If you’ve ever had to obtain a visa to live in another country, you probably know where I’m coming from when I say, getting a China visa is like navigating an obstacle course!
At every turn, there’s a new unexpected hurdle, to test and torment you (aka as ‘pushing you to the very edge’)!
Alas, we are still waiting for our permanent China visa, which means, five weeks in, we are also still waiting for ALL our ‘belongings’ to be shipped from Hong Kong. (Nothing can leave the fragrant harbour’s shores until the visa is signed, sealed and delivered!)
Did I mention the temperature is steadily dropping, already well below 15 degrees on many days and I packed no winter clothes in my suitcase, not a single, (knitted) stitch to be seen!
No need to shed a tear for me though (ok, maybe just one)….because of course, behind every hazy cloud is a silver lining… and this silver lining, my friends is called ‘retail therapy!’
That of which I was desperately in need of, after my so-called ‘visa medical’ – another requirement before you are allowed to legally stay for this er China ‘experience.’
It was one of those frighteningly frequent days where I had an ‘out of body’ ‘am I really living in China’ moment.
For starters, for me the eternal ‘non-morning’ person, it was 830am, I was up and at ’em – having already been to school in manic traffic and now bumper to bumper, back to front and sideways traffic on my way to a medical — (wearing a sleeveless puffer jacket, no less)!
(For a girl who’s never owned a ‘body warmer’ as such, this was clearly just the warm-up for the extraordinary events that unfolded before me.)
We arrived at Xi’an’s Medical hall!! Yes, it was indeed a ‘hall,’ where it wasn’t long before I wondered if someone had had a quiet word with the driver telling him that hotel life wasn’t for me and perhaps I’d be better suited to a padded cell!
After lining up at the front desk with seemingly a hundred other foreigners, all trying to get the green light to live in this (clearly) charismatic country, a quick smile at the camera balancing precariously on the bench, forms filed and it was time for some serious medical attention! (Sort of.)
(I was waiting for the orange suit to come out and the clippers to shave off my hair.)
My initiation was a hastily carried out blood test (in front of an audience).
Shoved forward and plonked on a chair in the middle of the hall – there were none of the usual niceties from the smiling medical centre nurses, who gently feel for a vein, then politely distract you while they make a quick and mostly pain-free prick!
Oh no! Here I was out in an open space with a man (himself behind glass) who is siphoning blood from his victims by the minute. He wrestled a thin rubber tube around my arm, tying it a little too tightly in a knot – there was no soothing voice, in fact there were no words spoken at all…just a roughly jabbed needle and a matchstick-style cotton bud thrust at me. NEXT!
(I tried to hide my wincing from the onlookers waiting their turn and dared to hope he got my name on the right tube amongst the myriad of bottles splayed out before him)!
A bandaid was not a luxury we were afforded…and we were quickly herded to the next station for an ultra-quick ultrasound.
A rather unfriendly nurse gestured madly at our clothes (I’m sure she was saying ‘hoist it up love’ in Chinese) as one by one, she splattered gel across our torsos and brusquely ran the machine up and down our stomachs, in a matter of seconds.
Done! Get off my bed – Next!
By now I am in complete awe at the absurdity of the situation…. I can hardly contain myself as James is loaded up on to yet another bed and told to lift this, move that, roll down your socks… and electrodes are stuck to all and sundry!
I giggle and snap a few photos and then it is my turn.
They say karma is a b&*ch!
No one had told me to remove my clothes but the nurse is motioning frantically at my top, which I pull up a little to make room for the electrodes, but no, she wants it hiked up, right over my, ahem… girls!!
I’m desperately trying to maintain some sort of modesty here, aware the door is wide open with people shuffling in and out, but it appears next to impossible. The more I attempt to cover myself the harder she yanks.
I am laughing so hard at the site of myself, flat on my back, strapped to the bed covered in electrodes, bazookas out, that tears are running down my face and I almost roll off the bed.
I can tell the no-nonsense nurse is scolding me under her mask! She promptly wrenches my bra up to my neck and points – lie still missy! Of course, all the while, my lovely husband is taking photos – (none of which will see the light of day, I might add)!!
It seems like forever that I am trapped in a state of undress, but at last, my girls and I are released!
I practically stumble to the eye test, which has us haphazardly reading two lines (I am half making it up but it doesn’t seem to matter) and then we are weighed, fully clothed with shoes! (Hopefully I’m measuring up to China’s standards)?!
A blood pressure machine quite unlike any I have seen is our next port of call – an arm is put into a long sleeve-like machine….(that just quietly leaves me pondering the hygiene of such a device — remember we’ve just had blood tests with no bandaids)!
I quickly move on, aware that putting too much thought into this will give me sleepless nights!
Just for the record, I’m sure I’ve never seen a BP recording quite that low!
Then it’s down stairs, I’m told to strip off behind a shabby curtain, so by now, five stations into this medical circuit, I know the drill and I am undressing at breakneck speed, aware it will be jerked open to a crowd of randoms at any given moment….
I’ve been given a “communal” (ironically) orange t-shirt to put on, which I place gingerly over my head, before being rushed into the x-ray room.
The man demonstrates ‘wide arms’ – the signal to hug the chest x-ray machine and behind a big glass window there are a lot of people shouting and giggling through a loud microphone at me. I feel like a rare specimen in a science project.
Thankfully it’s all over within the blink of an eye – so quickly, I wonder how they can get accurate results with previous x-ray experience involving precise positioning and standing ever so still before the exact shot is captured!
We emerge into the daylight, half dressed and disheveled, feeling like we have been through the spin cycle in a washing machine!
Oh how I wait in anticipation for these results.
I’ve heard that many ‘foreigners’ get told they have an ‘abnormal’ nose or a fatty liver and with 99.9 per cent of the population having a positive blood type, a negative blood type can cause a small uproar. I am A-negative!
Let’s hope, after all that palaver, we get the stamp of approval (literally)……I cannot get my girls out again, it’s 11 degrees for goodness sake!
This is China.