Colder temps

Last night my dad threatened to make me go to an American hospital in Beijing since my visit to the Chinese clinic wasn’t satisfactory. I guess my germs took note and got scared! This morning my temperature is a balmy 98.5 — my normal temp. Woot!

Chinese TV

Since I’ve been sick, I’ve had a lot more time to spend at home watching TV. Usually I don’t watch much, but since I’m loathe to get out of bed, I only have a few movies, and books tend to put me prematurely to sleep, I’ve been watching the Chinese tube a lot.

What makes Chinese TV so interesting is it’s sheer terribleness. Because the channels are staterun, there doesn’t seem to be a big push for quality programming or variety. Almost every single Chinese soap opera is set in the imperial times, which I suppose comes from some kind of nostalgia and possibly avoidance of the present state of affairs. The more popular shows on TV are Korean soaps, which are badly dubbed. There is one channel that seems to have movies on sometimes, and one channel for cartoons. There’s an English channel, but it doesn’t come in too well. I’ve seen about two cooking shows, which sometimes make the most awful looking food — I just watched a segment in which easy cheese was an ingredient.

Sometimes they take a show from an English speaking country, and insert little English lessons into it. The weirdest one I saw was a completely ridiculous conspiracy theory show about how aliens taught the Egyptians and South Americans how to build pyramids. The show only interviewed crackpots and the narrator asked many questions like “How did the Egyptians carry those heavy rocks? Why did people separated from across the world build the same structures?” and so on, positing that no theories existed besides the alien one. But every few minutes, the show would pause and a little screen would pop up with some grammar or vocabulary lesson taken from the completely insane show.

For now, my favorite show is Journey to the West, but only for sentimental reasons. The show itself is pretty awful, right down to the pathetically poor special effects that rely on 1950s-quality superimposing of characters that need to fly. There’s a lot of flying and magic in the show, so it’s pretty bad. In two separate episodes, demons are turned into lions, which means the same clip of a lion walking was awkwardly pasted into the film and then made to move up the screen as if the walking lion was flying. I kid you not. I’m fairly sure they do a lot of physical cutting and pasting of film to make characters do magical things.

In addition to the quality of shows being low, the quality of programming is incredibly shoddy. Most shows don’t seem to be filmed without a commercial break in mind, so about every half hour at some random point, the show will stop for a few minutes for commercials.

Even more annoyingly, sometimes shows just end midway through and never resume.

Right now 22 of my 44 channels have the same exact broadcast of the National People’s Congress meeting on legislation. I guess their strategy is to force people to watch by way of eliminating other options. Sadly, this means the show I was watching about some crazy man who had a pet snapping turtle was cut short before I could find out the turtle’s fate. Bummer, I was hoping something dramatic would happen with a killer turtle!

From this post, it really sounds like I watch a lot of TV, but actually I’ve just been channel surfing a lot, and thus have gotten a broad taste of what there is to offer. Honest!

Officially SARS-free

Those in my inner posse already know that I’ve been sick for the past few days, but I thought I’d give everyone the 411.

Since Sunday I’ve had a fever ranging from 99.7 to 102.5, and I’ve been sniffling and coughing up all kinds of gross-colored loogies.

Monday I opted to stay home from school, thinking that I’d get better. When my fever had dropped to around 99 or a little higher on Tuesday, I grudgingly packed my things and went to school. It was then that I discovered that I had the voice of a gremlin, as Jeff put it, and really couldn’t talk much. I went home after class, halfheartedly ate some dumplings and took a nap.

Tuesday night I went to bed at around 10:30 p.m. and slept very soundly until a friend called me at five minutes to midnight. Having been rudely awakened, I could barely sleep the rest of the night. This morning when I woke up I had a fever of 101. 5, which quickly shot up to 102.4 as I was discussing my health issues with Kieran. My dad was mysteriously incommunicado, so I told my teachers I was sick and went back to sleep.

Dad was all worried that I had pneumonia, and Devin insisted I had SARS, so today I finally forced myself to venture out to the student health clinic. I had been avoiding it all week since I felt silly going to the doctor for a cold, which I’ve never done before in my life. Usually when this happens, I just ride it out and have my dad check me for anything serious, but since he’s a few thousand miles away this time, he was uncharacteristically worried about my health and insisting I get checked out. I also strangely enough don’t really like going to the doctor. Probably the biggest factor in my procrastination was that even inside my apartment it’s bitter cold, and I was pretty dang sure outside was going to be worse.

Finally I dragged myself out of bed and went out, feeling quite tired and weak. I haven’t really been eating since I’ve been sick, so that wasn’t helping matters. I walked down to the campus and found the clinic. There, I discovered a few things that are pretty different about Chinese hospitals:

Waiting your turn

At the registration window, I paid 1 kuai for a waiting number and a patient history booklet, and then took a seat outside the doctor’s office.

After a few minutes, a man came out, but nobody came to call my number, so I stayed put. Then, I little old lady walked up to the doctor’s door, knocked briefly and then barged right in. At first I was a little shocked at this lack of respect for other patients’ privacy, and then I remembered that I’m in China, where privacy doesn’t exist. Knowing this, I fended off other patients who wanted to jump to the front of the line and went in a few seconds after the little old lady went out.

Patient history taking and assessment

Once in with the doctor, she had me sit on a little stool. Perhaps a little thrown that I was white, she just stared at me and didn’t say anything. So, I launched into a short history of my illness. After asking a few questions, she wrote up a little doctor’s order and told me to go draw blood.

Ok, that was weird, right? Usually doctors try other things like listening to patients’ lungs and such before ordering costly tests. But I took the order after making sure she really did want my blood, and left.


Like most Chinese department stores, hospitals require you to take an order for a good or service to a payment counter, pay, get a few receipts and tickets nicely stamped in red and then go to another area to get said service.

Chinese medical care is incredibly cheap. Including two lab tests (15 RMB, 5 RMB), an arsenal of cold medicines (38 RMB) and consultation (1 RMB), I paid 59 kuai — under $10 USD.

Taking tests

So I went to get my blood drawn, sat down and took my coat off, expecting a vial or two to come from my arm. Instead, the nurse pricked my finger, wiped the blood on a tiny glass tube and viola, I was done. I sat outside waiting for my results.


As I waited, a doctor passed through the hall, smoking a freshly lit cigarette. In a hospital.

Illness assessment

After looking over my blood test, the doctor said that I was free of significant bugs and I could go home and rest. Nervous at the overall unfamiliarity of the experience, I hesitantly ventured that my dad was worried I had a lung problem. Without skipping a beat, she sent me to go get an x-ray. I had really been hoping just to have her listen to my breathing, but no dice.

X-ray safety

When I got to the x-ray building, nobody was there, so I waited a few minutes until a surly woman showed up who demanded roughly “what do you want” or another possible translation “what’s wrong with you?” I gave her my x-ray order and she took me into the x-ray room. I asked if I should take off my coat, and she said no. She also didn’t give me a lead apron, so I might not have babies. Or maybe I’ll have superhero babies!

Anyway, she didn’t have a lead apron either, so I figured they just don’t use that here.

After looking at my lungs on the screen, she barked at me to get down, wrote my name and school department in a book, and told me I was fine.

Final thoughts…

Glad I had gotten the whole pneumonia thing out of the way, I went back to the doctor, collected the records of my tests and received a few prescriptions for fever reducers and cold medicines. Not a huge fan of Chinese product safety, I considered forgoing the medicines and just going home, but finally I got them out of curiosity.

Overall, I was a little surprised by the things I saw at the hospital. After all, this isn’t some back-alley unlicensed place, it’s a university hospital. Even though most of the population smokes, I was really surprised a doctor would smoke inside the hospital, which I consider rude and obviously detrimental to patients’ health. I was also really shocked they didn’t spring for x-ray aprons — after all, they obviously have money to spare if they’re building three new monolithic buildings on campus as we speak. I guess I’d be a surly doctor too if my x-ray unit didn’t have lead aprons and I was being exposed every day to harmful radiation. For a country that emphasizes learning so much, I was surprised that medical care on campus was a little lacking.

At least I got what I came for — peace of mind that I don’t have SARS.

Doctors out there — what do you think?

What my neighbors are doing

In the greatest mystery since the appearance of a dead cockroach on my bathroom floor, my neighbors have been making all variety of strange noises lately.

Right now, I believe my upstairs neighbors are doing the bunny hop. Or possibly playing “whack a cockroach” very, very rhythmically. Yesterday I also heard what sounded like vigorous floor scrubbing at around midnight, and a persistent humming in the plumbing.

Today someone was using a chainsaw in the apartment block, I think in the apartment below me.

In light of Halloween, I guess it’s appropriate that my neighbors are acting weird, but it still makes me really curious.

A Familiar Feeling

When I was growing up, the house of lived in was in a desperate state of disrepair. It leaked in the rain, and windows didn’t seal, so it was quite cold almost all the time. Accordingly, when I was home I was almost always tucked under my blankets with a warm kitten on my lap.

Lately, the weather in Beijing has been cold and foggy, reminding me of San Francisco weather. Last night a sudden, violent rainstorm kicked up, and it’s still very windy here today. My downstairs neighbors’ satellite dish fell off the building and is now hanging by a wire, waving around and banging against the building with every gust. The awning outside my window (formerly above my window) looks like it may also disengage itself from the building without much more prodding from the weather. I hope the air conditioning unit from the apartment upstairs is secured more tightly than my awning and my neighbors’ satellite dish. I don’t want that thing falling through my window.

My house is cold, and I’m already hating the winter weather. The only silver lining is that I potentially get to see things fall off our building and plummet to the ground. Yay for destruction of property!

A lapse in contentment

This week I’ve been in a rather sour mood.

I’m tired from work. I’m tired from school. I have insomnia born from boredom and apathy, which contributes more to my discontent with work and school.

I have a starving feeling, and I just realized what it is.

I haven’t done much intellectual for a few months now.

It’s weird — I came to China to get a better education, but I’m finding that the education here is not up to my standards. It’s all about memorization, there’s no creativity, and most of my teachers expect students to be lazy, so they have no standards. I’m bored already. Back home I was delving into complex literary theory and discussing the intricacies of word placement in classical Chinese texts. Here I’m memorizing vocabulary.

The most valuable learning I’ve done here has been outside the classroom, in markets and on trains and atop mountains.

I think I’ll crack open a English book tonight and take a run tomorrow. Both my mind and body feel sludgey and undefined.

Old folks need not read on

I recently changed the language on my Facebook page to English-Pirate. It’s fun, but I’m not always certain when I click buttons what they mean. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll defriend someone or accidentally change my gender to male. It took me several days to realize that “abandon ship” meant “log out.” It also changed “in a relationship” to “hooked w’ ye loverrr,” which I have mixed feelings about. For one thing, I’m not sure I like the sound of being hooked by anyone; it sounds quite painful. For another, it kind of makes me sounds like some kind of gallymaid or deck wench, neither of which I’m entirely sure I know the meaning. Oh well, it’ll really get my Pirate up to par for next year’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Caitlinpedia Brown and the case of…

In this installment, Caitlinpedia Brown investigates the mystery of the apparating bugs.

Caitlinpedia Brown sat on her toilet, sleepily musing about the rest of her day. Her hot water had been fixed and she felt quite content with her apartment. As she stared absently at the tiles in front of her feet, she noticed a small brown object on the floor. Having recently cleaned, her curiosity was piqued.

What’s that?” Caitlinpedia Brown thought to herself.

She got down on her knees and examined the thing up close. It was, in fact, a small, upside-down, deceased cockroach, with it’s little legs curled in the air.

Bewildered, she pulled herself up and started washing her hands. On the sink fluttered a small black fly. She considered killing it, but decided to let it go free. The fly wasn’t hurting anything, and it would likely soon decide to leave the bathroom for the great outdoors of its own volition. Caitlinpedia Brown turned off the tap and continued her musing on the mysterious dead cockroach.

She remembered that several months before, the first night she had stayed in her apartment, she had seen about four small cockroaches scatter when she turned on the lights. Those cockroaches looked much like the dead one now occupying a conspicuous spot on her bathroom floor.

She also considered that she had seen small dead cockroach bodies when moving large and disgusting cabinets in the kitchen.

But in the months she had lived in the apartment since the first night, she had not seen a single live cockroach. She had even tried halfheartedly to catch cockroaches by turning lights on suddenly and looking in corners and behind furniture. She had attacked dust balls and trash piles with vigor. She had even been careless about leaving food in the sink and cookie crumbs on the counter. But these efforts had come to nothing. She began to think she had hallucinated those first four scampering cockroaches she had seen.

She could think on no way for the dead cockroach body to have gotten in its current location without there having been a live cockroach in her apartment recently. But she still could not resolve the feeling that something was missing, and questions were unanswered.

Why did she never see live cockroaches?

Why, if there were live cockroaches, did they never go near her food?

And why, why, did it seem that the cockroach had crawled out of hiding in order to die in the middle of her floor? Why not die somewhere dark and secure?

Something was afoot. Had someone come into the apartment and deposited the little cockroach body? Were cockroaches coming in from outside, only to die from the bleach solution she used to clean the tile floors? Was it even really possible to keep a cockroach population at bay with simple bleach solution? Questions swirled in her mind all day, and she could barely keep her mind on school and work.

She eagerly went into the bathroom as soon as she got home, hoping to find some new evidence. But now, a new mystery faced her. The cockroach was as before, confirming that it was indeed very dead. The sink had changed, however. Now perched two black flies, not the innocuous one that she had let live out of the kindness of her heart.

Caitlinpedia Brown began to wonder if the dead cockroach had been a red herring. Perhaps it was the flies, and the flies only, that posed a real threat.

Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion to Caitlinpedia Brown and the Mystery of the Apparating Bugs!

And the guessing games begin…

This morning, after a relaxing breakfast and browse on the Internet, I decided to take a shower. I turned on the gas, turned the handle that directs hot water to the shower, and went to start running the water in the bathroom so it would heat up. I turned on the faucet and immediately knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. The water only trickled out in a pathetic, sickly way. So I tried the shower, and then the kitchen hot water faucet. All the same — no water. My cold water and toilet (thank goodness) still work for now. My laundry machine does not. I have come up with three possible reasons:

1. I didn’t pay my bills. Bills in China are a little mysterious. They don’t get mailed to you, you just seem to have to know when to go to the bank and pay. Last month I got a bill stuck to my gate for water and gas, but this month I didn’t, so I figured bills aren’t paid on a monthly system. My other foreign friends who have lived here for months said they only got one notice on their gate as well, and they seem to still have working amenities.

A few weeks ago, my phone suddenly stopped working, which after I went to the bank I discovered was because I hadn’t paid my bill. How I was supposed to know to pay in the first place remains a mystery.

2. There is construction going on and the building’s hot water got shut off. Seems likely they would do this without warning anyone.

3. My building is janky. This is pretty self-evident.

I guess I’m going to the bank today to see if that’s the problem. If not, I guess I’m calling my landlord, who will probably not be able to do much if it’s anything that’s a real problem. Great.


So after ruling out the late bills, my landlord came over and wiggled some knobs on my hotwater heater. I guess something was just a little loose or sticky or janky, because he got it working again. So for the folks out there who had big money riding on this, the winning answer was number three: my building is janky.