4 am. That’s the time I had to get up this Sunday morning. “But why?”, I hear you ask. Well, it was to go to the hospital. You see, my girlfriend has had this bad throat for a few weeks now, and was convinced by her friend that she had to go to Beijing’s best hospital to get it seen to. And I, being as nice as I am, chose to accompany her (oh the things you do for love).
When you go to hospital in China, you first need to register a number to make sure you have a confirmed place as a patient on the given day. Depending on which ward you want to go to (i.e, neurology, immunology etc.) they may allow 500 visits in a day, or 5. The tricky part being that there are so many people in the same boat as you that if you’re not up and queuing by 5am, then you’ve most likely stuffed it for another day.
Even after getting up at 4am and stumbling sleepily into a registration room that didn’t open for another 3 hours, there were already well established queues of people forming. We were considered the late comers to this torturous operation, and it certainly seemed as such; people had brought little stools and yoga mats to sit on. I kid you not! Food and drink was being consumed, even cigarettes were being smoked. Anything to bide the time until the people queuing could have a shot at getting one of the day’s (very limited) patient numbers.
Anyway, after talking to a couple of people, we were informed that we would not get the number we wanted by going through the official channels, so we had to go and bargain with these dodgy Del-Boy-esque characters who could somehow get us seen by the doctors. I’m guessing some people in the hospital must be in on this profiteering, as it is incredibly blatant.
So, after handing over the cold hard cash necessary to secure ‘patienthood’, we went to find a place to rest. We found a dark room filled with chairs, with one security guard lazing at the back. Confident in our assumption that it was the public waiting room we sat down, hoping to bide the 2 hours we had until the ticket booth opened (how wrong does that sound?!). But no, the lounging security guard told us that if we wanted to sit there, we had to hand over some more money (to go straight into his fat, sweaty palms of course). All this from Beijing’s best hospital! If only Mao had known the incredible and seemingly innate Chinese talent for turning anything into profit I reckon he would have just given up. “Fuck hiding in the mountains, let Chiang Kai Shek have a bash!” Maybe we could even have avoided the Cultural Revolution.
Just to top off this episode of queuing and dodgy deals, I spilled coffee all over my trousers and had to spend the morning trailing around the hospital with these huge brown stains on my thighs. Just the look I was going for! The sleepy stained foreigner.
So, thoroughly exhausted, I ended up back in bed at around 1pm Sunday afternoon. Just another day in the life!