Monday, 6 October 2014

A Chinese Hospital

 ECP (English Coaching Paper (sic)), where I worked from Aug 2003 to June 2004

A lunch time football game  on the frozen river  in January

I'm working  on the third draft  of 'Hotpot and Dumplings', my book about living in the remote dongbei  area of China. That it's the third draft makes me feel better, because it's almost ten years since I started.

I've used  some chapters since as a basis for short stories or articles, but now I'm all set to finish the  book. I'll be posting extracts on a weekly basis  as I go through the chapters, which Word has arranged in alphabetical order.  The first,  'A Chinese Hospital'  is set in January 2004. My husband Roy had finally overcome his fear of the Dongbei Winter and joined me in Tonghua.

I was so looking forward to our first game of Ping-Pong in the dedicated room on the company premises, where my apartment was located. But he fell and broke his wrist in the very first game.

Luckily, I'd spotted a local building labelled 'People's Liberation Army Hospital Number 208'. But despite the English lettering on the outside wall, no one inside spoke a word of English. So it was quite a challenge.

The extract below is not about the treatment, but about how easy it is to get confused when you try to communicate in Chinese.

The X-ray was to be done in the main building, to which we were escorted by a young woman who happened to be passing through the entrance hall. By now I was feeling more confident and we fell to chatting. She insisted on holding onto Roy’s  arm as we walked along the slippery  path between the two buildings and told me her name was Meilin.  She lived locally and was visiting her sister, who worked at the hospital. She herself was a student. I asked her which subject, or ‘xue’
'Hu xue’
I looked at her with new respect. 'Hu', is Chinese for tigers, so she must be a Natural History student. Certainly there were said to be Siberian tigers still roaming in the Northeast forest regions, a source of  ingredients for Chinese medicine.  So it was quite likely that tigers were her speciality.
It wasn’t until I consulted the dictionary later that I realised my mistake. It was yet another example of Chinese tones making all the difference to the meaning. ‘Hu’ can mean tiger, but it is also means ‘nurse’, depending on the tone. Meilin was not studying tigers,  but how to be nurse!
No wonder she was puzzled, when I told her how much I admired her bravery in tackling such an unusual and possibly dangerous subject.