Sunday, May 24, 2009

the dentist in china

my mother will be happy to know that i made a trip to the dentist this past week. i get (i think) one free cleaning and checkup a year through my health insurance at select dental clinics in beijing. so of course i just picked the one that was closest to my office, called "Care Plus". i didn't really know what to expect, but several friends, i believe clark included, had been to the dentist, and said it was just the same as in the states. really at this point i'm way past being surprised when anything in beijing meets western standards, and the dentist wasn't an exception. everything was clean and all the equipment was modern. but what really struck me was how much nicer of an experience it was than in the states.

first of all i scheduled the appointment only two days in advance, whereas for the dentist i went to growing up it's so crazy you almost need to schedule your next appointment in six months time before even your current appointment. they even called me up to change the time to make sure there was an english speaking staff member to do my cleaning, which i graciously accepted because i don't know any dentist vocabulary but turned out i didn't need. and everybody was extraordinarily friendly, especially after i awed them with my ability to speak and write chinese. (the best way to really impress a chinese person is to write something in chinese, as most people in beijing now are pretty jaded by foreigners who can speak. luckily i only had to write my address, which besides my name is about the only thing i can write from memory in chinese anymore).

but the kicker was at the end of the cleaning, where the girl who cleaned my teeth (they called her a "doctor" in chinese but i'm not actually sure if she was a doctor in the english sense) told me "your teeth are really great!" a far cry from in the states, where the end of a cleaning usually results in some heavy admonishment, about how you should floss, and then once you start flossing about how you are doing it wrong, and then about how you're brushing too hard or too straight or not for long enough. i mean i take ok care of my teeth (i actually floss everyday), but i suspect most of her praise was due to some pretty weak competition from the locals on the dental hygiene front. still, i walked out of there feeling pretty good, which is more than i can say for any trip to the dentist back home.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

a goldilocks moment

considering that i don't have any mexican friends, it was only today that i finally felt some effects of the A/H1N1 flu pandemic. mainland china has its first suspected case of the flu now, and so they're pulling out all the stops to keep us safe at my fancy ass gym (corporate membership). they take the temperature of everybody that comes in the door and if you're above 37 degrees they don't let you in.

however, i have my doubts about the efficacy of the procedure. when i arrived today, there was a lady with what must have been some kind of infrared thermometer, about the size of a small flashlight, a bit of technology i had never seen before. it apparently works by taking a reading off your skin. the first reading she took was off the top of my wrist, which returned a 33 (too cold, she said). the next was off my forehead, which returned a 37 (she told me to a wait a second to cool down). finally i rolled up my sleeve, and the reading off my forearm was an even 35 (perfect, according to her). later i overheard a guy in a locker room saying the same thing had happened to him. let's just say that if the pandemic arrives, the gym won't be the first place i will be taking refuge.

Monday, May 04, 2009

tianjin and china's stephen colbert

two weekends ago i took an afternoon trip to tianjin with a friend to visit a former teacher of ours from summer school. we took the new bullet train, which costs less than 10 dollars and covers the 70 miles between beijing and tianjin in only 25 minutes. apparently the CRH trains, which are clearly ripped off from the japanese bullet trains, are the fastest conventional trains in the world. ours didn't go the full 350 km/h, but the 332 km/h speed we did reach was fast enough as far as i'm concerned.

tianjin is a decent city, but the i share the major complaint with most other people in that there's not much going on there. we went to lunch and wandered around the part of town with a lot of old architecture from when there was a large european presence in the city in the early 20th century. it was a cool mix of quite large single family homes and small apartment buildings. it looked like a neighborhood you might find in an old inner suburb of boston or new york.

but the highlight of the trip was lunch, when i ticked another animal off my list of things to eat: ants. i wasn't too keen on it but gave into peer pressure and tried. as you can see from the picture, it came in a small martini glass with a maraschino cherry. they had much more texture than flavor, crunchy but also light and airy. it was like eating hundreds of teeny tiny pieces of popcorn. apparently they are good for virility, but i can't vouch for any immediate effects.

fun story: durrell and i, on our way to my place to watch lost, stop in to the corner store right outside my building so i can get a drink, and the guy working there, who sees me all the time, looks at durrell and asks me "is he your little brother?" i look at him for a second, then ask "does he look like me?" and the guy says "yeah, you look a lot alike." honestly it was refreshing, after meeting so many obliviously racist people in china, to meet a guy that is clearly blind to race.