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Sunday Update: 03/02/08

Phew…where to start? Well, we are about halfway through our first day here in Tianjin, and there is much to mention.

The trip was mostly uneventful yesterday…just long, long, long. We got to the gate in Des Moines, just in time to board…then we had to wait for a while before we could leave. O’hare was delayed. We arrived in Chicago around 7:30 AM or so, deplaned and took our time finding our way to the next terminal. We had several hours to kill, so we just ate some breakfast and wandered for a while.
As we made our way back to our gate to settle in and wait for the plane, a woman ran up to me, gave me a big hug, and said she’s been reading our blog and feels like she knows us. Her name is Mary and she is accompanying her husband Tim to China as well. Apparently she heard of our blog through friends of a friend’s sister…or something like that. Anyway, it was great to meet another couple preparing to head out on this journey as well. We sat and visited with them while we waited to board the plane.
Now let me explain my logic for choosing the last 2 seats on a plane which seats 350 people. I know myself, and I didn’t want to have to be stuck next to someone (besides Matt) for 13 and ½ hours, and the last 3 rows have just two seats, so I figured that’d be perfect. Even though it was clear in the back, I thought we’d be close to the bathrooms and in our own little corner. When we traveled to Boston last summer, we didn’t have any problems walking back to our seats…but I underestimated how challenging it would be to walk back 60 something rows…through 3 different cabins…while carrying 2 bags. Matt did his best, but we had to walk through a tiny aisle with a wall on one side, and it seemed like my foot was always in his way. Finally, we made it to the back, thanks to help from 2 very friendly flight attendants. But we were frazzled, hot, and crabby.
On the way out, we decided to use the ‘aisle seat’…which is a tiny chair on wheels which they can use to wheel people out on. It was definitely a better idea…but it took forever for them to get the chair, and about 10 people. The cleaning crew had come aboard the plane and were all a chatter trying to figure out why we were still on there. That was fun. Luckily we had a very helpful agent who wheeled us off the plane, where the other 2 couples traveling to Tianjin were waiting. We had our little caravan of wheelchairs, helpers, and spouses and we trucked through the airport, through customs, baggage claim, and finally out to meet the representatives from China Connection.
Ruth was there with 3 of her employees and we loaded ourselves up and headed out of Beijing. On the bus we all excited and chatting about things…but about 30 minutes into the ride, I think most of us had dozed off. I was amazed I could sleep, given that it felt like we were going to crash at any moment…fast, slow, zig-zag, honk…which brings me to the traffic here in China. Crazy. That’s the only word that I can think of to explain it…just…plain…crazy. There are so many cars, people walking, people on bikes, people on scooters, people pulling carts…all sharing the same bustling streets. It was mind-boggling to observe. By the time we rolled in to town, it was dark and I couldn’t believe how many people were out walking around and riding bikes. And somehow they don’t get flattened by speeding buses and dinky cars?! Incredible. Maybe it’s because everyone here drives around honking their horns…constantly. Honk, I’m coming over. Honk, you’re in my way. Honk, hey look at that. Honk, I have a horn. I swear…it is constant. In the states you only hear honks when someone does something to irritate you…here, it’s just like honking for the fun of it, and no one seems bothered by it. Maybe they just don’t have road rage like we do back home…but if someone honked like that there, you’d be sure to see lots of other gestures accompanying the honk. Not so, here.
Once we got to the hospital, we were greeted by a slew of nurses who whisked the patients up to their rooms while us family members were stuck getting the baggage. I was happy we packed as light as we did. (Is it bad that I packed a heavier suitcase for my 4 day trip to Vegas than Matt did for a 90 stay here? But, I digress.) Once we all got up on the floor, we found our family members and started to try and settle in. The nurses came and went, taking vitals…they actually put thermometers in your arm pit and have to use a blood pressure cuff! Imagine! They don’t have the nifty little carts to wheel in and do everything electronically like back home. The nurses also wear the old fashioned looking uniforms with hats and some wear skirts. Not like the srubs everyone wears at home. After all the hub-hub finally settled down, around 9:30 or so, we unpacked and got ourselves ready for bed.
Which leads me to the beds. We each have our own double bed, which is nice. The mattresses are pretty much like sleeping on a boxed spring…I’m not sure if there even is a mattress on there! Not so nice. The pillows are filled with some sort of sandy, grainy substance. Kind of like a bean bag chair, but heavier. Maybe like a combination bean bag/sand bag. MMM, comfy! We were so tired, we just flopped down and let the exhaustion wash over us.
This morning we woke up around 6:30 and the nurse came in to check vitals shortly thereafter. We got up and around, and breakfast was here around 7:00. Of course, there were no forks, so we had to ask for them. I filled out the paper for the rest of the meals for today, but I’m not sure I did it correctly, since lunch came with 4 plates of food, 2 knives…but no forks. I guess we’re supposed to keep the silverware all day. But there are no napkins or paper plates, or paper towels, so I’m having fun trying to figure out where to set the used silverware. There is also no soap in the bathroom…in a HOSPITAL! So, I have a list of things to pick up at the store as soon as I get some Chinese money. Speaking of weird things to see in a hospital...I walked next to a woman who hawked, and then spit out a luggie in the lobby of the hospital. MMM…and they smoke here…a lot…everywhere. There is no smoking on this floor, but I can definitely smell it everywhere. My sinuses are a mess.
Earlier today, I was suffering from a major caffeine withdrawal headache, as most of you know I have a pretty bad Diet Coke addiction and was worried about my access to pop. Ruth stopped in and was kind enough to loan me some Chinese money and gave me instructions on where the local store was, as the little shop they are putting here in the hospital is not yet ready. So, I grabbed my camera and set out on a mission to get my precious Diet Coke. Stepping on the elevator, crammed with people, I realized just how far away from home I was. I’ve traveled a lot in recent years, to various big cities, but of course they were American cities. Being here is truly a different world. Most of the time when I travel, I like not to look like an obvious tourist…here, though I am the only American face in a sea of Chinese ones. I definitely felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb! I stood on the side of the street trying to find the perfect moment to dart out between the honking cars, bikes, and scooters. Is it sad that I was out risking life and limb running across busy streets in a foreign country…for a Diet Coke? I spent a good 20 minutes wandering around this enormous store trying to figure out #1 – how to get to the groceries and #2 – how to find the pop. The store was 2 stories, and was full of people and shops. It was like being inside a mall inside a grocery store. I had to go up an escalator, through the clothing section, down another escalator, to the grocery department. After gathering up some cans, they sell them individually, I made my way to the check out line. There must have been at least…at LEAST 50 lanes and each one had tons of people waiting in them. I waiting patiently, as the woman behind me continued to bump, bump, bump my legs with her cart. Apparently, I wasn’t inching up behind the guy in front of me fast enough. It was so odd to look around and see only Chinese faces…and mostly Chinese signs everywhere. There are a few recognizable English words and symbols here and there…but it’s just weird to be the foreigner. I kept praying that nothing would go wrong, since I am sure that 90% of the people around me would not be able to speak English and offer any help. Thankfully, I made it back safe and sound…and have been enjoying my room temperature Coca-Cola Light ever since. Mmm. Might be a good time to cut back on pop. You think?
Anyway, not much else has been going on today. Sunday is the day of rest here as well, so they do not do treatments on Sundays. So we’ve just been hanging out. There are 2 English channels, National Geographic and Discovery…perfect for Matt. Unfortunately Matt’s wheelchair is too wide to fit into the bathroom here, so Ruth was able to get him another one to use around here. It barely fits through the door, but hopefully then he can be pretty independent in the bathroom. Everyone here at the hospital has been very friendly and as helpful as they can be without always understanding us. I can’t wait to meet the doctors tomorrow and see what comes next. I think we’ll also go shopping tomorrow for some other essentials that are not in the room…like Kleenex and hand soap. For now, I am glad to have managed my first out of hospital excursion and am relieved to be back! The sites, the smells, the sounds…it’s a very overwhelming experience…we’re just trying to keep an open mind!
Here are some more pics.

The bikes parked outside the store I went to:


Risking my life for a Diet Coke - I followed the woman with the bike through the traffic...and got honked at several times:


The hospital:


The view out Matt's window:


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