Do you remember the scene from Home Alone (1990) where Kevin throws a temper-tantrum after his brother ate the last slice of cheese pizza? His mother sends him to his room as punishment and in defiance he says, “I don’t want to see you for the rest of my life.” His mother dares him, “Then say it again. Maybe it will happen.” Kevin then responds, “I hope I never see any of you jerks again!”
The next morning through happenstance Kevin McCallister’s wish becomes a reality. It was party-time!
Believe it or not, I am relating quite well to Kevin McCallister nowadays. I have now completed 5 years of teaching English in China. I got homesick and really wanted to spend some time at home. I wanted to eat good food again, and watch Monday Night Football on Monday. I didn’t want to have to deal with internet censorship, poisonous air-quality, rude zombies, and people defecating on the sidewalk. You just reach a point where you don’t want to see it anymore.
I arrived in Michigan on September 4th and realized like Kevin I had made my problem disappear. It was party-time! I was surrounded by real food, beautiful churches, friendly strangers, and football on live TV. It was wonderful! I was metaphorically jumping on the bed.
However, as all of us who have watched the movie know the party didn’t go on forever. Eventually, adversity came to Kevin in the form of two strangers. He then realized his wish was a curse.
My adversity arrived at the same time of Hurricane Florence. I had a flight to North Carolina 2 days before the hurricane arrived. I was heading into the eye of the storm.
I was scheduled to get my annual medical check-up on September 12th at the Durham Veterans Administration Hospital. Everything seemed to be routine. However, the next day I got a phone call from my doctor telling me to return the hospital for further testing. They diagnosed me with a blood-clot in my lung. It is a serious enough medical condition that it could turn fatal at any moment.
I am in the eye of the storm and not sure exactly how this ends. However, what is certain is that I cannot travel now for the next 3-6 months. I was scheduled to return to China today. However, it seems God has given a new direction and purpose to my life.
Macaulay Culkin’s character eventually longed for the day when his family would return. I too miss my students and want to return. I am hoping to get back to Shenyang in early 2019 if everything goes well. If Kevin McAlister could learn to put up with his big brother Buzz, then I feel I ought to be able to coupe a little longer with the “Big Brother”.
Thanks for reading!
China Southern Airlines will open a direct flight from Shenyang to the USA in December 2018.
This has to be the biggest thing since Papa John’s arrival for Yanks residing in Shenyang. Non-stop air service will finally commence this December between Shenyang and the United States according to a Xinhua story published on August 10th. This could potentially save 6 valuable hours each way for travelers.
This is a real game changer for Americans and Chinese trying to reconnect with home. Guam is the closest piece of American soil to Shenyang at 2,400 miles. Los Angeles is about 6,000 miles from Shenyang. However, to fly from Shenyang to Guam right now it takes nearly 14 hours and the lowest price runs about $600.
Currently, the round trip prices for the new Shenyang to Los Angeles trans-Pacific flight are listed at about $700 USD on Alitrip. China Southern Airlines flight CZ609 (SHE-LAX) will take 11:40 to cross the Pacific. CZ610 (LAX-SHE) will take longer at 12:30 due to expected headwinds going westward. CZ609 (SHE-LAX) will depart Shenyang at 01:20 and arrive a day earlier at 21:00! CZ610 (LAX-SHE) departs at 0:40 and arrives at 05:10 the next day. Flight CZ610 will be in darkness for all 12:30 of the flight with the exception of the spring and summer time months. Because CZ610 departs at the very late time of 0:40, anyone should be able to reach Los Angeles from wherever they are in North America that day. It should be an easy connection to make.
Shenyang has been making a push to be upgraded to Tier 1 status, and this will not hurt that effort.
This is a huge deal in the English training business in China where asking for time to go home is like asking Ebenezer Scrooge for Christmas Day off. However, I should not feel too sorry for myself; it is common for Chinese employees to only get 5 days a year. The company bottom line is everything here.
Saving that much time will make a world difference for me. That is 12 more hours to sleep off jetleg or get a safe meal on a round-trip ticket. It’s more time to go on a hike, visit the beach, attend a ball game or a church service. It can also be more time to just sit and listen to the peace and quiet of nature, or breathe non-toxic air.
Make no mistake about it, this is a big win for Shenyang! I hope it is a big win for China Southern as well. Papa John’s was like a fish out of water in Shenyang and never did turn a profit. Shenyang has historically been a graveyard for international products and services. It is extremely tough to survive, even Dairy Queen finds its difficult with no direct competition in the ice cream business. People are just resistant to foreign ideas here.
However, China Southern’s newest business venture has an enormous advantage. They are a Chinese company backed by the deep pockets of government. I don’t expect the LAX service to be a passing fancy like Papa John’s.
China Southern’s second advantage is that this route will have is Shenyang Toaxian Airport. We have a really good airport here in Shenyang with lots of friendly staff waiting to help. The lines are rarely long. My experience has been you do much better entering China via Shenyang or Xiamen versus the larger airports.
Beijing, in contrast, is the worst airport for delays in China. They are often understaffed for the number of passengers trying to pass through immigration. Sometimes they close the airport without warning due to pollution.
Now there is one caveat to this good news. China Southern usually has decent service for passengers checking into their flight in the Mainland. However, when hiring check-in staff for airports abroad, they seem to hire 3rd party temp agencies that are cheap and available. I have never gotten the same level of service in Incheon or Los Angeles as I do in China. The best word to describe their attitude is “indifference”. It is nearly impossible to get a problem corrected with China Southern when flying outside China. You basically have to make a Skype call to the Mainland and have someone fluent in Mandarin do the talking for you, and then you have a chance to get home.
If you persist for help with China Southern at a foreign airport, their representatives will instruct you to contact your tour guide. In China, the travel agencies are heavily regulated by the government. The government approves the tours and the tour guides. The tour guides censor what you may see and not see while traveling abroad. I am the last person on the planet who would pay to have a communist-approved tour guide. Free men and women may find themselves in an unfortunate predicament when traveling with China Southern.
If you get lucky, you might get the 3rd party vendor to finally give you a phony Gmail address to contact. However, I can assure you there is nobody in the Guangzhou China Southern headquarters browsing Gmail or any other Google-affiliated sites.
Nonetheless, this is a huge win for the city of Shenyang to have a direct link with America’s second largest city! Hopefully, more airline routes are in the works to connect Shenyang with more North American markets. There are millions of Liaoning people eager to see the USA!
This new route is going to bring a lot of people closer to a better life on both sides of the Pacific. I look forward to being a frequent customer of China Southern’s newest route. If you see a tall American with a Papa John’s carryout box in the LAX boarding area, it is probably me. I now have a new favorite airline route to get home. Now if we can only figure out how to get my favorite pizza pie in Shenyang…
Thanks for reading!
“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” – Earl Wilson
When I first came to Shenyang in 2013, I was having dinner with my school owner. He was a great guy with a knack for self-preservation. He was an American who had lived in Shenyang for 9 years. He spoke fluent Mandarin and was a subject matter expert on everything that was good or bad about living in Shenyang, China.
I asked him about his Chinese New Year travel plans, “Will you go to the Ice Festival in Harbin?” He said, “No, I have never been there. However, if I do get time off, I get out of the country and visit Thailand or another country.”
I asked, “Why?” He couldn’t explain it very succinctly. Now I understand him completely. It is something that only experience can teach.
He then proceeded to take his family to Thailand for the week of Chinese New Year. However, a funny thing happened along the way, one week became two weeks, and then two became three weeks, and then three became…
Finally, after 6 weeks he reappeared all smiles. I asked him what happened. He answered, “While I was in Thailand I decided to sell the school and give my family a normal life back home in America.”
Meanwhile, I was under contract for the next 9 months with this new anonymous owner. 9 months is a long time with the wrong person….
Right now, I am currently on the train traveling between Busan and Seoul in South Korea. I have never visited the southern end of the Korean peninsula until this week. This trip to Korea reinvigorated my life! Rejuvenation came in in the form of 3 B’s, baseball, beach, and Baskin Robbins. These blessings in life are mostly unavailable in Mainland China.
Geographically, South Korea is a beautiful country. I was like a dog panting with great enthusiasm at every changing landscape my eyes laid on from my train passenger window. Right when my excitement reached a crescendo, the man in the seat behind me, slammed the shade curtain shut. This cold-hearted man may have ended my viewing pleasure of Korea’s undulating landscape, but now you get to be the beneficiaries of my fellow traveler’s greed for shade because now I have 2 spare hours to write about my experiences this past week.
Five years have come and gone for me in Shenyang, I now completely understand my former school owners sentiments. Living in China is a lot like an Indiana Jones adventure. It is an epic thrill for 90 minutes, but do you really want to live out the rest of your life with such uncertainty? Unless you are an adrenaline junkie, the answer is probably “no”.
You eventually crave stability. Seeing vendors on the street selling scorpions as street food eventually loses its exotic luster. You become homesick.
Teaching English in China is an exhausting job when you have built up a stellar reputation. People are constantly pinging you on WeChat with a request for help. You eventually will hit a professional burnout period if you are a good teacher. There is just no way right now for the small number of teachers to meet the demands of China’s 1 billion English students.
However, if you just take time off with a staycation it will do little to decompress your stress levels. There is hardly anything rejuvenating about watching the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. It is pretty much a freak show that will have you praying you are not the next victim of hepatitis.
You need to escape, but most English training schools are limited in the number of vacation days they give you. Traveling across 15 time zones to California is hardly a restful option. It takes a week usually before you feel human again after that many time zone changes. Most schools are not willing to give the time you need to reacclimate to the time zone changes.
And then if you do make a visit to the USA, people expect you to pay them a courtesy visit, and rarely understand your energy levels are at zero from teaching the world’s most populated nation. They assume you have been on vacation the last 12 months.
So it is a great predicament on how to recuperate from the exhaustive profession of educating over a billion people. The answer is clearly not in China or North America.
However, if you can just get across the border to places like Hong Kong or Seoul you will be able to resume a pretty normal life. They may not understand Oklahoma versus Texas in the Cotton Bowl. However, it is a pretty good bet we share many of the same values. They will understand it is important to be tolerant of those who would rather ingest a Krispy Kreme versus a scorpion on the end of a sharp stick.
In Busan, there is beautiful Haeundae Beach where no passports are needed. They didn’t close it due to there being too much sunshine as they do in China. There was no garbage on the sand, and nor was there acid burning the skin off someone in the water. There are no senior citizens coughing up a lugee onto your foot as often happens back in the Central Kingdom.
We didn’t have to worry about anybody stealing our belongings or umbrella as it was a pretty good bet the local South Koreans shared our values.
Real ice cream was in abundance as Baskin Robbins and it’s many competitors sought to woo us into a double scoop. Due to the withering heat and humidity of Busan, ice cream went from being a dietary supplement to a core element of the diet.
There were other places offering authentic Indian, Mexican, and any other ethnic food you could think of. Authentic ethnic food is unheard of in most Chinese cities.
You can also get your fix for a gourmet burger at TGI Fridays or get a real steak at Outback. None of these options are available in a tier 2 city like Shenyang.
One thing that was a contrast to California in Busan was the price of a room. I got a 13th-floor ocean view suite for $149 a night. I paid double that for a similar room in San Diego.
Real estate in Busan is in a massive boom. Awe-inspiring skyscrapers are being constructed at a rapid rate. However, unlike Shenyang, these skyscrapers will have occupants!
However, Busan is similar to San Francisco in that it offered mountains and a beautiful bridge to complement the landscape.
Busan also has a legendary professional baseball team named the Giants. And just like the San Francisco Giants, these guys are well supported by a passionate fan base. They are led probably by the best cheermaster in Korea and the world, Cho Ji-Hoon. The closest equivalent to a Korean baseball cheermaster in the United States would probably be the Texas A&M Yell Leaders. However, in Korea, they also bring their karaoke machine and beautiful dancers to fully awake all your senses.
The first game I attended went 12 innings and lasted nearly 4.5 hours. The game was loaded with men in scoring position situations, but unable to score in the extra innings. The tension was unbearable. Cheermaster Cho Ji-Hoon would visibly slump with each strikeout with the bases loaded scenario that denied the Giants the win and prolonged the agony. However, he and his thousands of dedicated Giants fans would always rebound with a surge of euphoria that would reignite the stadium. It didn’t matter if the Giants won or lost. However, on this night the Giants lost.
Cho Ji-Hoon is not the only famous fan the Lotte Giants have. Kerry Maher is an American professor who has a striking resemblance to Santa Claus in a Lotte Giants jersey. He has somehow managed to become a celebrity that international news shows do profiles on. He basically got a second lease on life when he attended his first Lotte Giants game in 2008.
We were fortunate enough to meet the grand man after our second game at Sajik Stadium. We asked Mr. Maher for a picture. He told us he loved Korea and has enjoyed the 10 years that he spent there. He was very polite. Too polite.
Mr. Maher thoughtfully chatted with us for a couple of minutes. It was at this point a local person yelled in broken English, “Kerry, your bus go away!” He then said to us, “I am sorry, but I have to go.” He then hobbled across the busy intersection to flag down his bus driver to wait. Unfortunately, he did miss the bus. I did not stick around to see if the polite demeanor that had marked his earlier behavior changed when his transportation plans were canceled due to a knucklehead delaying him for pictures.
I can honestly say after having a semi-normal life for 3 days at the beach in Busan that I do feel re-energized. I am in a much better mood. This could have never happened had I remained in Mainland China. I had to find my way out of the Mainland to find my way out of this malaise.
My train has now entered Seoul. We are now crossing Hangang River. The gentleman behind me has finally relinquished on his greed for shade, and I can pull up the window shade to get a clear view of Seoul’s glistening skyline. I will be in the Seoul train station in just a few minutes. It is time for me to pack up my laptop. Thank you so much for coming along for today’s journey with me. It has been a joy sharing the ride with you!
Could watching the world’s most popular event get you in more trouble than you bargained for?
The television pictures from Sunday night’s World Cup Final were some of the most compelling of our lifetime! Modern gladiators fought their hearts out for 90 minutes for the title of world champion in front of 3 billion television viewers. It was an epic struggle that had France defeating a spirited Croatia side 4-2. Then right when we thought the contest was over, Croatia’s President gave us a demonstration in sportsmanship that may last an eternity. She was so gracious in defeat, walking hand-in-hand with French President Emmanuel Macron that you could have easily mistaken her for the winner!
However, this begs the question did anybody in China see it? Are people allowed to watch the World Cup in the world’s most populous country which lives under state-controlled censorship?
The answer is YES! All the tournament games were broadcasted in Shenyang, China. Thank goodness! Cable subscribers in Shenyang watched on CCTV5, China’s version of ESPN and my personal favorite here. However, for those who did not have cable, the games were still available on the INTRANET in full HD on Youku, China’s version of YouTube.
However, unless you are deaf, you will notice the difference of watching the World Cup in Shenyang. In Shenyang, the World Cup is only available in Mandarin. Expatriates basically have to do something illegal to get the commentary in their own native language in Shenyang. You have to crack the PRC’s internet firewalls with a VPN to access commentary in your own language. You can now be prosecuted in China if you are caught dealing VPN’s. However, once the acquisition of a VPN is made, you can listen to commentary like BBC’s Radio 5-Live broadcast, and then just overlap the English commentary with the beautiful HD Youku video feed and it is like you are watching the games in London!
However, in the Orient, World Cup kick-offs, unfortunately, happen at inconvenient times. This past World Cup had kick-offs happen as late as 2am. The 2014 Brazil World Cup had starts at 5am. However, none of these hardships seems to deter the enthusiasm of the Chinese people. Bars and pubs stay open late welcoming guest, even for the 5am kick-offs as they did in 2014. They bring big screen TVs out to the street in front of their BBQ shops. They give you a hearty yell as you walk by at 2am asking you to sample their game experience. It does not matter during the World Cup season if you are Chinese or a foreigner, everyone wants to share the experience with you.
I often found myself sometimes getting frustrated with students who weren’t alert in my class this past summer. I would ask them what is wrong. They would sheepishly admit, “Teacher, I was watching the World Cup.” I am actually ok with that because teens need to learn to develop a sense of responsibility for their own life. Young people in China are often so mollycoddled by their parents and the system that they lack a natural sense of self-reliance. Sports provides one of the few outlets for Chinese young people to experience accountability for their actions.
I was delighted to see so many of my female students take a deep interest in the tournament and choose to do their monthly English speaking assignment on the Cup. I think it’s great if young women in China take an interest in competitive things. Women are often still expected in China to follow the traditional roles of being a housewife and putting their talents on the back shelf. I am highly sympathetic to those who don’t want to see their society pulled up from its moorings, but I also strongly feel it wouldn’t hurt to leave a little room for the possibility of a future Mary Kay Ash in their midst.
The Cup has been a bridge builder between foreigners and locals in Shenyang. Typically, foreigners float around the city looking to only associate with each other. There is NOT a lot of common ground normally between the expatriates and the local people. Very rarely is a local Shenyang person able to overcome the barriers of language, education, and internet censorship to relate to international people. There are some extraordinary individuals that can make that transition, but the overwhelming majority cannot. However, for the past month all of sudden we have something in common to talk about. We both saw the same great plays by Messi and Ronaldo!
One the most surprising things for me was learning about how many Chinese see these games as extensions of military conflicts of the past. This comes from the strong sense of ultra-nationalism that is engrained into them by their communist education. They view matches that South Korea or Japan participate in very differently. They feel that the PRC loses face if Japan plays well.
Another interesting tidbit that surfaced during the event was that many local people feel that Germany’s failure in this World Cup was because Hitler is no longer. No lie! Believe it or not, some of my students do not know that Hitler was a bad guy. Many like him because he made the government stronger and he overcame obstructions. They have yet to connect the dots that he was an ally of Japan.
Currently, China has one of the best football minds in the world working the case for them in Marcello Lippi. The government is trying to issue a mandate that they will win the Cup by 2050. However, last I checked, legends like Pele and Ronaldo were the results of a deep inner drive, not centralized planning in a distant capital city. Currently, in Shenyang, we have 40 empty soccer stadiums that have sat empty for the last 3 years, rarely if ever used. Little boys and girls cannot sign for a team to play in them; they are not open to the public.
Every week my English classes are filled with young people who would love to sign-up for a team. However, they are mandated by the state-controlled education system to focus all their energy on the Gaokao, which is China’s version of the SAT’s. Beijing will use those Gaokao results as a key resource for their centralized planned economy. There could be China’s version of Pele sitting in my classroom cramming, but we will never know that he or she was supposed to be the next Pele unless they are given the freedom and opportunity to play. Rarely do you see young people dribbling a soccer ball in the streets or parks of Shenyang.
The Chinese people do have a great passion for the Cup. The resources are there for China to win the Cup someday, but it will have to be a grassroots effort that comes from the people’s passion for the beautiful game. China learning to be competitive in the world’s greatest sport would be a good thing. It would mean young people would be learning to be more accountable for their lives, and not waiting for other people to take care of them. The young people of China being more self-reliant would be a positive for the world because it means they are closer to being problems solvers in our world of many quandaries.
I can honestly say that the 2014 and 2018 World Cups have been two of the best months I have spent here in Shenyang. It has brought people together. It reminded us as human beings that we have much more in common than not in common. Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović walking hand in hand illustrated to all of us that we all experience the same emotions of joy and sadness; it doesn’t matter what country you call home. Your flag and passport are not the most important identity you have. The most important identity you can ever assume is a human being created in the image of God.
A foreigner’s harrowing encounter with the Chinese medical system.
So there I was sitting in a Shenyang USA Consulate town hall meeting on November 6, 2017. Normally the tone and language at such an event in a foreign country is conciliatory and diplomatic in nature. The last thing the State Department wants is someone from their staff making a bad impression on our Chinese host. However, the host of the meeting from the USA consulate suddenly appeared to go off script. He said, “The things that can go wrong in this area of the world (China and North Korea) are countless. I strongly advise everyone to have an emergency bag packed.”
I don’t think those in attendance expected such a bold statement, but we knew we had just been confronted with the truth.
The consulate’s sage advice had profound meaning the day I had to pack an emergency bag and evacuate in the spring of 2017. China is a lot like the American Wild West of the 1800’s, but there is no Wyatt Earp to administer justice on the frontier. There is very little law and order to protect individuals. It is possible for a local person to pose as a doctor in a medical facility and to exploit a foreigner in a medical emergency. There is very little protection you have as a foreigner.
You are literally at the mercy of the state-run medical system. It is a system according to the WHO that is ranked 144th in the world in “Overall health system performance” trailing both Syria and Hati.
I was in Shenyang, China on May 23, 2017, with a seemingly innocent bug bite. My leg swelled up. However, I just continued with business as usual. I figured pain was part of the human experience.
However, I knew something was wrong when for the 3rd day in a row where my temperature exceeded 100F. I finally called out sick from my work. I decided to rest in bed until I got better. However, my ailment only debilitated me more as the hours went by. I decided to go to the North Eastern International Hospital of Shenyang. The people in white coats told me everything was ok, I just had a high temperature. They said, “Come back tomorrow if you are still sick.”
I woke up on Saturday, May 27th and my fever was still rising, so I went back to the North Eastern International Hospital of Shenyang and they told me the truth which is they had no doctors available to treat me. They could only do blood test. Meanwhile, my temperature was rising all the time.
My translator then arrived North Eastern International Hospital of Shenyang and she was advised by local people to get me to the #7 hospital in Shenyang because “They were more professional.” Commonsense would dictate at this point that you get a taxi to take me to the #7 Hospital. However, she had a 17-year-old male friend who had yet to earn his driver’s license, and he was looking for more experience driving unauthorized on the streets of Shenyang. You have to be a pretty bad driver when Shenyang’s police tell you that you are not safe enough to drive yet. So I was becoming deathly ill on the streets of Shenyang, and fully dependent on a 17-year-old daredevil who had yet to meet Shenyang’s minimum safety standards. However, that was my only hope at this point. China has a way of putting foreigners in awkward predicaments.
However, when entering the #7 hospital it smelled like a poorly run nursing home. I went in there with my translator and they made me wait in a long line. I finally got up to the front after waiting an hour, and my translator talked with a frumpy middle-aged woman with heavy flakes of dandruff in her hair, and white coat that had several red, brown, and black stains on it. The middle-aged woman told my translator that they do not help foreigners at the #7 Hospital. Could you imagine a hospital in the USA telling a foreigner who entered legally they won’t help them because they are a foreigner? Lawsuit! That patient would own the hospital after such an event.
It was at this point my translator was advised to take me to the # 1 Hospital. The #1 Hospital of Shenyang is supposed to represent the best that Chinese medicine has to offer in northeastern China. The #1 Hospital is massive and was made world-famous by the passing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo in its confines just a year after my visit.
However, the #1 Hospital distinguished reputation was difficult to recognize. Most of the doctors had all gone home for the next 4 days for the Chinese Holiday of Dragon Boat Festival. As a result of the dearth of doctors to treat the public, the parking lot was filled with hundreds if not thousands of patients waiting to be seen. You would have to see it to believe it if you are from an advanced country.
I remember being escorted through the crowds up to the emergency room and walking past the ambulances. Inside the ambulances were the paramedics sitting idle smoking cigarettes. They were flicking the ashes carelessly around the ambulance’s interior. I had always assumed it was universal knowledge to keep the interior of an ambulance sterilized. However, China has a way of challenging axioms that you thought were unadulterated truths.
I think my translator was hoping that she could play the “foreigner card” on the emergency room staff and pull something out of the hat for me. The Chinese often have the virtue of sparing foreign visitors from the pain that the ordinary citizens experience in daily life. However, they told me they had no doctors available and to take a seat. If they got to me, they got to me.
I found a rusty metal bench in the ER waiting room. However, when I went to sit down I noticed a man in a hospital gown taking a leak in the trash can next to my chair. I then got up and went to a place about 75 yards away. However, after I sat down for about 10 minutes I noticed a yellow river flowing around my white Reeboks. A nearby toddler was being held by their grandmother and was being encouraged in Chinese to tinkle away any discomfort. These type of incidents are not uncommon with folks from Mainland China.
It was with haste I departed the new “Yellow River” for safer and higher ground in the hospital waiting room. My logic was to find seating next to the restroom because surely nobody would intentionally sully the hospital facilities when the convenience of a washroom is only 10 feet away…
Well…. I wasn’t even there 5 minutes when a mother urged her son of about 5 years old defecate in the hallway in front of me. Lumps of fecal matter just dropped from the kid’s bowels onto the hospital hallway next to his sandals. It was not dreamed. It really happened and it was with parental approval. No lie.
It was at this point I lost it, and with great determination I told my translator “I am a human being and I am going home!” She said, “But you are very ill and need help.” I responded emphatically, “I don’t care anymore if I die. If I die in my apartment, at least it will be a clean and peaceful death.”
Despite her protest, I walked right past her out of the ER parking lot past the idle ambulances filled with cigarette ashes and got a taxi (with a driver’s license) back to my apartment.
I was lying in bed awaiting the Angel of Death to visit me when I got another phone call at about 10pm that night from my school owner. They wanted to take me from my apartment to a 4th hospital that day! I adamantly refused saying, “I am a human being. I will not go!” They finally conceded and let me rest.
I would rest the next 4 days in my apartment hoping my condition would improve but it did not. However, I was able to locate a clinic that specialized in treating foreigners here in Shenyang. They had American doctors, and it made me optimistic that my problems were coming to an end, or so I thought. The truth was my predicament was about to become more problematic.
The first thing they asked for was my passport to make a legal record of the matter. I had no idea how consequential this action would be. The one thing that became clear within in the first few moments of being there was that a Chinese woman was calling the shots and not the American doctors. However, there was no urinating in the trash can, and the hallways were clear of feces. Things seemed to be moving in the right direction.
They went through the motions of treating me and told me to take some medication and come back if my fever did not go down. They charged me 1,901 CNY and sent me on my way. However, the medication turned out to be fake, which happens all too often in China. My fever remained sky high, and the only thing that worked on me was Advil that I brought back from North Carolina. My fever would return after about 4 hours of taking Advil, but the medicine the international clinic gave me was phony as could be.
I returned to the international clinic seeking some help. Naturally, my condition got no better and temps just got higher. So they then charged me 3,679CNY more and told me they had no answers for what my ailment was.
It was at this point the Chinese female boss waited for the American doctors to leave the clinic, and she approached me alone while I was in a bed getting a drip IV. She told me she wanted to get me in a white van and take me to her colleague to get a good “deal”. All you need to do is Google a bit about unmarked white vans at Chinese hospitals to understand that you were at risk, and the worst part was she was trying to get me to do it alone. I was very ill, but that got me alert real fast.
I knew I wanted to live and I didn’t want anything to do with her white vans.
She continued with her sales pitch. She told me my illness was very serious and that I could be dead very soon. I needed to go see her colleague for a chance to save my life. She brought her packed bags into my room because she was so sure she was going to get me to bite on her sales pitch.
However, that is when the critical thinking kicked-in that I often teach my students. I asked, “How much is this going to cost?”
She said, “I don’t know.”
I asked, “How long will I be there till I can go home?”
She answered, “I don’t know”
I asked, “Can’t we wait for my girlfriend to go with me?” She did not want to wait for anybody. She said, “I am very good at negotiating. I can get you a good deal. Your illness is life-threatening and you really need to get into the van with me.”
However, unlike most English teachers in China, I did have options because of my disabled Veterans status from serving in the US military. I said to her, “If my illness is really life threatening, then I need to go back to the States to be treated because I have free medical care there.”
When the Chinese boss heard this she became clearly agitated with my lack of cooperation. She said, “No, you cannot go back to the States. I HAVE DECERTIFIED YOUR PASSPORT TO PREVENT YOU FROM TRAVELING AND LEAVING CHINA! You are too ill. I am doing this for your own safety. You would not survive the trip back to the States. You are too sick.”
I could not believe what I had just heard. So I verified it. I asked, “What if I went to the airport?”
She answered, “You would be detained by the authorities at the airport because your passport is no longer certified to travel.”
“You would have me arrested because I want to see my own doctor?” I asked.
She answered, “Yes, it is for your own safety. You have to stay in China. It is the only way for you to get better”
I then negotiated with her to give me 24 more hours before getting in the van to go to her undisclosed location.
However, I had to come back the next morning. This time an American doctor treated me, but he had no idea what was going on with my health. He suggested I have exploratory surgery done on me by having my bone marrow removed to see if they could diagnose my ailment that way.
I was then ordered to have an extraordinary number of blood test. They ended up doing so many blood test on me that day that they stuck a needle in me and could not get any more blood out. So I was walking around the clinic with a giant needle in my arm as they waited for other medical staff from other nearby medical facilities to come assist what little available blood I had remaining.
They continued to run up a huge tab on me, but then told me at the end of the day they had no clue what is wrong with me and I will probably die shortly. They then charged me 4,477 CNY and told me I had to meet them at 1pm the next day to go to their undisclosed location that the Chinese boss woman had arranged. They finally released me at about 4pm on June 3, 2017.
I knew two things at this point. First, I wanted to live. Second, I knew I had about 20 hours to make that happen.
Then to make things more complicated my school owner wanted to be at the next medical appointment with the Chinese clinic boss. I knew I was in trouble then because the last thing an English training school owner wants to hear is that a valuable teacher is going to be medically evacuated to the States. They had already lost 2 weeks of revenue from my illness and nobody knew at this point when or if I was going to make it back.
The second problem this presented was if they got chattering in Chinese, it might be easy for them to get duped by this deceptive clinic boss woman. She could also play the nationalism card and tell them China would lose face if I left the country for better medical care. It is very very easy to get Chinese to do misguided things when you play the patriotism card on them.
I was rapidly running out of runway to get airborne figuratively and literally. My family had been sending me emails urging to get home so that I could get some real professional care.
I tried to eat that evening but I puked-up all my guts.
I told my girlfriend we are NOT going to the 1pm medical rendezvous tomorrow. We are going to the airport. I am booking a flight to get out of the country tomorrow before they can find me.
Her reaction was “You are leaving me?”
I said, “But you will be a hero by saving my life and getting me to the airport.”
“But you are leaving me!”
I think she thought what the Chinese doctors said was correct, that I was about to die and never return.
I then booked an airline ticket that left Shenyang at 7:30am and then connected with Delta flight 582 in Shanghai at 11:45am. If everything went according to plan I would be airborne and of the country before the shady clinic boss could figure anything out.
However, if I was wrong and the clinic boss was telling the truth that she had alerted airport security then I would probably be detained and left to my own demise legally and medically. However, at this point, I was betting it was a bluff on her part to soak me for some money. These type of things happen all the time in China.
I then phoned home in the States and told my parents if everything went according to plan they were going to have a visitor in 24 hours who needed a ride to the hospital.
I had come up with a plan to by-pass the airport temperature sensors in Shanghai by doping myself up pretty good with Tylenol and Advil. I would suppress my temperature for an hour or so and then walk past the sensors and hopefully not trigger any alarms.
I remember carefully observing everything I looked at one last time on the morning of June 4, 2017. I truthfully had no idea if I was ever getting back to Shenyang. I remember how beautiful the late spring morning was with bright sunshine and blooming flowers. Seniors were pushing their carts full of goods to the market. Everything seemed perfect, except for the fact local doctors told me I was about to die.
I got to the airport check-in counter. I remember they asked for my passport and my hand was shaking as I gave it to the man behind the counter. I tried to act calm like nothing was wrong. The clerk typed out the buttons on his keyboard for what seemed like an eternity checking my information in their database. I was wondering what was in their database? What did the man see? Had I been flagged?
Then much to my relief, his computer spit-out 3 beautiful boarding passes and he handed them to me. I was checked in all the way through Raleigh-Durham International Airport!
The next gate I had to pass through was domestic security to reach my boarding gate for Shanghai. I did my best to act calm, and once again the security guard just routinely checked my passport and waved me on through to my boarding gate. So far so good.
Everything was working well. Nobody was recognizing me or suspecting anything was wrong.
I reached my gate and waited for the call to board my flight. However, I suddenly passed out. The next thing I remember is a staff member from the Shenyang airport waking me up and asking in broken English, “Are you going to Shanghai?” They were doing the last boarding call!
Now, understandably, I was trying to avoid all detection. However, right when I boarded the plane and sat down in my seat, a student of mine recognized me. She got really excited because she had not seen me in weeks. She started yelling at me, “Don, Don, you’re here!” I was afraid she was going to start snapping pictures and posting them on Wechat, and then the information would make it back to the wrong people in Shenyang before my Delta flight departed Chinese soil.
I remember very little about the two-hour flight to Shanghai. However, things got very interesting once I landed in Shanghai because my mind was not clear. Shanghai Airport has 2 terminals. I landed in Terminal 1 and was I was supposed to connect with my Delta flight in Terminal 1. I had a very tight connection window, but I was very confused. Without even thinking I started walking to Terminal 2 assuming that was the international terminal. It was a one-kilometer walk and keep in mind I have a temperature of about 104 and am feeling very weak. It’s already a hot day and I was sweating like crazy, and I am sending all the wrong signals to anybody who would carefully observe me.
I finally reached terminal 2 and security stopped me and tried to explain to me in broken English that I was in the wrong terminal. I had only 30 minutes to correct my terrible error. I felt faint like I was about to collapse.
Me not making my connecting flight was a huge problem because I would be stuck on Chinese soil when the shady clinic boss would figure out I am not getting in her white van. I knew she was going to come looking for me at 1 p.m. and my flight departed at about 11:45am. This plan had to work.
I would probably have to wait another day to get the next flight out. If my name was not on a do not fly list, then it then gives the clinic boss another 24 hours to have me apprehended for the crime of wanting to see my doctor.
I started going as fast as a man with 104 temperature can go between terminal 2 and Terminal 1 at the Shanghai airport. I was running scared.
I finally reached terminal 1 with only about 20 minutes to spare before my flight. I was going to be late unless some extraordinary event in intervened on my behalf.
I also had a plan to take my medication to get my temperature down to avoid detection at the temperature sensors. However, I reached into my bag and realized I had forgotten to pack all of my medications. I was going to have to slip through the airport temperature sensors like a thief and hope nobody noticed.
I finally reached the temperature sensor and I purposely walked over to the very very far side and nobody seemed notice. I just kept on walking very rapidly and got inline for the next checkpoint of passing through Chinese customs.
However, there was a huge backlog in the Shanghai airport at the final customs checkpoint. I was stuck and Delta was making its final boarding call. It was a total jam and nothing was moving. I could not seem to catch a break.
Just then a Shanghai airport worker approached me from behind asking “Is there anybody going to Detroit? Is there anybody going to Detroit?” I responded in a very faint and weak voice, “Yes I’m going to Detroit. Can you please help me?”
He then motioned me to get out of the line and follow him through customs where my passport was stamped one last time. He then ushered me through security into the terminal where another lady was working for Delta said, “Are you going to Detroit? Please come with me. You need to run if you want to make this flight.” So there I was with a 104 temperature having to run the try to make this flight.
Walking down the walkway onto the Delta flight was like entering another dimension where I knew I had been saved. I had never before been so happy to board a Delta flight. Seeing those Americans smile at me as I boarded on that flight was the sweetest thing ever!
However, I couldn’t say anything yet because if they knew anything was wrong with me they might make me leave the plane. So I had to wait till the flight became airborne before I could spill the beans about what it happened to me. It was longest 30 minutes ever of a plane taxing a runway I had experienced. Once Delta flight 582 was airborne I knew I was safe. The crooked clinic boss and her white van were not getting me.
The next 14 hours between Shanghai in Detroit the Delta crew did the best they could for me. However, it was still an agonizing 14 hours. A Delta flight attendant kept a careful eye on me and made sure I always had plenty of ice and water the whole time. She even got me Tylenol to help keep my temperature down. They could not have been any better.
One funny moment was when a Chinese man sitting next to me understood what I was telling the flight attendants in English. He wanted to help too. He suggested I cure my condition by pricking the tips of my fingers with toothpicks. I think he was describing an acupuncture technique and thought that would cure me of this serious illness that had inflicted me the past two weeks.
I don’t remember much about the flight except when I looked outside saw the state of Michigan shortly before landing. My uncle died 3 years earlier in the same beautiful state, and I feared I was about to join him. When we landed in Detroit I could only walk on one leg. The swelling in my left leg had gotten so bad that I had become Captain Hook. My calf was about twice the normal size and it was numb.
So everybody left me behind and there as I was hobbling down toward USA immigration and customs as Captain Hook all alone. However, I was a very happy Captain Hook, because I knew I was no longer going to be thrown into a Chinese prison because of some scheme a crooked doctor cooked up.
Everything was pretty routine moving through customs in Detroit. I had an 8-hour layover in Detroit so I got a room at a nearby Comfort Inn till my next flight. I tried to wait as long as possible before leaving my hotel room because my condition was so bad.
I didn’t leave myself much spare time move through the airport and board my flight. However, Detroit security refused to let me move through because they said the boarding pass printed in Shenyang was not valid in Detroit, so they made me go back to the Delta counter in recheck-in for my flight. I was afraid they were going to make me miss my flight. It felt like a bit of a sucker punch.
My parents picked me up in Raleigh-Durham fearing the worse. You have to remember the Otto Warmbier saga was going on at the time. The boy who was brought home sick from a communist country and died the following week. The parallels between my situation and his were a disconcerting.
On June the 5th, I checked into the Durham Veterans Hospital. The hospital staff was alarmed at first and put me in an isolated room. They had no idea what I contracted in China. However, after running a couple hours of tests, they figured I’d probably been bitten by some type of a tick. They got me on an antibiotic and immediately onto the road to recovery.
It turns out it is common for tick bites to be fatal in China. They often kill hundreds of people every year according to statistics in China. The doctors at the VA wanted to know why the doctor’s in China could not treat something for so simple? I had no answer. However, the doctor’s questions summed up what happened in a nutshell. A very simple problem became a major crisis due to the system there.
I had to spend the next 2 to 3 weeks in bed back in North Carolina, but eventually I was given a clean bill of health to return back to work in China. Within 12 hours of my good medical report, I was back on the plane heading back to China.
Going back to China was a little problematic because I didn’t know if my name was on a no-fly list due to what the shady clinic boss may have done. I called my owner and they assured me they were going to get me through to Shenyang and do whatever it took to get me back on the job. I believed them because they had every incentive to help me. They were losing money due to my extended absence.
Moving back through customs in Beijing on June 23, 2017, was one the easiest things I had ever done. My name was never on a no-fly list. The whole thing was a bluff from the clinic boss. Chinese Customs always acted appropriately every time I’ve passed in and out of China. They were never part of the problem; it was the clinic boss who put up this huge lie.
Ironically, karma struck a few months later. The clinic that tried to jam me into one of their unmarked vans sent out an announcement that they were going under and was advising people to seek medical care elsewhere. I have not heard the official reason why they went under, but one can speculate.
I would return to the USA later in 2017 for my annual physical, and my doctor asked me a profound question “Why do you go back to a country that did that to you?” It is a great question. The answer is because in China I’m getting opportunities I probably would never get if I’d stayed home in the United States. I am valued here. I am able to make a difference in young people’s lives.
Getting back to work on June 24th as one of the happiest days of my life. My workplace was decorated with balloons streamers and signs saying “Welcome back Donald” and I was presented with a nice big teddy bear. I had returned to my job. My life was normal again.
Life in China has a way of throwing you curve balls that you never expected. What determines your success here is most likely going to be your resolve. You have to be like a cat that knows how to land on its feet.
You have to be instinctive when dealing with people in China. Much like a dog, you have to sniff around and make sure you are not being lied too.
I am sure most of the medical people who attempted to treat me are sincere and good. I am also positive there are a countless number of people in China who are very good at administering professional healthcare. However, like Ernie Banks they are playing for the Chicago Cubs of their generation. They are working in a medical system that is ranked 144th in the world and is not about to win a pennant anytime soon.
You have to be your own safety net in China. It is often just you and Providence. Nobody else is going to save you or think for you. You have to be prepared for the worse, and most importantly always have your bags packed. The next emergency could occur in the next hour.
So there I was riding the bus home on a Saturday night in Shenyang, China. I work a ton of hours on the weekends, and I was feeling pretty broken down physically. I was riding the bus, and the driver stopped a little longer than normal at a particular stop.
Apparently, the bus driver could not decide whether or not to allow an elderly female woman on board. She had some frightening skin disease and the driver was distressed about letting her on with us (the other passengers). She finally convinced him after a couple minutes it was okay for her to board.
She then literally crawled into the cabin and very gingerly remounted to her wobbly feet. She slothfully made her way past me in the cabin as the bus driver navigated Shenyang’s erratic traffic towards my home.
However, a taxi unexpectedly cut off my bus by pulling out from a side street without looking. This set off a chain of events.
The bus driver suddenly lurched to the left and came to a complete stop. Meanwhile, the ailing woman who had just slowly crept past me was now hurled in my direction heading for a bruising impact with the floorboard.
Without thinking I grabbed her to keep her from falling while everyone else just stared. I kept her upright and injury free. She didn’t look at me. She just grunted. She then sat beside me. A couple of the other passengers looked at me and gave me a nod of approval that I had done something noble. I think the noble deed was keeping her from sitting beside them.
However, when she sat down I could smell her. She had most likely had been in the garbage foraging for hidden treasures. She had small bugs hovering around her clothes and dark black bacteria stains on her red sweater.
Then at the next stop, a man got on the bus, and he was losing the skin on his left forearm. He decided to sit on my other side. It was truly a “China Day”.
The story does not end there. I started to burn and itch real bad where I had touched the diseased woman to keep her from falling. I then took my clothes in a garbage bag to take to the cleaners this morning. I was pretty paranoid and took about an hour long shower that night and fell asleep exhausted. Fortunately, the burning and itching went away eventually 24 hours later.
It was just another ordinary Saturday night in China.
This WSJ (March 18, 2016) story of “Heavy Recruitment of Chinese Students Sows Discord on US Campuses” just highlights that the university elites view themselves as academic hookers, and they don’t care about the “morning after”. They are doing a huge disservice to both Americans and the Chinese middle class.
First, the American students must watch their college campuses being invaded like locust by thousands of academically unfit foreign students. The classes can no longer cover the same content because professors must slow down their lectures to help those who can not understand English.
Second, they are selling false hope to the middle class families of China whose parents and grandparents have saved their money for the day that their child can graduate from a reputable foreign university and secure a great job. The Chinese middle class have no idea they are being sold “fools gold”, and the truth often is their kid was never good enough make it in the first place. The elites know this when they lower the TOFEL standard to 80.
Meanwhile. the university administrators can conveniently blame those “morning after” problems that they instigated on “racism” and “xenophobia”. The university elites are breathtakingly slimy.
The highlight of my trip was getting to watch a professional National Hockey League game on November 25th. The game featured the Edmonton Oilers versus the Carolina Hurricanes. The NHL (National Hockey League) is the best in the world!
Carolina would win 4-1. I am looking forward to attending another game with my dad when I return to the States again in February.
I had pretty good flight coming over to the USA. It was very icy on my departure day, and the airport express way was shut down in Shenyang. It made me nervous for about an hour, but I ended up making it with about 30 minutes to spare.
The overnight in Incheon, South Korea was really enjoyable; everything around Incheon was really first class. I really enjoyed my Central Park Hotel in Incheon. However, I had to walk about 1km to find decent food from the hotel.
Incheon made Dulles airport in Washington DC look like a third world. There just isn’t quality people to assist you there like there is around Seoul and Shenyang’s airport. They are not allowed to do background checks in USA on government employees, so it is conceivable that it could be a thief or terrorist checking up on your safety.
Where would you rather ask for help?
However, when I got to North Carolina a few hours later it felt like I was home in the USA. America is a rapidly changing place, and I often feel like a foreigner in my own country. However, its trips like this that makes me glad I have made my home in Asia.