't go to my treatment this afternoon, because I was in classes all day, but I'm sure that's going to come back to haunt me. I have however been taking my other medicine, no matter how bad it tastes, I will let you all know if and when it works.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Local Laundry Service

A few doors down from the hotel is a little set of steps, leading to a little blue glass door. If you open that door and walk in, you crash into clothes hanging from the ceiling. It doesn't seem to bother the two ladies who work there, because they are even shorter than me (no comments from the peanut gallery, thankyou). They are very nice ladies who will wash, steam, mend, adjust, and press your clothes for a fifth of the price the hotel charges. I took in 2 dresses, two pairs of suit pants, and four business shirts the other day, it cost 32RMB to have them all cleaned and pressed for me, and took 48hrs. Totally worth it, and check out the overlocker they use!

No Coin Wallet?

No worries! Take a tip from your friendly local cab driver and use the door seals on your car.

My Little Tribute To Violet

Eveyone, this is Violet. Violet is my saviour in Harbin. She is dating one of the foreign teachers here Paul, but she herself is from Taiwan. Violet speaks three languages that I know of: Taiwanese, Chinese, and English (she will tell you she doesn't really speak English, and that her English is horrible - but she speaks it). Violet has given alot of her time to help me make my way around Harbin, trying to buy credit for my wireless internet, trying to find a vapouriser (the don't exist here, they only have humidifiers), plus lots more, and most importantly just being a friend. So, thankyou Violet :)

They Really Do Have Ugly Dogs Here

Exhibit A. All their dogs here are scruffy and mangy looking, and are part Chiuawa. I think the thing that horrified me the most though was yesterday when I was walking down the street a man was giving his dog an injection. When he had finished giving the dog the injection, he turned around and flicked the syringe onto the foot path, so it could be picked up by the people who collect the rubbish here. I was staring, open-mouthed before I realised what I was doing. I then closed my mouth and hurried on.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Local Coffee Haunt

Yes! I have one! Most important rule here... don't order a latte. I did, and they make it on milk which comes in a similar looking bag to 'The most disgusting yogurt drink in the world', except that the milk is fake-vanilla flavoured, pre-sweetened, and tastes like powdered milk. So, instead when ordering a coffee, order it black. The coffee is percolated so it IS drinkable, but to give you an idea about exactly how rare coffee in China is, one average cup costs 30-40RMB, while my lunch I eat from the markets costs 4. But doesn't it come in such a pretty cup?

Yong Berries

Yumm! They taste like a weak raspberry (no, not the jelly kind), but much juicier. They are composed of a seed in the centre, with individual strands (white to pink) of berry in a striated pattern out to the red edge of the berry, and are about the size of a small apricot. They cost about 16RMB/kg, which today is about $2.70. So awesome!

Ehck, Somebody Kill Me Already

I have been in Harbin for just over a week now and I have been sick the entire time. I think it's the poor air quality, because I have done nothing but cough since I got here - which is great when you are trying to teach English. Consequently I informed my boss today that I only want a six-month contract, and when asked why I told him it is because I think Harbin makes me sick. He seemed to accept that, but we will see what happens, and how much sicker I get (and what the Chinese doctor who does the medical for my visa says). You never know - I may be home much quicker than anticipated.

I tried to buy lemons from the grocery store the other day (you can't get them at the markets), but they have this peculiar system where you find some lady in the fruit and vege section of the supermarket to weigh them and give you a barcode before you take them to the counter... Long story short, I still don't have lemons. But if you look to the left there, you will see everything else in my arsenal at the moment, all of which (except for the nurofen from Australia - yay!) you can buy over the counter (or the grocery store) here, no prescription... Don't worry, I'm not taking them all at once, it's just that everytime I tried to buy lozenges I came out with, well, something else. But I have lozenges now.

What they call honey here... isn't. It is what you would get if you took actual honey, added sugar, then diluted it by half with water. Tomorrow I am going to attempt to buy a vapouriser. Humidifiers seem to be all the rage here, but they just aren't the same.


HOLY CRAP! It's like the entire city decided to play a game of dodge 'em cars at high speed! You have to play a game of 'Frogger' to get anywhere in this city, no matter what colour the lights are, or if you are at a pedestrian crossing. And horns... lots and lots of horns.

There is no such thing as lane markings here (well technically there is, but everybody ignores them). There are cars, buses, motorbikes, bikes, three wheeled thingies (sometimes motorised, sometimes pedaled), scooters, trucks, three-wheeled trucks (don't ask me how those thing stays upright), three wheeled cars, vans, horse carts... You name it, it's on the road (I use the phrase 'on the road' loosely here) in Harbin. Also... With the state of the roads, it is sometimes more like 4WDing than city driving (no...not an exaggeration).

Everyday I see at least 2 or 3 car accidents, which have always been minor. This however doesn't stop the owners of the vehicles from getting out of their cars, in the middle of the road, screaming at each other for an hour (again... not an exaggeration), while holding up the rest of the traffic, then getting back in their cars and driving away again. This is particularly hilarious when the cars involved have obviously been in so many scrapes before-hand that you can't tell which ones are new and which ones are old.

People frequently drive the wrong way down the road here. Sometimes they are aware they are going the wrong way, sometimes they aren't, but they never care. Sometimes the footpath is a quicker option for them, so they take that instead.

Some of the bigger intersections here have traffic cops in the middle of them to try to keep everything orderly. The problem here is that when the government put the signs and platforms in the middle of the intersection to advertise the fact, they took out half of the centre lane in every direction. This in turn means that everyone has to merge in the centre of the intersection just to get through the intersection... Sorry, but that's just stupid.

One of my most exciting traffic moments here was when I had been here about two days, and the three-lane highway that I was in a cab on, suddenly became a six-lane highway with everyone driving so their side mirrors touched (no, they didn't slow down at all).

I will however credit the drivers here with the fact that they seem to know EXACTLY how big their cars are, can merge in the smallest of spaces, and fit into the tiniest of car parks. This begs the question... Why can't they do this in Australia?

So after all that you are probably thinking 'well, at least you have a seatbelt'? Wrong... On the very rare occassion that the cab you get into has a working seatbelt, you don't want to use it. I made the mistake the second day I got in a cab only to end up covered, and I mean COVERED in dirt. Luckily I was on my way home anyway.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Most Disgusting Yogurt Drink In The World

Well, in my opinion anyway. It tastes more like watery liquid lollies... so actually some of you might like it (not specifically pointing at any particular members of my gaming group - you know who you are).

My Motel

Yeah, it's a motel - note the classy wall decoration above the bed, in case you weren't sure what kind of accomodation you were in... It has a bed and a shower (actually the bathroom is just more like a wetroom), a toilet (western style too!) and an internet connection, as well as a tv that is kinda useless to me since I don't speak Chinese, but it's comfortable enough. Most of the people are really friendly (except for one of the lazy, lazy, LAZY cleaning ladies), but I just wish they understood what 'DO NOT DISTURB' hanging on the door meant. I have been sick since I got here, and trying to get as much sleep as I can, which doesn't work when they start pounding on your door at 7:30 in the morning :( My job operates mostly outside of business hours... thus wanting to sleep in the morning.

Last weekend my internet crashed for 2 days until they could get someone here to fix it. I was on my way out when they knocked on my door, then suddenly I had the internet repairman, the man who bring me breakfast in the morning (who apparently just wanted to talk), and the cleaning lady in my hotel room all at once! They were just interested in who I was and where I was from, but all speaking Chinese (which of course I don't understand), all over the top of each other, with hand movements going and acting things out... it was like a skit out of Monty Python.

The man who brings me breakfast is very nice. He was wearing shoes with tiny little silver kangaroos on them the other day, so I gave him one of those little koalas you can buy in a pack of 12 from a $2 shop. Now he insists on giving me two helpings of breakfast every day. I always try and hand one back, so now he has started putting them both in the one little bag, so I can't try to give one back... very sneaky. In case you are wondering, breakfast everyday is supposed to be one boiled egg, one bag of a disgusting yogurt drink, and two little slightly sweet breadrolls or muffins. I get given double this, but take the yogurt drinks to work, because the girls there love them, eat one egg, one or two breadrolls, and end up having left overs for dinner or throwing them out.

The motel is owned by a relative of my new boss, which is why they put everyone there, but it is about a 25 minute cab ride to the school everyday and then back again. The cab ride costs 14-17RMB, which is about $2.50, so it's not the cost that's the problem, it's the time.

A Word On Chinese Airports

When you land at a Chinese airport, you follow a little car with a flashing sign that says 'follow me' to a parking spot out on the tarmac somewhere, where they bring out one of those little mobile sets of stairs for you to disembark. You then cram on a bus which drives you to the main building at the airport. Sometimes the bus also drives you to the plane you are getting on as well, sometimes you get on the plane directly at the gate.

Also, every airport I stopped at has scarecrows. What is that about? They don't tell wind direction, or hold signs, or point directions, or scare away birds, so does anybody have any idea about that?

From Guangzhou to Harbin

I walked out of my hotel in Guangzhou, and got my first real look at the outskirts of the city. The weather forecast said it was 33degC and cloudy. They call it cloud, I call it smog, but whatever...

So, off to the airport with plenty of time to catch my plane. I make my way through security, and it takes me forever to figure out which gate to go to, because my plane apparently isn't going to Harbin. I am on a plane that is going to Dalian, then I get off, have a stop-over for 20 minutes, then get back on and go to Harbin... awesome! I get to the gate, take a seat and have about 30 minutes to wait. 30 minutes comes and goes... no plane... lots of passengers, but no plane. Finally somebody makes an announcement that the plane has been delayed due to bad weather, and it will be an half hour late. Luckily for me there is a little teahouse right beside my gate, so I grab a table, and a pot of tea, and some breadsticky things (which turned out to be deep fried and very oily) and wait.

1 1/2 hours later... they begin boarding, then we wait for about another 20 minutes while they find a cart capable of pushing the plane from the gate and taxi out. Then we wait for about 30 minutes on the tarmac while we wait for other planes to land, then off we go to Dalian! We get to Dalian, then the little bus comes out to meet us and take us to the main terminal of the airport, where we all shuffle off to a different gate, and get ready to re-board in 20 minutes. 40 minutes later the bus comes back and takes us back to the plane, we all re-board and taxi back out to the runway, and sit for about another 30 minutes, then off to Harbin!

When I eventually get to Harbin, the plane is three hours late, and my bag is the last one off the carousel, so when I eventually make it out of the airport, the guys from my school who are there to meet me are very happy I have actually shown up, because they have been waiting for me for three hours. So, off to my hotel...

Leaving Australia

I flew from Brisbane to Sydney on the 17th of June, my plane was late. Normally that wouldn't bother me too much except I had a connecting flight from Sydney to Guangzhou, and I still had to make it to the international airport, check in and make it through customs. I got to the gate with about 5 minutes to spare, but my next plane was running late anyway, so I then sat around for 45 minutes waiting to board.

The flight to Guangzhou was long, and the airline didn't get the order for vegetarian food, so I didn't get fed. Needless to say I was not in the best of spirits when I first arrived in China, then had to deal with immigration. Don't grin at the immigration staff... they don't like it.

Flying in to Guangzhou is very pretty. The airport is surrounded by farms, with little clusters of villages in between. The villages seem to each consist of 5 or 6 buildings, all with about 4 or 5 stories, a few dirt roads and that's it.

I stayed at the Pullman hotel, adjacent to the airport. It is super easy to get to, you can see it from inside the airport, and it is only about 200 meters from the airport entrance to the hotel entrance. It was nice, even more so after spending all day on a plane, with nothing to eat but 4 bites of melon.

Upon walking into the hotel, the lobby is three-tierd, with a pianist on the second tier, who seems to play for most of the day. There are plenty of places to sit on comfy couches or armchairs with a coffee or drink and relax. There are gardens, ponds (with the obligatory carp), waterfalls and streams running through the hotel, and the staff are really friendly. I got to my room, had a soak in a hot bath, then went to bed and slept for 9 hours.

The next morning I woke up nice and refreshed, and RAVENOUS! After not eating at all the day before hand, I was ready to see what they had at the buffet. I walked into the restaurant, and every head in the place stopped talking, turned, and watched me walk all the way to my table, be poured coffee, walk all the way to buffet, select some food, then back to my table and start eating. Looking back on it maybe I should have done a little dance, then taken a bow, but too late now. Eventually people went back to their own breakfasts, and conversations, stealing the occassional glance. The food was tasty, but I don't like being watched while I am trying to eat, so I left fairly quickly.

In China they do boiled eggs in tea, but they must half boil them, crack them, then finish boiling them, because they take on a slight brown colour and the tea gives them a slightly sweet, nutty taste. Yum!

So I packed my things and headed back to the airport with plenty of time to catch my plane.


Let me introduce (for those who haven't already met) Wompy. He has been my loyal companion since 1988, and is my travel buddy. He has volunteered to appear in many photos as we travel, so keep an eye out for him. For those who aren't Australian, he is a Wombat.