Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sharing Hospital Joy and...

I've got to take a break and write it true, like it is. I'm propped up in bed, listening to Cold War Kids. I've been hooked on them since 2009, and no matter where I go in life, they always take me back to one memory, one specific moment in time:

 I'm sitting in the bathtub in my apartment on Robb St., in Lakewood. Air filled with steam, windows covered in snow, the light yellow and low. A ball of water begins to form on the silver faucet. I watch the steam curl around it and then gather together in one corner; gravity calls the water to form there, in that spot. Then the small drop of water sags off the faucet, hesitating closer to the world below and then shrinking back toward the steam that formed it. Suddenly it drops, slowly into the tub, landing with a soft thunk on the surface of millions of other drops of water.  That one drop of water is the only sound in the room for several minutes, so it seems to echo forever, filling space and time.

"'Corinna, what's the time?"' my sister's voice echos from the speaker on my cell phone, breaking the silence. I've placed her on the toilet, next to the tub. In this way, I can imagine I'm not quite so alone, and she is there with me. She's reading to me, over the phone, "'I'm Corin I told you... are you blind? There's no Corinna here!'" I sink further into the water and the steam, and imagine myself, like that little drop, just shrinking back before a giant plunge.

Going to the hospital is normal here. The Chinese don't just go to a doctor's office when they have a cold, they go to the hospital and get an I.V. needled into their hand-- then its nothing but a drip, drip, drip. I've been sick for about a week now, and inside of this week I've been to three different hospitals. The most recent diagnosis is an infection in my pharynx (or larynx, don't judge, these words sounds strangely similar with a Chinese accent), causing swelling in the lymph nodes in my neck.

Hospitals look like airport waiting rooms. Rows of metal chairs that are all linked up next to each other. The walls are white. Maybe they look more like a prison. All the nurses wear matching little outfits that are white with pink or green trim. They look like they stepped right out of a 1950's sitcom. There is something very stiff and distant about hospital waiting rooms-- I don't care what country you are in, noone steps inside a hospital and smiles and says, "oh yeah, I missed this place!"

How much more distant and cold is the experience when you can't communicate well enough to actually articulate to someone what the problem is? How much more frustrating is to try and explain to someone who half understands English, in order for them to half explain to someone who does not understand any English? Now add into the mix being tired, and sore, exhausted from days of miscommunication and medicine for ailments you don't have.

Don't get me wrong, I don't blame anyone but myself for the fact that I can't speak the language. However, trying to tell the doctor, in a hospital in China, that your throat and mouth are swollen, is like playing the telephone game with a group of children. One of them starts with a simple sentence, and by the time that sentence gets to the other end of the line, it is no longer related to the topic we started with. This might explain why the first doctor sent me home with medicine for diarrhea after I told her that my throat had lumps in it.

China is an up and down, just like any home, and today is dark.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

(New) Habits of the Mentally Insane

I've started threatening inanimate objects with my mind. Symptomatic of the onset of Anti-Social Disorder... or perhaps not enough human interaction?

The hot water heater for my apartment requires two sources of power in order to function. First, I must pay for gas by depositing money into a card that looks like a credit card with a sim card attached to one side. Then I must stick this card in the meter so that the meter reads my prepaid gas allowance.

Now, when the water in my bathroom is turned on, the hot water heater must have BATTERIES in it, so that it sparks and then ignites with a flame, and then water heats. OK, I've never seen batteries in a water heater-- like the boilers you have in your home, only not--, but if this is what China demands from me, so be it.

See, in the winter time, shit gets cold. The buildings are  mostly stone--these marble floors look lovely, but they sure will do a number on your toes--, and your body needs heat. Well, praise God, I have a water heater. For some reason though, it only works when it wants to.

Yesterday the weather was perfect. Mild 70's, low humidity, slight breeze. I could romp around in shorts (which surely gives the locals the impression that I am a prostitute, as this weather requires sweaters and boots for those who are acclimated to the subtropical temperatures) all day, no problem. Yesterday, the water heater worked dandy for about 30 seconds--just long enough to get everything (hair included) good and wet. Then the hot water heater changed its mind. One minute I was having an, "Urge for Herbal" shower, and the next I'm screaming my head off because the cold is unbearable.  There is no warning, or slow decline of the heat; things were just perfect, and then really fucked up. It all happened so fast.

I must calm down, the air isn't freezing, I will survive this moment in time.

To reignite the heater, I turn the water off and on again, standing with frozen hair and limbs, and saying a silent prayer. The water heats up and I dip back in. 30 seconds and the torture renews its sentiments to me. Well, I fight with the water temperature long enough to finish getting soap off. As I'm wrapping up, the water heater decides to work, and stay warm--which has to be a cruel game the universe has decided to play on me.

As if I didn't already hate getting wet, China allows me to foster my dislike for showering by adding a little mental conditioning to this daily requirement. Why did God invent sweat?

Today, I get into the shower and the pilot sparks and lights-- wait for the water to warm up, Katy. As I get in, I can hear the water heater (located just on the other side of the wall my shower is on), fumbling. It flames and then dies and then flames. I find myself standing obstinately in the water and mentally swearing, "you better not fucking freeze me again today, you'll regret--" the flame ignites, "oh that is ni--" and dies, "you son of a bi--" and lights, "Jesus loves me," and dies, "You piece of --" and ignites, "deep sigh of relief" and dies, "For Fuck sake, I swear on all that is ho--" and ignites.....

Working Our "Nihao" Hand

Having worked in the service industry for years, I find it very important to treat others in this industry with as much respect and kindness as I am capable of giving. No complaining or sending food back ever, always saying thank you, stacking dishes at the table, tipping well ( must love abstractions). I don't snap my fingers, or yell, or wave my hands. These actions fall well under the category of, "bitch, bitch, bitch." This is important to my heart. If I were in a restaurant yelling or complaining, or sending something back to the kitchen because it wasn't cooked right, and the server somehow found out that I had once been a server myself, karma would personally strangle me in my sleep. When you are or have been in-industry, you kiss toes and leave your life savings before you go.

In China, much like Europe, there is no tipping. You pay the bill and the facility pays the server. In fact, tipping is sometimes considered an insult. OK, this is foreign to me, but I can deal. At least I can still pre-stack dishes and smile, using prolific, "xie xie!" Right? Wrong! All of my attempts to be western-world polite were smacked in the face as I discovered that in order to get any food you have to put your hand in the air, wave it around manically while shouting, "Nihao!" If you want to be a badass in the Canton area, you can throw an, "mgoy!" (Cantonese for please/thank you), out there, or call the server "pretty girl"/"handsome guy." Not matter what though, you must get that "nihao" hand up in the air and really mean it!

Even though I know that this is how things are done here in China, it still breaks my ex-server heart to shout at people for food. Starvation or shouting? My stomach makes a thousand and one aberrant noises that mean nothing to the beautiful people rushing back and forth with steaming bowls of dumplings...starve...or shout? shit!

Hunger drives us to do wild things we never thought we were capable of.

"NIHAO!"