Archive for July, 2008

July 18th 2008
Confessions of the Undercover Cootie Police

Posted under Nepal

A few days passed before we received a call from the white water rafting shop, informing us that a trip was going on the weekend. It was an overnight camping trip and before booking it, Aaron wanted to get another ultrasound to make sure that everything was okay with the bean. I had been experiencing some questionable symptoms but nothing definitive. We had inquired that morning of the Canadian raft shop owner which hospital was the best for foreigners. She recommended Manipal Teaching Hospital, which was also listed in our guide book. As we stood in the lobby of our hotel seeking help from the front desk clerk to arrange an ultrasound by phone, Aaron happened to spy an article on the front page of that day’s local newspaper reporting a strike of the entire Nepal Medical Association. The article stated that throughout Nepal, all non-emergency medical facilities were shut down until after the weekend. Hospitals were seeing patients on an emergency only basis. Well, this ridiculous situation called for a little emergency then. Determined to get our ultrasound, we exaggerated my symptoms a bit and the front desk clerk confirmed by phone that we could be seen at the hospital.

Anxiously we walked outside and hired a taxi for the thirty minute drive to Manipal Teaching Hospital. We arrived at the front entrance and slowly found our way to the Emergency area. I was almost immediately shown to a room with three beds – one was occupied by a young local girl and the two others were empty. The room was spacious but old with stains on the ceiling and faded paint on the walls. One of our first observations was that all of the windows were wide open, something you’d never see in an American hospital. Aaron completed the paperwork and we explained my symptoms with only slight exaggeration, to the young nurse as she checked my vitals. Then we waited an inordinate length of time for the ultrasound until my bladder was literally about to burst.

The ultrasound tech was a very serious middle-aged man with thick-framed glasses. The procedure was tedious and inconclusive; the tech’s most worrying utterance being, “Did you take a positive pregnancy test?” With his abdominal ultrasound he was not able to detect a discernable heartbeat, though both he and Aaron noticed a flickering on the ultrasound which could have been the minute beating heart. The good news was that a fetal pole had developed and the bean had increased in size at the appropriate rate since the last ultrasound. That was something. When you’re holding on by a thread, when your sanity is fragile, you grasp hard onto the slightest glimmer of hope. We later learned that the hospital did have a transvaginal ultrasound machine, but of course, that tech was on strike with the masses.

Back in the room, I grabbed a packet of tissues and made my way to the restroom. Yes, here we go again. And what, you may be wondering, were the findings of the Cootie Police this time? A bowlful of inexplicably vile bodily waste, droplets of blood on the floor, and the expected absence of paper and soap. I really cannot find the words to describe the magnitude of my revulsion, my natural instinct to run out screaming bloody murder and demanding to speak to the person in charge, and channeling all of my pent up germophobic frustration into a lengthy diatribe on the need for sterility and cleanliness, especially in a hospital, but in all the world as well. I had to put the lid on that madness and screw it on tight. God forbid a genuine emergency could bring me back here, my life in the hands of these filthmongers. Better to keep quiet and get out of here as quickly as possible.

After some time, a young medical understudy came in and reported that we should be admitted to the hospital for observation. At first, her words didn’t quite register and she continued talking about the recommended treatment. When suddenly it occurred to me that she had used the word “admittance”, I stopped her cold.
“Excuse me, when you say admittance, do you mean that you want me to stay here? Like overnight?”
“Yes. We have private rooms.”
“Oh no, I don’t think that’s necessary. If the situation worsens, we can just come back.”
Visions of the vile restroom ran through my brain like a film strip.
“In this situation, we usually keep pregnant women here for observation for a day or two. We can give you some shots.”
“No, I don’t want to stay here. We can do the shots or whatever you think is necessary but I’ll be fine in our hotel.”
To Aaron: “You’ll have to sign a medical release, saying that you are checking her out of the hospital against our advice.” Because I can’t sign the release for myself, apparently. Ugggh!
Aaron: “Fine.”
There was never any point in the conversation when either of us entertained the idea of leaving me overnight in that germ zone. For one thing, we had exaggerated my symptoms to create an “emergency” simply so that we could get the ultrasound. In reality, I was feeling fine and the ultrasound had given us some hope. We left the hospital and returned to our hotel. Aaron signed on for his rafting trip and we retired early, mentally preparing ourselves for our first night apart on the road.

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July 17th 2008

Posted under Nepal

After Kathmandu, Pokhara was like a breath of fresh air. Set against a backdrop of the Annapurna Himalayan mountain range and surrounded by lakes, the unabashed tourist town is a jumping off point for a host of outdoor and adventure activities. The streets were wide and the town had a very intimate, laid-back feel. Children played in the streets. Shopowners sat in their doorways. Everyone smiled and said “Namaste” as we passed by and there were as many cows and bicycles on the streets as cars.

We took a room at Hotel Snowland in the Lakeside area and negotiated a smokin’ deal for a deluxe room with A/C. It is monsoon season in Nepal, which means scorching hot days, wet evenings, and few tourists, so everything’s negotiable. We even witnessed a penny-pinching traveler haggling over the price of his latté. Our room was excellent and we stayed for a record nine nights, much to the hotelier’s delight.

With trekking off the table, we spent our days wandering the streets, eating lavishly in Lakeside’s cozy patio restaurants, wiling away the oppressive afternoons with HBO and A/C, shopping for knockoff North Face gear, reading, writing, and fretting madly over this temperamental little bean inside me. I’ve been a basket case at times and Aaron has been unconditionally patient, understanding, and supportive.

I was in the frame of mind to lay low in Pokhara and do everything possible to stay relaxed and prevent any further emergency room visits. As Aaron was feeling physically fine and needed some good distractions, we signed him up for a few adventure activities, the first of which was paragliding. I rode along for that one (in the truck, not the chute) and watched him leap from the top of the mountain and glide through the air over the breathtaking Pokhara Valley. I knew he was okay shortly after take off when I heard an ecstatic “Woohoo!” echo through the valley to which I replied, “You’re flyiiiiiing!” I excitedly snapped a dozen pictures of my falcon-like husband. As the driver and I made our way back down the mountain, we stopped to pick up an amazing sixteen locals, mostly women and children, to carry them down to town. I saw one woman pass him a bill but most paid nothing. There is just an unwritten rule that, if you have an empty truck and people need a ride, you stop for them. Though the extra stops prevented me from reaching the landing point in time for the landing, I was very moved by this beautiful yet commonplace Third World gesture.

The next morning, Aaron left early on a guided mountain biking adventure. One look at the incline of the surrounding mountains told me that I should sit that one out and the fact that the ride began at 6:00am just sealed the deal. He came back about four hours later, sweaty and covered in mud.

Mornings in Pokhara are a special time. All of the restaurants serve up hearty hot breakfasts, the air is cool, and the town shows its organic side as the farmers push their wheeled carts through streets and business owners step out to purchase fruits and vegetables fresh from the field. The farmer carries an old-fashioned scale: a wooden pole with a metal pan hanging from each end. He balances the scale on his shoulder, loads small lead weights on one pan and produce on the other. We noticed that he always erred a bit in the customer’s favor.

Women walk the streets with freshly caught lake fish dangling from a hook. They walk to each hotel and restaurant, opening the gills to display the red freshness of their insides, until they find a buyer. The town awakens slowly as shopowners groggily arrive to raise the doors of their garage-style stalls and set out their colorful displays. In the low season, there may be days where not a single customer comes in but still they go through the motions. Many of the shopowners live above or behind their shops. I stopped into a small garment shop to look at some shirts. An antique but very operational sewing machine sat on a table at the rear. When I asked the proprietor – a soft spoken, middle-aged man – if there was a place where I could try on the shirts, he led me through a small wooden door at the rear of the shop. Behind the door was a claustrophobic little box of a room with a bed, a small window, a two-burner stove, and some makeshift shelving. On the shelves were neatly arranged pots, pans, dishes, cups and utensils. Above the stove was a single shelf lined with canisters of tea and spices. It was clear that someone lived in that room. After seeing it, I bought three shirts and barely bargained at all.

On the main street in Lakeside, small-statured Tibetan refugee women walk all day long, peddling Tibetan handicrafts, which they keep in their backpacks, to all of the tourists. They are the meekest, most unimposing women with genuinely sweet smiles. They don’t harass in the slightest but they ask every time you pass if they can show you there wares. I sat down with them once in the beginning of our stay and let two of them unpack their booty of silver and beaded jewelry and traditional Tibetan trinkets. To be honest, it was all junk and I didn’t want any of it. I inquired about a couple of pieces, just to be nice, but that’s when I learned that their sweet smiles were those of savvy little extortionists. They wanted serious rupees for their wares and after a few minutes of haggling in the sun over things that I didn’t want in the first place, I thanked them both and walked away empty handed. After that, they still smiled and beckoned me to have another look every day, as did all of their friends, but the first sitting was painful enough and I couldn’t bear it again. Still, I can’t help but to think of them with anything less than total adoration.

As in India, there are many Hindus in Nepal. As such, the crime of killing a cow can land you in prison for up to two years. Cows walk, lounge, and relieve themselves wherever they like. We have grown accustomed to them by now. They’re docile, harmless, and they eat the garbage that people toss in the streets with reckless abandon. After only a few days, I had picked out my two favorites – a lookalike mother-calf pair – that walked our street each day. Strangely, and this is in stark contrast to India, you see beef on almost every restaurant menu. Not only that, there are steakhouses! This can only be explained by the synergy of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. There is no religious tension and religion does not factor into politics. The peaceful synergy is most strongly evidenced by the fact that Buddhists and Hindus often worship at the same temples in Nepal.

Pokhara, in its hazy mountain splendor, owes its most remarkable beauty to its people. Their vibrant colors brighten the valley like a blanket of flowers. The joy of Pokhara is in watching and interacting with the people; reciprocating their gentle smiles and humble manners and witnessing the beautiful simplicity of their lives.

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July 14th 2008

Posted under Nepal

We arrived in Kathmandu after a long travel sequence feeling surprisingly rested. We took a taxi into the touristy Thamel district, where we had booked a room for two nights. As we rode into town, we took in our first glimpse of Kathmandu from the taxi window. The broken and pothole-ridden streets bore a striking resemblance to the streets of India: women walked in brightly-colored saris; the air was putrid from auto emissions and burning rubbish; rickshaw-wallahs snoozed between fares; farmers sold fresh produce by the roadside; the only traffic laws are 1) cows have the right of way and 2) it’s every man for himself. It felt good to be back amid what we feel is one of the world’s most fascinating cultures. At the same time, in my current state of volatile first trimester pregnancy, I yearned for the sterility of the Western World.

The hotel room was adequate, if not a little stuffy and cramped. It had Wi-Fi and satellite T.V. – a luxury that we haven’t had in months. We settled in and had lunch at the hotel before calling the travel medical clinic to see if we could do the ultrasound that afternoon, a request that was granted after some coaxing. We took a taxi to the clinic to pick up a referral for the ultrasound and then another taxi to the ultrasound lab.

The technician was capable and thorough, explaining everything he saw and speaking frankly. After the ultrasound, we returned to the travel medical clinic and waited while the clerk read the results to the OB-GYN by phone. After that, I spoke to the doctor directly. She explained what the ultrasound tech had already told us – things didn’t look promising. She said that I would probably be fine for the night but she would come to see me that day if I was upset. I told her that I was fine. She gave me her personal cell phone number and told me to call day or night if I needed to. Otherwise, we would meet at my original appointment time the next afternoon. We confined ourselves to the hostel that night and the following day, preparing ourselves for bad news.

Back at the travel medical clinic, we had arrived early and waited patiently for the doctor. She was a soft-spoken, middle-aged Indian woman sporting a nose ring and colorful sari. We introduced ourselves and moved into one of the examination rooms. We discussed the ultrasound results, which didn’t look promising, though it was too soon to tell for sure. The symptoms that I was experiencing pointed to miscarriage and we discussed our options. She suggested that we come back in ten days for another ultrasound. In the meantime, I could resume my normal activities, though trekking, rafting and travel to remote areas far from emergency medical services were out. We asked a lot more questions, taking full advantage of our English-speaking, Western-trained medical professional. Just before we left, almost as an afterthought, the doctor decided to do a pelvic exam.

There were no stirrups in the exam room. She asked me to lie back on the examination table and touch my heels to my buttocks. With a flashlight and a speculum, she gave me my first Third World pelvic exam. It was quite uncomfortable and I struggled to relax. When she finished, she said that, were it not for the ultrasound report, she would say that I was having a normal pregnancy. It was a glimmer of hope and though it was probably false hope, it was something to hold onto. Before we left, she gave me some painkillers for the cramping and a referral for the next ultrasound.

We tooled around Kathmandu for another day, taking in the city sights. We started with the Garden of Dreams, a splendid estate built by a young field marshal with funds won from his well-to-do father in a game of cowrie shells. The walled gardens were English-inspired, a nice contrast to the Asian gardens that we’ve admired in recent months. The property included several stately white buildings of European design and the pleasant terraced gardens with arbors, elephant statues, and a grand fountain full of carp. Young artists sat on the lawns, absorbed in their drawings. Families posed for photos and fed the fish while others lounged on shaded benches, enjoying the quiet oasis in the middle of bustling Kathmandu.

Next, we visited Durbar Square in the older part of town. Once the site of royal coronations, the square has more temples and shrines per square meter than anywhere we’ve been. Most of the buildings date back to the 17th and 18th centuries and little has been done to preserve or restore them. What I found most interesting about the religious structures in Durbar Square was how casually they were treated. People climbed all over them, lazing the day away on the upper levels and watching the world go by.

As we walked through the square, we were hounded by men offering guide services, beggars and saddhus, the “holy men” who live on alms. While Aaron was taking a photo of one of the temples, a spry old saddhu in a bright orange tunic and red turban scurried into his shot with a big smile on his bushy bearded face. We knew that he wanted money, of course, and Aaron put down his camera, asking the saddhu to move out of the way. “No money! No money!” insisted the saddhu. “No money.” Aaron repeated, and snapped his photo. Sure enough, the saddhu followed us around for a good five minutes after that, trying to extract a donation.

Next, we acquired another little follower, a boy of about eight or nine who walked alongside us, hounding me with questions despite my best efforts to gently discourage him. We knew that his interest was purely financial and he persisted for an impressive twenty minutes before finally getting up the nerve to ask me to buy him a biscuit. In hindsight, I probably should have. He was a sweet, shy little boy in an impoverished nation. This is the most emotionally difficult aspect of traveling among Indian and Nepalese culture. I group them because they are basically interchangeable, based on what we have seen so far.

The people of Nepal are truly impoverished and almsgiving is an integral part of religion and society. Still, it is disconcerting to see the way that any white face is perceived as a walking dollar sign. We experience the phenomenon time and again, both personally and as third party observers. The truth of the matter is that, despite or current status as homeless vagabonds with an ever-shrinking bank account, we are rich in comparison to the average Nepalese citizen. We tell ourselves that we should not reward the vile practice of begging so as not to perpetuate the white-face-as-dollar-sign stereotype. Sometimes I think we tell ourselves this to protect our own hearts from breaking when a filthy, barefoot, wretched-looking child or an elderly person or a severe cripple begs a handout and we look the other way. I think about all of the money and time that we once donated to American nonprofit organizations without a second thought; to organizations benefiting Americans who have access to social and welfare programs and opportunities beyond comprehension for a Nepalese citizen. Can I really not spare just a few rupees for everyone who asks? There are just so many people in need here, so many outstretched hands, so many desperate faces. Occasionally, I crack and start handing out money to everyone who asks until Aaron puts his foot down and reigns me back in. When I give, I never regret it. When I don’t, I mask my heartbreak with indifference. I think that, for the rest of my life, I shall remain conflicted on this matter. In the presence of dire poverty, I am plagued by my good fortune. I want to be good, to do right by my fellow man, but how much is enough?

Kathmandu was like a long awaited return to India. The vibrant colors, noise, traffic, pollution; the raw, unmasked hardship of life; the natural inquisitiveness of the people, the lack of personal space and the holy bovines together revived that familiar overwhelming shock of our senses. But things were different this time; I was different. I was in the first trimester of a presumably doomed pregnancy. Walking the noisy, congested, polluted streets was exhausting. The smells, the filth, the smoke and the spitting were nauseating. My senses of tolerance and patience were greatly diminished. I was overcome with a terrible homesickness, a desperate yearning for the First World, and I could tell that Aaron felt it too.

We decided that three nights in Kathmandu were enough and that the time had come to make our way to Pokhara. Our doc had given us her blessing to travel to Pokhara, though she strongly recommended the thirty–minute flight over the seven-hour bus ride considering my fragile state. The flight was more expensive and the scenery between Kathmandu and Pokhara was reputedly gorgeous but we were feeling more risk-averse than usual so we heeded the doc’s advice and ponied up for the plane tickets.


July 5th 2008
The Grand Finale

Posted under China

Preface: This story ends sadly in later detail. It would normally be a private matter but the stories surrounding our experience simply must be told.

The tale of my emergency visit to a Chinese hospital begins with the funny story of how we found out that I was pregnant. I knew it in my heart on the date of conception. I knew it so surely that I immediately swore off caffeine and alcohol and began taking prenatal vitamins. When the time came to take a pregnancy test, we were in Xi’an. Sometime between the Terracotta Warriors and the Giant Pandas, we managed to find a Walmart and picked up two tests. Although the instructions were in Chinese, I felt confident in my ability to interpret the results. However, this proved not to be the case. Rather than two possible results, the instructions showed six possible results. Neither Aaron nor I could conclude anything more definitive than “maybe”. Aaron suggested asking the girls on the hostel staff to translate but I wasn’t ready to bring strangers into our private situation. We decided to save the other test and try again at the next opportunity, which turned out to be in Shanghai almost a week later. Aaron picked up two different kinds of tests and asked the hostel staff in Shanghai to translate. Between those and the one left over from Xi’an, we had three undeniably positive pregnancy tests.

We were over the moon. Suddenly our entire focus switched from trip plans to babies…to when and how to share the news of our blessing. We immediately scoured the internet to research the safety of traveling while pregnant and made an appointment for a first pregnancy exam with a UK-trained OB-GYN at a travel medical clinic in Kathmandu.

During our last days in China, I stayed in and rested a lot. We took the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. We had a room booked there for one night and then an early flight to Kathmandu the following morning.

Around 5:00 on the evening of our arrival in Beijing, Aaron had just returned from a day of solo sightseeing; I had been lying around all day with the guiltlessness of a self-indulgent Mother Hen. We were discussing the news that Tibet had just reopened to foreigners when I felt a sudden horrible pain shoot from my abdomen down through my cervix. The first shot scared me more than anything but, within two seconds, I was writhing on the bed in agonizing pain. It was excruciating and relentless, literally paralyzing my mid-section.

Aaron sat on the chair in shock and fear, not knowing what to do but knowing that something was terribly wrong. After a minute of debate on whether to call for an ambulance, I acquiesced. Aaron disappeared into the hallway to get help and soon returned with three people from the hostel staff, including one man who claimed to be a doctor. He felt my forehead – my temperature had skyrocketed almost instantly and I had broken out in a cold sweat – and saw the agony on my face. He told us what we already knew…that I needed to go to the emergency room.

A girl from the hostel informed us that the hospital refused to send an ambulance due to the short distance but a taxi was on the way. Great. The taxi arrived less than ten excruciating minutes later and Aaron carried me outside. The girl, named Judy, from the hostel said that she would accompany us and we would soon discover how crucial her presence would be.

At the hospital emergency entrance, Aaron carried me inside – the pain had subsided somewhat in the car – and we were directed to a large room with two beds. The other bed was occupied by a snowy-haired Chinese woman who was moments away from death’s door, her saddened adult children huddled around her.

Several minutes passed where nothing happened. Finally, Aaron was called upon to fill out paperwork (with Judy’s help) and two nurses arrived with a saline drip. As they came at me with the needle, because I didn’t actually see them remove it from its sterile wrapping, the thought crossed my mind to ask them to wait until Aaron returned but I was complacent or intimidated by the language barrier, maybe a little of both.

When Aaron returned, he said that the desk clerk was trying to get him to pay cash in advance for each individual task performed, starting with the paperwork filing fee. They wouldn’t take his credit card and since it was our last night in China, we were down to our last notes of local currency. Finally, in lieu of running to the ATM every half hour, he convinced them to hold his passport as collateral until the end.

A nurse joined us and began hooking me up to a machine that looked like something out of an Austin Powers film or an old Star Trek episode with large metal suction cups attached to a series of brightly-colored tubes. The cynic in me was bubbling to the surface as Aaron and I exchanged knowing glances. Soon, Judy returned with the news that we needed to go to another floor for an ultrasound. She and Aaron, along with a single nurse, wheeled my bed to the ultrasound lab. The lights in the empty hallway were off, which seemed eerie for a hospital, but we later discovered that they were motion sensitive. My bed was wheeled next to the ultrasound machine. The technician squirted the jelly onto my belly, positioned the wand near my navel, and then abruptly stopped. Her explanation was in Chinese, of course, and it took nearly twenty minutes of discussion in the hallway to help us understand that the tech wanted me to have a full bladder. She wanted me to go all the way back to my room with the dying woman and come back in half an hour. It seemed ridiculous but what else could we do? I started chugging water.

While we waited for the liquids to swell my bladder, I was wheeled (by only Aaron and Judy this time) to another floor to see a doctor. A middle-aged male doctor, surrounded by a swarm of curious nurses, asked me a few questions about the pain and pressed on my stomach in several places before quickly concluding that it was probably just something I ate. No ultrasound, no bloodwork…it must have been the two pieces of fruit that did it! Are you kidding me? Upon hearing his diagnosis, I wanted to scream from the rooftops about this physician’s total incompetence and, of course, throw in a few “I hate Chinas” for good measure. Instead, I kept my composure and calmly explained, while Judy translated, that we had over 36 hours of international travel scheduled to begin the next morning so, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I’d like to have an ultrasound and some bloodwork to determine that my baby is okay and whether it is safe for me to travel. The pompous ass seemed a bit put off that I didn’t accept his conclusion outright. After proactively managing my own hospital visit, I finally got my tests.

The ultrasound took a long time and the tech refused to give any explanations, although it was not hard to tell that something was wrong. For the blood test, Aaron and Judy wheeled my bed up to a window where I stuck my hand under the glass and a technician pricked my finger. The transaction was impersonal and we never did receive the results of the tests or learn what tests they ran.

We were baffled by the lack of orderlies in this place and the bizarre passivity of the staff. We wheeled ourselves around and essentially ordered our own tests; there didn’t seem to be a single doctor in charge of my case. Aaron had determined from the number of military personnel wandering the halls that this was a military hospital and Judy confirmed it. No one spoke English, not even the doctors, which led me to conclude that they were trained in China which in turn filled me with a natural distrust in their abilities; not because they were Chinese but because they were not trained in a Western country. This is perhaps unfairly discriminating but my experience so far had supported that notion and, when you’re in an emergency room in a developing nation, where no one can communicate with you, you cannot help but let a few crazy thoughts into your mind. Mine was swimming with paranoid possibilities.

Back in my room, Aaron and Judy left to pursue the next stage of my treatment and I was left with the dying woman and her family. The scene reminded me of the day my grandmother passed away with her three daughters and one granddaughter (me) around her bedside. Seeing the Chinese family grieve and pray in the same way made me feel a bond of human suffering. We kept glancing at each other and then shyly looking away. I wanted to comfort them but I didn’t know how.

Aaron and Judy returned soon followed by a general surgeon. He had been much too busy to see me but Aaron and Judy persistently stalked him until he became available. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as Aaron likes to say. This doctor pressed around my mid-section, apparently to rule out Appendicitis, and then disappeared as quickly as he came.

I was alone once again. Aaron and Judy had gone to the front desk, the staff had dissipated, and my bladder felt like an over-filled water balloon. In our earlier haste at the hostel, we had forgotten my shoes. I flagged down a passing orderly and attempted to mime my need for some slippers but she just shook her head confusedly as if it was a crazy notion that a hospital would have slippers for its patients. Well, there was no way in hell that I was going barefoot.

Minutes later, Aaron returned and lent me his size elevens to make the trip to the restroom. I fished my roll of toilet paper out of the backpack and shuffled slowly down the hall. What I found there was appalling. There were three filthy, germ-infested stalls: two squat toilets and one Western. The Western stall was cluttered with miscellaneous debris as if it doubled as a janitorial closet. The lights were dim but I could see that the toilet seat was soaked with droplets of liquid. I gasped in disgust. It’s all part of the Twilight Zone nightmare, I told myself. Just do your thing, don’t touch ANYTHING, and get the hell out of here! There was no toilet paper or soap in the restroom and I was glad to have brought my own. I know…I should be at a point in my life where Third World restrooms cannot shock me anymore but this was in a hospital!

After some more waiting, a woman claiming to be the OB-GYN reported that my baby was not attaching properly and there was a chance that I would lose it. She said that she could give me a shot that would help my chances. She prescribed Progesterone and a week of bedrest. Bedrest…in China! Now, in case you haven’t followed our China travels, I should explain that we had already stayed about a week too long. A week of bedrest in China would be torture for both of us! And even then, the odds weren’t good.

Aaron settled the hospital bill, which came to the equivalent of US$60. The hostel had sent their car and driver to pick us up. It was 9pm. We settled back into our room and ordered dinner from the café. We did some quick research online about miscarriage and the efficacy of bedrest. Almost every source agreed that there is no conclusive evidence that bedrest helps to prevent miscarriage, although many physicians still prescribe it.

While Aaron was getting dinner, I had some time alone to think. I thought about the emotional and financial effects of spending another week in China; about the intense travel schedule – four flights and a twelve hour layover in Bangkok – that lay between Beijing and Kathmandu; about the possibility of a medical emergency in flight; and about our scheduled appointment with the Western-trained (and likely English-speaking) OB-GYN in Kathmandu. When Aaron returned, I told him that the best thing for our family was to get out of China. He hesitated but, in the end, he didn’t object because he knew that I was right. The first leg of our itinerary departed at 10:00 the next morning and, with our hearts full of prayers, we were on it.

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July 4th 2008
Getting Out of China

Posted under China

Our last several days in China were a blur. We checked back into our Shanghai hostel for one last night and, on the recommendation of some fellow travelers, we went to see a Chinese Acrobatics show. We arrived early and watched the small theatre fill up as foreigners in enormous tour groups filed in behind their dutiful guides. The show began with a group of high-energy gymnasts bounding across the stage and soaring through narrow hoops, barely dodging one another in precisely choreographed stunts. Another performer was a young girl, who mounted a small elevated platform in handstand position, and did a ten-minute routine supporting her body weight with only one arm. The men and women were equally impressive; the men with their strength and agility, the women with their grace and poise while lifting and maintaining enormous heavy loads. The show was spectacular and we were mesmerized for ninety minutes by the talented performers.

After a rainy business day, we took the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing. We had a room booked there for just one night because we were unable to change anything about our original flight itinerary and that meant we had to return all the way to Beijing to begin our marathon journey to Nepal.

After four months in Asia, Tina proclaimed that she was officially “templed-out” and had no desire to see anymore temples – Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu or otherwise. This meant that our last day in Beijing I went out sightseeing solo. Despite the rain, I was determined to see two temples that we missed the first time around – The Temple of Heaven and the Yonghe Temple.

The Temple of Heaven is actually a complex of Taoist temples and parks covering nearly three square kilometers. The main Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests pagoda has become somewhat of an icon for Beijing; it’s pictured (along with the “Bird’s Nest” stadium) in nearly every Olympics advertisement that we’ve seen. The large triple-gabled circular pagoda stands atop a tiered platform in the middle of an enormous paved square. The temple complex was constructed in the early 15th Century during the reign of the Yongle Emperor (the same emperor responsible for building the Forbidden City) and was visited by subsequent dynasties praying for good harvests. Like so many of the other temples that we’ve visited, tourists were prohibited from entering any of the sacred buildings so I simply wandered about the grounds snapping pictures of the naturally photogenic Chinese architecture. The similarities to the Forbidden City were obvious – the enormous scale of the complex, the colorful detailed artwork adorning the temples, and the overall architecture design. This was definitely one of my favorite temples.

The Yonghe Temple, or Palace of Peace and Harmony Lama Temple, is most commonly referred to simply as the “Lama Temple”. The Lama Temple is a Tibetan Buddhist temple and monastery, one of the largest of its kind in the world. The expansive grounds contained five main halls separated by courtyards, and numerous other unimpressive buildings. I stumbled upon a religious ceremony at its conclusion and was fascinated by the costumes of the presiding monks. Their orange robes were standard issue, but they each wore large, yellow hats resembling the comb on a rooster’s head – a very entertaining sight indeed. The highlight of my self-guided tour was a 26-meter tall, gold-covered statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood and housed in one of the pavilions – it was truly impressive. After my brief visit, I left the temple complex unimpressed and boarded the metro to return home to my wife…and ready to leave China.

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