Friday, October 14, 2011

Meeting the locals

New friends in Chengde in 1995
I was writing an article for a client on how to meet local residents when you travel, when I was reminded of two young people I met while I was touring Puningsi (Puning Temple) in Chengde back in 1995. I was used to descriptive signs at attractions that were written both in Chinese characters and English in Beijing. At this temple in Chengde all the signs were in characters.

I would have had no idea what the signs said if this young man and young woman had not approached me wanting to practice their English.  They showed me all around the temple grounds, translating the signs as we went. They were medical students, so I learned a little about the study of medicine in China -- more than I wanted to know and enough to scare the heck out of me.

They explained that most students had only two years of medical school and then are considered doctors. Apparently there are few general practitioners in China. Students specialize in the study of one body part. so conceivably if you hurt in your leg, stomach and head at the same time, you will need to see three doctors, one for each area of your body that aches. This part didn't bother me as much as they were only required to spend two years in medical school, which means doctors as young as 20 years old could be treating patients.

Luckily, for me, I was never seriously sick in China, just the normal colds and flu. My personal experience with Chinese clinics was limited to the health exam all foreigners who will be living in China for a year must have and getting a gamma globulin shot for Hepatitis A. That was an experience in assembly line medicine, let me tell you. I'd had a gamma globulin shot before I left for China, but a few months had elapsed so it was time to get another.

My language tutor took me to a Chinese clinic, one that didn't cater to foreigners with English-speaking doctors. She told the nurse what I needed, and we were sent to stand in a line. Nurses went down the line, giving injections as fast as they could. When the nurse came to me, my tutor told her she had to use a clean needle. Clean needle? What's that! The nurse was unhappy because the line ground to a halt, but my tutor kept insisting on a clean needle. Finally, another nurse appeared with a new syringe, and I got my shot.

AIDS wasn't a big deal in China at that time, so reusing a needle apparently was quite common. Privacy in treating patients also wasn't common. I survived the visit, which is all that counted.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, especially Beijing, please visit my website, Cheryl's China. If you have questions about travel in China, please email me.

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