Humorous Tips for Surviving Immunizations in China
This is one of those posts that shows just how different (challenging) life can be in a foreign country. Especially a foreign country, a developing country, a country where you don’t speak the local language. I think that a few years ago this might have been quite overwhelming for me, so I would have asked a Chinese friend to come with. Yes — I have
successfully pathetically managed to live China for almost SIX YEARS, and I still can’t speak the language!!! Since I have come this far by “just winging it”, I am now not too afraid to enter potentially confusing situations. I have learned that someone will help me, OR I will just turn around and go home. Unless it its an emergency, it doesn’t REALLY matter, right?? My husband has helped me learn this valuable life lesson. If it doesn’t matter, don’t stress about it.
In an attempt to show you just how confusing and frustrating a VERY NORMAL task can be for a foreign mother living in another language, here is a humorous look at Eli and I going to get his immunizations done. Year three rolled around, and an iCalendar notification popped up for him to return for shots. We used to have to go every few months, but now that he is older, it is only once a year.
Here are some Humorous Tips for Going to Get Immunizations Done in China:
1.) Take a Taxi in Summer
If it’s summer – it is hot, humid, and hard to stay dry. Sweat literally pours from your pores from the moment you walk out of your front door. Just start to reconcile yourself with the fact that you will be an absolute madness! Us foreigners tend to sweat a lot more than the locals, so I often get quite alarming looks when I’m out in summer. In order to arrive at the immunization clinic NOT looking like you just showered in your clothes, skip the bus, and take a taxi!
2.) Take Reinforcements
Make sure to take a couple of toys and some sort of sugar-filled treat. Preferably something your little one doesn’t ordinarily get, so that if they get upset after their shot, you have something to distract them with. We took along one of Eli’s dinosaurs, and he doesn’t get lollipops very often, so I took one of those for afterwards.
3.) Know The Details
In China, you can only get certain immunizations done on certain days. The clinic also closes for a long time over lunch. It is busier during certain times too (but that one is hard to judge). I find it best to go in the morning!
4.) Always Take Ticket ASAP!
There is a machine near the door. You are supposed to push a button, and take a slip. The slip has a number on it. I NEVER remember which button to push, so I guess! If you delay at all taking a ticket, you will wait longer!
The clinic is, more often than not, an absolute madhouse! There are people standing EVERYWHERE. Each Chinese child seems to come with at least two adults. After getting their shots, they are asked to wait around of 30 minutes, to be certain there are no adverse reactions (I think this is why – that was what a friend told me). There are also new people arriving every few minutes. There is no system for coming-and-going process. The result: Lots of people, just standing around. No proper queues. Lots of pushing. Babies screaming. Toddlers upset. And mannnnny grannies holding wide-eyed children who are just realizing why they are there.
5.) Be Ready to Push, and Be Pushed
On my first couple of trips here, I used to wait for my number to appear on the screen above the “receptionist” area. I quickly learned that NO ONE waits for that step, and that you have to edge your way into the crowd surrounding the receptionist desk. It is a sweaty, pushy affair. In those moments I understand why the locals come with two adults per child. I am always the ONLY adult holding my child AND trying to get to the desk. It is absolute madness. Sometimes someone will see me, child in my arms, sweat dripping, and take my book from me to hand it over the crowd. Think of a rock concert, when the musicians jumps into the crowd and then floats over it, outreached arms moving him along. That is basically what happens to my book. I hear comments like, “Its a foreigner”. Some how, graciously, they will let my book safely land in front of the right person.
The image above shows the receptionist desk at the calmest I had EVER seen it. In the past I have tried to get a picture of the mad rush, but the entire desk is surrounded, and I have never been able to get any sort of decent image.
On this particular day, things seemed a little more calm – which is always a relief. It only took me a few minutes to get Eli’s immunization book to the first lady behind the counter. The first lady enters his information into the computer, then passes it to the second lady. She does something, then passes it to a third person. This was when I realized that something had changed, because they asked me to check something on a small screen on the counter. I can’t the heck read Manadarin, so I prayed it didn’t say anything death-related, and I tapped the button that I ASSUMED said “I agree”. Oh my goodness!
5.) Settle in: The Wait Might be Long
Armed with our immunization book and our number slip, we then have to wait. If you are not a person with patience, then this part might get frustrating. You basically have to sit (whenever you can find a spot), in no air-conditioning, with no windows, very low lighting, and lots of crying children around you. Besides the heat, and lack of fresh air, I think the massive board with bright red writing on it is actually the worst!! I feels like you are in some sort of refuge shelter, or hideout, and waiting for your name to appear on the board is like waiting to hear that you are going to survive.
6.) Make Some Friends
It helps to make some friends while you are waiting. This is never really a problem for us, since Eli gets a lot of attention. The problem is that it is usually the adults that give Eli the attention. The children are often afraid of him. Some of them even cry when they see him – especially if their parents are nudging them towards him.
It must be sort sort of good luck to touch a foreign child, because people are constantly reaching out to touch him. This stopped bothering me A LONG TIME AGO. I am now completely used to it, and find it sweet that they are intrigued by my son.
7.) Forget The Hygienic Norms You are Used To
There may be a dog or two walking around in the clinic. No big deal! No one cares. Children will have split pants on, and there probably will be a couple of grannies holding naked bums over the bushes by the entrance. Seriously – Just expect it, and go with it!
In summer, there will definitely be a few “Beijing Bikinis” (below right), so prepare yourself. If you haven’t seen this Chinese phenomenon, then prepare yourself. They WILL BE multiple men, with their shirts pulled up, above their bellies. It’s hot guys, don’t judge! I was tempted to pull my shirt up too, but I couldn’t afford any more attention.
8.) Don’t Expect Small Talk
In our experience, the nurses will not greet you, smile at you, or even talk to you. This is China, and you are 1 of 4,854 people that she will stick a needle into that day. Don’t expect small talk, and don’t be offended when she doesn’t reciprocate your cheerful “Nihao”. Channel all that attention into making your kid feel relaxed, or distracted – whichever they need!
9.) Reward Yourselves!
You made it! Another round of shots done. Reward your little one, wipe any tears, and be on your way. Take a relaxing route home – for us, that is the bus. Go for a nice lunch, or get home and out of the heat (which is a reward in itself).
There you have it! Not the funnest day out, to say the least, but we do what we have to. We have mastered the art of figuring it out as we go. Some of the processes had changed in the six months since Eli’s last shots, but we met a kind lady who was also waiting. She spoke a bit of English so she was able to help us along. I am very thankful for her, otherwise, unknowingly, I would have sat waiting for hours.
Just another day in China!