Sunday, October 14, 2012

Things I do in the Name of Research

Third year in Wuhan. Third year writing this blog. I’m guessing I’m near my four hundredth entry. Not seeing my blog keeps me in the dark about those kinds of stats. I’ve been given to understand it is still well received. I thank everyone who reads it, reserving my deepest thanks for my regular readers. A large part of my gratitude goes to my still unnamed conspirators who manage my blog page and actually post my ramblings. It has been fun keeping that secret for this long.

As for me, I would write whether I’m being read or not. Not only does this blog serve as a source of entertainment and information for whoever reads it but also as my diary. I can look back over what I wrote last year or when I first came here to recapture that feeling of being lost and isolated. I can marvel at how far I’ve come in assimilating into Chinese society and how I managed to battle and ultimately vanquish that terrible depression that plagued me most of my life… now that I look back on it.

The downside of writing so prolifically and continuously is that, after having been here for all this time, ‘firsts’ are hard to come by. By no means am I saying I am jaded on the experience of living in China or teaching at this university, but there are only so many things that can happen the first time. I’ve said that before. So, this blog has taken a new direction: cultural comparisons.

Hey! I made a funny: “I’m not jaded on living in China.” Teehee!    

All humor aside, now.

In order to make accurate comparisons, less tainted by personal opinion I have to do a substantial amount of research. Mostly into Chinese doings and traditions but sometimes in American iconography and behaviors. Living in America for some 22 years doesn’t make an authority on anything American . Usually my research is conducted impersonally; by means of personal experience objectively critiqued, by interview or whatever I can access and decipher online.

One aspect of Chinese living I’ve not written much about is their medical/healthcare systems. There is only so much one can glean from interviewing – mostly facts and methodology. The language barrier does pose problems, among them being limiting the number of people I can interview. In order to experience first hand how the Chinese handle healthcare, or health scares, I had to undergo treatments myself.

That is the excuse I offer up for why I split my head open like a melon and how my left arm ended up in a cast.

Here is the story. I was out with Summer and Vanessa, two of my former students turned friends. Our plan was to go to Guang Gu, otherwise known as Lu Xiang Square or Optics Valley, that mega-shopping center along the 593 bus route. I’ve written about it a few times before, most notably in the ‘Flouted!’ entry posted November 2010, way back in the dim, dark days when I first got here.   

I wasn’t feeling well. In truth, I haven’t felt wholly ‘me’ for a very long, long time. As I waited for Vanessa and Summer, I looked at the place where I had taken a spill the first time I came here. It occurred to me that, since moving to China I’ve fallen several times, four times severely, mostly from tripping and not being able to recover my balance. Fortunately I’ve not gravely injured myself but I have been contemplating walking with a cane. Again, as I have been doing for so long I wondered what was wrong with me and if I will ever recover my previous energy levels, good mood and restored balance.

Ah, here come Vanessa and Summer, skipping along in the prime of their youth and beauty, long hair flying and grinning as though their favorite singing idol were waiting for them instead of their used-up-feeling former English teacher. The plan was for us to enjoy some time at KTV and then walk around the mall, after which I would lead them to a ‘foreigner restaurant’ they’d heard about and wanted to try. I missed the KTV session because I had to wait for Sam to return my newly repaired university loaned computer. 

I’m really not feeling well. Dizzy, off balance, my head feeling as though wrapped in cotton batting. You’d think, after living like that for over a year I’d be used to it. I didn’t want to be used to it. I wanted to feel like myself. Mercifully we sat at a café and talked rather than taking an extended stroll through the noisy, crowded mall. Although glad to be a part of the outing I really just wanted it to be over with so I could go lay down. We left after only being there for about an hour. Helen’s was not far away and we got there with no incident.

Once we got there things went downhill. What used to be a fine establishment to spend an evening in now qualified as someplace to avoid. The restaurant that served the best hummus I’d ever tasted now served up a plate of mush so oily I felt ashamed recommending it to the girls. Vanessa was not impressed at all with the pasta she ordered and I agreed with her: the noodles were undercooked and hard; the sauce did not even deserve the name “Bolognese”. Summer had the best luck with the barbecue pizza but even so, the crust was too thick and flavorless and it was topped with too much cheese and not enough barbecue.

To add that final touch of gloom, it started raining while we were attempting to dine. None of us had an umbrella. Not wanting to spend an extra minute in the overheated, uncomfortable setting we were in we decided to duck into Mr. Mai’s coffee shop, just a few doors down. Such luck! I’d heard of Mr. Mai’s but as yet had not explored it. This would be my chance.

I’ll not be venturing into Mr. Mai’s again. At 25Yuan for a cup of hot tea – make that a cup of hot water with a teabag in it, not fresh brewed tea – that ‘meeting place for foreigners’ is not a place I will choose to hang out at in the future. The place is brashly lit and the chairs not at all comfortable. At this point our conversation is getting desultory. We were all tired. It was nearing 9PM and we all had to get up early the next day. Besides, we needed to head home: the buses would stop running soon.

The rain fell, unabated. Maybe even harder than before. We had no choice but to get soaked. Unuttered to the girls, I was formulating this entry in my mind: ‘We took a soaking on the night we got soaked.’ Little did I know the blog entry I was already formulating was going to take a dramatic turn.

Hugging the walls in an effort to stay somewhat dry we made our way down the street. I kept an eye out on the shops that were still open in case they sold umbrellas. I was going to buy two: one for the girls to share and one for myself. They were walking ahead, arm in arm and did not pay me any mind. I did not pay myself any mind either, so focused was I on the effort to find umbrellas. That is how I came to trip on the uneven pavement. My ongoing vertigo is what caused me to not recover from that trip with any kind of grace or balance.

I’m not sure why the girls turned around. Maybe I yelped, squealed or shouted out as I was falling, or maybe they just heard the loud ‘bonk’ and subsequent reverberation as the awning rattled when my head made contact with the angled piece of wrought iron that was supporting it. Or was it steel? Still not sure, and at this point it is all academic. The end result is that my head started bleeding copiously, a fact I was not initially aware of because I thought the liquid pattering down my face was rain from my soaked hair.

Until Summer shrieked as though being eviscerated.    

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