Archive for December, 2008

Quote of the Day

In JM’s tutoring session one student made a memorable comment:

“I like to eat fish brains, not duck brains.”


Rich Talk

JM does some work each week tutoring small groups of Chinese students who are learning English to study abroad. These students obviously come from families with money, as they can afford the hefty fees involved with going to a foreign country for college.

During conversation practice, JM got a feel for how the well-to-do students like to kid with each other. The topic was: My parents’ work.

“What does your father do?”

“He’s in government. He’s the 5th most important man in the city.”

“Really? How did he get there?”

“Lots of hard work.”

Here’s where his classmate chimed in:

“And paying lots of money!” [i.e.- bribes]

JM asked this student what his father’s business was.

“He runs a metal factory.”

“What kind of metal does he make?”


Here his colleague had his revenge:

“Your dad’s factory makes pollution!”

Hmm.. Some things we hear about back home in the States seem to have some basis in reality here after all. The transparency of it to the young students themselves makes it all the more remarkable.

Asian Americans Need Not Apply

Racial profiling is alive and well in some parts of this world.

Teaching English in China has been a surefire source of income for those on temporary stay here from many different parts of the world. Americans, Brits, Aussies and Canadians, but also French, Russian, African, and Middle Eastern foreign students with English ability are all quickly hired at a good salary to teach Chinese students the English language.

Yesterday JM chatted with a fellow American student who comes from Las Vegas. He complained about failing to find any teaching leads that panned out with actual work offers. He said:

“I’ve tried like seven different places, but they all won’t take me.”

“Why not? Your English is perfectly fluent!”

“It’s because I’m Chinese, dude. It’s the parents- they don’t want someone teaching their kid who doesn’t ‘look’ like a foreigner.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Sh*t rolls down, man. Sh*t rolls.”

Wow- imagine being a member of the majority ethnic group in a country, but still end up being treated like a minority. For us of Euro descent, at least we get our discrimination head-on. We can’t imagine what it’s like to face this kind of discrimination by one’s own ethnicity.

A Trip to Nanjing Children’s Hospital

Where to begin? Leo got sick about a week ago, and after a few days of fever, throwing up, and other such symptoms, we were concerned over the weekend that he might really need to see a doctor in person. All along, we’d been receiving excellent advice from Liz’s father, who is a retired doctor. However, on Saturday afternoon we couldn’t call home and wanted to make sure he was okay. So we headed to the Nanjing Children’s Hospital.

Upon arrival, we made the mistake of entering via the emergency department, and our first impression was that of a war zone. Gurneys, IVs, sick and bloody children were everywhere, in the midst of a dirty, smoke-filled atmosphere. Right next to the emergency room, a loud open construction zone completed the picture. Luckily, this was not our department, but it did foreshadow the rest of our experience.

The nurse at the registration desk told us that no one could see us because it was Saturday, and all the specialists were on break. We would have to come back tomorrow. We left, incredulous, and began to walk toward the University Hospital to see if we could get care there. On the way, we thankfully ran into our good friend Robin, who dropped her plans to accompany us. We finally made our way back to the Children’s Hospital, knowing that the original nurse must have been wrong. China must have pediatricians at the Children’s Hospital over the weekend to see sick children, right? We never did find out why we were turned away the first time.

It would take a novel to truly describe our experience, but we’ll give you highlights. After paying the registration fee (all fees are paid upfront, before care is received), we walked up to our assigned doctor’s office. We had paid an extra few kuai to see the head doctor, thinking he’d be great. He was almost indifferent to us, barely allowing us to tell him our son’s symptoms. He demanded that we lie our son down on the examining table, and without further ado, took off his diaper and did a rectal exam with no lubricant. We were horrified (as was Leo, poor little guy) and had no idea why that was his first move. At least he wore a glove. How about looking at his throat, his ears, feeling his tummy? No, he said, we’d have to see a different doctor for that. He ordered blood tests, and a stomach ultrasound, and we were on our way without much conversation.

China is not a country that places a great deal of value on privacy, and nowhere was this fact more apparent to us than at the hospital. It is also a place where people must intensely compete for resources, so mothers and fathers were extremely aggressive at the hospital to see the doctor first or get into a testing area first to get care for their child. For us, this translated into a lot of very pushy people (all holding sick, contagious children way too close for our comfort). Of course, there were people who still, in spite of all the germs flying around the hospital, wanted to touch and fawn over Leo, the cute foreign baby. We always try to be gracious and open because people are friendly and generally well meaning, but on Saturday, Liz acted as a defensive lineman and threw lots of elbows to keep everyone’s hands off of her son. JM acted as quarterback and coach, keeping Liz calm and directing our moves through the maze of testing areas. Thank goodness for Robin, who helped us communicate quickly. We’re not so sure we could have navigated such a crazy place by ourselves – Robin was truly a lifesaver that day.

Hygiene was definitely not up to our hyper-clean American standards. They do not change the paper on the examining tables here after each patient – in fact, there’s no paper. So after a hacking 2-month old was done with her ultrasound, the technician asked us to lay Leo down on her pile of germs. We used our baby blanket as a buffer, and got our hand sanitizer out to use afterward. They did use a new needle for the blood test, but the techs and doctors didn’t wear gloves or wash their hands between patients.

We finally saw the second doctor. After looking at his throat without a light, he confidently stated, “He has a cold.” We marveled at this, since all along he’s had no cough, runny nose, or congestion. Now, mind you, we do not think Chinese doctors are stupid, but this is something we continue to try to understand. How on earth did the doctor think Leo had a cold? We may never know.

At the end of our visit, the original doctor stopped by the new doctor’s office, took one look at his blood test results, and proclaimed that Leo ought to stay in the hospital overnight for observation. Of course, this prompted our alarm and we asked why. He said since Leo’s white blood cell count was low, and since he had a fever and was throwing up, (which he no longer had those symptoms, and we’d already told the doctor as much) he was in some danger. We told him that we did not plan to allow him to stay overnight, and would observe him closely at home. He disinterestedly said ok, and left. We were glad he was gone! The second doctor was about ten times more cordial and communicative, and just told us to come back at the first sign of regression.

We were so happy to get out of there! After all that, Leo made great progress all by himself over the next couple of days, and now seems back to normal. Liz’s Dad was interested to hear of our experience, and gave us some good advice over the phone that night. It makes us extremely grateful for the system in place in America, and we hope we never have to go to the hospital here again!

Interestingly, we asked our friend Robin if she thought that was a crazy experience, and she said it wasn’t and seemed pretty standard to her. She also thought the first doctor was pretty normal as well, not really all that friendly perhaps, but not bad. Perspective, it seems, is everything!

Conversations in China

For the past few months, I’ve (Liz) been facilitating a weekly English conversation corner in the downtown business district. My students are all university-educated and in the business world – ranging from salespeople to scientists, technicians, managers, real estate developers, surgeons, and more. Every week we have a specific business-oriented topic to discuss, like ‘using computers’ or ‘attending a meeting.’ Then, we have a free hour to discuss whatever we like.

During this hour, the topic almost inevitably turns to cultural differences and opinions about a range of interesting topics. We’ve discussed discrimination in the workplace, gun control, capital punishment, presidential elections, freedom, terrorism, the United States’ reasons for interfering (or ‘meddling’ is more properly the Chinese word my students are accustomed to using!) in other countries’ matters, war, crime, Tibet, marriage, dating, amongst others. It’s been a rare and wonderful opportunity for me to hear many different opinions and ideas about a very broad range of subjects from a group of well-educated Chinese.

There have been a few particularly interesting moments. I plan to write more about these conversations as I have a bit more time to blog in the coming weeks. But for now, I’ll tell you about today’s conversation regarding Tibet. So, word has it that the French president is going to meet with the Dalai Lama. This has angered the Chinese government. My students think that the French president is recognizing the Dalai Lama as a legitimate leader of China, and therefore is insulting the true Chinese government. They also believe that the Dalai Lama himself incited his followers to violently attack the government last March, and they think he is a very bad person. Further, they believe that the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama have simply not responded to the reasonable and mild approach of the Chinese government in negotiating their differences, and are being stubborn, unappreciative, and somewhat ignorant.

I offered a few counterpoints, one of them being that some people believe that the Tibetans seek greater freedom. Since the Chinese government does not allow this, some believe the Tibetans have a right to seek better conditions. One of my students asked me, “Do you feel free here living in Nanjing? Nanjing is so safe, I would think you would feel free here. Safety is the first condition of true freedom.” It is true that Nanjing is a very safe city (very low crime, etc.), but I didn’t know how to say, ”Well, I don’t really feel free to answer that question straightforwardly; I wouldn’t in fact feel safe.” I answered by saying that for some, feeling safe does not define freedom, and many Americans feel this way. I then wrote out and explained the motto “Live Free or Die” to illustrate the idea. We had some good laughs saying it very intensely. It was a great conversation, and gave me a window into how some Chinese view Tibet.

After class I noticed that my blackboard had the following phrases written on it:

Live Free or Die

I decided to erase the board before I left, not wanting to attract any extra attention.

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December 2008
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