Friday, February 2, 2018

it's National Crepes day!

Did you know that in France they have a holiday for Crepes (by the way the word rhymes with step rather than grape)? I can neither pronounce nor write the name of the holiday, but this is something I learned today in my crepes-making cooking class today (they scheduled the crepe class for today because it's the crepe holiday today). Apparently, the holiday is both for galettes and crepes, but I'm guessing you've never heard of a galette. I hadn't until recently. A galette is savory crepe made with buckwheat flour whereas crepes are supposed to be the sweet ones. On this holiday people mostly just eat the sweet crepes because they are quicker and easier to make. According to our chef, the schools are filled with the smell of crepes and all around. He said that since today is Friday and a lot of people won't have time to make crepes that people will celebrate all weekend. After class, I even saw a sign on a cafe with the name of the "holiday" and something about a deal on crepes (I can't really read French after all). Here are some photos from my cooking class (we made a mushroom and onion galette with a bechamel sauce, salad with bacon and a mustard vinegarette, and Crepes Suzette.
I think I did a great job on my galette.

Chef flambeing the crepes

Crepes Suzette
Here's so more food porn from France. This had ice cream
in the middle and a caramel sauce in the cup. The white
peaks are meringue. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

I'd heard of it, but didn't actually know what it was

I decided I needed to have a relatively relaxing day today. Some people are good at relaxing on vacation, but I'm not really one of those people. I tend to go, go, go. Today I decided I was going to relax. I wanted to have a good lunch a visit the Eiffel Tower. I didn't have a pre-booked ticket to the Eiffel Tower and I thought it would probably be okay, but after yesterday's long wait to get into the Catacombs I was a little nervous. Thus. I went to the Eiffel Tower in the later morning just to check out the ticket situation. You had to go through security first and then you could purchase tickets. It appears in the high season they have 4 areas for ticket sales, but today they only had two: One for the stairs and one for the elevator (also the summit was closed for annual repair work). It looked like I'd have no problem getting a ticket when I was ready to go up so I headed off to find lunch.
My meal. They also served it with a bread

I had decided I wanted to have some sort of really nice lunch today. When I travel I tend to eat a lot of small dishes, street food and prepared foods from grocery stores in order to help keep the costs down, but I do indulge in special meals here and there. I started wandering into the neighborhoods surrounding the Eiffel Tower looking for a restaurant. Thankfully, everyone here posts their menus outside. I ended up wandering through the neighborhood for about 20 minutes before I found a place that looked like what I wanted to eat (thankfully all the restaurants in this area had English menus as well as French ones so that I could understand the options). I walked in and it was a bit awkward. I wasn't sure of French restaurant etiquette and so I just sort of stood there. The waiter greeted me, but I didn't understand him so I still stood there.
My French onion soup
 Another waiter seemed to realize that I wasn't understanding and said in English, "Only one?" (or something like that) I said yes and he showed me to a table. I suspect the first waiter didn't have any English and that this guy didn't have a lot because another person who I think may have been the manager (based on the fact that he was dressed differently than everyone else and seemed to do a bit of everything) was the only one who served me even though the first waiter was taking care of everyone else in the area. His English, by the way, was really good.
I love French onion soup so that was one of the things I wanted to try in France. I ordered French onion soup as my appetizer and the duck confit. The duck confit came with a salad and something else, I couldn't understand (the translation didn't translate everything). I had heard of duck confit, but I didn't actually know what it was. I knew I liked Peking Duck so I hoped I would like it and I figured that if I didn't, it would still be an experience.
My soup came first (of course). It was delicious! It wasn't the cheesy mess they are in the States. My soup came in a cast iron bowl and had three (or maybe four - in looking at my picture I see that it was five) slices of toasted french bread on top with cheese on each slice. It had an amazing depth of flavors and was so good I would have been pleased with my meal if it had ended there. The waiter who was serving the area asked me what I assumed was are you finished after I had finished my soup and made motions to take it away. I nodded and then he took my bowl and looked towards the guy who I still think is the manager. It rather appeared to be a signal that I was ready for my next course. A few minutes later the manager brought out my main course. It turns out it was the duck confit, a salad and a dish that was a lot like potato wedges. Everything was delicious, but the duck was out of this world! I've never had anything like it. I googled duck confit after I got back to my hotel room. Wikipedia says that it is rubbed with spices and salt-preserved for up to 36 hours and then slowly poached in a low-temperature oven for four to ten hours until meltingly tender. The meat was so tender I actually had trouble picking it up with my fork. I could taste the salt (Wikipedia says prior to cooking the spices are rinsed off and the meat is patted dry) as well as other flavors. I'm really at a loss for words. My lunch was also served with fresh bread which was soft on the inside and wonderfully chewy on the outside. I couldn't finish my meal although I did eat every bite of the duck because it was so incredible I couldn't waste any of it. Afterwards, they asked if I wanted coffee or dessert. I don't like coffee and there was no way I could eat another bite. I walked out of the restaurant reminiscing abou the meal and just savoring what an amazing meal it was.
I've also included pictures of my trip to the Eiffel Tower today. That was a sight to behold.

Every hour for the first five minutes the tower sparkles. You
can't really see it in the pictures although if you look at the dark part
you can see some of it. Yesterday, I saw this from the Arc de
Triomphe at 6 pm. I, therefore, hurried off the tower to get to a
good viewing spot by 6. Tonight it didn't light up at all until about 6:15
and the first "sparkle" was at 7.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Dem Bones, Dem bones...

Notre Dame before Sunrise
Yesterday I decided that I would skip the long line to get into the Notre Dame Cathedral (They had timed tickets for the tower entrance, that's where I took the gargoyle pictures) and make use of my jet lag this morning. The Cathedral opens at 7:45 am and I knew I would be up by then because my body thinks its about 7 hours ahead of Paris time.
I arrived at Notre Dame about 7:35 am. There were two people waiting to get in. By the time the cathedral opened there were about 20 people waiting for admittance. It was a great time to go. The cathedral wasn't crowded at all. I was able to take lots of great pictures and then I was in there as the sun rose lighting the stain glass windows (although it was cloudy today, like yesterday and like it's forecasted to be all week).
Afterwards, I went to have breakfast. By this point, it is 9 am and I am shocked at how difficult it is to find breakfast. I had seen a cafe the day before that I wanted to eat at (they had a breakfast menu posted on a chalkboard outside), but it turns out they don't open until 11! I did find a place and had lovely breakfast.

After breakfast, I went to the catacombs. The ground underneath Paris is like Swiss Cheese because there was a lot of abandoned underground limestone quarries from the 15th century (These quarries were the source of stone to build many of the buildings in Paris, including Notre Dame). After a while (think a couple hundred of years) they were having problems with the gound collapsing (not too surprising when you've hollowed it out) and they had to figure out the structure of all the tunnels beneath the city and start fortifying them. In 1780, due to concerns for public safety, they began moving bones from cemeteries to the Catacombs. Over time the closed more and more cemeteries and moved more and more bones. They also used the ossuary (a depository for bones of the dead) as a morgue during the French Revolution. Today there are, if I remember correctly, the remains of about 200,000 people in the Catacombs.
Notre Dame after sunrise
My guidebook recommended getting to the Catacombs by 9:45 am (they open at 10). I thought since it was the off-season, I'd be okay if I got there a bit later. I was wrong. I got there at 10:30 in the morning and had a nearly 2-hour wait to get it (it took me just under an hour to tour the Catacombs). I wonder if part of the issue was that it was Sunday. There seemed to be a lot of French-speaking people around and I wonder if a lot of locals go to sites like this on the weekends (especially in the off-season). Nonetheless, it was really neat. You enter and immediately start climbing down a narrow, spiral staircase. According to the visitor's guide, there are 130 steps taking you 30 meters down. I didn't count. When you get to the bottom you're in part of the old quarry. The quarries were so extensive that even though there are 200,000 people's remains down here they are only in a very small fraction of the catacombs. As you go along the path through rather small, low tunnels (made me glad I'm short) you find signs marking each dig. Apparently, these can be used to determine exactly where the stone for different buildings came from. There are also signs indicating what street you're under, except they don't correspond to the modern-day streets.
The guy facing the tower is the architect while the disciples
(there are more on other sides) are watching over the city.
As you continue through these tunnels you suddenly pop out at the ossuary. Here the front is made of long bones with some skulls (in a pattern) and then other bones are tossed in the back (and according to the narrative signs back further under dirt where we can't see them from the front of the piles). It just feels like the bones go on and on and on. As I was walking through here I couldn't help but imagine how it must have felt to have been ordered to move bones from a cemetery (where they were often in mass graves) to the Catacombs. I would not have liked that task.
The back of Notre Dame (and me of course).
After visiting the Catacombs I planned to stop at a grocery store to pick up a light lunch and then go take a nap. Even though I've never been to France before I've been to Europe enough times I should have realized the folly in that plan. Today is Sunday. The grocery stores (and many other stores and restaurants) are closed today. I did find a small store and bought some of the things I needed (including a couple of items I forgot to bring with me).
The Seine is quite flooded. I can't take a boar tour down it
like the guidebooks recommend because most boats
can't fit under the bridges with the water levels so high (not to
mention it appears at least one river tour company's ticket
office is underwater).
Since it's January the sun sets at about 5:30 pm so by the time  I arrived at the Arc de Triomphe it was getting dark. While I was exploring, I noticed that they were setting up for a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As I stood watching a guard came up and asked if we spoke French (there were other people there too). One woman said she did and the guard invited her to come past the gate to participate in the ceremony (or at least that's what I concluded). She started to walk into the area followed by her friends when the guard stopped them. Her friends didn't speak French and so they couldn't enter. The ceremony was interesting (although I didn't understand it), but I could see why they were only allowing French speakers in - they actually took part in parts of it. Afterwards, they were changing things over and I was just watching the action. I knew the ceremony was over, but I guess that same guard was concerned that I didn't because he looked across the way at me and made an "x" with his hands (and a few other gestures that I can't remember well enough to describe) seemingly indicating that it was over. He appeared concerned about me, which I thought was nice.
I concluded my evening with a stroll down Champs Elysee, but I have to say I didn't find it all that interesting.

Inside the Catacombs

Marking inside the quarry

More of the quarry area of the Catacombs

The bones

More bones

There were signs like this that stated when and where
the bones were transferred from as well as signs that made
commentary on death.

A "barrel of bones"

Arc de Triomphe

Tomb of the Unknown Solidier at the Arc de Triomphe

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Destroying the stereotypes

When I first started traveling alone, I didn't travel truly as a solo traveler. I would travel between locations by myself, but I would meet friends (who lived in each location). Several years ago, I was in Barcelona visiting a friend and I had plans to visit another friend in Luebeck, Germany, but I had a few days I needed to fill in between. As I was trying to decide where to go for that interim period, my friend suggested I go to Paris. I was concerned about the cost and my inability to speak French. My friend was no help because she speaks French so she was like, "oh yeah. That might be a problem." I had always heard that French people couldn't speak English and even if they could they didn't like to. I found the idea of going to Paris to daunting and so I decided to go to Munich instead. I'd never been to southern Germany before, but I had been to and lived in Germany in the past, and I spoke (and of course still do speak) German. It was probably not a bad choice since I'd never been to a city by myself before where I didn't know anyone. Since then, I've done it numerous times.
When I was considering visiting Paris during my Chinese New Year break, my previous concerns didn't even enter my mind. That having been said I was a little nervous about the fact that I can't speak French.
My trip to Paris started out interesting and even though this is my first evening here has continued to be interesting in several ways. First, I was surprised at the number of Europeans on the plane. Usually when I fly between China and the US, even if I fly an American airline, 90% of the passengers are Chinese. I would say this flight was only about 50% Chinese and most of the rest of the passengers were Europeans (When we got to immigration I could tell there were a number of non-Asian, non-Europeans based upon who got into the non-European Union line, but definitely the bulk of the non-Chinese passengers were in fact Europeans). I'm so accustomed to everyone in China looking at me and automatically knowing that I'm a foreigner that even as early as on the plane things felt a little weird. In China, if they can speak English, when they see me they at least try to speak English with me. (If they are struggling I speak Chinese with them and reassure them. If they speak English pretty well, I may or may not switch to Chinese- although I do ALWAYS bargain in Chinese and ONLY in Chinese) This is especially true in places like the airport and on airplanes (although one time it wasn't until the end of the conversation that I realized I had spoken Chinese the whole time and she'd spoken English the whole time). Thus, it was shocking when I boarded the plane and the first flight attendant directed me to my seat in French. I could tell from her pointing which way I needed to go, so the fact that I didn't understand didn't matter, but still. My seatmates spoke Chinese and French. Neither appeared to speak English (or French or Chinese, respectively for that matter). When the flight attendant came with the drink cart he spoke Chinese to the one seatmate but spoke French to myself and my other seatmate. After I replied in English he then spoke to me each time in English. Again as we left the plane the Chinese people were greeted in Chinese and I was greeted in French (it was only, "Merci. Au Revoir" so I understood just fine and replied in kind). Now to most of my readers, this may not be surprising. I was on an Air France flight to France and I look like I could be French, but you must keep in mind I'm accustomed to being in China. I get singled out as a foreigner. That doesn't happen here in France (until I can't speak French).
This afternoon I was sitting in a park beside the Notre Dame Cathedral people watching. I enjoy people watching, but I was also at that moment really too tired to do much else. I worked yesterday. Then I had a couple of rather stressful situations and then I flew out at about 1 am Beijing time, arriving in paris at about twenty minutes to five in the morning, local time. While I was people watching my mind wandered and apparently my expression showed that I was in deep thought because a French man walking by decided to comment. I of course, didn't understand him. He said a couple of sentences without stopping and then when I didn't respond he said (still in French) you don't speak French (or something to that effect, my very low French comprehension abilities understood that one). I replied, "no." He then came over the bench I was sitting on and said something in English to indicate that he was only going to be there for a moment (I think he was afraid he was going to make me nervous). He didn't speak English very well, but we chatted for about 5 minutes. I wrote out some numbers (years), relevant to our conversation (about China) on my phone and at one point he pulled out his phone (I'm pretty sure he had seen my phone was in airplane mode) and pulled up google translate to have me type in a word he couldn't understand. We had a lovely and very diverse conversation that included my telling him I would try to think happy thoughts so as to enjoy my time in Paris. To discussing my living in China and some things about the Chinese language to the flooding of the Seine (Now keep in mind, his English was very rudimentary and my French is non-existant so these topics were not discussed in depth and I don't know how much he understood of what I said). It really made my day though. When I visit Europe, I like to use the Rick Steves travel guides and one of the things Ricks Steves encourages is trying to have interactions with the locals; even if you can only communicate through gestures. I got to have that local engagement without any effort on my part (in initiating it). It was awesome and really went against the stereotype I'd always heard.
This evening I needed to find some dinner. I had gone to my hotel in the afternoon and taken a nap. (I set an alarm because by the time I laid down it was nearly 10 pm Saturday evening in Beijing. I had been up since 5 am Friday morning. I knew I couldn't let myself sleep through the Beijing night or my jet-lag would just be exacerbated.) Afterwards, I needed to find some dinner. I set out to go to an area I had seen restaurants in earlier, but as I was headed that way I noticed nearly all the pedestrians seemed to be headed in one direction. So I followed them. I found myself in this huge network of pedestrian streets. The only language I heard being spoken and the only language I saw written was French. Clearly, I was where the locals go on a Saturday evening. I decided to have a kebab (referring to food similar to a gyro rather than food on a stick). Not exactly local food, but also not something I can get in China. The restaurant was set up like street food, but they actually had places to sit down inside and after you ordered you sat down and they brought you your food. I was standing in front of the restaurant trying to decipher the French menu (not easy, but easier than trying to decipher a Chinese menu when you can't read Chinese - which, actually, I can- to a degree). Some things had pictures, other were just words. As I was standing there the man working there spoke to me. I assumed he was just trying to sell me on buying their food (maybe that is what he was doing, I still have no idea), but after a little bit I head, in English "Do you speak French?" I shook my head. "Arabic?" I shook my head. "But you speak English." I nodded. I suspect the man thought I was from somewhere other than a native English speaking country. I didn't speak a lot and I was rather hesitant about things. This is actually because 1) I was just getting to the saturation point on being overwhelmed and 2) it was 7:30 at night. I'd been on the go since 4:40 am and that was after having spent the night on a plane. Nonetheless, he was really kind. He clearly didn't know everything in English because there were some things he still said to me in French, but he would show me what he meant. I got a wrap with roasted chicken, garlic sauce, lettuce, and tomato. My meal came with a drink and he pointed to the cooler and asked me what I wanted. I told him water, but did they have water that wasn't cold (my family can tell you that living in China has made me adverse to cold water). He was so nice he went down to the basement to bring up a new case of water so that I could have non-cold water.
Going to a new country and experiencing a new culture is always an interesting and somewhat overwhelming experience. Somehow, despite having been to Europe many times I am finding this more difficult and odder because I'm somehow still in my China-mindset (I've never gone to Europe from China before). I figure after I get a good night's sleep a lot of it will be easier. It's just after 9 pm here so I'm going to go to sleep and hope my jet lag doesn't prevent me from sleeping through the night. I'll leave you with some photos of the gargolyes of Notre Dame Cathedral. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

When the electronics go down...

I'm not a big fan of McDonald's (although I do like McDonald's in China better than in the US), but there is one almost directly across the street from my school and today was exam day (day 3 of 3). I was giving my Chemistry exam right after lunch and so I decided to join a couple of my coworkers at McDonald's for lunch. McDonald's is usually an easy place for foreigners because they have kiosks where you can order in English. Today, however, as we walked in we noticed that all the kiosks were down. We then proceeded to the ordering counter (as opposed to the pick-up counter) to order and discovered things were even more interesting. Apparently, McDonald's entire electronic system was down. At the counter, two women were taking orders on paper and then telling the kitchen staff what each person's order was. This made ordering quite a challenge because while there was a partial menu on the wall, there was no complete menu available. I decided I wanted a plain hamburger, a small fry and a bubble tea (something delicious, but definitely not available at McDonald's in the U.S.). This order was more challenging than you might imagine. First, the Chinese word for hamburger is not specific to, well hamburger. A hamburger in Chinese could be made of beef, chicken, fish (possibly other things, but those are the only choices at McDonald's). Next, I not only never order in Chinese, but plain hamburgers aren't very common. I told the woman I wanted a hamburger and she asked me if I wanted chicken, I replied, "no, beef." Then I told I want just the beef nothing else on it. She then replied you want a single burger, right? Yes. The small fries were easy and the only thing with the bubble tea was I had to specify that I wanted a cold one because it comes in hot or cold. Then they had to figure out how much I needed to pay. They didn't know how much a plain hamburger costs. Luckily I did (at 7 yuan, it's actually more expensive in China than in the United States). One of the women knew how much a small fry (which is truly small unlike the small fry I ordered at Arby's when I was in the States for Christmas) cost and they both seemed to know the price of the bubble tea. One of my coworkers tried to pay with a debit card and they told him cash only. This caused me a bit of concern because I didn't have my wallet on me, only my phone. I asked if we could pay with WeChat (the Chinese version of WhatsApp, but it also has a pay function that works similar to Apple Pay) and thankfully we could. Thus, after they added together my order I scanned a woman's phone and paid via WeChat. I saw afterward that it was a personal account and so apparently she was collecting all the payments and would eventually pass it on to the restaurant when they had their systems restored. I can't imagine a restaurant in the U.S. operating this way, but I guess it works. I got my food and hopefully, the restaurant will get their money.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Chasing Santa - a really long Christmas Eve

It's currently Saturday evening and I have just finished packing my bags to go back to Beijing. I can't say I'm really looking forward to the return trip, but the time differences always make things interesting. This trip, I'm departing on the morning of New Year's Eve and flying west. As I fly west the time will get earlier and earlier until I cross the International Dateline at which point it will become 2018. There won't exactly be a countdown for the new year. Of course, this is sort of making up for my trip from Beijing to North Carolina.
I woke up on Christmas Eve morning and went to church. We had a good service and then went to the home of a couple of the church members who live very close to where we meet (in the German Center). We had an awesome church-wide Christmas party which included having pizza and snacks and singing Christmas songs. I left about 2:30 in the afternoon (the party was still going strong) and took the train (the subway to the airport express) to the airport. I flew to Detroit landing about 10 minutes BEFORE I left Beijing. (I called my grandmother from the Detroit airport. She mentioned that you can't be in two places at the same time and I replied, "Oh, yes you can. I was in Beijing on Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 5:40 pm and I was in Detroit on Sunday, December 24, 2017.")
My flight to Detroit was pretty good. After I checked into the airport, they told me that I could go over to the table that said Merry Christmas and get some Christmas items (It was actually kind of funny because the check-in was conducted mostly in Chinese and so he told me this in Chinese with Merry Christmas being in English because the table had an English banner which said Merry Christmas). I walked over to the table and saw that they had headbands with antlers, santas, and other possible items on them; slap bracelets; and buttons. I chose a really cute antler headband with a bow between the antlers. Then the woman was like, "Oh chose something else." I was surprised that I could have more than one item, but I chose a reindeer slap bracelet. Then she told me to get a button so I got a stocking button. The conversation with this woman started in English, but out of habit, a number of my replies were in Chinese and eventually the conversation turned to Chinese. I don't know if it was because of my Chinese speaking or being a foreigner or what, but next thing I know she's asking to take a picture of me.
When I boarded my flight, the flight attendants all had different Christmas headbands like what I had seen on the table (it was a Delta table and I was flying Delta after all), but none of them had one just like mine. They all reacted instantly to my headband, asking me where I got it and commenting that they hadn't seen one like that. There were additional comments as I deplaned as well. I was a little surprised to see that nobody in Detroit had any of these acutraments. I thought they were probably a Delta-wide thing, but apparently they were in a Delta in Beijing thing.
My flight to Greensboro was delayed a bit because of back-up on the de-icing which was the result of weather systems delaying other flights, but when we boarded the flight attendant was like, "We've got to get you all home before Santa arrives." I managed to land in Greensboro at about 11 pm and made it to Mom and Dad's house about 10 minutes before midnight. My Christmas Eve was 37 hours long and I definitely made the most of it. On Monday, I kept telling stories from the day before and my dad was like, "Your yesterday was a week long." It definitely felt like it. This Sunday however, I am essentially skipping.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Trip to a Public Hospital in Beijing

If you've read my blog for a while, you know I have clearly been to a hospital in China before. For that matter, I have definitely been to the hospital in Beijing, (You can read about my adventure with gallstones here.) but I've never been to a public hospital (as a patient - I did observe an open heart surgery in a public hospital in Baotou years ago, but I digress). Last week one of my friends had a lot of problems with ringing in his ears, but his insurance only works in public hospitals. Therefore, on Saturday and Sunday I went with him to help him figure out the hospital (sort of the blind leading the blind) and to translate.
In China, especially in a city like Beijing, there are many different types of hospitals (and by the way there is no such thing in China as a doctor's office. You see doctors usually at the hospital, occasionally in a clinic). When I had issues I went to an international hospital (Beijing United Family) and an international clinic (Vista Clinic). I tried going to another international hospital before I went to Beijing United Family because my health insurance covered care at the other hospital (Oasis) 100%, but at Beijing United Family it only covered 80% of the costs. Unfortunately, the day I went was a public holiday and so everything was closed (including the emergency room), except pediatrics and OB/GYN. Since I don't qualify for pediatrics and it wasn't an OB/GYN problem (it was complications from Influenza A that I had picked up during my Christmas travels), I had to bite the bullet and go to the more expensive hospital. At the international hospitals and clinics it's just like being in a hospital in the US. They have the same standard of care, they same general procedures and often even the same brands of supplies (I don't just mean the big stuff like the medical equipment I mean even down to the little stuff like Kimberly Clark toilet paper dispensers). Of course, the biggest advantage is nearly everyone, from the doctors to the receptionists, speaks English. If they don't (or they can't understand you), they can quickly transfer you to someone who does (they may even be a native English speaker). These hospitals even employ many foreign doctors (although the ones I had were all Chinese). The downside is they come with a U.S.-size price tag. If you don't have health insurance that covers treatment at the International hospitals you probably can't afford to go there (and without insurance that they can bill, you will have to pay upfront for your treatment).
My friend didn't have insurance that covers private hospitals so that meant he needed to go to a public hospital. Now, there is quite a spectrum when it comes to public hospitals. I googled public hospitals with international wings and found one not too far away (this is a very relative term). My friend didn't have time to go on Saturday because of a party our friends were throwing so we tried to go to a nearby hospital (meaning in walking distance), but they didn't have an ENT. I thought he could handle going to the hospital himself, but he asked me to go with him on Sunday so I met him after church at the subway station nearest the hospital (Peking Union Medical College Hospital) . We followed the directions on Apple Maps (remember all Google products are blocked in China) and this led us to the main entrance. Unfortunately, the main entrance didn't include the international wing and it was closed. There were quite a few people gathered outside the hospital waiting and long electronic signs that appeared to be listing the specialties and which days they had available appointment times. From my reading online I knew they had an international wing that should be open at that time, but I couldn't find directions on how to get there. The hospital area was comprised of several buildings, but there was also construction going  on making it more difficult to find the International Medical Services (what they call their international wing). We wandered around and eventually found signs pointing to the emergency room and IMS (in the same location). We walked in the door and had no idea what to do or where to go. We just stood there looking around, puzzled. A guard walked up to us and asked if we needed to see a doctor and then told us to go to the nurse's station. I figured since this was the international wing the nurses would speak English so I instructed my friend to talk to them, but they started to panic and picked up the phone. I then told them it was okay, I would translate. After telling them he needed to see an ENT we were directed to the cashier where he had to pay 5 yuan to buy a card and 1000 yuan (about USD 150) to see the doctor. He could use his debit card to pay for the doctor, but had to buy the card with cash. We were then directed back to the nurses station where they gave him some paperwork and then directed us to an exam room (she tried to tell him in English, but mixed up her numbers leaving us very confused until I clarified in Chinese).
We got to the exam room and there was no one there and so we just waited outside the room (there were chairs just outside the door). The doctor walked up and greeted me (in English) and asked me if I had requested an ENT. I told him I hadn't my friend had. This was one of those really funny situations that happen a lot. My friend is Filipino so the doctor thought he was Chinese. Thus, he figured W was the translator and I was the patient rather than the other way around (this is probably also why the nurses didn't freak out until after he spoke English to them). I waited outside while he examined my friend. Then in order for my friend's insurance to reimburse the visit, he needed some form official diagnosis form. The doctor had to go an get an official paper and fill it out by hand. Meanwhile, my friend had to go back to the cashier to pay for the form (250 yuan or about USD 35) and his medication. Then he took the card he'd bought to the pharmacy where they used that to match him to the prescription. Finally, we went back to the exam room and got the form from the doctor. Definitely, a new experience for both of us.