We’re taking a trip.
A long one.
With no specific destination in mind, except perhaps to experience and learn.
And no determined end, except when we run out of grace and goodwill, which are both invaluable on a journey like this one.
We left our beloved country almost 20 months ago.
And for now, we find ourselves in a little village ( 大高舍村 ) on the outskirts of Beijing, about 10 kilometres from a city called Liangxiang.
We’ve received a lot of goodwill from beautiful people in this very foreign world.
And we lost some goodwill, from beautiful people who suggested that they were friends.
That is the nature of goodwill.
It cannot be claimed or demanded.
It is given, or not.
And in receiving, or not receiving it, we are grateful, for there is a Sourceror who conjures goodwill and lets it disipate in a perfect rhythm of gift and care, loss and gain and loss again.
On an extended journey like ours, the worst interuption is a medical matter.
In a country where we’ve not even been able to explain eloquently that we have a headache, it is daunting to imagine you might need a doctor, on short notice.
It is one of the things you put at the very back of your mind, lest angst consumes your every moment and you confine your children to padded rooms, only letting them out to pee, if they really have to.
We’re good at walking away from the things that worry most people.
You have to be if you want to load a 13 year old boy, two girls of 12 and 11, and an 18-month old Boo on an airplane and head into the unknown, without an idea of what it all will demand.
And then, when a need arises, you deal with it, at least consoled by the fact that every moment leading up to this need wasn’t poisoned by fear.
Fear is a terrible thing.
It sort of sucks the life out of you.
And everyone in proximity to you.
And every experience, which might’ve been beautiful, but seem gray and tasteless in the dim light of nightmarish phobia.
Fear makes us do stupid things.
Like being selfish and needy.
And existing without truly living.
In our little Tribe, the only thing soliciting greater anxiety than an amputated head on a stainless steel hospital trolley, after an horific accident in which half of us lost the ability to perform normal bodily functions and the other half lost their heads, is a dental emergency.
Ask Wildrie, our kind and very patient dentist back home.
It takes an unusual amount of coaxing and encouragement to get any of us to open wide, even despite excruciating pain and vivid pictures of Zombi-like rotting faces, brought to life by our own imaginations enticed by pain induced hallucinations.
So when one of our daughters anounced that she was going to need a dentist, only days after we arrived in 大高舍村, we knew it was important.
So how do you find a dentist in a new city?
Go on Facebook and ask for recommendations.
All pretty handy in a world where you and all your friends speak the same language, where you can read it and Google and Social Media is open and unrestricted.
Where we are, none of these options are viable.
In fact, private medical care isn’t available.
If you need a doctor, you go to a hospital.
If you need a dentist, you do the same.
And so we ask our neighbours where the nearest hospital is and head there, hoping for the best, armed with our passports, all the Chinese currency we could scrape together, after having relocated our Tribe of seven, aware that we’ll need to eat for 6 weeks, before my little bit of income from teaching makes its reluctant appearance, and that every ¥ we spend is part of a meal we won’t have.
Hospitals in China are Public.
They are not expensive.
They are clean and well run.
We find the hospital.
Amidst a thousand signs we’re not able to read, we find an information desk.
With a translator app (almost as invaluable as goodwill if you journey through this part of the world) we explain we would like to see a dentist.
The problem with translator apps, they translate fine from English to Chinese, but the person you speak to usually doesn’t carry a handy translator with them and even though they understand you, because they are relieved they understand you and want to move right along as quickly as they can, in order not to seem incompetent, they start answering your question in Chinese which must have inspired the fast train which runs between Beijing and Hong Kong and you have to listen and understand as much as you can in the 7.3 seconds it takes for them to talk, before your eyes glaze over and you can see a mindless stare reflected in the lenses of their spectacles.
A bit of advice: learn as much of the language as you can, as soon as you can.
We’ve found, even though what comes out of our mouthes sound like giberish, since Chinese has different tones which influence the meaning and you can think you are explaining to someone that you are a teacher, while in actual fact you are telling him you are a mouse, solliciting uncontrolable laughter, always recieved in good spirits and optimism, because you don’t know what was heard and only what you hoped to say, when you practice listening, over time, you understand more of what is said.
I listen to the radio, to every conversation on which I can eavesdrop, to people in shops and restaurants and gradually my brain has built a translator of its own.
So this morning I figure out we must go to the 3rd floor of the hospital.
Which we do.
Where we are told we need a hospital card, fear slowly dripping down my spine, becuase why would China provide state-sponsored healthcare to a foreigner and his oversized family?
Before the sweaty droplet could reach the crack where a monkey-tale used to be, according to the stories my Dad told me, the friendly nurse writes a few words on a piece of paper, asks an attendant to accompany us somewhere and smiles at us.
We go to the 1st floor, which is actually the ground floor, since buildings in China do not have ground floors, making it easier for me to understand, since I don’t know yet what ‘ground’ is in Chinese, but I do know how to count, and there is no word for 1st or 2nd or 3rd in Chinese, just ‘ee’, ‘ar’ and ‘san’, one, two, three and ‘low’, which means ‘floor’, so ‘ee low’ is easy enough to follow, but on ‘ee low’ it took us 30 minutes to find the information desk, and so we are grateful for the smiling chatting attendant walking us down, first to one desk where our daugther’s details are entered onto a computer and she is handed a hospital card, then to another desk, where we pay the 3¥ for the hospital card and a light blue booklet in which all records will be manually kept of all treatment she will ever receive at the hospital.
Then we go back up to the 3rd floor, where a young dentist greets us.
She calls herself Dr Gee.
She speaks a little English.
She takes a look at the mouth of our daughter who, by now, needs no more vivid imagination or gentle coaxing to open wide, as relief that we’ve come this far washes over the two of us and pool at our feet.
She needs x-rays.
A piece of paper is printed.
We go to the 4th floor.
10 minutes later we’re back with Dr Gee, x-rays in hand.
She explains the problem and starts treatment.
45 minutes later we stand at a counter and pay the days bill.
Then we go to the pharmacy counter to collect medicines, which we need to take back to Dr Gee, before we can be ‘released’, so that she can retrieve and replace the anesthetic she used and explain about the rest.
151¥ and about 2 hours later we head back home, laughing at ourselves for our rediculous fear of dentistry, while patting ourselves on the back for being able to find our way through this as well, with so much ease, in a place where nothing should really be easy for people like us, except for grace and goodwill.
This morning, from a nurse who was kind enough to scrible a few words, an attendant who didn’t mind showing us the way and Dr Gee who took the time to give our daughter treatment which equals everything we’ve ever received in our beloved country.
And from Wildrie we received better than the best.
We can’t make sacrifices at the feet of little golden statues to sollicit or guarantee it.
We can’t make advance payments or take out insurance.
It is given or not.
Which fills us with gratitude every time we receive it in such abundance.
Helping us not to take anything for granted, not anything.
On our journey, we are learning this, feeling a bit stupid, since this isn’t suddenly true.
It is always true.
For all of us.
And as we walk away from Dr Gee and the friendly nurse, finding our way to the home with the kind neighbor who fed us on the night of our arrival and who helps Zuko with her vegetable garden, who shows Zuko where the perfect little shops are to get unique little things, we are deeply aware that whoever we are, wherever we go, even despite our desperate striving to create a safe bubble in which to exist, but for the goodwill of our Origin, we would be lost in a world filled with animosity.