Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What am I getting myself into?

I have been in contact with my advisor about which classes I should register for. In our first communication, she told me to register for the two classes she was taking and a research methods class with some other professor. She also said she would tell me another class after she returned to the US.
Now, she is back, and I need to register for classes. In my first communication with her, she told me to also register for an independent study with her as well as another class with a professor in our department. She also said that I could take another class I was interested in.
Panicking a little because it seems that I am to register for a few too many classes, I asked her how many credits I should plan on taking this semester as well as how many credits of independent study should I sign up for with her.
Her reply involved taking another class in the sociology department, which is actually a class I cannot imagine I will need given my background.
I guess I will just register for a few of the classes and see which ones make the most sense for me to take and drop the rest later.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


All of the moving is finally done for this summer at least. Hard to say where we will be a year from now, but it seems so nice to feel settled somewhere for a bit longer than a month or to. Having moved so many times, I really do not feel that moving is a big deal. Sure it does create major inconveniences for a few weeks, but then life kind of settles back to normal. The problem with the moving this summer was that there was just so much of it. From moving from Puxi to Pudong with Yingna to moving back to the US and finally to Buffalo, there was a lot of transition. It feels great to know we will not have to move again for a while. Unless there is a evil ghost in our apartment, and in that case, we assured Hudson we would leave.
Yingna is here now, and it just seems so normal to have her around. We are taking advantage of her presence to explore a little more of our surroundings. One day we just wandered around Main Street. We found two parks that are pretty close to our apartment. Yesterday, we went to the Erie County Fair and we explored downtown Buffalo to locate Anchor Bar which is supposedly home to the original Buffalo Chicken Wings. I tried one, but I was not terribly impressed. Today, we are going to do a little more shopping.
Overall, I think I like the area of Buffalo as well as the area we decided to live in. I think there were be many things to keep us occupied in the city and it is small enough that we can really explore it. There was so much of Shanghai that we never did see.
As to my work, I went in, but only the chair was in the office, and it wasn't his job to help me. I will go in again on Monday and hopefully get things sorted out. There are many things I need to do. I still need to arrange my parking, register for classes, find my office, and get the health insurance all sorted out. We do not have a phone or cable yet either. I am not sure when or if we will get those things.
Next week, Meng and Hudson will go with Yingna to Erie. I am sure it will seem quite lonely in our apartment. However, I have a lot of reading to do and our apartment currently provided very few distractions. Hopefully, it will be a productive week for me as I am really in need of one.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Last Day in Michigan

Tomorrow we are moving to Buffalo. Oddly enough, while I have lived in both China and Japan, I have never lived in a state besides Michigan. Somehow leaving Michigan feels more like leaving home than moving to another country. When living in another country, that country could not possibly be my home, so I have the idea that I will always be coming back. Thus, it really seems more like leaving home this time then when we moved previously. The U Haul is all loaded up. We have a bit more loading to do, but I am going to worry about it in the morning. I am not too stressed about it. Most of our stuff we have not seen for 6 years, so what is another bit of time or so. We can live without it.
Today, we went and bought a car. I am excited about it. It is a Subaru Outback '02. I am happy with Meng's negotiating skills and I am happy with the car we got. I hope to report back similar sentiments a year from now. We bought it at a dealership. We looked at it and then it needed to be inspected, and that took some time and then it needed to be cleaned and that took some time. Finally, today we were able to drive it and we decided it would work for us.
I guess now we have everything we will need to start our new life in Buffalo. I will report back.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Medical Care without Health Insurance

Last week I started to come down with something and I decided perhaps hoping it would go away was the best choice for about a week. However, as breathing became more and more difficult, I began to realize just how important being able to breathe was for my ability to continue living. However, as the insurance I had in China stopped with my last contract and I assume my new health insurance won't pick up until I actually start working with my new contract, I am currently uninsured. Unless I die or get injured, and then I have insurance through the British Council (I think)!
So today, I went to the doctor without insurance. I told Meng that I thought that was scarier than going to a doctor in China with or without insurance. The result was not as scary as I was expecting. I knew exactly what was wrong with me; however, I was not sure how much it would cost to make it better. The problem was a asthma flare-up. My symptoms are generally non-existent unless I am exposed to too much dust or I get an infrequent wheeze which is cured by a single puff on a long-acting inhaler. However, when we left China, I thought that my inhalers have very little medication left and they are getting old and that since I will have medical insurance in the US, I would be able to get replacements shortly. Turns out I needed those earlier than I expected. The total cost for the trip to redi-care and the pharmacy was $110.00 for the office call and less than $13.00 for the antibiotic and asthma medication. Which brings the grand total to a whopping 123.00 (or 836 RMB). Now for a little perspective.
The whole time we were in China we made what I think were few visits to hospitals (they do not have doctor's offices or clinics there unless you are going to what is now called Parkway Health). The first visit to a Chinese hospital was when Hudson was 4 years old and he shoved a peanut up his nose. (We annoyed him by calling him peanut nose for weeks). As Meng and I lacked the necessary training to extract the peanut from our son's nose, and we thought that a peanut should not live in his nose until grows big enough that it eventually falls out, we decided to take him to the emergency room. The taxi ride to the emergency room at the best children's hospital (or what Meng claimed to be the best Children's hospital--on Ruijing Rd) cost us nearly 30 RMB ($4.41). When we got to the hospital, we had to choose between 2 waiting areas (and lines). The first was the common waiting room (15 RMB/$2.20) and the other was the VIP room (45 RMB/$6.60). We opted for the latter as the wait was about three hours shorter, and in reality, there wasn't a wait. Essentially, removing the peanut with transportation there and back was less than $20.00. That was my first encounter with a chinese hospital.
The second encounter was also Hudson related, and at the time I really wondered if someone had better call child services on us as we did seem to have a child who found his nose in many "accidents". This accident was bike related. He was riding in the child seat on the back of my bike, and he carelessly put his foot in wheel of the bike. He cried and screamed and I was worried if it was broken or what, so we locked the bikes and took a cab to the hospital. (We had actually tried to get foot stands for his feet, but out bike guy was out and told us to come back the next day, and we made the decision to continue with our bike ride as planned--the moral of this story is always if you can imagine something bad happening and something could be done to prevent it, don't wait a single minute to take those cautionary measures). At the hospital, the checked his foot, gave him a shot , did ex-rays, showed us how to care for his foot and gave us all the necessary bandages that we would need. The total for the emergency visit about 200 RMB ($29.41). Yingna helped to watch Hudson while Meng and I went back to retrieve our bikes.
The third time we had to use medical care was when I was experiencing just about the same symptoms I currently have. I was really scared about going to the Chinese hospital, so Meng made an appointment for me at the best adult hospital (Huashan Hospital) and it was in the foreigner's section where the doctors could also speak English. That appointment with drugs ended up costing less than 500 RMB ($73.11). My insurance from the university did not cover this kind of fancy treatment, so I paid out of pocket happily.
Much of the time when I got sick in China and I predicted I would need the use of an antibiotic, I would send Meng to the drugstore. Most of the time it was not difficult to get azithromician or any other prescription drugs I would want. Sometimes pharmacies would turn him away, but he would just go to the next one. The most he ever had to go to was 3 pharmacies.
Those are really the main memorable doctor visits we had that were experienced in Chinese hospitals. For 2 glorious years, when Meng was working for Expedia we were covered by HTH insurance and it paid for us to go to PARKWAY Health!!! Parkway health seems luxurious. You call ahead and make appointments, and more importantly they have a fancy coffee machine in their lobby as well as English materials for browsing, and one of the locations even has a fish tank.
This reminds me of a time when a person came for a visit, and that person was quite sick (so sick that that person was willing to go to a Chinese hospital) I am not sure what the cost of that person's appointment there was but I am guessing it was in the neighborhood of 1200 RMB ($176.00) for just seeing the doctor, and I do not recall the visit providing much relief.
Clearly, medical treatment in China has different levels of prices for different people. The sad thing is not everyone can have access to the best treatment. Much of gaining access to the best doctors means already having some kind of connection to the doctor. Connection can be made by actually knowing the person or perhaps though paying a bribe. Unlike Americans, Chinese doctors are paid quite low and it is not really considered a profession people go into for making piles and piles of cash. However, by paying the doctors so little money, you find that the care is quite poor and drugs are overprescribed.
Being uninsured in America is far scarier than being uninsured in China, but being treated in China certainly seems to have more problems than in the US. They still lack the facilities for hospitals in many rural areas, and few people trust rural hospitals if they have a more serious medical condition. Also, while the cost of some treatment may seem quite low, the reality is that there are many people in China who cannot afford the cost. There is no system for old retired people either. If they get ill, they will be expected to cover most of the cost (some money will have been put into a medical fund--but it is only enough to cover moderate problems. A serious illness can potentially be a huge setback for a family).
I suppose all I can really say is that I hope the treatment I got today will work (I did empty the contents of my stomach shortly after taking one of the pills, so I am hoping to find a way to not make that happen again tommorow), and that we will all be insured soon.

The Beginning

We have been back from China for exactly two weeks now. Time has gone quickly. We have already been to Buffalo for my job interview to teach English as well as for us to find an apartment. I cannot say it all went smoothly. In fact, I felt incredibly frustrated with our lack of planning. This was mostly because we did not have the necessary phone numbers and information that I thought we needed, and Meng's computer decided not to work when we tried to find wireless although it still works fine at home. It is a bit of a pain in the arse. In addition, we did not really have a map and the GPS system was not working properly for us either and it just seemed so hard.
I think as we were apartment hunting, I realized my dream was slowly being crushed. For years now, I have dreamed of buying a house. Of course, I have not dreamed of buying a house in China, but I thought that I would be able to buy one once we moved back. I worked hard for many weekends telling myself that this money would be put in the unused account and it was especially for the down payment on a house when we moved back to the States. I managed to save quite a bit into that account. Moreover, every summer when I came home I would spend hours watching HGTV. My thoughts would often drift to how we could decorate our home, and this made me really happy. So when we were apartment hunting, the realization that this dream would not come in to fruition suddenly struck me. Meng will tell you I broke down in Starbucks. In fact, it makes me really sad to think about this right now. However, I am excited about the apartment we found, and I do believe Erin was right in telling me that it is probably a wiser idea to rent for at least one year. I admit when she said it I knew she was right, but I did not want to hear it. Now her words come back to me and provide a smidgen of comfort.
I was also frustrated because I thought I had found and began the process to reserve an apartment, and when we arrived to take a look, the apartments were already rented out. This was very frustrating to me and all Meng would say for comfort was "first come, first serve". I spent quite a bit of time doing my research, and was excited to find this place which seemed at least $100 cheaper than other apartments and I thought it seemed to have a good location. After visiting, I probably would not say the location was as ideal as I had imagined, but that this totally failed signified a sort of bad omen for me. Looking back, I realize it was just a minor setback and probably a good one. We got referred to look at another apartment that was in a better school district; however, it was more expensive and had a really crappy location. By luck, we drove by some places and were able to see them. Many of the places we called on had already been rented out, so we were satisfied when we found one on a dead end street that we were able to see. It was $200 cheaper than the first apartment! It was a condo style, and I quite liked the apartment; however, it was located on the second floor and there were some pretty big power lines directly overhead and I do not think they are good for a person's health.
After obtaining my UB card and beginning to inquire about insurance, there was a helpful lady who referred us to the Amherst Bee, which is a local newspaper that has classified ads. We called on some of those places and made arrangements to see some of them. The first place we looked at was a house. It was advertised as a 2 bedroom, but it actually had 4 bedrooms, a full basement that was partially finished and a great fenced backyard. All utilities, internet, and cable were included for a mere $900 per month. The school district was still pretty good. However, the downside was that this place was located on what I thought was a big too busy of a street. Also, the landlord's office was located on site, and I am still not sure if that is good or bad. However, we were really happy about this place and thought if we do not find something better then we would be happy to take it. After that one, we went and looked at an apartment in a bigger complex; however, it was also on the second floor and quite far from my school. Unfortunately, we had to wait until 7 to see the last apartment. I thought we could drive by to see if it was worth waiting to look at it or not. As we drove through the neighboring areas, we knew we had found the place where we wanted to live. The apartment is located about two blocks off the main street, and Main Street reminds me of a sort of tourist town you find in places like Sutton's Bay or St. Joe. There are several cafes, a bar, a pancake house, little shops and the like. It seemed like a place you could enjoy walking to and living in. The apartment was decent heat was included in the rent, and the school district was really good. Unfortunately, the laundry is in the basement, and we are on the second floor. The apartment is also a bit on the small side and it has an electric stove. I did not bother to check the water pressure, so I can only hope there is a decent shower. I gave the deposit right away. In Chinese, there is the saying that if the old doesn't go the new doesn't come. I suppose it also applies to out apartment hunting. I will be so happy about the situation once all the moving is done.
I am not really sure how the job interview went, but it was probably good experience for me.
One of my future classmates, Qiongqiong was a great help. She let us stay in her vacant apartment and also invited us over for a home-cooked meal. Rice tasted pretty good and I even choked down some mushroom, tofu, and bitty shrimps with the bodies in-tact to be polite. (I am not sure I will take her up on future dinner invitations very often). We also attended a birthday party of one of my future classmates and I got to meet some of the people who are going to be in my department. It makes me look forward to the future, but it also made me a little nervous about my supervisor who apparently is a work-a-holic. When people found out I was going to be working under her direction, the had a sort of knowing reaction that indicated I did not know what I was getting myself into. However, they were quick to say that she is really helpful in doing things to help her students get published. Both Vanessa (the birthday girl) and Qiongqiong are working under the direction of the same supervisor.
After returning to Michigan, I managed to get sick. I am quite sure it is sick in a way that requires medical attention. As I do not have insurance, I have been putting this off; however, I feel that is no longer an option, and I plan to go to redi-care this morning. I am not looking forward to the bill, but now I am willing to sacrifice just about anything to be able to breathe and to stop coughing. I can't take it anymore.
Hudson's birthday party went off without a hitch, and the kid made out like a bandit. I enjoyed having a interested audience to look at my embroidery and paper cuts. Grammy was even more interested and impressed by the embroidery than I was. It was nice to find anyone who can appreciate what it is I am so interested in. Although if I were as interested in the embroidery as she was, I doubt I could have afforded to buy it.
In addition to this, I have also decided to join Weight Watchers with Grandma. During the first week, I lost 6.4 pounds!