Update 6: Hokery Pokery, Nurses, and Duck

February 27, 2011 - Xian, China

 My second to last week in Xi'an has been pretty relaxed, but still very enjoyable. Can't believe I'm leaving on Friday, it's really flown by, and I've had such a fantastic time.

Tuesday 22nd Feb

Bizarre experience on the way to the hospital as Jingle Bells floated over from the local school. After ward round, I got put with the nurses, and ended up being with them for the whole day. It had high points and low points. It was interesting to watch a few cannulations, see how it differed from the UK, but was followed by time just chatting with one nurse, who just said 'ask me about the ENT department'. Given I'd been there for five days, and she didn't have enough English to answer any complex questions, it was a fairly slow half an hour. However, they did buy me lunch (jiao ze, I'd let it slip that they were my favourite), and afterwards we had a nice chat about healthcare systems in China, the US and the UK. It was mostly me talking, and I'm not sure how much the 4 of them understood between them, but I certainly enjoyed it.

The evening was awesome - I headed to karaoke with Kevin, Tala and Neil (English names), three Chinese guys who were working at the hostel but had the night off. It was Tala's last night, she was heading to Guangzhou the following morning, and we had a great time. Karaoke is so different out here, no embarrassment, just (usually awful) loud singing in your own little booth that can fit up to about 10 people. People regularly do it completely sober in the afternoon, something which I still have a little difficulty comprehending. The highlight was probably singing Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word as a duet with Neil and his very loud, heavily accented voice!

Wednesday 23rd Feb

My first day back on Infectious Diseases, and it was nice to be back - saw Prof Dang on the way in, helped one of the doctors prepare the English handover, it's just a smaller and frendlier department. I found out today that I have been asked to lecture the students about my time in Xi'an and about Oxford next Tuesday, so I spent a good chunk of the day getting things together for the Powerpoint presentation. Slightly daunting, but at least it will be in English. Unremarkable evening - I've found a channel on my TV that plays English language films with Chinese subtitles, so settled down to Moulin Rouge.

Thursday 24th Feb

Had a great skype/phone chat to Connie at 6.15, and grabbed a greasy pitta with lettuce and what looked like jalapenos on the way in. During the morning I spent some time working on my Chinese with Dr Jia, learning words that will help me understand the handover in Chinese - things like 'severe', 'liver failure' and 'upper gastrointestinal bleeding'. Fairly specific, but should be useful.

Had a slightly odd lunch with Prof Dang, Dr Jia, Dr Wong, Wang Fen (a student), and (I think) some patient relatives. Nice food though, including my first taste of cartilage - surprisingly tasty when surrounded by flavoured batter, unsurprisingly crunchy. Had a relaxed afternoon with some more Chinese learning, and then headed back to the hostel for an evening in.

Friday 25th Feb

My most bizarre morning yet. It was strange enough being lead past other departments to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Outpatients, but seeing 'doctors' in white coats, indistinguishable from Western doctors, pushing needles into peoples faces and talking about yin and yang really took the biscuit. It was certainly intriguing to see acupuncture in practice, but I was slightly uncomfortable with the large poster of the 12 meridians, lines along all parts of the body with acupuncture points along them, that each relate to a different organ. They were treating patients with facial nerve palsy, stroke and infertility, and all of the doctors here seem convinced of its power to some degree or another. The doctor taught me about the basics of TCM, and that took an hour - all about interrelations between the 5 seasons (summer is two), 5 elements (gold, earth, fire, water and wood) and 5 organs (heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen) such that you're more likely to have heart problems in spring, and you can improve them by treating the liver.

Lunch was more enjoyable, lamb spine hotpot with 6 of the students. They're so friendly, it's been great to spend time with them, and they didn't laugh too much at my feeble attempts to pick up fish balls with chopsticks. It was a bit weird eating the meninges and spinal cord, but I soon got over it. Worked on the powerpoint in the evening, and Dr Wu, on duty, kindly made me dinner of seaweed soup, chicken and pork.

Saturday 26th Feb

Today I headed with Li Mei to the Forest of Stelae (Beilin) Museum. It's full of massive stone tablets with beautiful Chinese inscriptions, though there were hundreds, and given I couldn't understand them they did get a little samey. The highlight was the sculpture section, with beautiful carvings of everything from tombs to a massive rhinocerous. Lunch was tasty and warming, very welcome on a bitterly cold and sleeting morning - pork ribs, aubergine, tofu and mushroom.

In the evening I met two of the Infectious Diseases nurses for dinner with them, two daughters (9 & 11, very cute) and one husband. I had a really wonderful time, I still can't believe how much I'm being treated while I'm here, and they managed to persuade me to come to karaoke afterwards (didn't take much), which was again great fun. My duet this time was Yellow by Coldplay with the chap, I think we enjoyed it more than anyone else!

Sunday 27th Feb

Met Dr Zhong and her husband to head to the Han Yangling - Emperor Jingdi's tomb. The lonely planet lists this as 'easily Xi'an's most underrated attraction', so I was excited to see what it was like. Unlike the terracotta warriors, this was built for an emperor that believed in 'live and let live' (as opposed to 'conquer the nations by any means possible'), and the pottery figures were about a third size. The best bit was being able to walk over some of the pits on a glass walkway, seeing the pottery figures - which included soldiers, cavalrymen, eunuchs, concubines, and an almighty number of pigs - as they were found and up pretty close. We also had an English-speaking tour guide, who gave some interesting tit-bits as we went round.

The highlight of the day, however, had to be lunch. See the photo for the spread, but it included incredible crispy duck (tender flesh, crispy delicious skin, a soup from the bones, plus pancakes, hoisin sauce and onion), pork Chinese burgers, aubergine, Chinese salads, and an amazing tofu and egg yolk soup. Probably the most delicious meal I've eaten since arriving, and the three of us ate nearly all of it.

I've had a very relaxed afternoon & evening - slept off the massive lunch, watched a film - and am now looking forward to getting really stuck in during my last week in Xi'an. Hope you're all well.

Lots of love,

Tim x




Janet Hamilton:
February 27, 2011
I'm really enjoying reading about your experiences and find your writing very vivid and accessible. Well done - look forward to seeing you before too long. Much lovexxxxx
February 27, 2011
Having just eaten our dinner the thought of spinal cord hotpot has turned our stomachs somewhat, you're braver than I would be!!! Are you going to come home a little bit heavier baby bro?? I'm loving your obsession with your daily meals - not sure many of them would make it through Masterchef mind you! Richard sends his love and wedding plans coming along very nicely indeed - slight change of plan with venue... bye bye Catholics, hello Church of England! Long story that is too dull to mention really. Other than that it's same old, same old but loving hearing from you so regularly, it makes you feel a bit closer. Maybe Skype soon? We're going to get set up just for you! Love you loads, Jen & Richard xxxx
nick R:
February 28, 2011
What do you mean you don't believe in yin and yang? Let me tell you a thing or two about spirituality.... Xx
Polly Robson:
March 2, 2011
Hi Tim. hope your last week is going well - especially your presentation - all well at home apart from Tom's news about the RCM. He doesnt let the grass grow under his feet though and yesterday successfully auditioned for a Lay Clerk's job at Southwark Cathedral....had a fab couple of days with nick, and off with jen and Richard on Sat to see Tom in 'Candide'....looking forward to your last posting from Xian...then hongkong...Hugs etc. Ma xx
March 2, 2011
How fascinating Tim! Wow what experiences you are having. I'd have loved to see you doing karaoke as a duet - must have been hilarious! As for picking up, or rather dropping, fish balls with chopsticks - well - I'm just impressed that your using them at all; still no alternative I suppose!

Must skype soon. Lots of love
Dad xxx
Jenny Robson:
March 2, 2011
Oh Pops.... what a grammatical error. From you of all people!!!! xx
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