Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pride goeth before severe stomach problems

We just moved from Tuen Mun to Sai Kung.  We've got a bigger place, a rooftop garden, a decent kitchen and a proper guest room, and I've got a one and a half hour commute.  This means that I'm rarely home to cook dinner.

Luckily, when we moved in we noticed an Indian place less than a block away.  We love Indian, as does anyone in their right mind, so we tried it out that night. The menu told us we could specify mild, medium, or spicy.  We of course chose spicy.  When our food came, however, there was barely any heat to be detected.

Now, I can forgive our waiter for this.  I understand that spicy is a relative term.  For example, to someone from Hunan province "spicy" is a mouthful of raw chilies.  To a Cantonese person, "spicy" is a sprinkling of table salt.  So when he asked us how the food was I was kind, but I told him that it wasn't spicy at all.  He apologized and brought us a bowl of chili sauce that was only slightly spicier.  He saw us ladling it on, smiled and said, "Okay, I understand."  And then I made my fatal mistake.  I said (and these words have come back to haunt me), "Yes!  We like Indian spicy!"

So the next time we went, he smiled with recognition and said "Indian spicy!"  Yes!  We nodded and smiled and happily munched papadums while we waited for our baingan bharta and bhindi masala.  

We were still innocents then.

The food came and it smelled amazing.  It also sort of burned my eyes.  Under our waiter's proud and benevolent gaze, we took our first big bites. Chew chew che- ohmygod mouth on fire lips on fire face on fire everything on fire

But we locked eyes across the table and knew what we had to do.  We choked it down, smiled with watering eyes, and gave our waiter the thumbs-up.  "Per -cough- perfect."  He looked so happy.  "Good!  You like spicy!"  As he wandered off to take care of other customers we desperately gulped water.  Though I have to say we wouldn't have done so if I didn't happen to have an extra bottle of water in my purse to fill up our water glasses before our waiter returned.  No one must know that this food hurt us.

Since then, we visit the restaurant about once a week.  It's close, it's cheap, and, well, we can't lose face.  We've had long discussions about whether we can downgrade to "medium" but just can't take the shame.  So we order our food with lots of naan and rice and raita, and these days we usually get it for take away so we can cough and gulp water away from our waiter's judging eyes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What $26.50 gets you

On Monday I found out I was pregnant. Tuesday was one of the best days of my life.  On Wednesday I had a miscarriage.

I'm posting this because one of the only things that kept me sane was that little tiny detached part of me that was seeing this whole experience and thinking, "Hmm... that's odd."

So if you’ve ever wondered what public hospitals in Hong Kong are like, this is for you.

I wake up Wednesday morning around 5am with terrible cramps. I go to the toilet and find that I'm bleeding and I immediately know what's happening. I shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and set out on my one hour forty-five minute commute to my doctor’s office. I show up, crying and in near-hysterics, and tell her what's going on. She writes me a letter to go to the emergency room, so I grab a taxi and am off.

The emergency rooms in Hong Kong are much like those in the States – lots of sitting, lots of waiting. One difference – you are warned that the wait could be UP TO TWO HOURS. Pfft - I’ve waited in emergency rooms in the States for six or seven hours. This is nothing.

After a few sonograms and a few hours it's determined that I am indeed miscarrying, and I'm given a gynaecological exam. Ladies, you know what this is like in the States - you lie flat on a table with your feet in stirrups and the doctor sits on a stool between your legs and pokes around. It’s somewhat similar in Hong Kong. The stirrups are there. The doctor is there. But the table is replaced by something that looks like a dentist’s chair. So I sit down and the nurse says, “Now move chair.” ...What? Oh, I’ll tell you what – the chair begins to tilt backwards, and it tilts, and tilts, until I’m at a 60-degree angle with my crotch pointing towards the sky. The doctor strolls in, I have the fleeting thought that I must be the most awesome blood-smeared performance art flower vase ever, I giggle-sob, and she gets to work.

The cramping is so bad that she offers to scrape out some of the tissue to ease the work my uterine walls have to do. I agree and the relief is immediate. I also realize that I could be charged with murder for this if I was in the good old USA.

Back to my room, where it’s now evening visiting hours. There are two visiting hours per day, timed to coincide with lunch and dinner. So everyone else in my room – seven other women – have family members bringing them full meals. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of Chinese food. Even Cantonese food at times. But I’m still filled with the pregnancy hormones that make you very sensitive to smells. And the odour of steamed fish and beef stomach, combined with the prodigious belching that’s culturally acceptable here, are pushing me to the edge of sanity. Then the nurse brings me my dinner:

I close my eyes, grit my teeth, and take myself to my happy place (my happy place is a Mexican restaurant filled with kittens and free beer).

All this time there are some medical students wandering around the ward, shadowing doctors and trying to get some patient experience. As the sole Westerner I’m a prime opportunity for them to practice their bedside manner with foreigners. The “bedside manner” consists of approaching my bed, standing awkwardly for a few moments, then slowly...sloowwly...sloooowwly (think approaching a feral cat) reaching out a hand to hover about a centimetre from my shoulder, saying “Don’t be so nervous” giving a quick patpat on my shoulder and running away.

I try to appreciate the effort and that they’re doing their best, but after the third patpat and nervous giggle as they run away, I find myself yelling “I’M NERVOUS BECAUSE MY BABY IS DYING.” No one in the room even looks my way.

After two full days and one night in hospital, multiple sonograms (including something called a “transvaginal sonogram” that’s exactly as much fun as it sounds), consultations with various specialists, medication, blood tests, and discharge with six weeks’ worth of medication, my total bill came to $200 HKD. That’s a little over $26 US dollars.

I can’t imagine going through this in the States. Already emotionally devastated, to be financially devastated as well? And, if things continue to move in the political direction that they seem to be moving, for extra fun I could be criminally charged. This experience has been horrible in so many ways, but I’m so grateful not to be living in America right now. My home country is absolutely detestable for what it’s doing to its people.

And finally, just a plug for my amazing husband - he was in the Philippines when this happened, but when I emailed him and told him what was going on he moved the earth to get back home as soon as possible and arrived in time to bring me pizza and chocolate cake on my second day in hospital (remember - pregnancy hormones). I was pleased that it had peppers and onions and was extra-smelly. PAYBACK FOR THOSE BEEF STOMACHS, BITCHES!

Bonus photo – when Hong Kong doctors ask for a urine sample, they don’t mess around. This is the jug – yes, jug – I was told to fill:

There's a certain power that comes with carrying a gallon of urine in your handbag. It's what I imagine carrying a gun must be like. But heavier.