Friday, November 14, 2008

When Chinese Root Canals Crash

I have no doubt that every one of you has experienced the challenge of returning to your “real life” after a long and exquisite vacation. Well, I recently returned to my life that is not exactly real at the moment because I live in China. There was nothing fictional about the amazing month I had just spent traveling in Southeast Asia with my boyfriend, but as all good things must end, he boarded a plane and left me here to plow forward with my life in Suzhou, China.

I made the unfortunate decision the day after he left to try a new and interesting fruit that somewhat resembled a mango. Much to my dismay, I discovered that it was in fact a tiny mango, which I am reluctantly allergic to. Maybe I subconsciously hoped I had grown out of my allergy, or perhaps in missing my boyfriend I absentmindedly consumed it. Either way, I awoke the next day with swollen, itchy, and bumpy lips. The allergy hung on for quite a few days, but as the swelling lessened I noticed my right eye feeling irritated and swollen…yep, somehow the allergy spread. I waited patiently for the allergic reaction to subside. Eventually my lips felt pretty much back to normal and my eye stopped itching.

This all happened just in time for my teeth to start surging in pain all night and sometimes into the day. The right side of my mouth had started waking me with pain when my boyfriend and I were in Laos, but I decided not to explore my dental options in such an underdeveloped country. I toughed out the screaming throb in my mouth by taking painkillers, listening to headphones at night, and simply getting too drunk to notice (ah, the beauty of being on vacation). Now back in China and with my first week of teaching under my belt my teeth thought it was time to torture me until I succumbed to a Chinese dental visit. I saw Jane for the first time, and she quickly determined that a root canal was in order. Not interested in another sleepless night I quickly grabbed an appointment for the following day at 5:00 when I finished teaching. The next day as I was standing before thirty Chinese students lecturing about business trade agreements, “ROOT CANAL” kept flashing across my mind. Yes, I was a bit nervous. Regardless of my good friend Miriam’s rave reviews of Jane’s work, I am never excited to have dental work done abroad.

Despite my fears, I bravely rode my electric bike to her office at 4:30 and settled in for a big shot of novocain…that never came. She was very informative about what was going to happen, and explained that 80% of the nerve had died, so I would not feel a thing. I only felt a few yanks and that was it! Overwhelmingly pleased I happily handed her the 380RMB ($48USD) and went on my way.

As I was poking along on my bike thinking about how great my evening yoga class was going to feel after a stressful day, I noticed a car pulling out a few yards ahead of me. As the gap for me to pass became smaller and smaller I began to blow my very loud horn. The closer I got the more I realize that I was not going to fit in the shrinking space between the car and the curb. I crashed rather hard into the old black Toyota. As I lay on the ground, my body jackknifed across the cement curb, the driver came hesitantly over. When I turned to look up at him, shock exploded across his face when he realized that I was a foreigner. I spewed a few words of anger at the driver and upon his lack of reaction I realized that he didn’t know any English. Someone fetched a waiter from the nearby restaurant that knew some English. The waiter informed me that the driver knew he was wrong and he wanted to give me some money and that the police were on their way. As a non-Chinese speaking foreigner, I knew that once the police got there I was going to get screwed, laughed at, and taken advantage of. So I called my Chinese friend, Mary, who frequently saves me when I get into a pickle. No answer. Next I phoned my surrogate father here in China, Ed. Ed and his wife Amy had moved to China from my hometown in Ohio just a few months before I did. Lucky for me, he was only two minutes away and offered to come and help. He arrived with Lu, his Chinese driver, and Lu took matters into his own hands.

As foreigners standing around with multiple Chinese people and the police, we attracted quite an audience. The most amusing onlookers were the group of about eight street cleaners that decided to stop and surround us, poking their little noses into our affair. I felt like a nucleus surrounded by them in their matching yellow and orange cleaning suits. By this time the sun had gone down and we were all freezing. I was shaking from stress and the onslaught of shock this day has brought me. We offered to settle for 100RMB ($12USD), and a phone number in case my bike started acting up from damages.

Eventually the police left, after accomplishing next to nothing, and we were left in the cold to wait for the driver’s insurance people. Ed and I waited in the heated car while Lu stayed and chatted with the driver. Finally the insurance man showed up, and after taking far too many pictures of my bike and the car, we settled on 450RMB ($57USD). Then Lu took the 450RMB ($57USD) from the driver and handed me 400RMB ($50USD), keeping 50RMB ($7USD) for cigarettes and some governmental thing. I knew better then to ask questions. After about two hours of standing in the cold surrounded by ranting Chinese people I was ready to just go home. My courage wrestled my fear to the ground and I mounted my valiant steed once again. As I rode home dreaming about a long hot shower, I burst out laughing when I realized that the driver had just paid for my root canal and left me with some change!

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