Why China is Weird, Part 2
You’re all thinking, “Another blog post? Really? Don’t you have, you know, things to do in China?” Let me take a moment to say that this behaviour is not normal. Once I start teaching next week I will probably not be putting up a new blog post every other day. (Incidentally, we will be meeting the faculty at our school on Saturday morning, which is tomorrow, in a ceremony in which we will be introduced by the headmaster to the entire school. It’s sure to be interesting, and I can’t wait.) This this post also includes some leftovers from our arrival in Shenzhen, which I never got to because there was a lot of stuff happening around that time and, well, one does get distracted easily.
I’ve been having a few moments over the past few weeks in which I have shaken my head and said, “Where AM I?”
1. My co-teacher Stephanie and I were on the Metro yesterday afternoon, and as we walked down to the platform, we watched a group of three strapping young men carry a bank of metal lockers up the escalator. We were pretty sure they had gotten off the most recent train with it. This is so far the weirdest thing we have seen on the Metro, but we expect (and are hopeful for) much stranger.
2. This is not so much Why China is Weird, as Why China is Awesome. (Disclaimer: if you are disapproving of any of the following: drinking, rowdiness, or general tomfoolery, do not read on. We are, after all, a group of American 20-something expats living the Shenzhen fabulous life. Skip to part 3.) There is a beer that is evidently brewed somewhere in the vicinity of Shenzhen, called Kingway. It’s awful stuff, basically the Chinese version of Coors (okay those of you who like Coors and are offended: try a microbrew. That is all I have to say to you) but as Chinese beers go it’s kind of par for the course. Anyway, because it’s brewed somewhere near here, there are a 2 or 3 beer gardens that serve it exclusively and are actually named after it. Kingway Beer Street in Luohu, Kingway Beer Garden in Bao’an, etc. (A “beer garden” here just means a large, open area with a bunch of tables and either a wait staff or a counter that serves beer.) The Bao’an beer garden is a massive area under a tent with probably close to 40 round tables with 8 or 10 seats apiece. The pitchers run about 15 yuan, food about 20 yuan per dish. They give you these little tiny glasses out of which you can drink the beer, which seems ridiculous, but they are slightly dangerous because you really have no idea how much you are drinking (which is actually the point, to get you to say “Bring another pitcher– Ling yi ge jia!” all evening). But the best part is after the food has been cleared, they bring out cups of dice for everyone and you all sit around playing Liar’s Dice very loudly and enthusiastically, for hours. As the evening progresses, the game becomes an almost incomprehensible aural mix of numbers, profanity (as you call each other out), and various broken Chinese phrases as all the expats get braver about their language skills. Our rowdy crew was seated next to a table full of equally rowdy young Chinese men, and they toasted us vigorously at the end of the evening. This experience is not one you want to have every night, or even very often at all, but every once in a while it’s ludicrous fun.
3. Okay. Now, this next item is something that I should have posted about more than a week ago, but a) I tried to block it from my memory and b) there were other things to talk about. I may or may not have briefly mentioned the fact that, in order to get our work visas and residence permits, we had to undergo both police interviews as well as a medical examination.
Come here, children, and let me tell you how a medical examination for the Chinese Government works.
This is what I like to call the China Hospital Scavenger Hunt. At the beginning of the day, you are given a sheet of paper, upon which are written various medical procedures in Chinese and bad English. Upon this sheet you will find things like, “ECG 303,” “Dental Exam 205,” and “EENT 311.” You read apprehensively down the list, balking at the one called “Surgery 312”– which turns out to be blood pressure and a vision test, oddly enough– and realize that the numbers are room numbers and the object of the game is to go around to each station and get a stamp after completing each task.
So off you go to plan your strategy. Do you get the easy stuff first, ease into it a bit? Or do you go balls to wall and check off x-ray, blood test, and peeing in a cup? If you’re me, and you’re terribly terribly needle-phobic, this question starts to plague you as you mince down the hallway towards “ECG 303.” You sweat profusely as they attach various suction cups to you to take your rhythms (and you then are momentarily distracted as they remove the cups and you find they have left a pattern across your torso that looks as if you might have been attacked by a large squid). You wander down the hall some more, shudder as you hear a fellow needle-phobe let out a shriek from the blood-test room, and head in for your ultra-sound. By the way, it’s kind of bizarre when your ultra sound nurse squeezes the jelly stuff on you and it turns out it’s the end of the bottle, so it winds up squirting all over your shirt and hair as well as on your stomach. Even more bizarre, she clinically and efficiently runs the scanner over you, then gives you a broad smile and says “Very good!” before stamping your paper loudly and shooing you back out the door. What on earth did she mean by that?.. you ponder to yourself, as you cringe and approach the blood test room, which has by far the shortest line at present. Wonder why. (In all fairness, the nurses who do the blood draw are actually quite good.) Needles removed, less a couple test tubes of your blood, you sit woozily for a moment before glancing down at your paper and realizing you still have several hurdles to overcome, including everyone’s favorite– peeing in a cup. In a squat toilet. Oh yeah.
After checking those stamps off the list, everything else is fairly painless and easy. They test you for colorblindness and eyesight, the aforementioned blood pressure, a chest x-ray– which is done in a very intimidating, dim and scary room, and of course you have to go in one at a time, and the guy who runs the machine sits in a windowed room on the opposite side of the x-ray machine so you run your little scavenger hunt paper to him and then stand on the yellow “footprints” in front of the big metal box in the wall while something is whirring and clicking behind you– and the dental exam, which consists of a nurse asking you to open your mouth, looking inside, and swabbing your cheek. Done. Good thing I got my dental work all squared away in the States.
One of the returners said it best, though– most people in the States don’t get such a comprehensive physical examination often, if really at all. However, those teachers who have been here 2, 3 years have had one every single year at visa renewal time (good job, China) so they always know that they are in extremely good health at the start of the year. It is actually a great bonus, needles and errant ultrasound jelly notwithstanding.
This is a terribly long post. There are many more strange and wonderful things about China, but I have a lot of time to explore them and plenty of time to tell you all about them as well. So I’ll leave it here for right now, with a promise to catch you up on Dong-men shopping district (I hear you snickering, you gutter-minds, from 9,000 miles away), meeting the faculty and the Senior 3 students at our school, and how what is a basketball court by day becomes a thriving, authentic China experience in the middle of yuppies-ville by night.