On Christmas 2014, my husband and I spent 2 days going to government buildings, getting my foreigner’s expert permit and getting our second “physical health exam”.
We have both been through two different physical health exams in China, in two different cities (Shenyang and Fushun).
At the first exam in Shenyang, we were in a large, beautiful white building decorated with those iconic red lamps (which can be seen as decoration everywhere). It was quite busy, and we were shuffled about from room to room getting various tests completed and then our papers stamped. The first test here was the x-ray, which was followed by blood tests, eye exams, and other tests where we couldn’t quite figure out what they were doing. At the x-ray, we waited in line and watched other people go behind a large sliding steel door, and come back out a few minutes later with their coats in their hands.
I went in before Dalton. Once inside, I could see the x-ray machine hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room. A young-looking doctor in a white coat gestured me behind a white curtain, pointed to his own clothes, and said “off”. From this I surmised I was supposed to get undressed, and recalling a sign outside that requested “no bras”, I stripped down to nothing, and then put on the supplied blue paper “clothes”, which looked like a large t-shirt pattern. However, when I put on the shirt, I thought sadly of the fact that most people living in china were much smaller than I was, as the blue clothing barely covered my bum (if at all).
I walked out from behind the curtain. If the x-ray technicians (both standing in the room and in the glass-covered side room) looked at me oddly, I did not worry about it; I was already adjusting to getting odd looks from people wherever I went. I got my x-ray, then changed back into my clothes quickly. When I walked back out, Dalton was already standing there with his own shirt off, ready to be x-rayed. It was just a chest x-ray, after all.
That was when it started to dawn on me… I had gotten completely naked in a room full of strangers (with a blue paper shirt), and it was completely unnecessary.
There is something funny that happened to me when I lost the ability to communicate easily with strangers. I stopped caring about what others might say about me – since I could never know anyway. While the situation had been embarrassing, when I whispered what had happened to Dalton a few minutes later, I found myself genuinely laughing (him too) at how ridiculous it all was.
On the day after Christmas, we went back to get a different health exam (regulations had changed) in Fushun. This building was quite a bit older, a little dirty, and the first floor apparently had no heating (which was disappointing as we waiting in the below freezing lobby for over thirty minutes). By this time, however, Dalton and I were more experienced with the “shuffling about from room to room” and managed to look less confused than normal, in a general sense.
First would be the blood draw (which I dreaded more than the chest x-ray, ironically), followed by the usual eye exam, a few something-or-other unknown tests, and finally the x-ray. Of course, when it was my turn to have a needle poked into my forearm, there was a line of five people waiting outside. I once more had an audience as the nurse failed to find the vein when she first poked me, wiggled the needle about a bit (which hurt!), and then jabbed the needle about inside my arm 3 more times (without removing it) before finding the vein. I was whimpering in pain, as a self-proclaimed sissy when it comes to needles, and for the entertainment of everybody there. Then it was done and over and suddenly the whole thing was very funny.
The second time, I was all prepared to do the x-ray correctly, and it wasn’t even an issue, as the x-ray technician (a slow-moving older man who seemed annoyed that we had showed up at his door at all) told me to go in and stand there, and then leave (no changing required).
Having completed two health “exams” (remember, this is not going to the doctor, merely a series of government tests in order to be a foreigner living in China), I am proud of myself for being an adult about the whole situation… but I do not look forward to it if I am required to have another one next year.