There are several hurdles you have to jump in order to live in China and we have not made it over all of them yet. First you get a tourist visa (if you have been to China before they will give you a business visa which lets you stay longer, but if it’s your first time you have to go with the tourist visa). Second, if you will be working in China you get a work visa. Third (for the person who will be working) is the work permit. Fourth is the Residency Permit, which both the worker and all of their dependent family members must get.
If you are over 18 you must report to the government health office in China and have a physical exam. An exam and report from your own doctor will not be accepted.
The very last step is to register with your local police station. No one will chase after you to do this last step but if you don’t and they find out they levy a huge fine.
Today was my physical exam. My Husband had his when he came to look for our apartment so he is all set. He has warned me that it is a surreal experience.
The physical lives up to my husbands description, and more! It feels like a somewhat less dark and brooding scene from the old Pink Floyd movie “The Wall.” I don’t know if it is weirder for me because I am a Nurse and know what they are doing (and the implications) or for people who have no idea. But here I am in another line in China.
The common joke/theme here is that China has a “Full Employment” policy which means if you can make something more complicated, but it means you need more people to do it, then that is the way it will be done.
I arrive to a small complex of 4 story-ish brick buildings with serious looking guards at the gates and courtyard beyond humming with expats from all over the world, official looking people, and drivers looking bored waiting for their passengers to come back.
I have an advantage in that my husband’s company has hired a firm to help us through the visa process. Which means I have someone coming to meet me here who speaks both English and Chinese. This is a huge relief. But I am early and so am on my own until Julie arrives.
I am sent to building one. I wait a little while but don’t see or hear from my translator and the line at the desk is getting longer, so I decide to be brave and stand in the line myself to try to get things moving along. Ten minutes later I am at the front of the line where they look at my papers and say “thanks for checking in, now go to building three.”
Building 3 is across the courtyard. I enter a clean, bright, crowded room. I am met at the door by a young woman who rechecks my papers and confirms my appointment and gives me a paper to fill out. I am told that when I finish the paper I need to stand in line 1. The line is long so when I have the paper 3/4 filled out I decide to stand in line and fill out the rest while I am waiting. As I move slowly forward my phone rings and it is Julie, my translator! She is here and will help me. We look around the very crowded, noisy room for another person on a phone and we find each other. She joins me in line and answered the few questions I had left on the form. When we finally got to the front they took my form, my appointment reservation paper, and my passport along with the 9 passport pictures I was required to bring for this appointment. They reviewed my papers, found everything to be in order and sent me to line 2. So far I have been checked in by three separate people.
Another 10 minutes or so in line 2 and we make it to the front. We are greeted by a young woman and a middle aged man in lab coats. I had to sit on a stool and have my picture taken, then she reviewed my papers again and handed them to the man who’s only job appeared to be to put a red cross stamp on my form and paper clip about 12 bar code stickers to my forms. Next stop, I am told, is room 119 just around the corner.
So far there hasn’t been a lot of talking but having Julie there just in case is a comfort. She also seems to have done this before so she can point me in the right direction for room 119. She explains that this is the room where the exam really begins and she cannot come with me but she will wait.
In room 119 I am handed a thin cotton robe and given a locker key like you would get at the water park. The young woman in this room points to some changing stalls and tells me in halting, but reasonably good English, that I need to take everything off from the waist up and then lock up my clothes and pocketbook in my locker. When I come out after completing these tasks I hand her my papers with the bar code stickers attached. She takes a new paper and puts one of my stickers on it and one of my pictures. Then she has me stand on a scale and measures my height and weight. Once this information is duly noted I am sent out the door to the right and directed to go to the next room.
Later I will realize that this first poor young woman is doing three times the work of everyone else! She has checked me in, helped me change, AND taken new information!
The hall has very high ceilings and white tile floors and a white wall to my right lined with plastic chairs bolted to the floor like you would see at a bus station. The wall to my left is all windows looking out on a courtyard garden. The effect is bright and sterile. I only wait a moment and then hear “next”, or at least I assume that is what they are saying, because she waves to me to come in.
Over the next half hour I move from room to room down the long white hallway. I am joined by about 50 other people from all over the world. Men and women all dressed in our uniform of white cotton bathrobes.
We have blood drawn – they do have disposable sterile needles but apparently have not discovered the joys of the butterfly needle so they use a much larger gauge – ouch. A chest X-ray where there is no offer of a lead shield and none seems to be available if requested. An ECG which is done by using a 1950’s looking contraption where they put metal clamps on my ankles and wrists and small metal disks on my chest which are secured using the sherbet colored suction bulbs attached to the top of the disks. (with this one I did wonder for a moment if they were going to electrocute me!). I have an eye test which is pretty standard, complete with the paddle to hold over each eye in turn. Then an ultrasound of my abdomen. A young woman checks my blood pressure. The equipment in each room would make great props if anyone is looking to make an institutional movie about health care in the 40’s and 50’s. Each employee knows enough English to tell me to come in, lie down, get up, and leave. When I ask what they are looking for or why they do that particular test all I get is a serious faced nod, as if they have telepathically sent the important meaning of the test to me. But I am not able to retrieve the message.
Finally I am done and am sent back to the first room to retrieve my clothes and belongings.
I get dressed and meet Julie back out in the waiting area. But, noooooo, we are not done yet. Now I have to take the pile of papers I have accumulated, each labeled carefully with my bar code sticker and picture, to a teller where I have to pay the fee for the privilege of being poked and prodded by automatons.
At last, I am free! Julie has collected the passports from all four of us along with the proof that I had my physical and she will take these to be processed for our residency permit. We are told we will get them back in one week.
On the way home my husband and I discuss how to explain this bizarre experience to my son. Since he will turn 18 next year he will have to go through this process also. I am so very glad we have a year to plan that!