All laowai (foreigners) are required to submit to a physical examination as part of the application process for a Chinese Residency Visa. Technically, you can have the examination in your home country with your own doctor, but we were told that the Chinese authorities will likely discount the results and demand that you take it over again in China. So rather than waste time and money I scheduled my physical for the Monday after I landed in Shanghai.
Our corporate relocation company made all the arrangements and on Monday morning at 8 am, Harry (all the Chinese people that I’ve met have an American name) picked me up at our hotel and escorted my via taxi (all the taxis that I’ve seen have been VW Santana’s) to the International Travel Medical Center Health Screening Center. One thing I have noticed about the Shanghai taxis, besides every one being a VW Santana, every taxi in which I’ve ridden has had three-point shoulder harnesses in the rear seat, but none have had the corresponding receptacle into which the harness should click: hold on tight!
Harry informs me that his colleague has my paperwork, but she hasn’t arrived, yet. He makes a call, chats in Chinese,asks me for my passport, goes to the reception counter and returns with my paperwork. It appears that I’m Harry’s first client and his each step is being directed by the unseen colleague. I answer the questions truthfully: I am not pregnant and have no known diseases. The receptionist attaches my photo to the paperwork, stamps it with an official looking red seal and assigns me number A 26 and sends me off to the waiting room. It seems that I’m waiting to be interviewed to determine my fitness to be examined. I immediately think of the scene in “Alice’s Restaurant” where Arlo is waiting to be interviewed to see if he is “moral enough to join the army.” I look around the waiting room “There was all kinds of mean, nasty ugly-lookin’ people on the bench there. There was mother rapers… father stabbers… father rapers… Father rapers! Sittin’ right there on the bench next to me!” But I knew that if I stripped down to my underwear and started jumping up and down and yelling, ‘I want to kill, I want kill, I want to see blood gore and guts..Kill, kill, kill!” Melinda would kill me.
It’s going to be a long wait.
My eyes float around the room of foreigners waiting to be weighed, measured, poked and prodded and I spy a bug crawling around the pink tile floor; I can’t tell if it’s a common house ant or a more exotic Chinese common house ant, so I watch it trying to navigate the chasm of grout between one tile and the next. After circling, circling, circling, the ant musters the courage, strength and speed to charges through the grout line into the next pink tile square. My pink tile square. I squish him like a bug. Thom 1, Ant 0.
God help me.
I see another ant, but he’s too far away and I don’t want to draw attention to myself by walking halfway across the room stripping down to my underwear, start jumping up and down, chanting “kill, kill, kill!” and squishing the bug. Thom 1, Ant 1.
When it is my turn, I sit on the stool next to the nurse’s desk, she mutters somethings that I can’t understand. I’m unsure if she’s mumbling in English or Chinese. She point to a webcam, I look and she snaps my picture. Looks like my drivers license photo. At the next desk the man is dressed like a naval officer. He, too mutters an unintelligible phrase in an indeterminate language, smiles and stamps my form with two more red seals. I’m making progress, they send me to room 106.
The nurse in Rm 106 checks my paperwork and hands me a pair of blue shoe booties to put on over my shoes. Did she see me crush the ant? Is she trying to preserve DNA evidence? Judging by the two-inches of dust on the base of her office chair, cleanliness can’t be the reason she wants me to cover my shoes. Removing my shirt, and putting on the booties and robe has earned me another stamp and directions to room 112.
The medical facility and the equipment is old. In the room where they draw my blood, patient after patient sits in a mustard colored Barcalounger while the nurse wraps a 12″ length of brown tubing around your arm. I see dozens of these brown tubes dangling on the side of a rusty sink, so I’m relieved when the nurse opens a sealed hypodermic needle to take my blood. In the next room I’m sandwiched into the largest piece of medical I’ve ever seen and when the attendant leaves the room and the machine buzzes and beeps, I realize that I’ve had a chest X-ray. The eye exam consists of using what looks like a long-handled soup spoon to cover one eye while looking in a mirror on the other side of the room and reading the letters on the chart behind me. I’ve memorized one line of letters while waiting my turn because I know that I won’t be able to read them with my left eye. (I was in third grade the first time I got caught cheating on an eye exam by peeking out from behind the index card covering my right eye. Thanks to Mrs Bowler I spent the next three years wearing an eye patch in school over my good eye and beginning every answer with ‘Arrrrrrr!”)
I nail it with my right eye. Another red stamp and on to the Ultrasound room.
I thought it a bit odd when Melinda told me that she had an ultrasound exam, mostly because I assumed they were only used to look at fetuses in the womb, but here I was lying on my back and untying my robe while the nurse squirted jelly on my stomach. While examining the previous patient she hadn’t uttered a sound and finished in a short time, but there appeared to be something about my internal organs that excited her because she talked to her assistant the entire time and seemed to be extra thorough. maybe I qualified for the organ harvesting program? Whatever it was, she eventually lost interest in my kidneys, lungs and liver and sent me on my way with another stamp and instructions to hand in my results on my way out.
Harry hailed a cab, we got in an accident on the way back to the hotel (that’s another story) and two weeks later I have another piece of paper that moves me one step closer to living in China.