Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An Odd Day

On your average day I set my alarm clock to about 7:45 and usually snooze until a little past 8 o'clock. When my door bell rang at ten till 8 this morning I knew it was not going to be an average day.

The door bell was actually somebody outside my apartment complex buzzing me to be let in the main door. I knew who it was, but it takes a story to get you there. And that begins last night.

As I've mentioned many times before, we have a big water bottle dispenser set up in the kitchen and we must call someone when it needs a refill. Normally I am the man to make the call, but last night I made the missus do it. This was because my mobile was out of minutes. This actually takes a slight side story to it and that begins with...well it just begins.

Phones in China aren't run off the same sort of plans you typically get in the US. Actually France didn't either and seemingly the US is the only place where you have to buy long term plans for your mobile phones, but I am already digressing a great deal. Mobiles in China take Sim Cards. That's a little card you can buy from a dealer which gives you your phone number. These cards need to be refilled every so often. Basically the Sim locks you into a deal - so many cents a minute and what-not - and then you buy a 100 RMB refill whenever you need it.

Mine, last night, was out of money. Thus the wife made the call to the water guy. This was maybe 9 in the PM. She said the things she was supposed to say, then repeated it and asked if this was OK. This is what you have to do because we don't speak Chinese and they don't speak English. Everything seemed normal and so we sat down and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I think we made it through three episodes of the West Wing before giving up and going to bed. It was close to 11 at this point and we were sure nobody would come so late.

Did I mention this was water we were waiting on? We use that water to drink. As in it is the only water to drink as the tap is non potable. Thirsty is the word for what we were. Quite thirsty. We had long since drank the tea I had made earlier in the day. I have given up on Coke products. The only thing we did have to drink was apple juice. I had already had a couple of glasses of that, but you know how when you get really thirsty and only water will do?

Consider us there.

I had pains in my belly I wanted water so bad. My throat screamed for relief. The clock ticked by and still no water.

Did I mention we didn't have any money? Yep we had spent it all 'cepting the cash we needed for paying the water guy who wasn't coming. The local market only takes cash, and both ATMs near here were out of money.

Yes, the local ATMs often run out of cash. It isn't unusual, in fact it is expected at certain times of the month. It would likely be refilled the next day, but we were thirsty now.

We had some change that would have bought a bottle of water, but by the time we realized the water guy wasn't coming the market was closed. In the end I boiled a pot full of water. They say boiling for ten minutes or more will cleanse the tap and make it drinkable. This is what I did. Ever try drinking water that has been boiled for ten minutes straight? I don't recommend it. Since our apartment generally stays at a temperate -35 degrees anymore, the glass did cool more quickly than it might have in a normal home, but it still took a long while.

There we were dying of thirst with no water but some that was not fit for consumption, and some other that was too hot to taste. We managed to brush our teeth with the hot water and decided to go to bed thirsty.

Ah, but this story isn't about what happened last night, it is about this morning and being woken up early. At ten till 8 the guy buzzing my apartment was none other than the water guy. Being wakened by the buzz, I immediately knew who it was, threw on a shirt and dashed towards the door.

I said hello in Chinese as this is a word I know, and I got a reply in English. Still half asleep this confused me and I wondered if I wasn't about to be accosted by some official while I was still in my pajamas. No such luck and I finally had my water.


The company Amy works for had planned a blood drive for today and I had agreed to give. I agreed to this rather hastily actually and when I actually started to think about it I was nervous. I'm not opposed to needles you understand, and I am definitely pro-blood giving. I've done it in the States with no problem. But this is China and not everything is easy.

They like IVs here, it seems, and it isn't always a pleasant thing for a Westerner. My sister tells a story of having an IV for some thing or another and that while sitting there with the needle she spotted an air bubble. Air bubbles aren't good for IVs and she cried out for help. Help was given but it was a little bit too Hee-Hawish for my tastes.

I sucked it up and told myself that they would be taking stuff out of me, not putting it in and thus I should be fine.

Tons of e-mails were flung this morning as everybody on board was making preparations to go to the company for the drive. We needed IDs and passports and to be on time! The time came and I left for the front gate. I had no idea who was coming and worried if I'd know anybody. I saw a group of Chinese women and wondered if they were part of the crew. I stood by them and tried to act cool all the while wondering if this was the right gate. There are two you see and I was pretty casual when I read all those e-mails.

Eventually a friend showed up and then the leader and we were off. The company is not far from the school and we were quickly there. We had to use our IDs to get in and then put on little booties over our shoes. My shoes are big and I always rip the booties.

We enter into the room for the drive and are seated at a table. The forms are all in Chinese so the 8 or so of us have one translator. If you have ever given blood before you know the forms get really personal really fast.

There are questions concerning whether or not you have HIV, Hepatitis, have taken any Aspirin lately, are on your period, have ever done intravenous drugs or had homosexual sex. That's a lot to ask while being surrounded by your coworkers. Actually the translator skipped over all the sex questions and just told us to answer "no" without translating them.

There was some commotion when I answered that I had taken aspirin within the last five days. I had to explain that it was actually Ibuprofen and that it was only one pill and that was three days ago. Proving that it was for a headache and not for something else - I don't now what - seemed important. Eventually the doctors agreed I was good for giving.

I was then asked about my height. That's a simple enough question and I know the answer, but only in feet and inches. Know who doesn't measure height in feet and inches? Everyone that's who. Everyone but Americans. I'm a little rusty in my feet to meters conversion and I was at a lost as to what to tell them. I told them in feet and inches, but they were perplexed as to what I was talking about.

Somewhere my eighth grade teacher is laughing hysterically.

Luckily a Chinese friend heard the troubles and translated and I guess converted it to metric. Then there was a weight question and I am proud to say I know how fat I am in kilometers.

From there the process was pretty basic. At one table my finger was pricked and the blood tested. Then I was given my bag that would contain my blood and another bag. I was told to sit and to open the second bag. Or I guess that's what I was told as it was all in Chinese and pantomimed. The bag had lots of bread and a jug of milk.

It seemed I was supposed to eat. Usually blood folks give you a snack for after, but before seems to be the way here. I wasn't hungry though, as I had just eaten an egg and ham breakfast (protein is good for the giving, don't ya know?) I ate a bit of bread and though they weren't happy with my not gulping it all down they took me back anyways. No beds for the giving here, it was just a cold chair and a desk.

We had a choice in giving 200 ml and 400 ml and as a man I gave the big amount.

No bubbles, only life saving goo.

For our troubles we were given an umbrella and 20 RMB to spend at the cafeteria. Not bad but I was hoping for a t-shirt saying 'I gave blood in China.'


Back on the home front I spent the afternoon trying to transfer funds from our Hong Kong account to our American one. I've mentioned before that Amy's checks are split in two and half of it goes to Hong Kong in USD. We have a pretty good chunk of it and I have been wanting to transfer it to the US and pay off some bills. Unfortunately doing that is trouble. We signed up for an internet transfer deal but it was proving difficult.

After spending way too much time I realized that they had the wrong account number for my American bank and we were screwed. There's more to that story, but I'm tired of typing and I'm sure your tired of reading.

Tonight we went to refill my phone and instead accidentally bought a refill for Amy's phone. I have a different company than she does and we wern't paying attention.

And that was my day.

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