To a foreigner, the most precious resource in China might just be privacy. If you start out as an English teacher, like I did, you learn to roll with untimely knocks at your door, appearing before your students in pajamas, or well-intentioned Chinese forcing medicine after medicine on your poor weary foreign self that you wouldn’t even let your best friend see. Some moments and circumstances demand a privacy that China just can’t give us.
I desperately needed privacy this one weekend in early August when I sought help for what every woman likes to refer to as her “female problems.”
Chinese hospitals work like this. You go to the information/check-in desk at the front, usually mobbed by people, and shove yourself in as you announce your symptoms, in front of everyone there. Easy enough if you have a cough or headache. But what do you do when it’s a little more, well, personal?
“I need to see the gynecological department,” I told them. Surely, this was the perfect solution — by naming the department, the nurse would know I needed a little help under the hood, and get me registered to see a doctor.
Except, the nurse — a rather bored woman dressed in pink and white — wanted more, even as the crowd surged around me. “What are your symptoms?”
“You know, it’s a little private,” I frowned. Wouldn’t she get it? Wouldn’t she understand that no woman would ever want to announce her female problems to the world?
Apparently not. “Well, if you can’t tell me, I can’t help you.”
With that, I left — hoping to try my luck at another hospital. The gatekeeper nurse wouldn’t let me in, once again, until I let my problem out. At another hospital, I discovered they don’t do gynecology on the weekends (isn’t that like saying “we don’t do windows on Tuesday?”).
Privacy or no, I had to see someone. So, I returned to that first hospital, doing what I should have done in the first place. I pulled the nurse aside, and whispered my symptoms into her ear.
I made it in, all right. And while privacy was a problem coming in, I can assure you of one thing — I had complete privacy when I saw the doctor.
How has privacy (or lack of it) surprised you in China?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or browse the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.