August 28th: Laowai

And so tonight we experience some of the worst aspects of China.  And maybe one of the best.

Bronwen falls head first (literally) after tripping over a cable left outside a busy Metro (underground) station, landing on her forehead (feet caught under the cable).  Lying on the floor with me trying to sit her up, nobody, and I mean nobody, offers to help.  Or even looks concerned.  The security men stay fixed to their stools.  The commuters pass by with small glances at the commotion.  Some of the construction workers look on expressionless.  Some of them… laugh.

Bronwen sits up and has somehow managed to avoid knocking herself out.  I realise Bronwen is not as seriously injured as I feared and start looking for the guy in charge.  A construction worker with fetid alcohol breath takes charge and begins shouting at me in Chinese.  I start gesticulating at the cable being stepped over by the passers-by and they hastily withdraw it.  Bronwen, now on her feet, demands to speak to the laoban (boss).  The construction workers laugh a little more.   Bronwen is bleeding from the cut on her upper lip and the huge graze on her knee.  A lump is forming on her forehead.

I call our friend Rachel (who is not a native Mandarin speaker but is near-fluent) to see if she can speak to the man who appears to be in charge, but he refuses to take the phone.  Another guy speaks to her, but offers no help.  Rachel works nearby, and offers to come and meet us with her Chinese co-worker and we gratefully accept.

Meanwhile, I call the number listed on the back of our health insurance card.  A recorded message informs me the number is not in use.  I call twice more, checking the number carefully, with the same result.  The construction workers gather in number.  Alcohol-breath guy begins shouting at us again.  The cable appears once more with bunting wrapped around it.

Tim texts me the number for International SOS, our travel insurance company, and they quickly get a doctor to speak to Bronwen on the phone.   Bronwen’s lump on the head continues to grow.  The doctor on the phone recommends a local hospital with English spoken; we agree to go.

Rachel and her co-worker Ashley arrive.  Ashley takes control and identifies a different construction guy in charge and translates for us.  The construction workers want to know why we just don’t go to the nearby hospital and just disappear.  She explains that because we’re foreigners, that isn’t going to work out for us.  She gets the guy to agree to take us to our preferred hospital and to pay for any treatment.  Now worried that we haven’t just quietly slipped away into the night, they seem to just want the problem to go away.

They organise a driver and head off to the hospital with Bronwen, Rachel and Ashley; I follow-on in a taxi.  At the hospital, the construction company guy waits nervously as he realises Ashley won’t let us do the normal British thing and attempt to shrug it all off.  After an hour or so, Bronwen is discharged with mild concussion (huge lump on the head), a number of bruises and a big limp.  The construction company guy pays the bill contritely and bids his farewell.

Rachel – you are a true friend.  Thankyou again for helping us out.

Ashley – thank you for taking time away from your family to travel with Bronwen to the hospital, negotiating with the construction company and explaining the problem to the hospital staff.   So much appreciated.

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