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Healthcare, Zhongdian-Style – Zhongdian, China

TIME : 2-27 15:51:28

Healthcare, Zhongdian-Style
Zhongdian, China

I arrived in Zhongdian with two male companions, a fellow Shanghai teacher and a Welsh backpacker who had decided to join us (travellers attract travelling companions as surely as the bottom of refrigerators breed dustbunnies). Tibetan signs, prayer flags, yaks and chorten (Buddhist architectural and sculptural form) reminded us just how close we were to Tibet. So did
the cab driver who drove us in circles around the roundabout with a chorten at the centre so that he could worship while he worked.

The first thing we discovered upon arrival in Zhongdian was that our timing was poor. Everyone else, it seemed, had gone somewhere else to celebrate the Chinese New Year and we now shared this ghost town with only a handful of locals, most of whom cruised the streets in their red taxis in a predatory fashion, sometimes tailing us to make sure we really didn’t need a cab.

Hanging with the localsHanging with the locals

Hanging with the locals in Zhongdian, China


Slightly daunted, we visited the delightfully uncrowded local monasteries and older parts of the city and I had my photo taken with one of the many large, black, surly swine that truffled roadsides when they weren’t busy sun-basking in the middle of the street. By evening, the three of us were considering how soon we could leave Zhongdian.

The next morning, however, I was unable to skip to the local bus depot post-haste with my compadres as I felt it unwise to be more than a few metres away from the toilet block that serviced our dormitory. This was a somewhat delicate matter to explain to my companions, both male, the difficulty compounded by my teaching friend being a rather gallant young Frenchman of delicate sensibilities. I was afraid of scarring him for life and destroying all his romantic notions about the fairer sex if I were to answer his earnest question, “What ees wrong wit you, Cherie?” with, “I have a touch of explosive diarrhoea”.

So it was that my companions departed by bus that afternoon while I languished in the ghost town, familiarising myself intimately with the rudimentary toilets of my dormitory and wondering if I would ever dare eat again. After the third day of this I opted for a change of scenery and took myself off to the Zhongdian Hospital. I’d held high hopes of the hospital, had fantasised about a calm, composed, knowledgeable doctor wearing an immaculate white coat and a shiny stethoscope who would diagnose me instantly but accurately and shower me with powerful and miraculous drugs. Instead, I was invited to sit next to the open coal fire and to tell the doctor what I thought was wrong with me, besides the obvious la dùzi (diarrhoea – literally, stomach-pulling) and outù (vomiting). As it turned out, neither the doctor nor I were impressed by one another’s diagnostic prowess.

Naturally, I was given an intravenous drip. I say “naturally” because intravenous drips are commonly regarded in China as being able to cure everything from cancer to warts, and it was not uncommon to see elderly locals having “constitutional” drips, carrying their drip bags around with them while they did their daily shopping. In fact, the hospital room I was allocated was already the scene for a merry “social drip” when I arrived. A local policeman, wearing full uniform, sat in the bed next to mine enjoying a fine IV drip with a cigarette and the company of his fellow constables. I never got the chance to find out what, if anything, was wrong with the policeman, for I felt it would have been rude to interrupt all that chain smoking and the lively card game that he and his fellow colleagues were enjoying.

Being the shy, delicate flower that I am, I felt I couldn’t possibly use my bedpan in front of this cast of thousands so I called one of the surly nurses to find out where the toilets were. The bad news was that the hospital itself didn’t have a toilet. The good news was that there was a public toilet a few buildings away.

I can boast that I managed the squat toilet quite well, despite having to hold my drip bag at the same time (I told you the nurses were surly). However, I had to sprint back to the hospital because the public toilet attendant demanded three jiao (equivalent to half a cent) and chased after me when I tried to leave without paying (I didn’t have enough hands for a drip bag, barf-bucket and a purse). As it turned out, the toilet attendant was no match for me and I easily outran him. I had already noticed that many Chinese are terribly unfit when I was climbing the steps of the Great Wall. I had to step over dozens of fainting and hyperventilating local tourists.

To cut a long and not very glamorous story short, I was better by the next morning and able to return to Kunming by bus. However, not before the sullen nurses, unimpressed by my fevered brow and wan expression, threatened to throw me out of the hospital at three in the morning so that they could all go home. The strangest thing of all is that I still have fond memories of Zhongdian. But then, how could you not hold a soft spot for a town with IV-loving locals and vehicular worship?

The lowdown on the lavatory in China

Most toilets in China are of the “squat” variety. This includes those on trains, in universities and in public toilets. The exceptions are those in hotels for foreigners and ones in “up-market” offices and shopping centres.

Bring your own toilet paper. The attendant may be able to sell you some, but you can’t always count on this.

The majority of cities have a public toilet on almost every corner. It will usually cost you three jiao to enter a public toilet, and most attendants provide change.

No matter the temptation to get out of the toilets as quickly as possible, always flush. Otherwise, attendants become irate.

Bring your own soap or antibacterial hand gel.

If you find it difficult to squat, put a hand on one wall for balance. On trains, a bar on the front wall is provided which you grip like a water-skier while the train sways.

When in the countryside, forget about individual stalls. Don’t be surprised if you see a toddler being held over the roadside curb to do their business (this is why they wear jumpsuits with a slit in the seat.)

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