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First Experiences in China: The Medical Check

Popularity 4Viewed 4615 times 2014-3-9 19:00 |System category:Life| China

While thinking of what to write for my first blog post about my experiences in China, I couldn’t help but reminisce over the past few years that I have been living in Beijing. And then it hit me, what better place to start than at the beginning?

My first submission is something that I wrote about during my first few months in Beijing in January 2011. If you’ve been living in China for a while already, you’ve already been to this place, and if you’re planning to come to China for work, it will be one of the first places you visit: the place where you conduct your mandatory medical check (if you’re not fortunate enough to get it done in your home country).

Here’s a recollection on how my first visit to one of these infamous places went down. I lovingly entitle this particular recollection – Poked, Prodded and Put on Display.


First experiences in China can sometimes be hard to take in.

One such experience would have to be my medical checkup. After about an hour subway ride on Line 13 heading northeast out of the city center, I arrived at my stop where I would meet Lucia, a wonderful EF associate who would take me and another newly arrived teacher, Kurt, to the place where we would have our mandatory checkup completed. Everything went smoothly, more smoothly than I expected really. (After one year in the haphazardly run Indonesia, I had this weird assumption that anything taking place in a foreign country would be chaotic. Fortunately, that was not the case in China.) And even though it was a Monday, the medical checkup center seemed surprisingly quiet, serene.

Basically, once you sign in at the registration desk, you are given a sheet of paper with your picture taken from a webcam scanned on the top right corner of the page. There are several serious looking sentences written in Chinese spread throughout the page and a list in the center of the page of various rooms to have specific tests done on you to make sure you are 'Not Abnormal.' Whatever happened to a good old-fashioned 'Normal'? Or even a nice, comforting 'Healthy'? To add to the sometimes overwhelming feel of 'Big Brother,' there is even a Room 101 where pregnancy tests are done. Hmmm.

All in all it was a semi-undaunting procedure. The most interesting part of my time in the medical checkup had to be the first room I visited to have an ECG test done. The test itself took a matter of seconds, if that. It was the process leading up to the test that was ridiculous. I walk into a room and meet eyes with a tiny, good-natured looking Chinese woman ready to administer the test. People prior to me seemed to take some time to have their tests done, and based on the explanation of the test on the front door, I could not imagine why that was. That is, until I went into the exam room.

Now, being in China and not knowing the language yet can be difficult when trying to communicate anything specific. Usually I just perform some kind of miming action and what I'm trying to communicate is more or less understandable and maybe sometimes a little humorous to the person watching me swing my arms around like an idiot. It can take a few seconds of gestures and waving some form of realia before the message is clear. And it usually works both ways.

So we exchange a simple 'Nǐ hǎo' and the miming begins. She points at my shoes. I take them off. She sees that I am wearing socks. (According to the sign/graph on the entrance, you have to have an ankle exposed for the test.) She sniffs at me grudgingly and points to my sock. I take my sock off. Alas! She sees that I am also wearing tights and becomes a little more exasperated with me. So she points at my pants. I unbutton them and gesture pulling them down.

I am met with a strong, 'NO!' coupled with emphatic arm gestures.

I pull them back up, confused and a little embarrassed.

I am met with another, 'NO! NO!' (More arm gestures.)

I pull them down and look at her, hoping for a different reaction, some kind of confirmation.

Again, 'NO!'

I am about to pull them up...'NO!' At this point, I'm surprised she hasn't taken off into flight with all the arm waving she is doing. And I still am no closer to knowing what it is that she wants.

I pull them down and proceed to take down my tights...'NO! NO! NO!'

I pull them up. Another 'NO!'

Now I'm frustrated. I just stand there, completely at a loss as to what articles of clothing she wants me to remove. (I briefly thought to move on to my sweater to see if we could accomplish something, but immediately decide that that would not be the best move.) She eventually motions to me again to remove my pants. This time, I'm slightly agitated, so I take down my pants and my tights, ignoring the fact that my bottom is exposed for the world to see, and look her dead in the eye for some kind of definitive confirmation that I am doing something correctly before she can yell 'No!' at me again.

(Slightly awkward pause here.)

Finally, she motions for me to lie down. She pulls my tights and pants down a bit further so she can connect this clamp thing to my knee.

We have at last reached an agreement.

As she is placing suction cups to my torso, making me feel like some newly discovered alien creature, she 'tsks' at me, shakes her head, laughs and says a simple, 'Difficult.'

Well, at least I made a lasting impression. And if I'm lucky, putting aside this first test room fiasco, my results will come back 'Not Abnormal.'


Hope you enjoyed one of the first stories I’d written about living in China! What was your first experience like getting a checkup? (The second time I went round was equally embarrassing/borderline horrifying, but I digress...I’ll wait to hear about yours first.)

In the meantime, I’ll dig around and see if there are any other “First China Experience” stories I can share.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (6 comments)

Reply Report laoren1234 2014-3-10 00:23
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed your article. Two thumbs up!
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-10 01:59
Great article. Best advice might be to get the medical check before you come!
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-3-10 18:00
Thanks for sharing your story here! We have highlighted your story to the homepage.
Reply Report MissBarbara 2014-3-13 21:53
Ah, the  medical check! How well I remember it.
Reply Report MissBarbara 2014-3-13 21:53
ColinSpeakman: Great article. Best advice might be to get the medical check before you come!
I had a thorough medical checkup before I came, but they required me to also get one here. Didn't you have to do it?
Reply Report MissBarbara 2014-3-13 21:54
My school provided me with a translator, which is always a good idea, I think.

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Hello fellow bloggers. I\'m not a consistent or serious writer. I\'m trying to do different things to hold myself to more accountability with my writing. I also like to look at other people\'s work, learn from them. Hope you enjoy (at least in part) some of the stories I share here! :)


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  • Checking In 2014-5-19 19:16

    ColinSpeakman: So where are you going? Will you be back?
    We're going on a 6 month honeymoon across the US (camping, hiking mostly with some cities mixed in). We got married last year, but didn't have a honeymoon because we had to get back for work in August. We planned to save up, get honeymoon money from people who came to our wedding instead of traditional wedding gifts, and now we're able to take a six month sabbatical. My hubby is from the UK, so we'll move there after the honeymoon temporarily for him to go back to school to get his teaching license. I think I'll get back into my master's full time/work part time since it's all online based. Should be a good growth year(s) for us in the US and UK. Then it's back abroad - maybe China again, maybe somewhere new! :)

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    So where are you going? Will you be back?

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