it's been just a bit over 24 hours since i've been in shanghai and already it feels like days. the events of this morning seems like they happened yesterday.
i must've drank too much pu'er tea during dinner because i had a hard time falling asleep. maybe i was just anxious about the physical exam. whatever the reason, i didn't sleep until 3:00. usually that's not a big deal but i had to wake up at 5:00 in order to get ready for my 8:00 appointment because it takes approximately 2 hours to get there via public transportation and that's only if i don't get lost in the process, which could very well happen.
i set 3 different alarms: the haunted alarm clock, my cellphone, and my watch. even then i didn't sleep well because i kept waking up intermittently to check the time, afraid none of my alarms would go off. surprisingly, the alarm clock that let me down so many times before worked fine this time. maybe this is how it gets me again, builds up a false sense of security. next was the cellphone alarm, which works surprisingly well, and which i'll probably use for all future alarms. my watch alarm went off too but i didn't notice, because apparently it doesn't make any sound, silently flashing the indiglo light.
i left the hotel around 5:30, walking the 0.8 miles to the nearest metro station, pudong avenue. despite being so early, it was already hot. i saw people arriving to work, sweeping the sidewalks, and walking their dogs. i walked slow because of the heat (didn't want to break into a sweat) so it took a while to finally get to the station. i was early enough to catch the first no.4 train, so early in fact that the security checkpoint employees hadn't arrived yet and i went into the station without being screened.
the no.4 is a special train that goes in a loop. i've seen this before in the tokyo subway system. fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, the station i wanted to get to - hongqiao - was exactly 13 stops in either direction. i went clockwise (as advised by google map). i spent half an hour on the no.4 train. even though it was the first train of the day, it was still fairly crowded with people. at hongqiao i switched to the no.10 train for the shanghai zoo (5 stops away, it took 11 minutes). from the zoo it was another 1.0 mile walk to the exam place.
i ended up arriving at the exam location way early, around 7:20. i was glad there were people there, because there was some speculation that maybe they'd be closed on saturdays. i was probably the first customer, and sat in the waiting room, fanning myself with a fan i found on the table. a pretty french girl came in and sat next to me, asked if i spoke english. i never caught her name, but she's an architect from the north of france who's worked in her field for 3 years, but now finds herself in shanghai trying to take an extended chinese language class (6 months, daily) and needing a health exam certificate in order to extend her student visa. i never quite found out how she wound up in china, as her english was spotty, and one of the reasons why she wanted to take this particular chinese course was it was taught in both english and chinese. then came in this tall guy whom i thought was from africa but turns out he's french. french girl and the new guy seemed to know each other, and babbled quite animatedly in french.
foreigners kept coming in, with enough variety to make it feel like the united nations. i saw some asian faces: a few were from taiwan as well, others from singapore. a bevy of asian girls came in, led by an older woman. they all wore matching striped shirts. later i discovered they're from north korea, the second time in so many days i've seen actual north koreans. i also talked with a bulgarian guy who's been in shanghai for 5 years working as a videographer. he majored in chinese in college, and originally came to shanghai to continue his language education. his english was excellent, and for a while i thought maybe he was american because he didn't have an accent. he guessed right away that i was from the US. among caucasians, australian seemed to be a popular nationality. there were also indian and indonesia and a bunch of other ethnicity i couldn't figure out.
all these foreigners seemed cooler compared to most of the people i've met. there's something really interesting as to how they've integrated into the chinese society. sure they stand out, but of those who can speak chinese, this rich world of opportunities is opened to them. i guess that's why most of them are here, including myself i suppose. why shanghai continues to attract foreigners is still a mystery to me. as far as convenience goes, taiwan is a much better place if you're interested in learning chinese. but i guess nothing can match the energy of china, this electrified momentum that's everywhere.
at 8:00 we were finally allowed to get in line. basically everyone was told to come at 8:00 (i thought that was a special exam time just for me). the girls working behind the counter were humorless and curt. i think they were particularly annoyed with me, since from my documentation it says i'm from taiwan, but when i fail to understand what they're telling me in chinese, it annoys them to no end. the way they dealt with me, it was more like a scolding. "what's your occupation?" "you need 4 photos." "you need a copy of your taiwan-china passport." they charged me RMB$1 so one of them to make a copy on their copier. i was then told to fill out a form which was thankfully bilingual. basically, a lot of unnecessary paperwork tended by rude employees. once i submitted my paperwork, they took a new photo of me with a webcam (why did i need to bring 4 photos of me anyway if they were just going to do that?) and gave me a number. i was confused as to what to do next, but the french girl pointed to a board that showed all 12 necessary steps in order to get my physical exam certificate.
my number was called and i went into a room where i was handed some more paperwork, probably to figure out which tests i needed done for my particular visa. i took the opportunity to ask the woman if my taiwanese health exam certificate was any good. she said they wouldn't accept it. she sent me back out so i could pay the RMB$580 (US$97).
then i went into a dressing room to put my things in a locker and change into a robe. my height and weight was also taken. the scale also had an obesity assessment display, and i was one led light away from being officially fat. "am i fat?" i asked the nurse, who just smiled. at least there was one worker who seemed to be in a good mood. next i was ushered into a hallway with other foreigners in equally hideous robes, shuffled by nurses into different rooms for the different tests, to be checked off on a sheet, like a scavenger hunt.
a man who seemed to be a doctor took my blood pressure. "140/100," he told me. i asked him the same thing about my taiwanese certificate, and he told me the same thing the other woman said. so basically i had no choice but to go through with the exam. so much for rubberstamping my taiwan certificate.
the various tests were: EKG, ultrasound, eye test, x-ray and finally blood sample. i poked my head into the lab right when the french girl was wincing from getting stabbed with a needle. i asked if they could draw blood from my right arm (my less dominant arm) and the nurse said it shouldn't matter and poked me in my left arm. she and the other nurse were guessing if the french girl was a student. when i interrupted to comment, she told me, "i wasn't talking to you." the french girl and i sat around for 3 minutes (in case we fainted) while the nurses drew blood from 2 more victims (she hid her face when they stabbed a japanese man with the needle). afterwards they told us we could leave (didn't even bother looking at us). at least the nurse doing the EKG and ultrasound were nicer. the woman performing the ultrasound told me she wouldn't put it in the report but i should probably lose some weight. way to boost my body image confidence! i feel like since leaving the US, i've become this fat blob, the effect magnified by my loss of goatee (without a beard i have a fat face).
after my tests, after changing back into my civilian clothes, i handed in my forms to another clerk who filed my data and said i could come pick up the results on thursday. this means i'm still probably stuck in shanghai for another whole work week. which, to tell you the truth, i actually don't mind, ever since i moved to this swanky free hotel. so i wasn't in as bad a mood as i was when they first told me i'd have to wait more than a week for my physical exam. i was going to say good bye to the french girl but she already left.
i walked the 1.0 mile back to the shanghai zoo metro station. passing a convenience store along the way, i went inside to buy a yogurt drink and a creme-filled sponge cake. fatty, yeah, but i was starving. i'll diet and eat right on another day when i just didn't get stabbed with a needle and told i was fat by both man and machine.
at the metro station i made a few calls. first to an tao to tell him the results and postpone our weekend meeting to monday night instead, since my cousin will be taking me out later this afternoon and all of tomorrow. i called my cousin and told him i'd need to stay in shanghai at least until thursday. finally i called mr.wu, my company contact person, and said i'd get back in touch with him once i got my results. with phone calls out of the way i went back to the hotel.
walking back, i decided to get some early lunch at a guilin rice noodle shop. i bought a bowl of spicy rice noodles (RMB$13) and ate in the small air conditioned restaurant. that's when pansusu - my father's friend and project lead in chongqing - called me about the details of this morning. i told him i had no choice but to get a new exam done and wouldn't be able to pick it up until thursday. he said had he known it was going to be this difficult to get a china work visa, i could've just work illegally and gotten paid under the table. i told him i'd get back in touch with him later next week.
i got back to the hotel room before noon and they'd already cleaned the place. i skyped my parents to let them know i'd be staying in shanghai close to the end of next week. i then surfed the web a bit and fell asleep. i was expecting my cousin to call in the afternoon and he did, but to postpone our planned meeting until 5:00. so i could've met an tao and his family after all, but i probably would've collapsed from the lack of sleep. i got up before 5:00 and waited for my cousin to call back. he didn't get back in touch with me until 6:00, and it from from the hotel lobby.
we had some ribs (eaten with plastic gloves) and dumplings (lamb dumplings) in a nearby dongbei restaurant. the conversation turned towards gun culture in the united states. my cousin thought everyone owned guns in america. i told him that wasn't the case, that hardly anyone has a gun if you live in the city, and i don't personally know anyone who owns one. but elsewhere in the US, there are certain states that do have an open carry law that allow people to not only own guns but to carry them around in plain sight. my cousin said if he was an american citizen, he'd want a gun collection.
later we drove to the pudong side of the bund river to see the skyline. i'd seen it before from the other side of the river but never from the pudong side. it's actually better in some ways because you can see both sides. parking was a nightmare, and we ended up stashing the car in an garage below a department store. it took 20 minutes to find a spot, because my cousin doesn't have the required parking lot stalking skills we have back in the US. we found a spot but it was taken away by another car simply because we were blocked off by the car that was leaving. the spot we finally got, my cousin grabbed it from another car that'd been waiting. i was expecting some angry words to be exchanged, but the driver of the other car simply just left.
back at the hotel, i watched a chinese dating game that's similar in format to that music show with usher and shakira. america got voice? who knows. 4 bachelors have their backs turned to eligible bachelorettes, and as the women introduce themselves, they turn around if they like what they hear. later there's an interview portion of the show, followed by selection. it's kind of hard to explain, but what was weird was how so many of the girls looked like. i'm not trying to perpetuate some sort of stereotype here, but there didn't seemed to be a lot of variety. i also figured out how to play back movies from an USB thumb drive, so i can finally watch films on the big screen instead of on my computer.