My first day at work

My ever-helpful and indefatigable liaison picks me up at the door of my apartment building to take me to the hospital. Since we are late, he explains, we'll go on his motorcycle. I wear a helmet. I think I might die on the busy Fuzhou streets. We arrive safely.

I am welcomed by two distinguished professors and two gastrointestinal fellows. To put this in perspective, remember what sort of treatment the United States reserves for foreign-medical graduates. Then keep in mind that I haven't even graduated from medical school yet (I do so when I return, on May 11th). So you'll understand why I feel vaguely guilty about the friendliness, generosity, and eagerness to please that I have been received with by every Chinese person -- really! -- since our arrival. One of the professors comments that he knows I'm from Israel, since I'm wearing something on my head.

I get a tour of the hospital, which is large and well-equipped. The campus is attractively landscaped, with many patients, relatives, doctors, and nurses bustling about between buildings. The nurses wear peaked pink caps. I draw many stares, and I try to return them in a friendly way rather than by staring down at my shoes.

Later I have a chance to sit and talk with the fellows, who, like their medical counterparts in the United States, seem relaxed, hyper-trained, and underutilized. To repeat the theme: they are friendly and engaging, and really quite thrilled at my fumbling Mandarin. They're patient enough to wait while I keep looking up necessary words.

I am shown to the medical-records room, with sober shelves of manila patient records, and introduced to the medical students that I'll be working with. They will abstract medical records and I will enter the information into a computer. Medical school is five years long in China, but as in Europe and other countries (unlike the U.S. model) it's a course of study that starts at the beginning of university. They ask me questions about China. I ask them if they can criticize the government, and they say not in public. They would rather not talk about politics out in the open, but say they do so among themselves in their dorm.

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