An American Abroad

Archives for June 2013

First Encounter with the Chinese Health System

I was out the door of my hotel at 7:30 this morning accompanied by my employer’s bilingual welfare officer. A hired car took us to Kunming, about an hour north of Yuxi, so that I could have the medical exams needed for my work visa.

I was directed to the “International Epidemic Consulting Room,” where I was given a simple one-page health history form to fill out. Then I went to another window and paid the round-eye premium fee that was three times what people of other nationalities are charged.

Once the preliminaries were out of the way, the system pleased me with its efficiency. I had an eye test, a general physical exam, an EKG, blood work, a urine test, a chest X-ray, and an abdominal ultrasound all in the space of about an hour. All this would have gone even faster had the ultrasound tech not been puzzled by finding neither my gall bladder nor a big honking belly scar. After wanding my right lower gut for ten minutes, she was about to proclaim me a freak of nature before I explained laparoscopic surgery to her.

All those procedures done in the States would have cost many times more than the ¥420 (about $70) I was charged and would have taken days to complete. Of course, a certain amount of comfort and privacy was sacrificed for speed. The examinations took place in rooms with other applicants present or watching from just outside the door. And though the nurse didn’t give me a Band-Aid for my arm after drawing blood, she did give me a Q-tip to press against the puncture site once the blood started trickling down my arm.

The only comment made by any of the medical professionals examining me—at least, the only one I understood—was made by the doctor giving me the general physical, who gruffly told me I was overweight. How much did I need to lose? “Ten kilograms,” he barked. And he’s probably right.

Oh, and apparently I do NOT have syphilis. I don’t know how these ugly rumors get started…

Sunday Morning on Wenhua Lu

I took a walk at 9:00 this morning down Wenhua Lu, which judging from what I have seen so far is somewhere between the most upscale and the poorest parts of town.
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First Impressions

I’ve now been in Yuxi almost two days–nowhere near enough time to really know a city, but enough time to form first impressions.

I’ve never been to a city as large as Yuxi (1.5m people) that has as many trees. There are broad boulevards lined with old sycamores and elms. Trees this old and this numerous take a real long-term commitment to grow and maintain, which gives the city a sense of having been thoughtfully designed and administered for many years. I noted that even on a street lined with upscale shops, the trees frequently partially obscure the stores’ signage. In many parts of the world, commercial interests would insist that such trees be cut down or pruned so that commerce could be better promoted–but not here. It’s good to see that even in a country with such a strong pro-business culture there are still people in authority who understand the value of trees and public spaces. There are many public parks–another sign of the city’s long-term investment in public welfare. Although I haven’t seen many buildings that I would describe as beautiful–maybe contemporary Chinese architecture is an acquired taste?–the trees in front of them and the mountains behind them soften their bland designs.

So far, in my hours of walking the streets of Yuxi, I have passed by thousands of people and seen no other people of European descent. Few people speak English, which means I have to rely on hand gestures, smiles, and pen and paper to make myself understood. The people I have interacted with in this way have been very patient.

There is an interesting difference between the way men and women dress here. A number of women dress very smartly and perfectly convey “cute” (for younger women) or “beautiful” (for older ones). They are certainly easy on the eye. The men, however, seem to be stuck in the fashions of 1973, with high-waisted pants and ugly striped polo shirts pretty much the norm.

Even my inexperienced western eyes can pick out the non-Han peoples here. One sees women wearing Muslim headscarves and men wearing flat-topped fezzes. There are also others whose skin is a darker brown and whose faces are rounder than those of the Han people.

I walked around downtown last night (Saturday) around 10:00 and was struck by the absence of vice: I saw no bars, no drunks or drug addicts, no beggars, no prostitutes, no pornography, no gambling. Bummer! I’m sure such things exist here, but they must be well-hidden–or perhaps they are going on right in front of me and I’m just not seeing it.

The school where I will be teaching is housed in a large complex that has many enrichment programs for children and young people: English classes, dance lessons, music instruction, yoga groups, art studios. It’s a very lively place, with women zipping in and out on their electric motor scooters to drop off or pick up their kids. Tomorrow and Tuesday I will be apartment-hunting and will also drive up to Kunming to get the health check needed for my working visa. My training in the school’s teaching philosophy and curriculum starts Wednesday.

It will be interesting to see how my eventual sense of Yuxi compares with these first glimpses. So far, it seems to me to be a very good place to live, a thoughtfully designed city whose people are not so caught up in the need to make money that they forget to be kind.

Plans, Old and New

I must be the only person in the world to set out for Tierra del Fuego and wind up in south central China.

For over a year, I’d been planning a motorcycle journey through the Americas, from Toledo all the way to the Argentine city of Ushuaia. I’d expected to leave on May 15, 2013 and to be in Oaxaca, Mexico by now. Instead, I’m still in Toledo, but just for a little while. In ten days, I will fly to Kunming, China and then head 50 miles south to the city of Yuxi, which will be my new home. My job teaching English there will be my primary focus, but I also hope to travel, to come to know Chinese culture from the inside, and to gain some perspective on my own culture by viewing it from afar.

Someday I’ll look out over the Straits of Magellan from a motorcycle seat, but 2013 is not the year for that. The opportunity to live in China may not come to me again–so ready or not, here I go.

Right now, I am here:

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