A Travellerspoint blog

Children's Hospital

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Skyler's had all the classic symptoms of flu: wet cough, runny nose, sneezing, fever, sore throat. His moist cough started on Tuesday in Guangzhou, after we'd taken a stroll through a rather fetid part of the city on Monday. I don't know if it was that stroll, a mosquito bite, contact with other kids at Zhexiong's apartment complex, or what. On Wednesday the cough was worse. Thursday we were flying to Wuhan, and had to repack all our luggage. That day's exasperations are worth another essay. Friday was the big wedding. We had planned to let Skyler sleep as late as he would, and the rest of us, and miss the early part of wedding events, but Skyler woke up at 5.30a anyway, at least partly because I'd been using a damp cloth to cool his head. Zhewei was upset with me for doing that, figuring he needed the sleep more than the cooling, and the fact that it got all of us up and we were all tired.

Skyler didn't nap well during the wedding day -- no familiar environment, and lots of sounds and new and interesting things to look at. He had a short nap in a taxi, and a longer one at one aunt's apartment. But at least 3 other attempts during the day to let him nap failed.

We argued friday night after the wedding about what to do for him, yeye and nainai had acquired several products and a mercury thermometer from nearby store. We haven't actually taken his temperature but his head and body were clearly hot, markedly above normal, both sleeping and awake. I'd been regularly putting wet washcloth on his head and neck, or wetting down his hair to help cool him. His behavior has been pretty normal, although perhaps a bit more irritable than usual, and eating less. With all the travel and the wedding stimulation he'd not had enough rest. We managed to get some liquid pain-reliever in him before he slept, but I was suspicious about other products. We decided to take him to the doctor on Saturday morning.

Thankfully, yesterday (Saturday) he seemed to be improving -- the bottom of his feet and legs were no longer hot. It was also cooler all morning because of thunderstorms overnight and rain during the morning. By afternoon the rain had stopped, and its moisture was evaporating to maximize the humidity.

He woke up at 6.30a, an hour later than Friday, and we got ready and hailed a taxi at 7.15a for the children's hospital, a single facility that serves the entire city of Wuhan (5m in munincipality, 9m metropolitan area). Of course there are other doctors available around the city, but they may not have special knowledge or expertise treating children. It's an interesting place. They open at 8a, operate on a first-come first-served basis, so when we arrived there were streams of mothers and fathers and grandmothers carrying kids inside from buses and taxis outside. First you go to register, and pay a small fee depending on your choice of the level of expertise you're willing to pay for. We paid 10 yuan (< $1.50) for the "expert"-level service, an actual doctor, as opposed to a nurse of some kind. You're given a little blue-vinyl clad booklet for recording records (with 32 blank pages, and an advertisement!) and a registration card stamped with a number.

Up the escalator we found the appropriate waiting room which had about 4 rows of 30 chairs each, and several rooms with medical professionals evaluating sick kids in numerical order -- all the doors stood open, and the evaluators sat behind desks wearing breathing masks. We were fifth in line for the doctor who had just begun on her first kid. We were told by an attendant that because we suspected fever, the doctor would need a temperature reading, and were sent downstairs to the temperature-reading station, where we're given a mercury thermometer. We put it in Skyler's armpit and held both his arms for five minutes, to keep him from removing it. He was crying and squirming after two minutes. Finally we went back to the counter where the attendant took the thermometer and read it, recording it in the blue book.

Back up the escalator, we found the doctor was on her fourth kid so we were next. The evaluation room actually has a waiting bench for the next patient, improving efficiency at the cost of a family's privacy! (Kids aren't concerned about confidentiality, are they?) The doctor asked and answered questions, confirmed he had a mild fever (the temperature reading had been 38.1C but i'm not confident in its accuracy). She said a blood test was needed to determine whether it was viral or bacteriological infection, before treatment could be decided.

The blood-test station was on the first floor, but you first have to pay a fee to obtain a voucher at a big cashier station nearby. The blood-test station had a lot of crying kids, as you might imagine, some were just feeling bad and others had just had their fingers stuck. After handing over the booklet and voucher, we held Skyler's arm through an 8inch gap in the window, and the nurse pricked his finger with quick mechanical prowess and detachment, and squeezed a few drops into a thin glass tube. Skyler cried, of course, and it was impossible to hold the cotton ball against his finger as he flailed about, but it didnt take too long before the pain had subsided and we were able to distract him again. We took him outside where the rain had stopped for a little bit, while yeye waited inside for the results which came in about 10 minutes.

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The results were a printout from some highly automated machine which contained 24 measured or calculated quantities and four little graphs. Although the entire printout text is in chinese, roman acronyms also identify the quantities in some universal medical symbology. A few I can guess: WBC and RBC are obviously white and red blood cell counts, HGB is hemoglobin, LYM lymphocytes?. Two quantities in particular was well above normal: MONO and MONO%, obviously the same thing. MONO% was 15.7%, and normal range is given as 3-9%.

We headed back upstairs to the same waiting room, but since we were returning to see the same doctor, we were put next in line ahead of kids who had not yet been evaluated. The doctor said the test showed it was a virus, and two choices of treatment: an intravenous solution or drugs. I asked what was in the former, and was told "antivirus". I said I knew there was no "antivirus" or cure for influenza or cold viruses, but didn't get any clearer picture of what might it might be. Zhewei remembers being given this same treatment when she was a kid, and people generally believe it to be effective in shortening the duration of sickness. We asked about the drugs. One was a pain-reliever (ibuprofen) liquid, which we already had. Two others were basically cough syrup-type things (one was actually Robitussin), and finally a chinese product called Bing-Bing, which is something like Vick's Vapo-Rub gel on a strip, which is stuck to the child's forehead (or elsewhere). The body heat increases the release of vapors which ease breathing. Several of the family members had recommended this one, and we already had a package of them. We opted for the drugs, even knowing how difficult it is to give them (liquids) to Skyler, as we had tried to give him some of the ibuprofen liquid the night before. The doctor said she knew I would not be in favor of the intravenous treatment -- had she seen foreign parents before? Hmm, two hours strapped to a chair (they look like high-chairs with wheels) with a needle in Skyler, to essentially treat symptoms? We picked up several of the recommended items at the hospital's pharmacy and took a taxi home. The taxi driver was a woman -- first one I've ever seen! The visit was worth it to know it wasn't a bacterium, presumably not terribly serious, and we just have to be patient and let him rest, drink fluids, and make him comfortable to fight it off. Zhewei thinks my being there got us better service, but I'm not sure.

We didn't go anywhere else the rest of the day, and Skyler rested pretty well. We had some luck giving him some of the cough syrup. In the evening it rained, a lot, from dinnertime til well after midnight. With the rain came cool air and breezes that made sleeping very comfortable. Skyler slept through it all, lightning and thunder. He stirred at one point because he peed the bed (he didn't have a diaper on this time), so after a while we got him up for a quick bath and changed the bed and he slept well again afterwards.

Today his fever seems to have broken: his head and body feel more normal temperature, but he is still irritable, probably has sore throat and head ache, and isn't eating a lot. He had a long nap in the late afternoon and a couple trips outside to the park where he really enjoyed the swing. After all the rain, the mosquitoes are sure to be out in force tonight. This apartment is much better sealed than Zhexiong's in Guangzhou, where Skyler got a number of bites which produced lingering red spots. Nevertheless, yeye has hung a mosquito net over area where Z and Skyler have been sleeping on a bedroll.

Tomorrow, the national holiday (May 1 - a communist holiday celebrating workers; eg, labor day) is over and people are back to work as normal. We are taking it easy.

Posted by myrrhlin 02:22 Archived in China Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

The Wedding

We were late yesterday to the wedding festivities which were scheduled around lunchtime in a big restaurant ballroom. They pulled out all (or at least many of?) the stops for the ceremony, which takes place with an emcee on a stage with a cordless microphone and a bubble machine rather than a minister. I was told 400 people had been invited, and it might have been close to that many -- about 35 tables with 10ish people at each. Our table up front had 11 not including skyler. Only about 4-5 of the tables were from the groom's side, but this was his second wedding, while it was the bride's first. Interestingly, in China it can be considered disrespectful or insulting to invite someone to a wedding, if you've been married before, because of the expectation of guests giving red envelopes with cash.

I recognized many of our immediate family on Z's father's side. But the male cousin getting married I had never met. Each of Xianxi's (aka "yeye" = "grandpa-from-mother's-side") three sisters have one son, and it was the middle sister's son Norbei(sp?) who was getting married. He was waiting in tie and slacks (the coat had been removed because of the heat) with his bride in a big white gown near the hotel entrance, taking photos with each arriving guest as they came. We were just out of a taxi, all rumpled and sticky in our photo. We were ushered to our table with some members (maybe the only ones present) of the groom's father's family. The food and drink and ceremony then came fast and heavy.

Platters of snacks (hard candy, seasoned toasted in-shell sunflower seeds) were removed from tables and hot food started arriving. At our table, yeye and I were drinking baijiu (rice-based liquor), along with the groom's father's sister, while the two other men stuck with orange soda. (Women often abstain or drink just a little of the stuff, men typically indulge, sometimes mightily. But Norbei's father's sister was representing 5 other siblings who did not make the trip from the far western end of Hubei province.) Yeye and I later switched to beer. I was offered a cigarette by one of the men, an expected politeness at such a gathering, which yeye helped me refuse politely. Neither of them smoked the entire time we were there, but even nonsmokers will carry a few packs strictly for offering.

Each round table (and only round tables are used) comes equipped with a large lazy susan in the center, taking over half the area, and platters soon covered it. And yet more came, many more, first with squeezing into existing spaces, then some hanging off the edge, eventually platters were removed (and in some cases, their remaining contents were added to other existing platters). But in the end, a tremendous quantity of food, like maybe half of it all, went uneaten and to waste. I suspect we were somewhat rushed out of the place because of scheduling and our late start; the proprietors had turned off the AC for the last 30 minutes we were there (even before we received our final "dessert" dish -- puffed air-filled spheres of gooey slightly-sweet dough covered with sesame seeds, piping hot from the deep fryer) and that really got people moving out! I got a picture of one of the more fancy dishes, a fish which has been "flowered" and flash-deep fried in hot oil before being smothered in a sweet sauce (ju"hua yue). A couple other unusual (from american standards) dishes were turtle and smoked bamboo shoots.

The emcee navigated the ceremony with volume as his formidable ally. It was so loud for us, up front, I was covering skyler's ears for fear of hearing damage, and eventually zhewei and nainai took skyler over to a front corner of the room and out of the direct fan of the speakers' wrath. The emcee's mike repeatedly cut out, maybe because of feedback spikes. It baffles me why the gain was turned up so high. Was it really that hard to hear in the back? I don't think there were any speakers except those at ceiling level above the stage.

Elements of the ceremony which I remember:
The ceremony began, after the emcee's introduction, with speeches by one member of each family. There followed the grand entrance, with popping confetti tubes and thrown glitter. The couple lit candles together, poured a giant bottle of champagne together into a pyramid of champagne glasses, and drained glasses of red wine with arms interlocked while shooting white phosphorus sparks flew up from fireworks along the front of the stage (a couple of them caused burn marks on the bride's dress!). [The well-timed fireworks, whatever their intended effect, rather made me think about that night-club fire in new england somewhere some years back where hundreds of people died.] The groom got on his knee and proclaimed his love/commitment with a bouquet of flowers in his hands, then (still kneeling) sang a love-themed (is there any other kind, in china?) pop song to her with the music playing along with him. The more traditional part involved seating the four parents in a tight row on the stage (groom's parents in the middle two seats), and the couple taking turns offering tea the parents of their partner. During this part I saw the bride and the groom's mom tear up, and the groom's father was also somewhat emotional (but remember he had been enjoying the baijiu), the only time I saw such effects. (Recall it was the groom's mother who had previously prevented this pairing.) Then each father took a turn giving an ear-splitting speech. After the ceremonies, as people were eating and drinking all around, the couple went around to various tables making toasts to honored guests, including me: the groom toasted me "thank you for coming," practicing a little English.

Other parts of traditional ceremony we missed. In the morning, the decked-out groom went to pick up the bride from her family's house and carried her in his arms out the building. He was in a rented Mercedes-Benz decorated with ribbons and followed by a procession of cars of family from the groom's side. Dozens of family from the bride's side were waiting at the house with them, so the little apartment became quite cramped with ~40 people as he negotiated his entrance and access to his bride (i heard something about money sliding under a closed door).

After we cleared out of the dining hall, i took a couple more photos (one with Z's fraternal-twin girl cousins I met four years earlier -- now they must be about 18) and we piled into a car owned by Z's cousin Zhipeng, son of the eldest aunt. He drove us to the twenty-story apartment tower where the groom's parents have a home. (Zhipeng is an architect who lives in an apartment with his wife and parents in an adjacent identical tower.) We spent an hour or a bit more at the Norbei's parents' apartment, pretty small, on the 14th floor, with a distant view of the 2nd Yangtze bridge, and nearer, a sizeable lake. They showed the wedding book, a high-quality production of pre-wedding professional and staged photos of the couple in various costumes and settings, smiling, embracing, dancing, etc. They showed us Norbei's bedroom, done up as a "New Room" for the new couple, with a brand new bed covered in a blood-red bedspread and various other decorations. I'm not sure but some renovations may have been done as well. Standing out on the balcony, there was surprisingly little breeze on the 14th floor, and the views, although not beautiful, were interesting as you might find any from such an elevation. Norbei's father showed off a few honors of his son, including a medal awarded by Jiang Zemin for promising young scientists and engineers and a very wide photograph showing all those honored with Zemin with his square horn-rimmed glasses at the center. Norbei's father also showed his collection of comic books dating back 40+ years, many now quite rare. These were common in his youth, and are in an interesting format: about 3.5inch high, 5inch wide, 5mm thick. His dedication to this hobby was evident from the hand-made velvet-lined boxes tied with ribbons that hold complete series. These comic books are generally historical or traditional stories, and are not restricted to chinese culture. He opened one box and showed some biographical booklets about george washington ("hua-sheng-duen") and abraham lincoln. It turns out though that neither the parents nor the new couple will be living at this apartment other than holidays -- Norbei is an engineer and lives in Shanghai, and his parents are renting an apartment in Guangzhou where the father works for one of Yeye's brothers (Lin's father). Norbei is planning on buying an apartment in Shanghai. He doesn't have a kid yet, but they are expecting one in six months -- one reason the wedding happened so quickly after his recent divorce.

We then rode 14 floors back down the elevator, walked into the next tower, and 14 floors back up to the apartment of Zhipeng and his parents. Zhewei stayed behind because she was laying down the Skyler and letting him nap some. This apartment was actually two apartments, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom that were purchased together and doors punched between them to make a three-bedroom home for the couple and parents. Having the openings meant breezes could pass right through the building from one face to the other; the balcony on the backside had a second larger view of the lake. I'd never met Zhipeng before; I got to know him a little, because he speaks german and was the only person available to converse with, and I like him. My german is very rusty, and his pronunciation was a bit weird (all the "ch" sounds came out as "sch"), but we managed to communicate somewhat. He's an architect working at a firm of about 15 people that do entire buildings, started about 4 years ago. At his firm, employees get 5 days/year of vacation, but no one ever takes them. (Yikes!) He knows german because he went to Dresden for four years to study architecture, from 2001-2005. The first year was intensive german language only! (Have you ever met anyone who learned a language _solely_ to learn a profession? I asked him if he thought he would ever use the language again, and he said no -- his firm is in Wuhan, where he grew up, and business is good of course, since all of china's cities are building like crazy. And germans are pretty rare for a chance encounter in Wuhan, with no tourist sites nearby.) He doesn't have a kid yet. We viewed photos from the whole day's proceedings taken by a photographer, which is how I know about the procession to the bride's family's house to pick her up. (I learned today that Norbei's parents really wanted us to be there because it would have added a lot of "face"-value (respect, prestige) having an American in the entourage.) Zhipeng's wife is from Xinjiang province, in the far northwest, and he showed some pictures from a trip there where they went skiing, snowmobiling, and tubesledding in -35 C temperatures. I asked if he had a city map and studied the layout some. We hung out until dinner time.

For dinner, the family headed downstairs to a small restaurant just a few steps from the towers, where we had reserved the largest table (or pushed together a bunch of small ones) and crowded around as the dishes came out quickly. It was not the fancy "banquet"-type food from lunch but no less delicious, in fact maybe more-so (banquets, because of the "production"-like nature of cooking, maybe lack the hand-crafted taste of a small-restaurant kitchen). Having all the family around one table felt a lot more, well, familiar, and less formal. The "official" ceremony was over, and this was just the family enjoying a meal together after an eventful day. It was very humid and heat poured from the kitchen, and I was sweating a lot. We all were, which made the cold-but-rapidly-warming beer, however nondescript, refreshing. A lot of the women actually gathered at chairs outside, coming in to fill their bowls with food but eating outside and watching the kids there. This is actually somewhat typical, the cultural self-segregation by gender. The groom Norbei toasted many people at the table, including me two or three times, in limited English again, and his father, sitting directly on my left, and I toasted each other and yeye and his other brothers a number of times. There were about four younger men who I have not yet identified, but one of them must be the youngest aunt's son. After eating, slick with sweat, we stepped outside into the breeze. I had only a few seconds to watch some young men playing pool (on big tables) on the sidewalk before nainai and zhewei ushered me into a nearby barber shop for skyler's first haircut. There was a little boy 15 months old sitting in his father's lap getting his first cut, and so nainai wanted skyler to get one too. We went for a simple buzz with the shaver to shorten the hair all over his head uniformly. By the time this was done, it was time to go, and I said congratulations again to the parents and shook hands all around and we piled in a taxi for the ride home.

Posted by myrrhlin 01:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Arrival in Wuhan

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Just a short note to let you all know we're safely in Wuhan, arrived last night around 8pm.
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We stayed at Zhewei's brother's (Dai Zhexiong) place in Guangzhou for 5 days, but he has no internet connection at home (since he has plenty at work), so this is our first connection!

The air here is hazy (the sky is light grey-white), but much better here in Wuhan that in Guangzhou. As the plane landed at night in Guangzhou, we couldn't see any ground lights until the very end, because there is a perpetual thick smog covering the city. Late one afternoon from one window at Zhexiong's apt, I briefly saw the Sun -- it was a deep orange color although still well above the horizon ( ~15 degrees ). All citizens are aware and concerned about the issue, and the government makes pronouncements, but nothing really is improving the situation -- it continues to worsen.

Skyler has a worsening cough with occasional sneezes and elevated temperature, started on Tuesday. On Monday we walked through a particularly unsanitary portion of the city with skyler in a stroller. I regret not carrying him or leaving him home, but obviously I didn't know what it would be like or that he would pick up a bug. His behavior seems "normal", although that's a broadened standard accounting for both jet-lag and all-around "terrible two"-someness. He has picked up a new behavior about two-three weeks ago of shrieking very loudly -- maybe when he's tired and not getting enough attention? We've tried hard to nip it in the bud but he's still doing it.

He woke yesterday and today at 5.30a, and hasn't been napping very regularly, but of course all our usual routine has been disrupted for days. Now we will try to establish a new one. From today, says Zhewei's father, Skyler will wear no diapers during the day. Most chinese kids start diaperless much earlier.

Today is our first whole day in Wuhan, and we are attending a wedding. Zhewei's cousin (father's sister's son) is getting married for a second (and hopefully last) time -- to his long time sweetheart. He didn't marry her the first time because his mother (one of Zhewei's aunts) didn't approve, but that first marriage lasted only half a year. There's a lesson in there people have to learn over and over again, it seems.

Posted by myrrhlin 18:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Durian

King of Stench


View China-08 on myrrhlin's travel map.

Tuesday afternoon, 4/29, at the supermarket, Zhexiong had picked up a durian. The tropical durian trees are native to Indonesia and Malaysia, but is now grown from Philippines to Australia, with the largest exporter being Thailand, where the fruit is particularly revered. I've never seen one, or even heard of it, in the US or Europe.
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The durian's often called (not only by genius marketers) the "King of Fruits", and it is certainly superlative in several ways.

First, it's big and heavy. And dangerous. They weigh as little as 2 pounds, up to 10 or more, and grow to more than a foot long, and nearly the same in diameter. They are vaguely shaped like an acorn without its hat, or perhaps a football, but I wouldn't recommend trying to pass one, or worse, catch it. Durians are covered with sharp, sturdy spines, and cannot be readily handled without gloves or some other tool, except by their stems (and often too heavy to be picked up that way). In some chinese action movie (or perhaps it was Jackie Chan), Zhewei remembers seeing these things being thrown as weapons, and they would certainly do formidable damage to an unarmored person.

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Second, and more famously, these things _stink_. To someone who's acquired the taste, their strong aroma may be mouth-watering, but if you've never been around it before -- the smell is something like, well, a rotting carcass covered with honey. Frankly it's hard to describe, but in my opinion it's disgusting, vile. And did I say strong? The smell filled the entire floor of the Carrefour where I saw this for sale. When we came up the escalator, far from the fruit section, and I really thought to myself, "What is that awful smell?" And these fruit were not yet opened! This fruit is forbidden on airplanes, subways, and other forms of mass transit all over Asia, though not universally. Upper-class hotels forbid these things being brought inside, too.

I have tasted this fruit twice, and both times, found it easiest to literally hold my nose while putting it in my mouth and chewing. That is not enough to prevent the stench, of course (it still reaches your nose from the back side!), but does limit its impact somewhat and give you a chance to taste the fruit.

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On Wednesday, Zhexiong opened the one we bought. The stench grew stronger. The body of the fruit splits into sections, and in smooth pockets between sections are the large seeds. The seeds are surrounded by a creamy yellowish-white goo, cushioning them in their pockets, and it this goo that one eats. I think connoisseurs really appreciate the texture, smell, and flavor all together. [I think Asian palates, generally, appreciate textures of foods a lot more than western ones do. Some rather bland foods are enjoyed almost entirely for their texture.] It's hard for me to appreciate the durian. I need more exposure, however much I dread the thought.
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Apparently the seeds can be roasted and eaten as well, but I've never tried one.

Learn more!

Posted by myrrhlin 04:58 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (0)

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