Various adventures in Wuhan, Aug to Nov 2007

(Click below for audio version)


If you think that managing to get admitted into a hospital in central China is something to be congratulated for, well, as of last night, throw all your congratulatory sentiments this way. I’ve got a dull throb about three centimetres from my right eye, because there’s now seven stitches there. What happened in order to need them, well, you’ll have to buy the book, haha.

The instant that what happened happened, I had a strange feeling…the realisation that I was in China, the gash on my face definitely looked like it needed stitches, I had no idea where a hospital was, and, even if I did, I couldn’t speak to anyone in it…it was a pretty reality-slapping moment.

I rang my coordinator, Lily, (this was about nine-thirty pm), and dragged her butt out from Nanhu campus. From there we went to a hospital, which was actually only a block away, but how could I have known? I hadn’t yet needed to learn Chinese for “Hospital” [it’s yi yuan (医院)].

I’d been warned about the lack of privacy in Chinese hospitals…good thing I was.

Basically, you get some paperwork from reception, fill it in, and then chase down a floating GP, along with a crowd of people doing the same thing…once the group has the GP cornered, they treat the situation like any other in Wuhan – just keep pushing your paperwork in the GP’s face in the hope that he just randomly grabs yours first. No order, no queue, no privacy…just a huge orderless mess. Thing is, they’re all used to this…but they weren’t used to me. Here was this comparatively huge foreigner, holding a wad of tissue on his head, and they geeked and geeked and geeked. When the GP finally gave me an initial look-over and started scribbling stuff, the crowd was literally centimetres from me, geeking at everything that me and the GP did; if the cut was on me ass they might have done the same thing. Cultural differences or not, I had to usher them away, and they reluctantly gave me a whole half square metre to myself.

The GP scribbled out a reference or whatever for me to go to a few buildings away and get stitched up…we get there, another doctor geeks at me, then scribbles a page full of stuff and asks me to sign it. This was difficult – in a similar situation in Australia, I’d be pouring over every syllable I was signing to…hey, this is me mug we’re talking about…I think it was a standard indemnity waiver, but hey, this is the middle of a foreign country, I wanted specifics! Reluctantly, I ended up signing it because it was clear that we were going nowhere until I did. What was I going to do? Call my agent?

We went to the operating room, passing overflowing garbages and open toilet doors en route. And, while he was crocheting my mug back together, the door was open, so if anyone wanted to see the “watch the foreigner wince in pain as he’s sown back together with not enough anaesthetic” show, they could – and some of them tuned in.

Look, the environment, compared to hospitals in Oz, were kind of dirty (mainly due to the open garbages and toilets), but the conditions in the actual procedures looked fair enough, and believe me, I was watching. Everything seemed sterilised and new. Lots of gloves, packages, iodine. But, like I just alluded to, I think they used No Name anaesthetic, because I could feel a lot more than I should have…or probably more accurately, they gave me enough for the average Chinese person, ie someone generally smaller. In fact, I asked people about it later, and apparently when, shall I say, noticeably corpulent westerners go to hospitals here, they need up to four times what they call a “normal” amount.

Then we went running around paying the bill, getting some anti-infection drugs, and a final injection for good measure. Now, look, I know that the Chinese are renowned for ridiculous amounts of paperwork…but, well, it was the amount of counters that surprised me. We went back and forth from counter to counter doing I have no idea what.

It cost eight hundred kuai (a hundred and forty bucksish), but Zhongnan pays ninety percent…I like my contract.

The next day I just recovered, and waited for someone to fix me toilet. My experience of this has created an appropriate time for me to clarify the stunning cultural differences regarding senses of urgency and priority here in Wuhan. What I’m about to say isn’t just from waiting around for me dunny to get fixed, it’s from my year here thus far, reiterated several times in RHL…it’s this…basically, if a Chinese guy says he’ll help you now, he means in about an hour; if he says in an hour, he means tomorrow; if he says tomorrow, he means next week; if he says next week, he means next month; if he says next month, he means never. It’s as if when the last syllable of “next month” comes out of his mouth, he’s already forgotten it. Seriously – these people need to be prodded again and again and again to do seemingly anything [1].

It’s really odd…I think this happens because in order to organise something, they need to look further ahead than lunchtime, and that’s something that they just don’t seem to like to do. I’m currently forming a theory that maybe that’s why they liked that Mao guy…maybe they love and revere him so much because he managed to organise something. Anything. Whether it was a piss-up in a brewery, a root in a brothel, or establishing a people’s republic, he managed to organise something, and for that they love him. That’s my current theory, anyway…

It’s about a week later, and it’s been an expensive weekend – on both nights I was out in Hankou late enough for Blue Sky’s happy hour, which is, very strangely, from midnight to one am. Yep, you have to drink ‘til midnight here to get two-for-one drinks, even though by that stage, you’re too sloshed to give a toss…I guess there’s some logic to it, but I haven’t found it yet.

Wuhan_Yellow Crane Tower from Shouyi Square.JPGView of the Yellow Crane Tower from Wulou Lu, Wuhan

On Friday night, before ending up in Blue Sky, I met a couple of girls, one of whom I’d met previously at Hankou golf club, which I went to once with Barry out of a combination of curiosity and Ihaven’tgotanythingbettertodothisafternoonitis.

The girls were friendly, but dull. Their English was great, so not having a night of broken English was good…every night you’re with more than one Chinese person, the night is inevitably showered with fountains of sounds you don’t understand – it’s just part of being here. We went to dinner somewhere and had a few platters of glup, then for a drink at Blue Sky.

I’m not sure how I ended up back in Hankou on Saturday, but I did…I think part of me just wanted to check out the perversely hilarious “pick-up” scene for foreigners in Wuhan…and, yep, it was about as tragically hilarious as the previous night…I ended up just looking at the dancefloor, predominantly populated by old, overweight western nerds and professors – people who’d never been within a continent of a dance party or moshpit – ineptly emulating the one admittedly very sexy girl in the place who was sadly doing the Macarena.

Hmm. I really should work for Wuhan tourism.

The next night was more…uummm…interesting. I was woken up by a call from some Chinese girl I’d met once or twice, reminding me of the “party tonight”. My hungover head scrambled for any remnants of memory concerning any “party”, and eventually came up a blurred blank. Admitting as such, she reminded me of a company party of some sort out in some bar or something that was being held by her publishing company (she’s a writer for a lifestyle magazine kind of thing, full of clothes, cars, mobile phones and stuff). She reckoned there’d be plenty of people there, so, again out of sheer curiosity, and the fact that I had no idea where life was taking me again, I said yeah ok, I’ll meet you at six, and go from there.

The actual event wasn’t dissimilar to medium-budget book or exhibition launches in Melbourne, but with a few big differences. For instance, it officially started at eight, but there was no alcohol before about nine-thirty. Until then, people just sat there talking…there were lots of beautiful people running around, lots of photographers, and they got me to sign this huge wall full of people’s comments and probable communal ass-kissing…I scribbled “gudday from Australia” – the only thing in English – which I’m sure made their minute.

The rest of the night was a mix of vicariously enjoyable, annoying and surreal. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – people here are deaf!!! They whacked on a generally bland cocktail of DJ music so loud that I could feel wind from the speakers, which reduced the possibility of a casual conversation to zero. Now, look, I know there’s a saying that says “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” and I personally believe it…remember, I have a background in music journalism, and I’ve seen hundreds of music gigs (including Mogwai, who play notoriously loud). Having said that, this place was just too loud! There were tons of gorgeous girls I would have had a crack at speaking to, but having a conversation in two broken languages is hard enough without the speaker equivalents of Krakatau going off on either side of you.

They also had some kinda competition shenanigan, which again illustrated how deaf they must be. They had a lot of guest speakers – you know, advertisers, financers, bosses ‘n’ stuff – and these people had absolutely no idea how to use a microphone. Doesn’t logic tell you that the louder you speak into a microphone (or, in their case, consistently yell), the further away from it you should be? Well, no…apparently the fact that the microphone’s sole purpose for existence is to make your voice louder is lost on them, and I was thus treated to occasional spurts of audience-rousing joviality that sounded more like tidal waves of jackhammers than anything to get excited by.

P5261554.JPGAt a cafe in Hankou, Wuhan

But, by that stage, they’d whipped out the grog, which was absolutely laid on…provided that you liked cheap whisky with iced tea. Hey, considering my environment, I was fine with llama phlegm if it’d been laced with something, so I just started downing the stuff.

From there it just disintegrated to a strange night where I basically just sat there, surrounded by beautiful, just-stepped-out-of-the-salon gorgeous people, and, now and then, the girl who dragged me there came up to me and barraged something into my ear that I just nodded at…during all this time, I just kept thinking of a quote from a King Crimson song – “it makes you feel like a horseshoe in a swimming pool, because you know that you don’t belong”.

From there the night got even weirder…we left at about two or something, and we ended up back at her joint which, for the record, I didn’t really want. I won’t go into details…buy me a beer and I’ll tell ya.

[1] While I can see these words and laugh at them as a huge generalisation, it’s very true that foreign teachers here are, generally speaking, a low priority…of course the locals will never say that, and loudly argue that the opposite is true, but the simple fact is that the foreigners don’t really matter to them, because of a multitude of factors – all of which are in these pages (well, all the ones I found/realised)

P1090177 copy.JPGView of the Yangtze River in WuhanYuntai_5.JPGGood ol’ Barry

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