Monthly Archives: October 2010

Chinese healthcare= Easy healthcare


Recently I had my first foray into the Chinese health system. As many of you may already know from previous posts, I have experienced several different physical maladies since arriving here in China. I’ll avoid going into the details of my recent malady, however I can share a glimpse into the Chinese health system and will also add that I was left completely satisfied from my first experience with it.

My recent malady kept me up all night one recent weekend so I had planned to go to the university clinic first thing in the morning. I was going to do my little pantomime dance and use recently acquired vocabulary from the massage place “Wo tang” (I hurt) and point to the part of my body that was feeling discomfort. I’m sure I would only have gotten strange looks and no help so thankfully, my wonderful Chinese friend and godsend Tien (this will probably not be the last time you will read about her) recommended that I stay away from the clinic. She said that they would probably just give me an aspirin and tell me to monitor my problem. What I needed was urgent and immediate care and real doctors to diagnose and treat my problem, so off we headed to the Xianlin Community Health Service Center, a short bus ride up the road. Now I would like to take a moment to clarify something here. This was a public health facility (hence the name Xianlin COMMUNITY Health Service Center). There were no lines going around the building. There were no numbers I had to pick and no ridiculous bureaucratic hoops I had to jump through to be seen by a doctor. In fact, when we arrived there, the waiting room was eerily empty. Okay, okay and the doctors were also on their lunch break so we did have to wait a little while since I did not have a severed arm with blood profusely dripping out. But other than that, it wasn’t bad for socialized health care.

To kill the time until the doctors returned from lunch, Tien and I walked a block away to “My Shop”, a little store about 100 square feet that sells American, British, Australian and German packaged and frozen food. It’s owned and operated by a Chinese man and not surprisingly, all the customers are expats anxious to stock up on items from home to cure a little bit of homesickness. I was actually on a different mission to get some cranberry juice for my current malady (and now some of you have probably figured out what I had. “I’ll take ‘Stephanie’s physical maladies in China’ for $300, Alex.”). After a German man depleted My Shop’s supply of granola bars, I paid the equivalent of a whopping $7 for my bottle of cranberry juice, a price I was more than happy to pay if it led to some sort of alleviation of pain and discomfort.

When we arrived back at the health center, I had to buy a medical record book at a window in the lobby. In this little booklet, the doctors make notes during any visits. This booklet should be kept and shared with any doctors at any hospitals during any future visits. Cost: 2.20 RMB (about 33 cents). I was then sent to the adjacent hallway with Tien and we walked into one of the doctor’s office. Tien explained my problem and symptoms. The doctor then said I would need to give a urine sample. So off we marched to the window in the lobby again (and still no line) to pay for that and get the cup. Cost: 26.50 RMB ($4). Three minutes later after a trip to the bathroom, another doctor or lab technician examined my pee sample in a very sophisticated, state-of-the-art, advanced microscope, computer machine. A minute later, she printed out a microscopic, computer-generated image of my urine. I then went back to the first doctor who looked at the image and then diagnosed and confirmed that I did have what I thought I had had. He then filled out a prescription for some tablets I would need to take twice a day for the next two weeks. Off we marched to the window again and paid for the prescription medication. Cost: 16 RMB ($2.25). We marched ten feet further to the pharmacy and I was then handed my two boxes of prescription. Total time (not including the lunch break when we first arrived): 15 minutes. Total cost: 44.70 RMB ($6.75)– less than the bottle of cranberry juice.

No deductible. No co-payment. No premium. No referral. No HMOs, PPOs or any other confusing acronyms. Just the doctors and the treatment. Health care was never made so easy…

PS: Two and a half weeks later, I am happy to report that I am now completely cured of my malady!

Originally published: October 26, 1010


College Life


College Life

As of yet, I have not shared any of my experiences as a teacher here in China other than some earlier references about how helpful students have been here. Two months into this, I can now share some better insight into working with Chinese university students.

I teach three different subjects four days of the week. From the first week, I have been teaching Business English to sophomore students. This class is only half credit and I’m lucky if half of them show up. I teach four different class sections of this class Monday and Wednesday afternoons. The initial excitement and chemistry the students and I had has now run its course and I think it’s safe to say we all just show up to class because we have to. Not having any curriculum provided, I teach information, vocabulary and dialogues about telephone use, meetings and negotiations in a business setting. Try as I may, it is very difficult to make this subject material any bit interesting. I have tried to elicit conversations and I ask students about similarities in China. The problem is students do not respond. They do not raise their hands if I ask a question to the class. So the only way I can get a response to questions is if I ask students directly. Students will say “I don’t know” or just look at me. It’s a bit frustrating but I can’t say they are entirely to blame. From their previous education experiences, they may be used to only be lectured at and are not expected to share their opinion or participate in class discussions. Nevertheless, I can only be so understanding, especially when I catch students playing video games or talking on their phone when they should be giving a class presentation.

My saving grace and my pure teaching enjoyment has come from teaching my freshmen 2+2 students. They are called 2+2 students because they will spend their first two years of college here at Nanjing University of Finance and Economics and the second two years at Waterloo University in Ontario, Canada. Therefore, they have intense English courses for the next two years and have the incentive to take their English courses seriously. I teach Writing four hours a week and Oral English three hours a week to them. They are serious, motivated, and inquisitive students and they’re my babies. Every time I show up to class, all 43 of them are already waiting in their seats and they cheer or cry out when I enter the room (Thank you, thank you very much). I push them and give them a lot of work (which in turn is more work for me) but we are all learning a lot. The best thing is that it’s been a great teaching experience for me. It’s wonderful to have a class group of my own with whom I can establish a relationship and I have learned how to manage a class better as well as new teaching and assessment methods. All-in-all, they are helping me become a confident educator.

Go to college and you shall be set free

What mystifies me here is how much freshmen students are coddled. Sunday through Thursday nights, freshmen have mandatory study hall from 6:30-9:30 pm at different academic buildings on campus. By 10 pm, students must be in their rooms and as far as I know, lights have to be out at 11 or 11:30. Women especially have to keep their dorms orderly. Students also live all four years in the same room and with the same roommates (except for my 2+2s because they will go to Canada. Lucky them). The mandatory study time has proven a little tricky because I have wanted to organize an informal English conversation group at a café a ten minute walk off of campus. I soon found out though that they wouldn’t be able to go because of the study hour. I was able to talk to their teacher/ counselor who is in charge of their class. She told me that if students left campus, I would have to give a list to her the day before and then she would have to get the list approved by the dean or other higher ups. I would have to make sure I escort all of them to and from campus. Sheesh- it was too much work so I have agreed to now have dinner with my students in the cafeteria on Wednesdays nights before their study session begins. Freshmen are also not allowed to bring their own personal computers to school. Instead they must go to the library where the computers are quite old and slow. The university wants to limit their time socializing on the internet on Chinese social network sites like QQ. This has also been problematic as I have a class website where I post class notes. After I learned that students do not have easy access to the internet, I decided to stop using the site.

Impressions of love and dating
Students seem very innocent- especially when it comes to the opposite sex and the notion of love (Think 19 years old going on 11). In all my classes, the male students (by choice) sit in one section of the classroom and the female students all sit among each other in another section. Recently when showing the movie “Into the Wild”, there room was abuzz during a scene when the main male character went on a walk with a new love interest. Mind you, they were not even holding hands in scene! I think it was just the underlying sexual tension between the characters that put my students at unease. Still, they are intrigued about meeting the opposite sex. During lunch today, one of my students was checking a text message from a high school class mate. Her roommate exuberantly kept repeating to me, “He’s her boyfriend!” with my student vehemently denying her roommate’s claim. Perceptions of love also seem to be very naïve and innocent. The word love may be used very loosely and for a simple, innocent crush. During an oral exercise in class today, I asked my students a series of questions about interviewing people. One of the questions had to do with what they would ask a loved one if they had the opportunity. Even though I explained what was meant by “loved one” many of them misunderstood “loved one” and its connotation. After they were broken down into groups and were discussing the questions, several of them told me that it was just too personal of a question to answer. They thought that the question was asking what they would ask of a boyfriend or a girlfriend and only after I explained (again) that “loved one” could mean a family member, a good friend or anyone they care about, were they willing to answer the questions. During the same class session, when students were asked who they would interview if they could, I asked one of my students who is a huge fan of the book “Wuthering Heights”, whether he would want to interview Emily Bronte. “Yes!” He exclaimed. “She’s my lover!!!” This obviously got some snickers from the other students and I didn’t go into explaining that Emily Bronte is indeed not his lover. But who am I? Maybe he seriously believes she is his soul mate, that she speaks to his heart, and that they are really star crossed lovers through some strange time-warp dimension.

It’s all in the name
Now a word about names. Thankfully for me, many of me students have English names which helps a little to avoid the embarrassment of mispronouncing a Chinese names (usually only embarrassing for me and the student whose name I mispronounce. Also I must admit that eight weeks into the semester, I am still having trouble identifying many of my students). The thing I like about English names is that students can pick an entire new name for themselves and can in fact have a separate identity if they want. Except for the fact that many of my students don’t know each other by their English names. So, for example, when I’m taking attendance and ask for the absent “Maryanne” and try to ascertain from the other students whether she is in fact in class and not saying anything (also common). I’ll repeat her English name 3 times only to get blank looks until I say, “Umm. Sorry. I mean is Zhan Xiu Chen here?” which is then usually followed by a laugh at my total butchering of her name and then the entire class’s recitation of the correct pronunciation of her name. “Um. Got it. Sooo, she’s not here, right??” Also quite confusing is that Chinese custom mandates that the family name (last name) be written and said first before a person’s given name (first name). This is to show respect to a person’s family and ancestors. For the first two weeks I probably called my students (who didn’t have English names) by their last names. I’m sure no offense was taken but I did have to spend some time explaining to my students that it is the reverse order with names in the US and many other countries of the world which may cause them or their foreign counterparts confusion if they ever end up working or interacting in a Western business or social setting.

English name choices are quite interesting. Many names are quite normal while others are quite unconventional. NBA basketball is quite popular here in China, especially among the male students. So it isn’t surprising that Kobe (Kobe Bryant) is a common and popular name. Students may also pick names from a favorite book or movie. My student who is Emily Bronte’s lover is called Austin Earnshaw (having not read Wuthering Heights before, I had to do a google search to figure out how Mr. Earnshaw came up with his name choice). Other unique names include Spawn, Sky, Circle, Arrow, Season, Lucifer and here’s the kicker… Nazi (not one of my students. I think Nazi’s teacher has advised his student to find another moniker).
Originally published: October 28, 1010

Lessons in Shopping


Greetings dear readers! Today is a national holiday, so just like one would in the US on a holiday, I joined the masses and went shopping. I started my day off at 9:30 this morning at Carrefour, France’s answer to Walmart here in China. Do you think a holiday would keep people from working here today? Not at all!

I had so much confidence on my way to Carrefour as it was the first time I had navigated my way there on my own. Once at Carrefour, I was also able to quickly navigate through the store and find what I needed, even picking up a new pot on sale for 29 RMB instead of 69 RMB. I proceeded to the check-out again feeling pretty smug and proud that I was in a line with only two people in front of me. Riding on that confidence, the woman in front of me saw that I only had a basket and since she had a whole shopping cart, she let me go in front of her. Then suddenly things turned sour. The man in front of me got in a big argument with the check-out lady. I’m not sure what the deal was, but she was reaming him out for probably not having the right price label on the bag of eggs (from the bulk food section) he was trying to buy. The man was there with a small child in his cart and it looked like she was demanding him to get the correct price and he was yelling back to her that he wasn’t about to leave his son in the cart there nor drag him halfway through the store to get the correct price. Then the argument started to escalate when the man’s wife arrived and then the sales lady started yelling at her as well. So it was under these pretenses that the check-out lady started scanning my items. Right away, the pot I was trying to buy was priced at 69 RMB instead of the sales price of 29 RMB. I tried to explain to the woman that the pot was actually 29 RMB (I am proud to say that we have learned the numbers in the last week). Well, clearly she had the upper hand and she barked at me and put my pot aside and made me pay for the bag I wanted to purchase (and forgetting to ring up the rest of my groceries). I fumbled for my iPhone where I have an app that lists some survival Chinese terms. I found the word for “today” and “yesterday”. I kept yelling out “Yesterday 69. Today 29!!!” pointing at the words for yesterday and today on my phone. Meanwhile the line behind me was suddenly ten people deep (although I will give my fellow-Chinese shoppers credit- they didn’t seem the least bit irate or annoyed). At that point, another sales lady came over and I tried to explain to her as well. No luck. Those of you who know me well know how quickly my stress level escalates in, um, a stressful situation such as this (you Steph, getting stressed and panicking? Nooooo!). My voice started getting high and I was on the brink of tears. I was writing out “SALES. PROMOTION” with my shaky hand on a piece of paper (I don’t know what good that would have done. It’s not like they understood my previous short explanation of “yesterday 69. Today 29” in Chinese so why would they suddenly recognize in English “SALES. PROMOTION”?). Finally I called my Chinese god-send who is our friend Tien. I fumbled for Tien’s number and thankfully she picked up. When she answered I went into the litany of problems with the mean sales lady and by the way, would she please explain to the sales, check-out lady that I am not making up the fact that the pot is 29 RMB and NOT 69 RMB? Tien explained the situation and the other sales lady then made someone from downstairs verify the price. At that point I should have left the store and given up on the stupid pot, but I was hellbent on having that pot for only 29 RMB and wanted to be vindicated. I am glad to say that a third sales store employee then showed up shortly after that with a new pot and with the correct sales price of 29 RMB. The second employee told me that it was29 RMB and added a “Sorry!!”. The first sales lady wouldn’t look at me, but the second sales lady ran around and carefully placed the pot in my bag very apologetically. I did feel a little bit vindicated and told them thank you. I should very well have not bothered with the pot, but I am glad that I didn’t back down and that future shoppers will get their pot without any problem for the sales price of 29 RMB. What a true lesson in language and shopping etiquette!

Originally published: October 1, 2010