November 2014

Who says you can’t choose your family? I have 6 sisters who share no blood with me, and now 2 brothers in my life. I have possibly the perfect little brother right here in Chengdu. I mentioned in a previous post that I now have a Chinese little brother, his name is David (JjipShyGixHxa is how you pronounce it in Yi, in Chinese it is said JiShiGeHa吉史格哈 ) and he is 23 years old. He is from the minority group called the Yi and his family is from a very small township called SiHe (四合乡) where the main means of survival is tree farming. David goes to XiNanMinZuDaXue (西南民族大学) which is a university for minorities, and has been studying the Yi culture and literature as well as taking courses in English because he wishes to continue his studies at a sister university in Australia.

Why is he the perfect little brother? Because he is willing to go almost anywhere I want to go to visit and is happy to translate and chat so that he can practice his English. Yes, having a pal to visit museums, archaeological sites, city gardens, go to see movies with etc is very important because those moments are often best shared with others. His passion for culture and history are also similar to mine and we get along swimmingly when we have discussions about artifacts and ancient warrior heroes.

So far David has given me a tour of the Yi museum on his campus, accompanied me during a conference about Yi Culture and Literature, seen the Penguins of Madagascar movie with me in Chinese (hilarious when the voices are so different from what you are used to!), and gone to the Jinsha Site Museum. Most of my Chinese friends are too busy studying to come with me for stuff like this, but David has been entirely free giving with his time. I think what is most impressive to me is that he does something wholeheartedly and expresses his happiness and joy openly while many people I know hold back their feelings. He has also been a joy to photograph and more than happy to pose in odd positions for the perfect shot. David has mastered the use of my camera to get flattering pictures of me as well which I feel very grateful for!

Jinsha was amazing. I really could just leave it at that, but I know you want to hear more. I met David near his old campus which is only a 20 minute bus ride from my house. We took a few buses and arrived at Jinsha midday. I wish I could say the sun was shining, but this is Chengdu, there is no sun, well if there is we can’t see it beyond the pollution and clouds. Nevertheless it was a nice bright day to visit the site. When we entered the first exhibition hall we were in the actual dig site. Similar to Xi’an this museum has the pits all preserved and has built pathways and left some artifacts in their original locations for us to see and feel like we are in an actual dig site.

After a nice walk along a river we came to the exhibition hall and saw many artifacts and some recreation scenes. We both learned about the muntjac which neither of us had heard of until today. It is a small deer with little horns, totally cute. I seem to remember a picture of this deer on the currency in Taiwan from when Missy was staying with us. David and I got some fabulous picture of the recreation scenes and of the animals represented in those mock sites. I’m still having a hard time believing that 3000 years ago there were elephants in this part of China, but all the evidence from the site says there were because many of the artifacts were elephant tusks and it was during a time that not much trade was happening so they had to be somewhat nearby.

There were 5 halls to explore, filled with jade, bronze, gold, pottery and so much more! Above us in the building was a giant recreation of the sun surrounded by the immortal birds of the Shu people. What David and I noticed was that the Shu must have been closely related to the Yi as their symbolism is almost identical and they used the same colors and designs in their works of art and religious items. The immortal birds were almost exactly like what I looked at when I was researching Ancient Egypt for the phoenix, though David told me that the phoenix is only one of the immortal birds (fascinating, tell me more!).

After rummaging and taking some interesting pictures in the building we toured around the site and traipsed up a hill that led to a water stream. There were some cool rocks to climb on and then we stumbled upon what is called a deer park. As best I can understand, these deer were rescued and taken to the park to live a comfortable life amongst other deer. It was really neat getting close to them and seeing them relaxing while people waved and kids poked their heads through the fence. The grounds at the site are stunningly beautiful. Bamboo, gingko trees whose leaves are turning yellow right now, flowering trees, and rolling hills mixed in with streams all made a very strong impression upon me.

I found the coolest spider web! I couldn’t get a picture of it, despite some heroic efforts. It was 3 dimensional. I could put my hand in one area that was between another section of web and then reach towards the funnel that connected the pieces. Both of us explored that web and marveled at its intricacy and architectural genius. Finally I remarked that it must have been a rather large spider to create such a big web and I pulled myself away to continue strolling through that section of the site before the spider returned home.

We both had a really good time today. I can speak for David as he voiced this to me several times during our trip. I want to take Joe there when he comes to visit next July. It is a truly amazing site and David was the perfect company for my visit there. He said there is another archaeological site in Chengdu that is even older and he knows a lot about that site and will take me there. I can’t wait!

Oh and did I mention he rocks at scoring us the student discount 

I have many things on my mind as the day before Thanksgiving slowly fades away. I mastered the confounded machine that holds packages to win my shipment of coffee (Thank you Amazon CN). I’ve spent the last 4 days with the stomach flu and was only able to make it to one class this morning where I taught other nationalities that Caucasian’s can turn colors like green and grey within moments and with seemingly no provocation. It was funny, except for how I felt during those moments (Thank you Western Medicine for saving me). This afternoon I spent my time on the phone coordinating tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Dinner which will be held at my apartment (thank you whoever invented countertop ovens). I even ordered 2 Christmas gifts to be delivered to my house in America where Joe can wrap and deliver them (Thank you Costco Photo).

I have much to be thankful for right now, but there are some things that are bigger than others. I will always be thankful for my family, friends, and those that have shown me kindness and offered assistance, but this year I feel thankful for some new reasons as well.

Being in a foreign country I find things to be thankful every day, from the ability to order Australian cheese to be delivered to my apartment, to being able to get help from a friend purchasing a bus pass so I can get to work cheaper on Wednesdays and Fridays. I think the biggest thing I am thankful for this year is the incredible patience and kindness the people of Chengdu have shown me as I struggle to live and thrive in their country.

Here is one of the many stories about their kindness: This morning I went to get my scooter from the parking garage and noticed they were shutting down that section. I had no idea why and since I literally had not left my apartment since Saturday due to illness I hadn’t spoken with anyone about it. Last week I found out that the woman who waxes my eyebrows lives 3 stories below me in my building. Yes, exactly 3 stories below me which was really funny when we figured it out and realized we both were Gluten Free in China. This morning after arriving in school I texted her asking about parking situation, I knew she also has a scooter since we talked about it. She was kind enough to explain that our parking area has changed to a more secure room near the security guard’s post. This was most helpful when I rode home feeling terrible and nauseous.

When I got to the area where we now park our scooters one of the parking attendants was kind enough to spend some time trying to explain what was happening and how we have a new system of paying monthly. He took the time to get me a receipt and write out what he was talking about regarding the new system. I’m sure we spent at least 10 minutes trying to discuss the new system and make sure we both understood what was happening. He has always been nice, but today he was exceptionally helpful and doing everything he could to help me through our language barrier. I am thankful for people like him, who take the time, show patience and kindness, and honestly want me to be happy and understand what is going on. People like that are rare, but in China I have found more than I ever thought existed and I am thankful for every single one of them.

So this year, I add being thankful for my newly extended network of friends and family (I have a little brother now, his story will be coming soon), and a special thanks to all of the people, strangers and friends alike, who have helped me be comfortable and happy in China.

Please meet part of my extended family, the UW Family, some of whom will spend Thanksgiving with me:

And as I finish this blog, I realize I am also thankful for "Chester" my neighbor's dog who barks with happiness on his way to the elevator and reminds me of home. Chester's not his real name, but he doesn't seem to mind me calling him that.

Will the adventures never stop?! I’m guessing not. So since my last post I have been very busy learning about Chengdu’s hospitals and medical system. I’ve also gone on a field trip with my school to another “ancient town” and visited the Giant Buddha of Leshan with a group of 6 year olds. I might mention I’ve also been studying and making more Chinese friends.

I did despite my hectic schedule find time to watch the new Penguins of Madagascar movie this weekend with David, a friend from Liangshan who goes to school in Chengdu. We watched it dubbed in Chinese and I had no trouble understanding it. That was rather encouraging actually to watch a movie and understand maybe not the fine points but what was happening and mostly why. Yes, I highly recommend everyone go see this movie, it was very funny!

Today I want to get you all some pictures of the “ancient town” and impart some of what I have learned about hospitals and medicine in Chengdu as I think it might be rather helpful if any of you visit China in the future. If anyone plans on studying in China in the future please remember that all campuses have a hospital that you can visit for simple things like colds and sprains, even cuts. My friend is the one who is sick, so we started there with the assistance of an excellent translator.

My audience needs a background: my friend had an accident about 7 months ago and suffered a concussion as well as a deep gash on her head. Since that time she’s been having headaches and been extremely dizzy, nauseous, and having a hard time with her senses and finding her concentration. She was getting worse with the dizziness and her vision was blurring a lot, when her hearing became quite impaired I made her go to the doctor.

So the campus doctor said it was out of her league and suggested the Sichuan University Hospital/Medical Campus which we went to that night. Our translator was wonderful and we got into the ER without any problems. We got the necessary referrals etc, I won’t bore you with those details.

Here is what you need to know about procedures: You will need a card from the cashier. You will pay upon arrival and be given a card and a book for your doctor to write in. The card is a way for the doctors to communicate with each other as well as with the cashiers who need to know what you are doing so they can charge you appropriately. Say you only need to see the doctor for a check up, they will charge the office visit prior to setting the appointment, then you can take the receipt and your card to the info desk for assistance setting up the appointment itself. Your receipt will have the doctor’s name, location and what times to show up, as well as what number patient you will be. You won’t see the cashier again until your doctor asks you to do something, then you see the cashier to pay for it and then go take the test or see the other person etc.

In short, you will go back and forth between the cashier and your appointments and tests many times. Be prepared for this, but it is not expensive nor terribly time consuming. Our worst experience was my friend’s MRI which needed contrast. We paid for the test, scheduled the appointment and showed up to be told she needed an IV put in. That translates into: please go to this desk which is not terribly sanitized, place your arm here and prepare for this really grumpy young lady to jab you maliciously with the IV and then let you wait for an hour for your appointment in searing pain. Seriously, that girl must have had a fight with her boyfriend or something because she was mean to everyone not just my friend.

Highlights for visiting hospitals in Chengdu: you wait in the hallway, sometimes you get a chair most of the time not. People bring their entire family with them it is very crowded. You will keep visiting the cashier who will scowl at you while taking your money. Doctor’s don’t always listen, if you find a good one keep them and write down their name! The tests here are using old equipment and techniques, you will feel like you transported back into the 1970’s but please don’t wear the fashion despite this nostalgic feeling. Most of the doctors speak some English, if they don’t their assistant might so don’t freak out. There are also hospital staff that can step in and help if you don’t bring your own translator (I’d still suggest bring your own but sometimes they are not available because chances are they are also students). There is no privacy in hospitals here, you won’t be alone with your doctor and everyone in the hall is snooping and curious about you, it is ok. They don’t speak English and it is just the way of China I’m finding.
Bring money to the hospital with you at least 1000RMB just in case you need a test. If you need an MRI or CT you’ll pay about 2000RMB which isn’t much USD maybe about $350 but the doctor only costs approximately 30RMB which is $5USD.

Most important: if you wish to avoid Chinese hospitals you can. There are plenty of Global Doctors and Western Medicine Complexes in most big cities. I don’t know if their shots or IV’s hurt any less but you will be guaranteed an English speaking doctor as well as clean and nice facilities. You will pay out your nose though. Example being, just to enter the door of the Global Doctors it costs 1300RMB which is about $220USD. That covers you being seen but no tests or blood work and no medicine. Oh, medicine is cheap here FYI! You can also get antibiotics over the counter if you know what to ask for. I think I paid $5USD for a Z Pack which costs with insurance at least $30USD in America. Yeah, don’t fear the cost of medicine here.

I hope this was helpful and this is definitely a subject you are welcome to ask me more details about. Yes, my friend is doing much better now we know she fractured her skull (CT and MRI were very helpful in getting this detail) and her body is fighting to mend itself. She is tired and dizzy because of all the work her body is doing to heal and that is a good explanation from the one doctor we liked and trusted.

I’d talk about the “ancient town” but really it wasn’t so special,the architecture was kind of cool and it has a dragon statue that leads from the river into town along the stream that divides the town down the middle. I had a good time there with my classmates and at Leshan’s Giant Buddha with the kids. I’ll revisit the Buddha when I don’t have oodles of kids involved.


After taking my midterm this morning, and feeling pretty good about it, I went to work teaching 3 classes of children English and returned home to find I had some packages waiting for me. Said packages were not at my door, which is probably good as I don’t think most people have neighbors as awesome as I do. Some time I will tell you about my awesome neighbors and apartment complex! I went down to speak with the security guard near my building. The guards are always super nice and friendly and I always say hi when I walk by.

With a little bit of Chinese saying I had a package but didn’t know where it was, I showed the guard my text message which showed the delivery info. He pointed at a large machine close by. I had always assumed it was a package dispenser of some sort, but I’ve never had to use it before. I walked over and looked at all the buttons and looked back at him with a very confused expression. He graciously came over and tried to help. Here is where things get interesting…

Problem: don’t know what 6 digits to enter on screen, he doesn’t know either

Solution: find a lady passing who knows how to use machine

Success: first package located, door opened and package retrieved

Problem: I have 2 more packages! What are the digits? Not in same text message!

Solution: return to apartment find correct digits

Success: found digits and raced back down to confounded machine

Variable: man working on machine, it probably needs maintenance. Man asks if I have a package I indicate I have 2. He lets me input the digits I found which are correct but the machine can’t figure out which doors hold my packages!

Solution: man inputs admin code and looks up my phone number and tracking info from text message and finds package number 2.

Success: package 2 found and after signing and providing my phone number on his paper we look for next package

Problem: package 3 is in the old package door where things will soon be sent back to sender! We found this out after much digging!

Solution: repair man had to reboot machine to get the door open

Success: package located and handed over

Gloating required: walked by security guard showed my packages and waved happily 

Lesson learned: being nice gets you really far, but showing text messages is more effective!

Other lesson: the confounded machine probably will work better after the repair guy gets a chance to work on it tonight, but I am very lucky to have run downstairs during his visit! I would not have received my packages otherwise I believe.

Payoff: 2 packages of American coffee since really you should bring your own if you have any liking for nice coffee, 1 large package of hot cocoa mix, a bread pan which was half price online and very much needed for baking gluten free bread and meatloaf.