Un-lucky

2012-12-14 08.34.59

Maryland is the richest state in the US. Proximity to DC and the abundance of government agencies lays the groundwork for numerous federal contracts and the contractor companies who take them. Public agency projects spin off grants, patents, and small business ideas, not to mention private research institutions like Hopkins, APL, and Maryland that arguably get a large proportion of their funding through government agencies like the NSF or NIH. The lifeblood here is federal funding.

So I suppose it’s no wonder that people here are feeling the strain. The number of people I’ve heard from lately who’ve been cut, or cut back on hours, sends through me ripples of concern. Is this slow burn really going to be the big deal worst case scenario everyone is making it out to be? It’s a good time to be secure in oneself, that’s for sure. And instead of hunkering down and waiting for the cleaver to drop, maybe it really is more appropriate to joke about unlucky cancer remissions or that one lost opportunity to move to the west fjords some long lost many years ago.

Election day

Political discussions tend to bring out strong emotions in people, regardless of how much an individual proclaims to not care. As removed as we often are from the actual processes of bill writing and enforcing, these are decisions that affect people’s lives in very real ways. It is important to not write these discussions off as just another card in a political agenda, and think about their long term consequences to the community at large. Because after all, what is more representative of a nation than the way it treats its citizens and the priorities of its citizens.

Just a few more hours left to go in Maryland. There are as always a number of important questions on the ballot this year: the state Dream Act, same sex marriage, casino expansions… if anything, this is a time to reflect upon our individual power to affect change.

Diaoyutai

Anti-Japanese sentiments in China are strong these days. Recent developments were long time coming, the result of the buildup of years and years of resentment, layered over a tempestuous history, spurred on as younger generations grow increasingly frustrated with the complacency of their elders and the political leaders who represent them. Some of the mob actions are borderline barbarous and contemptuous, but only confirm the hostility that still runs rampant since the end of the war.

The latest battle over Diaoyutai/Senkaku certainly looks to be a political maneuver; the location and potential for resources are a great draw for all parties involved. However, the reasons behind China’s actions may be more domestic in nature. Recent “weak” displays in foreign policy leave the Chinese leadership in an uncomfortable situation, desperate to prove to the restless masses that they are not still struggling to find their footing on the international playground. There is a lot of concern that China does not command respect from her peers, that she has not displayed the same sort of presence that her gigantic population, economy, and bed of resources ought to. Internally, the party still struggles with inconsistency, corruption, and the like, truths which cannot be veiled simply by economic success in numbers.

Ultimately, there is still something to prove. Enough dissidence shake people in their Feiyue boots, and a broiling tide of discontent struggles beneath the curtain of censorship and state media. Picking a fight in the East China Sea seems a logical outlet, a way to redirect the flames, especially when the enemy is a well-known and equally well-hated one. This was going to be a domestic success before it even started.

Still, the act cannot shake the appearance of comedy. Like an overgrown schoolyard bully who picks a fight because his new physical prowess grants him the right, China is obligated to flex her muscles, but immature for fulfilling the stereotype. And why is the US playing such a provocative part in all this? Stoking the fire for yet another confrontation only feeds our characterization as a warmonger, and goes nowhere in changing the ugly, ugly Sino-Japanese reality that the US played a large part in building.

Full

It’s ridiculous, the emotions I am capable of. One week: disheveled, gloomy, on the edge of self-induced despair, everything terrible, loaded with pressure. And the next: uplifting, positive, filled with spontaneously combustive joy. I fucking love it.

It probably says more about my character than the world, but so far, the cyclic nature hasn’t broken itself, and I will continue to happily cope away.

I’m about to cross the threshold of “one month back in the States.” Time has jiggled past. The first weeks in a new country are always the quickest to go, filled with adjustment and the lack of actual accomplishments. But as with most things, re-learning is significantly faster than learning, and I feel like I’m already eking back into old comforts.

What doctor patient confidentiality?

I’ve been meaning to write a piece discussing healthcare, more specifically, healthcare in the US versus in China. Arriving back in Beijing last Thursday, cabbing past Haidian hospital on the way to buying a cheap cellular phone, reminded me of my experiences. I went to the hospital twice the last time I was in Beijing, once to get a CAT scan (story for another day), and another for a routine checkup: physical, pap, blood tests etc. By American standards, my routine visit would have felt timely, scarring, and somewhere between the ballparks of assault and strange elation.

In China, patients don’t have primary care physicians, headache inducing referrals to specialists, and monthlong waits before getting an appointment slot. On the other hand, you’ll also rarely experience the same level of comfort, privacy, or personal attention you might expect to receive, unless you find yourself at one of the uninspiring, overpriced English hospitals meant for expats.

The first thing you do in a Chinese hospital is get a ticket, or number (yes, it is quite like standing in line for your deli meats at the grocery store), then register with your department. It’s first come, first serve, so it’s often simpler to put your name down and go find something better to do for a few hours. The administrators aren’t particularly pleasant, but that’s because they have to shuffle hundreds of patients in and out per day. Patients are sent to doctors in batches, and at the same time I was talking to my doctor, four other women were yapping all around me. The pap was the worst part, by American standards. A curtain separates you and the rest of the world, and most of the other women weren’t smart enough or perhaps didn’t care enough to not take a peek periodically. The doctor told me to get behind there, take off my pants, and jump in the stirrups. No privacy really, but hey, I guess women here couldn’t care less about seeing other female privates.

All in all, it was pretty painless, and the bonus of my blood test results coming back nearly instantaneously (you scan a barcode and print out the results from a machine — never having seen your technician) really made up for a lot of the horrors I otherwise experienced. Could I get used to it? I suppose, but I really wouldn’t want to put myself through such discomfort again if given the option.

Medical care as a whole is still in a rather strange state in China. The government has been rapidly expanding its socialist healthcare programs, making it now mandatory for many school-aged children to put in a premium towards health insurance. It’s called a premium, since it isn’t taken directly out of taxes, but because the government really pushes for it, the result winds up essentially the same. I was surprised, insurance here covers a lot. At the risk of sounding like communist propaganda, I’d venture that healthcare is rather more developed and better operated here than in the States.

Location: Beijing, China