Words we use and gestures we project at times come across with absolute and totally different intentions.
I returned and visited my first apprentice, Dr. Hwang, in Huili, a third time on one of my other trips to China. I found him to have become a well respected eye specialist/expert in his local community. ‘One MSI Mission accomplished.’ But a subtle meanings/translation of an ordinary comment struck me like a dagger in the heart. I simply invited him to contact me if ever he came to USA for a visit that I’d love to show him and his family around. He started weeping. I asked ‘what did I say?’ He answered, that I should have known that more than anything, he’d love to visit me but that simply was an impossible delusion, knowing the meager salaries he and his wife made just getting by and putting aside a little for their daughter’s education. (Doctors made less than $1000 US per month, and his wife, a head nurse took home a little more because her duties are more valued!) He said that I should never have teased him like that! How does one apologize?
On my first trip to Xichang Dr. Lee, the director of ophthalmology chose one of her best protégé to demonstrate to me how she’d been doing cataract surgeries. They were all prepped and ready to go and escorted me into the operating room. I immediately noticed that her gloves were most likely size 7+ and her hands were at most 5 or 6. I blurted out that her gloves were much too big. Dr. Lee immediately concurred and demanded her to change her gloves. A second set was ordered and brought in. She changed, but they were the same size as before. I instantly realized that being so behind times that was all they had and ‘shut my mouth.’ with any further comment!
Linnea and I, together with other family members returned to China as visitors a few times. Of course, she always stood out as an attractive Caucasian blond haired woman. Many people, and not just kids, would hover around her and wanted photos taken. On one visit, as we were boarding a tour bus, were waiting for others. The bus driver said we had about 5 minutes before taking off. I noticed a woman vender rushing over with a full bag of merchandise to peddle. I asked to get off the bus mainly to pass time and have a chance to interact and practice my street Chinese. She was negotiating $5.00 Chinese (about 80 cents $US) per faux silk table cloths. In the tradition of bartering, 1 offered $3.00. She went on and on explaining that she had a family to feed and how could I try to deny her. She then asked how many would I buy? We bantered for a while just for fun as others were returning to the bus. Finally I also boarded the bus, not purchasing anything, and asked the driver to shut the door. The woman held a pristine white table cloth high as her ultimate attempt to make a sale. It got caught in the gears of the door and was totally greased. Linnea looked at me and reprimanded me that I needed to reimburse the vendor and make it right. I went down to pay her for the damage I caused. She pulled out a bland new Sarah-wrapped duplicate and handed it to me. I explained that I wanted to pay for the damaged one. She retorted that her personal integrity would not allow her to sell me blemished goods. I ended up getting 10 table cloth packages for $10 US dollars.
Let me relate another example of my bartering experience. Linnea and I were meandering near the garden around our hotel in Quilin after breakfast one morning. We noticed a woman peddling items among which were 3-4 inch decorative Love-balls that the Yi minority tribes used at their ceremonies. I went and asked her how old she was? She answered 96. Then I asked how much she charged for the Love-ball? She replied strictly US $1.50 each and 8 for $10, and unwaveringly warned me that she did no bartering for me or anyone else. I then inquired, ‘how much do you have to make it for a worthwhile day?’ She answered $10 dollar a day made her content. It was only around 9 am and the day was already 85 degrees with 85% humility. I proposed to her that I’d take 2 balls and pay her $10 so she could return to her home and rest for the remainder of the hot day. She retorted, ‘This is my competence, selling and interacting with people. You just want me to go home and get ready to die?’ I gave her $10 and she insisted we take 8 Love-balls, and stuffed them in our already full luggage.
On another occasion, after visiting the Huili Gospel Church, we were often notified not to contribute any monetary fund via mission trips under the sponsorship of MSI, but having witnessed the massive crowd on Easter Sunday, I felt compelled to do something for that church. I returned as a side trip on my own and told the people in charge that if they could set up a bank account with proper routing numbers, I was certain that I could spread the word and there’d be many American churches willing to help. They all thought that this might have possibility and potential. Wow, when MSI discovered my proposal, I found myself in real deep waters. I never knew that that was such a BIG NO NO.
My final MSI mission trip to China was to Sichuan, HeQing. It was definitely yet another different but totally memorable cultural experience. The lead MSI long-term medical missionary was a German physician. Though he diligently learned to speak Chinese and moved his family to live there, he had a difficult time to assimilate into the community. And he seemed visibly to resent the acceptance and welcome I received as a stranger newcomer and ethnic Chinese. Unfortunately there were multiple points of disagreements as I found myself more aligned with the local people and their concerns. This created an awkward and untenable working relationship, especially with the hospital staff. The locals seemed only outwardly tolerated them for their expertise, he was not promoting much of our Christian values.
I received many of requests to visit their institutions from the directors and doctors I interacted in Huili and Xichang, however, because I stopped paying my malpractice insurance premiums and thereby also gave up my hospital privileges, the Chinese government no longer allowed me to be issued visiting physician’s visa, rational being they don’t need 2nd class US doctors who cannot have a practice at home.
Racial and cultural differences are hard NUTS to comprehend understand and crack !!!