When Hu Chunhua sees me coming she's working on the teeth of an old Cantonese fellow and tells me to leave my medical history on the table and wait outside. I barely read a paragraph before she calls me back in and tel;s me to sit in the dentist's chair. The old fellow isn't out of the seat so I hover. They talk as he takes the two inch steps of the elderly. "Come over and sit down!" she says again. He is still making his way through the narrow entrance so I wait patiently for him to be completely clear before I nip in and fulfill Dentist Hu's exhortation to sit.
She's an interesting one. She knows me from my numerous visits to treat ulcers but rarely remembers exactly where I'm from or what I do despite asking. She's always chirpy. She is practical too. Sometimes she does me the benefit of my treatment before payment at the counter. This is one of the most annoying process in the hospital. The doctor establishes your treatment but you'd have to go to another floor to queue and settle the bill before treatment can begin. She also has discreetly done small treatment for me without cost. Don't tell her boss.
She works on the second floor of the community clinic five minutes walk away from our apartment complex. It took us about half a year to be brave and go into the clinic. Chinese healthcare mainly uses horrendously big hospitals to administer the masses. Good doctors go to big hospitals. So there was some scepticism about the quality of care we'd get at this small, often shut, establishment. But it's use became quickly clear. In China, a doctor's note is required for paid sick leave. When you're sick, the thought of the large hospitals and the tribulation of going upstairs downstairs to the doctor, wheezing in queues and whatnot, would only get you sicker. At the clinic though, if you have a common cold, you could get a note within about ten minutes and the cost of about eighty New Zealand cents.
Hua Ming, a doctor, usually takes me for those visits. My susceptibility to colds and tropical flus has taken me out at least once every three months. She remembers me, too, but not my nationality, job or how long I've been in China, despite asking me some aspects of my identity on every visit. She shatters the idea that doctors overprescribe, sometimes giving me nothing, sometimes inquiring what is already in the medicine cabinet, usually she'll give me a blood test and that requires going upstairs to the phlebotomist.
I don't know his name - and he too asks me the same questions, especially where I'm from and what I do. He sometimes isn't even at his station. His station has no bell. His station is an office with a sliding window with a seat outside it. When I have a blood test I sit on that seat put my arm through the window so he can prick my finger and pipette the blood up for computer analysis. But if he isn't there, so I just sit on that seat. My diagnosis can't go any further without it. Someone else might spot me sitting on the seat and hear downstairs for him. I hear his footsteps and the pause in footsteps when he yells gossip back to the conversationalist he has just been dragged away from to attend to me. He looks at me as he disinfects my finger: "You're Russian, aren't you?"
I saw Dentist Hu today. She cleaned my teeth and dabbed an ulcer. She was fabulous. Out of all the places that I frequent, it is kind of sad that it is the hospital where I've maintained the longest Mandarin-based relationships. Reading another's experiences of life in a small town, I realise I'm missing a big part of the Chinese experience. With work worries, a surge to get fit and literature drawing me back, it is hard to find the time and energy for Chinese. At least I can get sick from time to time to rely on my Chinese for things that really matter.