Posted by: drrozkaplan | March 14, 2010

Going to China!

So I have been neglecting this blog for a while.  I have a good excuse.  I’ve been preparing for a big trip.  A very big trip.  To Beijing and Chongqing, China, for two weeks.  I’m about to become Dr. Roz Kaplan, doctor traveling in China.  This has been in the works for a while.  Not a family vacation, or a ‘business trip’ or anything I can exactly categorize.  My friend Robin, a Professor of Social Work at one of the universities in Philadelphia, is spending the semester at the Chongqing University of Business and Technology.  Don’t let the name fool you- apparently while there are business and technology classes, there are also what we would call ‘liberal arts’, psychology, social work, biology, and the like.  Robin and I talk all the time about the interfaces in our work at home- my interests in eating disorders, depression, and other med-psych issues, and her interests in teaching and researching medical social work topics. So when she asked me if I’d like to spend a couple weeks in China with her doing, well, whatever we  thought would be useful, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So now I’m on the plane, 8 hours into the 14 hour flight to Beijing.  I will spend 3 days in Beijing sight-seeing before I move on to Chongqing, where, among other things, I will be giving a lecture on eating disorders, giving a lecture on general health maintenance, and talking to a group of elderly people about how to stay fit.  Robin and I will also be interviewing some women in different age groups about their perceptions about weight and body image, and the current thinking about eating disorders in China.

And oddly, apparently I will be giving a Pilates class to some unquantified number of people.  Robin says that you really never know there- someone asks you to ‘talk to a few people’, and 500 people may show up.  Given that the population of Chongqing, a city I’d never heard of before I planned this trip, is 35 million, I don’t even know what to expect of walking down the street there!

I’ve been reading J. Maarten Troost’s book ‘Lost on Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation.’  He is extremely funny and irreverent.  However the book is not reassuring me about my ability to negotiate my way through China.  I  should be fine once I get to Chongqing.  Robin has been there before and has been there for a couple weeks already this time.  From our Skype conversations, she seems pretty comfortable with the culture.  She has figured out how to get what she needs, how to use the money, how to use translators, how to get from point A to point B.

But remember, I will be alone in Beijing for several days.  I did hire a guide so I can go see the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Ming Tombs, and a few other things without getting on a Gray Line bus with a crowd of other tourists, only to be taken mostly to souvenir shops.  I want to learn the culture and history as I view the sights, and the guide I found seems to be quite well-versed.  But I still have to get to my hotel (okay, dumbhead me decided no American-style hotels.  Now I’m wondering if that was a mistake…)  I have to use money.  I have to find food.  I have to find the bathroom.  The Lonely Planet Guide Phrase Book I bought appears worse than useless.  I can’t figure out which dialect I will need where (it has 14 of the innumerable ones in use) and even if I could, I can’t pronounce the alliterative phrases that the book has provided, so I’m not sure how it can help me.

Troost’s book has me terrified that I will be unable to breathe the air and that I will be run over by cars and bicycles and that all the food contains genitalia of various farm animals.  I  keep telling myself that this cannot really be true, because people from all over the world travel to Beijing every day and they are not all dead from asphyxiation or vehicular homicide or food poisoning or even just disgust.  Honestly, if all else fails, in a city like Beijng, there’s got to be a pizza place if I’m that desperate.  And really, with money, I can do math.  One dollar = 6.92 RMB or Yuan.  I’ll just round up to 7, and I should be able to handle it.

Here’s the real kicker.  I have no phone.  NO PHONE.  I was the last diehard, refusing to get what was then called a ‘car phone’, until I got in an accident in a dicey neighborhood, with a baby in the backseat of my car.  Now I feel naked.  I left my Blackberry home.  I have skype to call home.  The university is getting me a phone in Chongqing.  So in Beijing, I’m phone-free.  But it feels very dangerous.  I think this is a bizarre sign of the times that being without a phone feels dangerous.

I think what really feels dangerous is being away from my family and community.  Of course I’ve gone away for a few days to medical conferences= but that was Boston, or Ohio.  My husband and I left the kids (at 18 and 16, with lots of adult support) and went to Hawaii for our 20th anniversary, but we were together.  When I was 16, I went to Israel on a youth group tour and left my parents….but really, this is a LOT different.  People who travel for business do this all the time.  But I don’t.

I spent a lot of time in my office cleaning up details and giving my partner a careful signout of any patients with unresolved issues. My son was home from college on spring break.  I tried to spend some one-to-one time with him.  His girlfriend was getting home the day after I left and it was her birthday, so I carefully wrapped her gift and left it with him.  My best friend’s mother died, after a long illness, this week.  I tried to get to her house each evening, or at least call.  I checked in with another friend having a medical problem.  And I tried to provide the right temperature of emotional support for my daughter, who was already bereft at her boyfriend going off for 6 weeks to an Outdoor Leadership Program, where she can’t really make contact with him, and now was having her mother head off to the other end of the world.

My husband has taken my leaving completely in stride.  We went over the calendar: the car needs to go into the shop on Monday, our daughter has tutoring on Tuesdays and has to have a ride to work on Saturday morning at 9:30.  She needs practice parallel parking so she’ll pass her driver’s test when I get back.  The one night my husband has to be away for a lecture he is giving, my friend will stay at our house and take care our daughter and our dogs.  My husband will be fine.

But really, will I be fine without him?  It would be so much easier to take this trip with him so I would be buffered from all the strangeness of a new culture.  He, like most men, would take the lead and figure things out.  But this time it’s my turn.  I need to get back a little of the nerve I had before I was married and settled and someone protected me.  If I get lost, or make a fool of myself, or accidentally eat bull testicles, I suppose it will just have to be a learning experience.  I just hope I won’t be calling home from a Chinese jail, needing to be bailed out for something I don’t even know I’ve done.



  1. I already miss you. wowie zowie you are in China
    Far out!!

  2. Afraid without Larry? Isn’t this the same guy who let you drink the tap water in Italy at 2 a.m.? Talk about ILL – you will be fine over there! Let me know if you do run into trouble. My best friend from high school has lived in Beijing for six years now. If you are starving and afraid the food looks like cat, dog or donkey – the Chinese eat ANYTHING – go to McDonalds. They are same worldwide. Use only bottled water even for brushing teeth and drink the orange pop. Oh, yes, stay away from any street vendor/food cart – disaster awaiting. Have a great trip, Roz.


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