Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I Didn't Know...

I've never claimed to be the know-all and end-all of China and Chinese culture, and I never will. To wit: even 5 years on, little tidbits of facts previously unknown to me still have the power to rock me, shock me and give me pause. Here are a few nuggets.

Single mothers:

Until recently I thought it was only a social taboo to have a baby out of wedlock in China, as it was in the west until about 30 years ago. An enlightening article in ChinaDaily clued me in to the fact that it is not just frowned upon but illegal. According to that text, a woman must furnish a marriage certificate as well as a 'valid reproduction permit' and, of course, an ID. 

Color me perplexed! With my still-predominently western mindset I can't believe that, in this day and age, when women can ensure financial stability for themselves, they are still required to be married in order to have a child.  Never mind the incredible 'old maid' standard rained on a woman who has not married by age 30 by family and friends, this information makes that proclamation quaint.

Now I understand why Stephanie had to get married, even though her family was opposed to the union and she didn't seem too happy about it herself (See How I spent my May Day holiday, posted May of this year).

Making The Bed:

I've attended several weddings in China, and they all follow a certain pattern, but for a few variances. Two things I had no idea about, that make me shake my head in disbelief: who should make the nuptial bed up for the wedding night, and how.

Apparently, a mother of both a boy and a girl should make the bed, in the belief that the good fortune she enjoys at having a matched set of children will rub off on the sheets, and the new couple will be just as lucky. Sam's mother, who has been thus blessed, is often called on in her village to make up the wedding night bed.

Never mind the fact that science has proven that it is fathers who offer up the extra chromosome that determines their offspring's gender. I'm  not sure if the Chinese still hold to the long since dispelled belief that it is the woman's onus to assign fetal gender, or if it is 'double joy' maternal hands that are thought to bless the sheets. It could just be that making beds is 'women's work'. Either way: this is a rather charming superstition that caused me to chuckle in disbelief.

Another strange custom is to litter the marital bed with peanuts. Whether shelled or not, I have no clue. Presumably, these peanuts will encourage a Little Peanut to soon issue forth. All I could think about after hearing that is the exhaustion a just-married couple must feel after the day-long celebration, only to enter the marital suite and have to sweep peanuts off the bed. Should the couple eat the peanuts? Who is to retrieve the peanuts: the bride, the groom or both? Those answers remains a mystery. 

Such traditions, thoughts, superstitions and beliefs are what made me fall in love with China to begin with. I scoff at these most recent additions to my list of seemingly nonsensical wisdoms, but it is a loving scoff, like one you would give your somewhat addled relative when s/he doesn't realize s/he's doing something utterly goofy. 

However, this next one terrified me...

Friends and family are responsible for hospitalized patients.

I've had some dealings with hospitals in China: when I bashed my head in and needed stitches, to have my thyroid levels checked and, most recently because of my broken leg, all done on an outpatient basis. I visited Gary in the hospital when his appendix ruptured, but gained no clue on the mysteries of inpatient dealings at that time.

I've often wondered why pajama-clad patients are permitted to roam around hospital grounds. In the case of the military hospital I always go to when needing medical care over here, patients wander as far as the shopping centers and restaurants across the street – also in their pajamas. From my limited experience with hospitals in the west - in Germany and America, once you are in the hospital, you stay in the hospital until you are discharged: no roaming outside allowed. In America, I've not been allowed to walk out of the hospital upon discharge: an orderly pushed me out in a wheelchair (presumably, every hospital in America follows that policy: whether you can walk or not, your trip out of the hospital is made in a wheelchair). 

Hospital food: the joke of the American health care profession. “The doctors are great but the food will kill you!” as one old saw goes. Now that health care in America is a for-profit business, hospitals compete for patients. Thus they offer private rooms and restaurant quality food. If your illness requires special foods, your diet is carefully monitored and outside food is frowned on. Likewise are over-the-counter medicines not allowed:  you cannot take any medication the doctor does not approve of, and what is approved must be dispensed from the hospital pharmacy.

It was my most recent visit to the hospital in Wuhan to have my leg X-rayed that opened my eyes about hospital care in China. My curiosity was aroused when I saw non-medical personnel pushing hospital beds into the X-ray department so the supine patients could be imaged. This time accompanied by Penney, a nurse in said hospital, I asked her my burning questions regarding health care in China.

Health care professionals are too busy to push gurneys, I found out. If a patient needs an X-ray, there had better be someone who can get the patient to the imaging department. Meals are also dependent on friends and relatives: the hospital does not deliver food to patients' bedsides.

“What if the patient has diabetes, and is on a special diet?” I asked.
“Most likely, the family will follow doctor's orders and only bring food that the patient can eat.” Penney replied.
“You work in the 'contagious disease' unit where family and friends cannot visit. How do those patients get food?”
“Friends and family bring it and we inspect it before giving it to the patients.”

That did not make sense to me at all. People in quarantine receiving outside food? How could that be? And what if a patient has no one to bring any food?

NOTE: when I say 'friends and family bring food', I don't necessarily mean home cooked meals. I've seen take-out containers from street food vendors make their way into patients' rooms. Street food vendors, whose carts line the sidewalks and whose food supplies linger in the open air for hours, a perfect opportunity for gastric distress, especially for someone lying in the hospital, whose immune system might already be compromised. 

Quite frankly, I live in fear of having to be hospitalized over here. Not just because I would have to share a room with... who knows how many other people, and that the bathroom would be down the hall. Not just because the accommodations would not be as luxurious as the ones I enjoyed when I broke my leg in America. And not just because the few treatments I've been subject to here have been brutal, to say the least, but because a hospital stay over here would be so far out of my range of experiences, I'm fearful I wouldn't adapt. To say nothing of not being able to understand what the doctor and nurses are saying because of my limited Chinese. 

I'm sure Sam, Penney and Gary, among other friends, would be prominent presences during my incarceration, and surely they would bring food. They would probably push my bed all over the hospital if need be. Nevertheless, as open to new experiences as I usually am, this is one I'd rather not have. I don't think anyone could blame me.

What a joy it is to live in a place where, even though I've memorized entire bus routes and find myself caught up in daily life, there are still things that can move me, amuse me and floor me with shock and disbelief. Any wonder why I stay? 

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