I’ve grown fond of China after seven months of living and working here. However, certain circumstances continue being a stone in the shoe.
A few days before the Chinese New Year holiday, I hurt my big toe during the rehearsals for the school celebration. Every step was so difficult during the 7 minute walk to the office and more so while teaching my classes. This was the fourth day already. I left school to a hospital where I could be seen in private (I was tired of the “collective” consultations). A bilingual woman was waiting for me, she asked me what the issue was as I followed her to the doctor’s office. This was the first time I was going to be seen privately, and despite the pain, I had a feeling of wellness and relief.
“You Don’t Have Insurance”
The woman asked me for my insurance card.
“I don’t have an insurance card, but I have insurance through school.” I showed her all my other documents: Passport, expert certificate, hospital book…
“You need an insurance card to be seen or you need to pay 400 yuan for the consultation.” I repeated my previous statement and added that she could look me up in the system, which she did, only to give me the bad news, “You don’t have insurance.”
Startled, I tried to convey an explanation that I myself could believe as well, but nothing coherent came out.
I texted our department coordinator and her answer just shocked me, “The insurance that is made available to teachers is for serious injuries, surgeries and conditions. If you are at the doctor and it is minor that is not covered.”
When I asked for an explanation she told me to talk to one the school’s officers. She works for the international school… and ours, the domestic. They were on vacation, but I could set an appointment with her a few weeks later.
The Foreign Affairs Officer
At the appointment the officer started, “Not because you’re friends with some people at this school that means you have the same insurance.” What? Where did that come from? I took a deep breath to prevent blurting out the answer I felt she deserved, then pulled out a copy of my contract, “Here it says the school provides health insurance, I went to the hospital and they told me I don’t have insurance, what’s the deal? I’m complying with my side of the contract, I feel that you’re not.”
She smiled in a condescending way, “It is different.”
“That’s what the coordinator said, that I can only use my insurance for emergences, but where do I go if I have an emergency? And who determines that? And, I don’t even own an insurance card!” I breathed again and pointed at the contract, “Plus, here it says, ‘Party A shall introduce to Party B the laws, decrees and relevant regulations enacted by the Chinese government,’ but nobody has explained anything to me!”
“Huh, I went to college in Europe and nobody explained the rules of the country to me!” She laughed superciliously and I was losing it. “I really don’t care about the ‘rules of the country’, I just need to know how the school works! And if the contract mentions ‘laws and decrees’ there must be a reason for it. You could have prevented a lot of stress for us foreigners who don’t know how the school operates by explaining this to us. Like, who’s my boss?”
“And, who’s her boss? You?”
“No, your coordinator’s boss is the school owner.”
“I need to speak with the school owner then.”
“You have to understand, she’s a very busy person.”
“I get it, but if I’m here for a year I’m sure she’ll have 5 minutes for me. How can I arrange an appointment? Can you show me where her office is?”
“I can talk to her to see when she can see you.”
“Perfect! And going back to my insurance. How does it work?”
She drew a horizontal line with the number 1,000. “When you spend up to 1,000 yuan out of pocket, the school gives you a refund. If you spend more than 1,000 we submit a claim to the insurance.”
Nevertheless, months ago our coordinator had said we had to spend 1,000 out of pocket before we were able to make an insurance claim.
“I haven’t spent 1,000 yuan yet, so I still can get the money back?”
“Yes, ask your coordinator to sign this form, bring it together with your receipts, and I’ll give you the money back.”
“Oh, great! Thanks! And when can I talk to the school owner?”
“I’ll let you know as soon as possible. And if you have any questions, just come to my office, I’ll be happy to help you.” Two months have passed. No news about the school owner despite my inquiries.
Back at the Office
I asked the coordinator to sign the refund form. She seemed confused, “But, have you spent 1,000 yuan yet?”
“No, but I understand that if I bring my receipts I can get the money back.”
“That is only because you asked!” Whoa! I’m trying to practice not to lose face (stay put, not to lose respect) so I point at the document politely, “Will you sign here, please?”
“I have to ask.”
She makes a phone call, I hear my name, she hangs up.
“You’re not planning to go to the doctor anymore?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“They said they will save your receipts until you have reached 1,000 yuan, then they will file for a refund.”
“That’s okay. Could you sign here, please?”
I leave the signed form and receipts on the officer’s desk. Three hours later she shows up at our office with an envelope for me, “Here is your money.”
Maybe they didn’t want to lose face. However, why in the same day two people contradicted themselves about something so important as the health insurance? And why didn’t they tell us about it since the very beginning? I don’t get what losing face has to do with not following protocol. If the contract says they have to tell us the “laws and regulations”, why don’t they just do that?
The answer came to me when I was listening to the radio on the internet. This American Life Podcast 585 “In Defense of Ignorance” was talking about how Chinese doctors usually don’t give test results to the patients, but to their relatives, if it is bad news, the relatives decide either to tell them or not. And in honor of mental health… It’s better not to receive bad news. Chinese people think mental and physical health are deeply connected. On the radio, the Chinese lady told a joke, “One patient is healthy, the other patient is terminally ill. Their results are mixed up. The healthy patient gets the bad prognosis, and the sick patient gets the good results. A few weeks later, the healthy patient ends up dying while the sick patient ends up living a long life.” And let’s face it. If I hadn’t gotten sick and looked for private assistance I would have never known I didn’t have insurance and my thoughts towards administration, Chinese regulations, etc. wouldn’t have been affected. Instead, I had a headache, anxiety, became sicker, and resentful. They didn’t tell me about the lack of health insurance because they wanted me to work with them, and also “save face.”
I am also aware of chongxi or the Chinese believe that you can wash away a misfortune with joy. The coordinator never stopped smiling and giving me compliments despite of my long face, and the officer waves at me warmly when she sees me though she never responded to my messages about being able to see the boss. Nobody apologizes. People just go on, like a splice between before the dispute and the afterwards making the actual event vanish. No casualties.
Later that week, I was presented with another matter. I seriously believed I was done with the Chinese schedule and the “tentative” dates until they gave us the “tentative” schedule for second semester. Because there are a few holidays we have to make up for the leisure time by working on weekends. Check it out. “Tentative” School Calendar 2017:
- Week 7 Work on Saturday
- April 2-4 Qingming Festival Holiday
- Week 8 Work on Saturday and Sunday
- April 11-16 Gaokao Holiday
- April 29-May 1 International Labor Day Holiday
- Week 15 Work on Saturday
- May 28-30 Dragon Boat Festival Holiday
- End of School Year July 1 – July 5 ? ? ? Which Day? We don’t know!
- Summer Holiday ???
I’m not kidding! This is the “official” document for our “tentative” school schedule and they wrote these last two bullets like that (question marks and exclamation point included). And as I’m writing this they have already changed one of these dates, last minute.
The end of my contract is June 30, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be taking off soon after.
I hope I don’t lose my face by then… Or my mind!