Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
Dealing with medical issues in a foreign country is definitely not first on anyone’s to-do list. The thought of going to a hospital in the US has always made me weary– much less one in China. Still, in order to apply for a work visa, one has to get a physical exam, and in China that means a trip to the hospital. I had no way out.
I arrived at Shenzhen’s Coastal Hospital to find a small waiting room filled with people clutching white and yellow papers. I surveyed the scene and tried to figure out what corner of the room to walk towards first. We’re all familiar with these situations, I think— trying to navigate medical offices in as little time as possible while all the while appearing as if we’re an expert at the process. I eventually noticed a small check-in counter at the back of the room and strode over to ask where one should go for a physical exam. The woman behind the counter smiled and handed me a number and yellow paper— turns out yellow was for foreigners. I completed the form and waited twenty minutes for my number to be called, chatting with a Brazilian expat for two minutes before realizing he wanted to debate about controversial mainland politics. When my number was finally called, I walked up to a different counter and was told that before I could begin the physical exam, I needed to present them with a recent 2×2 photograph. I sighed, calculating my poor luck. As I started to map out a quick trip to the nearest public photo booth, another woman tapped me on the shoulder and led me down a long hallway outside the waiting room. I’ve grown accustomed to blindly following anyone who taps me on the shoulder (haha, just kidding Mom and Dad :)). I followed her to the end of the hallway and finally understood where she was taking me– a blue photo booth waited for us a short distance ahead. I silently rejoiced in the spontaneous convenience of China. As I happily plopped onto the chair inside the booth, I discovered that the machine only accepted 10元. Brilliant— my wallet held three crisp 100元 sheets, neatly folded as if to rub in the fact that they weren’t going to be used. But before I could let out a sigh, the same woman politely asked me to wait a moment as she exchanged one of my crisp 100元 for smaller notes. She returned within seconds holding the correct amount of change. I thanked her graciously and smiled at how well the situation was going.
I returned to the front counter for a third time and proudly presented my photo, knowing that I had finally handed in all of the necessary documents. The woman suppressed a grin and gave me a white form to take into the exam. The left side of the document listed a series of different physical tests to complete along with room numbers. The right hand side was left blank for doctor’s signatures of approval. I stared at the form, curious as to why it felt vaguely familiar and gave me a kind of nostalgic longing. As I hopped from room to room, completing an eye test here, an EKG there, I realized why the process felt so familiar– it was like a scavenger hunt! Each room had about two to three patients waiting outside clutching partially-completed forms. When the doctor beckoned for the next patient to enter the room, the door was left open and the exam— whether an X-ray, blood test, or measure of height and weight— lasted no more than a minute from start to finish. Then the doctor would scribble down his or her initials and complete the process by stamping an official red seal on the right side of the form. With every signature I grew more and more excited, like I was nearing the finish line of a race or rounding the final corner on my way home.
When I finally stepped outside into a sheet of hot, white sun, I couldn’t believe my watch— the entire hospital process had lasted only one hour and fifteen minutes. Whew. I flagged down a cab and called it a day.