Monday, August 29, 2005

How I Imagine Hell

Today was the longest feeling day that I’ve had on record.

My roommate arrived today. She is from Kazakhstan. Her mother came with her to help her move in. I only saw her for 10 minutes before she left. She didn’t have any luggage with her. She also didn’t speak any Chinese. I don’t want to have to speak English this year. I’m going to tell her that my school requires me to only speak Chinese once classes begin. This may not even be an issue, however, because none of her stuff is here now, and I haven’t seen her since this morning.

I met Gerrie, my new friend from Bulgaria, in the hallway so we could head to lunch. We were going to meet our friend Ryan at his dorm, and then proceed to dormitory number 12 to meet everyone else. When Gerrie and I got outside, we ran into Donny, the other scholarship student from the states. He asked if we were ready for our medical exams today.

“Yeah, I guess. We’re about to go eat lunch, though. Do you want to come with?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t think we’re supposed to eat. The Spanish students’ advisor explained everything much better to them. We’re not supposed to eat for 12 hours before the exams, and they’re going to do blood work,” he said.

The three of us worriedly discussed how much we didn’t want to have blood work done in China. All three of us are scholarship students, so we all had to have everything done in our home countries prior to coming to China. We also knew, however, that the Beijing Health and Quarantine Bureau (BHQB) doesn’t always agree to the validity of the tests from other countries.

Donny headed back to his room, and Gerrie and I went to find Ryan to tell him the news. When he told him, he looked fearful. “I don’t want to get my blood drawn in China,” he said. No one does, my friend. No one does. We tried to find the others so we could tell them not to eat, but it was to no avail. So we all went back to our rooms and said we’d meet at the South Gate to wait for the bus to take us to BHQB.

I went upstairs and began searching the internet for any indication of the quality of health care at BHQB, and for information on the procedure for the health certificate for foreigners who already have recent papers. Also, I thought about all of the horrible diseases I could contract from an unsterile needle. I started a list on a piece of paper of medical terms I didn’t know how to say in Chinese yet. You can be sure that I now know how to say, “I already had blood tests,” “I do not have HIV,” “I do not have tuberculosis,” “I want a sterile needle,” “I faint when I have blood drawn,” and “I am allergic to penicillin.” I was ready for a fight. I had all the characters written down, too, just in case I screwed up pronunciation while nervous.

At 1.30pm everyone was loaded onto a bus and driven to BHQB. The lobby was packed full of people, and I assure that this was no small building. The noise was overwhelming as there were about 1000 people speaking 300 different languages. Every face I saw was panic-stricken, I would assume from not knowing what line to be in, and the prospect of having to have blood drawn by a doctor who doesn’t speak anything but Chinese and broken English.

It took about 20 minutes to figure out what line I was supposed to be in. I had a French girl lead me to one line, and then spoke Chinese to a professor to find out about the number on my ticket and what it meant, ran into two Scottish guys who were completely lost, and then decided I’d stick with them in case they needed translation.

That’s when I met back up with Donny. We exchanged information from my two previous lines and his three. We knew that we had to get stamps on one form to indicate that we didn’t have to pay (scholarship exemption), and then we had to get into some other line where a doctor would decide if our medical results were good enough to skip the on-site verification exams. I don’t really know how we got this information. I think everyone was just piecing things together. There was no guidance for this process whatsoever – not in English, not in Chinese. None.

a glimpse into hell

I waited in one line for about 50 minutes. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but nothing was getting accomplished whatsoever. I was third in line for that whole time. I met some nice Canadians, at least, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss. When it was my turn in line, I didn’t initially get the stamps. They sent me away to the medical confirmation line, and I figured that’s when things would get worked out. However, three minutes into that last, I thought something must be wrong. Donny was getting his paperwork taken care of there, so I pushed through to ask him if I needed the stamps. Of course, I did. I shoved my paper back to the girl who processed it before and said that I was a scholarship student and that I had to have a stamp. No problem. Stamped.

I thought then that I should have been taking this approach all along. Unfortunately, after waiting and hour and a half in another static line, I had forgotten about it. One of the reasons this process was so awful was the fact that no one had eaten anything, and it was really hot. Long lines are bad, but they’re usually tolerable. This was becoming unbearable. By some stroke of luck, I ended up with three other Americans and those two Scottish men, so we were all able to take comfort in being able to converse freely. We had all grown a little tired of oversimplifying our English and speaking with perfect, slow diction.

I am happy to report that once I reached the doctor at the front of the line my results were approved. I did not have to get a blood test, or anything else for that matter. Donny, Gerrie, and the two Scottish men were also in the clear. Our two friends Ryan and Caitlyn were unfortunately taken to the blood room, though. I handed Ryan the list of words I had written so they could demand clean needles. I’m sure BHQB is a fine institution, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

My experience in BHQB was the most inefficient thing that I have witnessed or heard of. I can’t imagine what this same task must have been like 10 years ago. I don’t want to think about it. Those three hours in BHQB were just about what I had always imagined hell to be like. I’m so happy to be out of there. Donny, his roommate, and I didn’t even wait for the bus to take us back. We hopped in a cab to hunt down some food. We were all ready to pass out. If I never have to go back to BHQB, it will be too soon.


Post a Comment

<< Home