Fribble A Fool's Mission to China

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November 22, 2000

Recently I had the pleasure of being a medical missionary in China for 10 days -- a brief stay that offered a multitude of lessons and observations as large as the country itself. The following is a distillation of my experience.

The country
Since the re-unification of Hong Kong and Macau with the mainland, the saying has been "one country, two governments." I actually saw three countries. The first, Macau, a former Portuguese-controlled island, still seemed like an independent island. The second, SARs, Special Administrative Regions, are areas given rules and incentives to be financially prosperous but with a watchful government. The third, the rural countryside, seemed to have more "freedom" because of less obvious government involvement.

The countryside
The area of Lian Sahn (Lotus Mountain) could easily be mistaken for the Appalachians. The large cities looked like any other metropolitan area in the U.S.

The people
The people of Lian Sahn were truly appreciative of our assistance -- patients, doctors, nurses one and all. A very refreshing change from the "I'm paying you to do a good job" attitude. These rural people weren't accustomed to seeing Westerners, so whenever we walked the streets, it was like being in the zoo except we were inside the cage.

The economy
While officially communist, there was a distinct capitalistic flavor -- i.e., everyone working and selling their goods to try and improve their standard of living. Recently the government has allowed the physicians to work "fee for service" or see more patients to make more money. Before that, the medical community suffered from severe inertia and the patients suffered. Something to think about while we contemplate more government control over our practice of medicine.

The locals of Lian Sahn were farmers, mostly rice and wheat. Every available area was terraced and used in intense manual labor. I was there during the rice harvest. No combines or tractors; everything was hand harvested and hand separated. And no overweight people. Also bargaining was the norm, even in the "regular" stores.

The comedic out-takes
I was able to learn several phrases in Cantonese, not without mishaps due to tonal nuances. For a couple of days I called the maid a "chicken" instead of saying "thank you." By trying to say "blood pressure normal" I was stating that I had a "mental illness."

While sightseeing, I ran across a wedding reception and took a picture of the bride and groom. The father immediately invited me to the party. I guess having an American at the reception would've been a status symbol but I felt coming in scrubs was inappropriate.

The finances
While this trip cost me some money, it was money well spent. And because I invest Foolishly, I didn't have to worry about daily market fluctuations even though I could've had Internet access. Think of all the good times and opportunities I would've missed while checking some stock quotes.

The personal growth
Before the trip, I knew that I was fortunate. Afterwards, I realized how truly blessed I've been.