Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Week 7

International experiences feel unforgettable. How could I fail to remember practicing my “rip stick” (yes—I do mean those flexible skateboards ridden by third grade suburban males) skills in the shadow of Mao Zedong, surrounded by four-year old speed skaters and Koreans dancing to “Jingle Bells”? How could I forget dinner with surgery director Dr. Zhang and his team, toasting everything from my husband’s future career as a “famous American doctor” to the Chinese language to the day when Dr. Zhang’s son has dinner at our home in the States?

But the truth is—many of these experiences will soon be hidden away somewhere in my memories, maybe to be recalled by a familiar smell or taste, maybe to be lost forever. We will share stories with friends, and retell them to family members as we show pictures and give gifts. We will write about our trip in applications, essays, and reports, and ask Chinese-American friends if they have every visited Jilin City. But soon, names and faces will begin to fade.

But there is one name, and one face, that I will not forget. Jin Shu came of age just as the Cultural Revolution was ending, and was one of the 1 or 2% of high school graduates in the late 1970s to attend college. After graduation, she was assigned to a job in the country, but when she decided she’d prefer to move back to Jilin, she quickly (within a week) found and married her current husband to obtain a new residence permit. She then spent nine years working in a chemical plant, until she grew frustrated with the company, who, unlike most state-run businesses at that time, did not providing housing for its workers. After working with her husband for a few years, they decided to open their own restaurant. Tired of the long hours, Jin Shu gave the restaurant to her brother and founded the Bo Hua Heart Hospital, one of only about three private hospitals in a city of 4 million.

Her story of success is not typical. Jin Shu is not a member of the Party, and she refuses to accept or give money under the table. But she is willing to play the game. On Sunday night, we ate dinner with her and the head of a government agency who were meeting to discuss a recent incident at the hospital. To make a long story short—the government had originally fined her 100,000 RMB (6.8 RMB = 1 USD), but by the end of the night, she was confident that the fine would be greatly reduced. She explained to me that she doesn’t consider him to be a friend, but here in China, they have the kind of relationship where they help each other out.

As the CEO (and default CFO) of a hospital, Jin Shu knows all about the bottom line. But she also knows about compassion, justice, and mercy. By offering screenings for Christians, ethnic Koreans, and rural farmers, she seeks ways to expand and improve her operations while also expanding access to the most vulnerable populations.

Most people that we meet ask us if we like China. Many people say that they think Americans have misperceptions about their government and people and they hope that we will return home and tell us what a great place China is. Jin Shu says that China still has many problems, and she wants us to have a realistic picture of life here. She is cautiously optimistic about the future, grateful for the significant strides in human welfare that have occurred since her youth but worried about excessive economic growth and materialism.

Jin Shu says that she thinks that Chinese and Americans have much to learn from each other. I know that I have much to learn from her.