CHINA JOURNAL---Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7, 2002

            Having missed my Friday morning intensive session with the Internet on historical profiles, I was all settled in on Saturday for at least a good session until everyone was up and I needed to stay off the phone. I had been deep into it for several hours (with time out for breakfast) when, at 9:00 Zhang Jie pops into the room and says, ``We go''. I asked where we were going and she said, ``Doctor''. My cough is much better and certainly at this point I wouldn't even think about going to a doctor in the states, but Fu Ling is paranoid about my health. She has the school doctor pop in on me regularly and the school doctor had wanted to take me to the hospital for a chest x-ray. I knew that my cough was not a deep one and I didn't need an x-ray, so I motioned ``no''.

            Last Friday in the office with the entire office staff gathered around and Li Di interpreting, Fu Ling asked why I didn't want to get an x-ray. I explained that I knew my body and felt I didn't need one, and tossed in that I did not like the idea of going to a hospital where I could not speak the language unless it was an emergency. (I didn't mention that I wasn't sure about the intensity of the x-ray machines in China.) Fu Ling said the school doctor and Zhang Yu, the English teacher whose English is okay but who has zilch medical vocabulary, would go with me. (I was sure they couldn't schedule that because Zhang Yu has a lot of teaching hours.) Lu Zhin Yuan, who is pretty savvy, knew what I was thinking and assured me that it was a five star hospital for foreigners with the best doctors (his wife being one of them). Sounds rather discriminatory against their own. I must admit I was a bit curious to witness the workings of a Chinese hospital, although preferably not as a patient.

            Well, Fu Ling in front of the whole group practically begged me to go. She was leaving the following Thursday the 4th for two weeks and would be really anxious if she didn't know. So with that sort of pressure I acquiesced. She said I would go on Monday. Well, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we were so busy at the office that it wasn't mentioned and on Thursday she left, so I was gloating that my acquiescence had gotten me off Scot-free. Never gloat! So now, on Saturday, the chickens were coming home to roost, and Zhang Jie was in my room to announce that we were going to the doctor. She didn't say hospital, but that could have been her lack of vocabulary. So I gathered up the herbal stuff I had been taking and put on my shoes to start the processionŠand it was a procession.

            First Zhang Jie and I got on a bus. We met Cui Hua and got a taxi. The area was down near where the International Fellowship held its church service. We then got out and walked because we had a hard time locating it. After asking directions several times we were headed into the correct building which, I decided, did not look like a hospital. As we got close, here came Li Di, the interpreter. I started to laugh at the scene as we walked toward the building, one girl on each of my arms and Li Di trailing along. Never before have I had such a retinue going to see the doctor for a little cough. We went to an upstairs office which I judge to be simply a small clinic or a doctor's office but I don't really know. I was introduced to Dr. Lu Zhin Yuan, the wife of the man at the office whom I really like, and another man who I guess is a doctor. There were two receptionist or nurse type ladies (everyone wears white so it is hard to know) in the entry, plus a young couple, the girl of which knew Cui Hua. We were ushered into the doctor's office. I suggested that the Cui Hua and Zhang Jie come in too. (I didn't want to only depend on Li Di, and the girls both know me now and could report on the cough.)

            The process was funny. First the man doctor asked all the questions. They were the normal intake questionsŠuntil they got to the one about where I was born. Then they wanted to know what hour I was born. (I have no idea when I was born. I just know the family story that my sister was born on the doctor's golf day!) I detected amazement and frustration in the room at the fact that I didn't know. Then he asked if it was night or day. I have no idea. He looked at me in disbelief, because that is an important bit of information in Chinese medicine. (I figure if their diagnosis and prescription don't work it will because I don't know when I was born.)

            By this time there are eight people in the little room: myself, 2 doctors, Li Di, the two girls, and the couple who had joined us. I'm not sure how they happened to come in. Both doctors took turns at feeling my wrists at the three vital spots, looking at my tongue, asking more questions, and taking more notes. Dr. Lu listened through her stethoscope. Poor Li Di. They would ask a personal question, and shy Li Di would say in English, ``Oh, oh, this is really difficult''. Anyway they didn't say boo about an x-ray. Their final pronouncement was that I was quite healthy but had a cough! That's what my pronouncement has been all along.

            They then prescribed a particular medicine (herbal) aimed specifically at that cough and went to prepare it. They were gorgeous teal blue capsulesŠ45 of them, sitting at the bottom of a large glass bottle that looked like a 16 oz. milk bottle. I asked if they didn't have something smaller they could put them in or an envelope. Doctor Lu went out and came back with a labeled plastic zip lock bag. Perfect. The directions that go with it are marvelous, and took another ten minutes to translate: 1. Use tepid water, not hot or cold, 2. Rest for 24 (not 25) minutes after taking the medicine to have it be most effective, 3. For 24 minutes before and after taking the medicine, take no food or other medication. (I have to ask about the 24 symbolism.), 4. Drink a full glass of water before taking the medicine with a little more water, 5. For three hours before and two hours after taking the medicine, eat nothing that has vinegar (cooked or uncooked) and no raw vegetables, 6. Take five capsules at a time.

            Now comes the best part. It is very important that every dosage be taken on an exact time schedule during a specified half-hour window which is printed on the instruction sheet. It is so funny I'm including it. On Saturday the first dose was between 1:13 and 1:37 p.m and the second between 10:25 and 10:49 p.m.. On Sunday the first dose is between 6:25 and 6:49 p.m. with the second between 10:01 and 10:25 p.m.. On Monday the first dose is between 10:49 and 11:13 a.m. (that means only rice for lunch at school) with the second between 6:01 and 6:25 p.m. (both meals are messed up that day).

On Tuesday the first dose is between 2:00 and 2:24 p.m. (I have a 2:20 class which cuts the 24 minute rest period a bit short) with the second dose between 5:36 and 6:00 (not much time between the two here). And the final dose is on Wednesday between 10:48 and 11:12 p.m. Wouldn't you love to see what sort of chart or computer program they get that off of? I haven't figured out the logic of the pattern. Maybe the phases of the moon? Meanwhile I don't need to be taking any of the other expensive herbal stuff I bought when I first came. I told the doctor I liked the color of the pills, so I was sure they were going to work. By the way, she said they had had good reports of success with this medicine in the United States.

            I had the distinct feeling as I left that the two doctors and two assistants may have been there in a command call, just for us. I didn't see anyone else come in. (Rather like the late night hair dressing appointment.) It turns out that before she left Fu Ling had charged Lu Zhin Yuan and Cui Hua with seeing that I got checked. She doesn't slip up on a thing.

            From there we waved goodbye to Li Di and we three Œgirls' took off on a bus for Central Street. This is the cultural street Cui Hua had taken me to in the first week. The old man who leads the Tai Chi group in the morning announced he would be doing some lessons on the sword Tai Chi and the fan Tai Chi. Zhang Jie and I both want to do it, so we were shopping for exercise swords and fans. We ended up getting both a sword and a fan for each of us along with a case that carries both items and looks like a camouflage rifle case. The sword that had been delivered to the house doesn't have a scabbard, which makes it more difficult to carry around. There is a collapsible sword which I thought would be easier to transport home, but the ladies in the Tai Chi group talked me out of it. They said it was heavier and tended after use to collapse when you didn't want it to. We bought two swords in scabbards, two fans (the kind that you flip open with a resounding snap), and two cases for a total of $13.25. I know from watching the girls in action that it would cost much more if I were to be doing the buying by myself.

            At the little café where we had lunch, a grandfather and granddaughter were eating together. Until her noodles came, she was happily munching away at a skewer of bar-be-cued octopus tentacles. There were about ten ends of tentacles all skewered at the biggest part and waving like little flags. Must have been a baby octopus.

            Cui Hua and I headed home on the bus while Zhang Jie and Ding Bai, who had joined us, went to go shopping and have dinner with Zhang Jie's maternal aunt. I knew my way home on that bus and Cui Hua had to end up all the way back at the office, but she wouldn't let me go home alone.

            Later in the afternoon two young people arrived, seventeen year old Lu Xiao Bin and his fifteen year old sister Lu Xiao Bo. They live in Bei Hai, a small village in southern China near Hainan Island which is on the Tonkin Bay, where their father has fishing boats. Their father was a classmate of Fu Ling when they were both in business college in 1994. They had taken the thirty-hour train trip to Beijing apparently to do something about his visa to study in Australia on a home stay. The sister goes to school here in Tianjin, an example of one of those in a boarding school here whose home is quite a distance. Zhang Ji Sheng came in and motioned toward my coat and, in effect, said we were going out to eat, so the four of us went over to the neighborhood restaurant. Lu Xiao Bo is the typical quiet 15 year old in such circumstances. I hardly heard a peep from her until Sunday. Lu Xiao Bin has limited vocabulary and some pronunciation problems, but I wish I could speak as much Chinese as he does English, and he is comfortable with trying. When we came back, I stayed in the living room, which I rarely do, to help entertain them, which I think Zhang Ji Sheng appreciated.

            On Sunday, I got some work done in the morning until the two Lu Xiaos arrived. Zhang Jie was nowhere to be seen, so again I went out to visit with them and ended up doing some oral English practice which he wanted. I even got her to talk a little. Meanwhile Zhang Ji Sheng had just left for somewhere and Zhang Jie hadn't shown her face, so I was the morning entertainment committee. Finally Zhang Jie came out and said we were going to lunch at the same neighborhood restaurant, so off the four of us went for the ``cook your own soup'' pot. At the end of the meal I had little Shen Yi Fei, the daughter of the owners, bring her book and come read to me as I had the night before. (The night before I saw her father slip out and bring her back to the restaurant from wherever she was.) She is very sharp at remembering what sounds I emphasize to her and has improved her pronunciation tremendously. Next I'm going to start asking her questions about what she has read. I think she is comfortable enough with me now that it won't make her clam up.

            The two Lu Xiaos left on a bus and we came home. Pretty soon Ding Bai, and three other friends arrived. It was the boy we had eaten with the other night, the girl with the lovely voice, and a new girl who is 22, speaks some English, and wants to get into an MBA program. So I stayed in the living room and answered lots of questions they had been saving up. I thought that the new girl was wearing a little cross on her choker along with some other items I couldn't identify. Late in the conversation, she noticed my cross and said, ``I wear one of those too''Šwhich was a funny way of wording it. I tried to lead her on a wee bit, remembering the constraints. She pointed to a large vase with painted figures and said, ``See that figure? If I like her, then I'll wear a charm for her.'' Hmmm.