I Survived a Chinese Hospital

I know there is a lot of controversy going on in America right now regarding health care.  Trust me, it is still better than China, especially rural China. I am sure things are probably different in Shanghai or Beijing, but the following is my experience.


A few random comments, if you have to visit a hospital in China, it is definitely to your advantage being a laowai, foreigner.  You get pushed to the front of every line, even if there appears to be 15 to 20 people already waiting in front of you.  Be prepared for lack of privacy as tests are not given in nice little individual sanitary rooms, no hippa in China. Be prepared to have everyone in the room watching only you, the non Chinese person.

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Typical Scene in a Chinese Hospital

I received a phone call one day last week from XinLe. She was formerly a teacher here in Dong’e, but quit to open up a shop. When Peter is unavailable she will escort me on marketing events, of which I have done several and she also assists me during the 2 group lessons I give.  Back to the phone call, she said she was picking me up in one hour, I had to go to the hospital for a “body check”.  Body check, ummmm, what does that mean.  She said, “you know, they check your body.”  Not really liking this last minute announcement, I got myself ready and went to meet XinLe for my “body check”.  She explained that some cities require a health check for teachers, but she didn’t know what all I would need.  We arrived at the Dong’e Women’s and Children’s Hospital about 5 in the afternoon.  Walked up to the desk, after I walked through a lobby of faces and fingers pointing at me.  You know, why is the laowai, foreigner, at the hospital.  XinLe has a long conversation with the girl at the reception desk. She looks something up on her computer, makes a phone call, more conversation…….come back tomorrow, reason being, I have to have a blood test and no eating or drinking after midnight.

8 am the next morning, XinLe picks me up and back to the hospital.  Lots of conversation, finally we get a piece of paper. XinLe says, “Wait here”. She was only moving 10 feet away from me to the cashier.  She had to pay the 100 rmb or $15 for my body check, which, other than the blood work, I have no idea what I am in for. Breath deep, well, maybe not so deeply, and get ready for a new experience.

XinLe, looks at the paper and determines, “we go that way,” as she points to a crowded area at the end of the hall.  We get to a window at the end of the hall, us and about 20 Chinese people wanting to get a look at the laowai.  She takes all my things from me and has me take off my coat and roll up my sleeve, ahhhh, the blood work.  Which I now realize is pretty much like going up to a teller window at a bank.  3 people are behind the counter and 3 people with their arm on the counter having a blood sample taken. Chinese people don’t really que up for anything so it is pretty much whoever works their way to the front and gets their arm down on the counter gets the next needle.  Well, the waters divide and I am pushed to the counter. Arm down, everyone pointing at my tattoos, band gets slapped on and the needle inserted. I didn’t even have time to see it coming in this assembly line process. Needle out and I am handed a q-tip to stop the bleeding and pushed out of the way.  Whew, hope that’s it.

Nope, XinLe, checks the paper and says, “that way,” as she points to another window with even more people.  She works her way to the window, says something to one of the 4 or 5 workers and then hands me a tiny plastic cup, about the size of one that comes with a bottle of Nyquil.   My guess is they want me to pee in this smaller than a shot glass container. Sure enough, XinLe says, “urine test” and directs me across the hall to a public bathroom which looks like it has been cleaned…..never!

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This is how the restroom looked

There was actually a toilet brush laying on the window sill. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, so to spare you all the gory details, XinLe had all my things including my phone, so I couldn’t snap any photos.  You will have to rely on my verbage for pretty much my entire experience.  Well, at least there are doors on the squatty potties.  Ok, doors, but they don’t really shut.  So here I am, tiny plastic cup, drop drawers, squat, take aim…..okay now what, you have filled the cup, not to mention soaked your hand and god knows you must have dampened your pants, how do you get your TP, which you have to provide yourself, then manage to get your pants up all while balancing a tiny shot glass of urine.  Well, only choice, set the shot glass on the window ledge and take care of business, trying to clean your hand best as possible.  Leave the bathroom balancing your cup of pee while trying to avoid the others coming and going to the bathroom, with and without cups, remember, it is a public toilet.  XinLe tells me to take the cup to the counter. I maneuver my way to the counter and I am, by way of hand motions, signaled to set my cup on a piece of paper.  The girl behind the counter dips a test strip in and then places it in a tiny vial.  She then motions for me to take my cup of pee back. I pick it up and look for XinLe who tells me I need to take it back to the bathroom and flush it down the toilet and throw away the cup.  Work my way back through the crowd, mission accomplished. I then take my purse from XinLe and find a wet wipe and clean my hands. I am not sure where the sinks were, but in China, you always carry tissues and wet wipes.  Blood done, piss test done, hopefully that is it.

No such luck, XInLe says we need to go upstairs, heart check.  I can hardly wait.  We arrive upstairs and are directed to a room.  Wow, an actual room, not a counter in the hallway.  We enter the room, lo and behold there are about 15 people in the room and an archaic EKG machine. Of course everyone turns to look, again, gee I get to go next. I am instructed to lay down on the table, I am positive the sheet does not get changed between patients.  Next thing I know, what felt like shackles were put on my wrists and ankles and my shirt was lifted.

ECG machine
This is exactly what the EKG Machine looked like

Oh yes, that was one for the record books. Chinese women don’t have much in the way of breasts, well, they, men and women alike in the room got an eyeful when they saw mine.  Next a paint brush was used to paint some sort of liquid where they tried to attach the EKG pads.  I say tried because when they tried to put them in place the shackles on my ankles popped off because the cables were a little short. I guess you could say I am too tall for China.  After some adjustments they were finally able to take the EKG.  Again, no hippa in China, my printout got handed around to every Tom, Dick and Harry in the room before they gave it back to XinLe.  Okay, I was totally ready to get out of that room, I’m not usually claustrophobic, but it was getting a bit too crowded in there for me.

We leave, I ask XinLe if we were done, she said, “no,” got on the translator on her phone and showed me the translation……gynecological exam.  To which I promptly said, “no fucking way.” Please pardon the profanity, but it was what slipped out of my mouth.  I have seen archaic equipment, the group exams, witnessed a bit more than I wanted too.  She said to follow her and we went to the desk. I again told her there was no way I would do the gyno exam.  Another phone call, she then told me the doctor said it is okay if I didn’t take the exam, damn straight, I would have walked out.  Are we done yet, I asked like a whiny kid asking are we there yet? No, we have to see the doctor.

Down the stairs, by the way, no such thing as an elevator in this hospital, its stairs or nothing.  We are escorted into a room with 2 men that appear to be Doctors and in fact they were. As Gomer would have said, “surprise, surprise, surprise,” we are the only people in the room and for guess what?  I finally have a test in private and it is a blood pressure check.  Really, I just had an EKG with 15 people gawking, but my blood pressure test is in private and with 2 doctors.  Of course, the BP device was from last century, but even after all the excitement I had just been through my BP was perfect.

I remember we had one like this when I first started at the YMCA in 1980.

“Can we go now?” “No,” she said. Nooooo, really…..okay what next. The Doctors wanted to take photos with me.  I imagine I was the first laowai to have a “body check” at this hospital.  At least my experience ended with a laugh as we took multiple photos and selfies, of which I have none as XinLe still had my things.  And yes, even Doctors give the peace sign in photos.

As we were leaving the hospital XinLe told me we had one more stop, we had to go get one inch photos for my “body check” card.  At this point, taking a photo was nothing……so somewhere in Dong’e, most likely hanging or on file in the kindergarten is my “body check” card.

Another reminder of things we take for granted.

Note: The photos are from the internet but fairly represent my experience and survival of a Chinese Hospital.

I Ate Donkey and I Liked It

I have pretty much settled into life in Dong’e County 东阿县.  Dong’e sits on the banks of the Yellow River or Huang He.  The Yellow River is the second longest in Asia and the sixth longest river system in the world.  I am lucky to have an apartment on the 24th (top) floor of a building overlooking the river and a beautiful park.  Dong’e County is made up of several small villages, of which I travel to two on Tuesdays to teach kindergarten in the countryside.  Total population of the county is 420,000 in 308 square miles. Definitely small by China standards.

The nearest big city, Liaocheng 聊城市, is about 22 miles away.  Liaocheng has a population of 5.8 million in 3,365 square miles.  The capital, of my province Shandong, is Jinan. Jinan 济南市 is about 60 miles from Dong’e and has a population of about 7 million in 3,157 square miles.  As you can tell, I live in a very small community. Now that you know a little about where I live, on to the “meat” of the story…..pun intended.

Dong’e is regionally and nationally known for the production of Ejiao 阿胶. Ejiao, aka donkey-hide gelatin or ass-hide glue, is obtained from the skin of the donkey by soaking and stewing.  Donkey-hide gelatin is made in other coastal provinces, but got the name Ejiao from Dong’e County. History tells that there is a well in Dong’e that was kept closed and sealed. It was only opened when water was taken to prepare Ejiao for the Emperor’s Court. I can actually see this well from my apartment.  Ejiao is considered one of the top 3 most important “herbs” in TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine. For more info follow the link Ejiao.

Peter, my boss, also has a family business which makes wine.  They have several wines which contain Ejiao. Yes, I have drank them and no, it does not alter the taste of the wine.  If Peter hadn’t told me, I never would have known.IMG_20170223_182009

Okay, so Dong’e is known for production of Ejiao. I asked where these donkey’s are raised and are they raised only for their hide? Peter told me his cousin would take me to visit the donkey ranch.  This should be an adventure, I thought to myself, she speaks absolutely zero English and my Chinese, well, pitiful..  Having had dinner at their home earlier in the week, at least I had already spent some time with her and her husband.  She (I still don’t know her name) picked me up the next afternoon and off we went to the donkey ranch just outside of the city.  I have to say, it was quite nice and the donkeys seemed well cared for. After a few selfies with the donkey’s we headed back into town.  We stopped at a park, which I now overlook from my apartment, and spent a couple hours wandering around as there is an Ejiao Museum there.  I have no idea what she said to the guard at the gate, but we didn’t pay the 50 rmb entrance fee to the museum.  It was actually quite impressive.

Luckily, WeChat (a highly used app in China, since FB is blocked) does a great job of translating.  She was taking me to her place of employment, The State Grid, the electric company.  She wanted me to meet her co-workers (she had taken the day off) and then we would wait on her husband to get off work and we would go to dinner.  Seriously, my first 10 days in this town were feeding frenzies. After I met EVERYONE who works with her and took 100’s of selfies with them, we  finally were ready to head to dinner.

Here is where I get to the “meat” of the story…..cousin, as I call her husband, insisted we go for donkey for dinner.  Having just visited a donkey ranch, this didn’t sit real well with me, although it did answer my earlier question, do they only raise donkeys for their hide.  Evidently, no, they also raise them for their meat.  They finally convinced me to go for a donkey meat dinner and I would at least try it. There would be many other things to eat if I didn’t like it.  Off we go to the restaurant. Peter was meeting us there along with his high school English teacher. As we were were sipping our Ejiao wine and a little Baijiu, the food started arriving.  There was a beautiful plate of, if I didn’t know better I would have thought to be roast beef, donkey.

All I am going to say, and end it here…..I ate donkey and I liked, no, loved it.

Transitioning ~ Lessons in Baijiu 白酒

Transitioning ~ Lessons in Baijiu 白酒

I have officially been in Dong’e  东阿县  for one week.  It has been a whirlwind week.  Being the only laowai 老外, foreigner, in about 50 miles, I have created quite a stir.  Evidently, they didn’t expect a foreign teacher to actually move to the city as I don’t really have a job right now, although I am getting paid and have been given a beautiful apartment.  I am eventually going to be teaching English to children at an Activity Center on Saturday and Sundays.  Currently I have been to a Kindergarten and a Chinese Youth Training Center where I have given several demo lessons to children and their parents.  During these “recruiting” sessions, Peter, my boss, who by the way is new to the business, signs kids up for the program.  When will it start?????  I have no answer.  Truth be told, my main activity has been going to dinners with various people in the community so they can meet me.

Let me try to explain a Chinese Business Dinner.  Anywhere from 4-12 people sit around a giant lazy susan table.

Lazy susan style dining

Massive amounts of food are brought out throughout the evening. The evening can last from 1.5 to 5+ hours during which you eat and drink baijiu, which I will address shortly, but first more on the dinner.  In many Chinese restaurants, tables are in individual rooms. Upon arrival to the room, no one can sit until the host arrives.  I was the “guest of honor” and there was a certain position at the table where I had to sit.  This position would be the center of the table facing east or facing the entrance to the room.   At your seat you will find you place setting which is shrink wrapped in cellophane. The setting includes a small plate, a small tea cup, a rice bowl, spoon and juice glass. A set of plastic wrapped chopsticks is separate.  Supposedly, they are shrink wrapped to ensure cleanliness. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.  So the first thing you do, after opening, is stack them plate first, rice bowl, tea cup, juice glass and spoon inside the juice glass.  Next you pour hot water or hot tea into the juice glass until it overflows into the teacup.  Dip your chopsticks into the juice glass, remove the spoon, dump the water onto the next layer and so forth, finally dumping the remainder of the water over the plate into the trash bin which is under the table.  Now that your dishes have been properly sanitized, someone at the table will pour everyone tea.shrink-wrapped-eating-utensils-01  Let the feast begin.  Your small plate is placed in front of you, but it is there to basically eat over and catch any droppings.  At a dinner in China, you do not fill your plate, but merely take food with your chopsticks from whatever dish is in front of you and eat.  As more and more food is brought out the table is rotated by people at the table so all dishes get around to everyone. Basically it is communal eating.  By now the host has opened the baijiu and has filled everyone’s juice glass to the brim.   At some dinners, the women don’t drink baijiu, usually tea, fruit juice or beer (pijiu 啤酒).  At my first dinner, everyone drank baijiu, the host brought a case.  The host and then various people around the table will give a toast to welcome you.  You will either clink glasses or touch the glass to the table and nod if the person giving the toast is across the table from you.  If you hear the word “ganbei” 干杯, this literally translates to “dry cup” and is the Chinese version of “bottoms up”.  The tricky part of the dinner is pacing yourself as you must continue drinking until the host is finished.

Per the blog chinaslostpanda.com:  “As crazy as it may sound to some people, drinking (excessively) is a respectable quality in China.

It is even integrated in the Chinese language itself. The word 酒品 (jiupin) literally means “alcohol integrity”, and to some extent is believed to reflect the 人品 (renpin) “personal integrity”.

Drinking in China is therefore an indispensable social ritual. Not among college students, but among mature, grown up men. The goal is not to get wasted (even though it is hard to avoid), but to show that one is trustworthy and upright”.

My first dinner was with the owner of several kindergartens in Dong’e, Peter, some teachers and 3 educators from Beijing who were in town to do a training with the kindergarten teachers.  Let me tell you, they could handle their baijiu.  After my first juice glass of baijiu, Rich, the owner of the kindergarten, saw me sipping and then said I had to finish in 4 drinks, or the next 4 toasts.  It was a record night for me, 4 glasses of baijiu and I didn’t fall down the steps when we left.  Needless to say, I was invited to dinners the next 4 nights, all which included baijiu.  Luckily for me, after my first glass of baijiu, I convinced my hosts to let me switch to red wine.

So, you may ask, what exactly is baijiu 白酒?  My usual response is, “its Chinese hooch or moonshine”.  Literally it translates to “white alcohol”  In fact it’s a grain alcohol made from one or more of the following grains; sorghum, glutinous rice, wheat, barley or millet. It can even be made with corn and peas.  Legend has it that the first baijiu was accidentally made from cooked sorghum seeds (still usually the spirit’s base grain) that were left inside a hollow tree stump during the Xia Dynasty (2100 to 1600 BCE). Baijiu comes in several aromas or fragrances. Frankly, I can’t tell one from another, of course maybe if I went to a baijiu tasting, if there is such a thing. Rumor has it that baijiu is slowly working its way into mixed drinks in the western world.  Baijiu is found in nearly every Chinese home and at 1.8 billion strong it is the best selling liquor in the world.


I received a box of baijiu as a housewarming gift here in Dong’e.  The bottles, by the way, are beautiful.  I have transitioned to my new city and have had my share of lessons in baijiu….until next time…Ganbei 干杯