Suqian dental humanitarian trip: October 9-18 2009
Places visited: Suqian and Shanghai, China
Getting there: LA>>>Beijing>>>Nanjing>>>Suqian
As the plane landed in the LAX airport, it felt unreal. The trip we (our group) had been preparing and talking about for months was finally here. Somehow it was hard to believe. I was so happy seeing and reuniting with friends from last year's trip in May 2008 at LAX. In betweens of getting there and going along the way, I got to meet with new people and I loved every minute of it already.
Opening Ceremony: live entertainment (almost like a talent show). There was lots of singing, saxophone playing and hip hop dancing. I think most or all of us were completely shocked. Nobody had expected an opening ceremony like this.
There were many children and as I looked at the little girls, they reminded me of my own cousins from China.
I worked at the clinic from 11 am-5:30 pm with Kelsie. After being a hygiene assistant from last year, the process felt familiar and yet, I had to remind myself of the routine of suctioning, wiping down and dental instruments. I reacquainted myself with sitting in a chair, observing the hygienist and sucking away. I didn't mind one bit.
Later that night, I had dinner with Adam, Kevin, Carol, Joe, Maureen, Ed, Dr. Thomas, Dwyane and Lisa. We had nuo ro mien. Afterwards, we walked the streets, browsed the vendors and supermarkets. The Walmart-like supermarket wasn't even there last year. So much has changed. Suqian has changed. At night, I noticed there were more neon lights that glowed than when I was there last year. The city seems brighter. I was talking with Carol and I couldn't agree more...what a difference a year makes.
The day everyone left me behind at the hotel. Let me just say it was one of my scariest experiences of my life. No exaggeration either. I won't go into details, but I had the biggest relief when I talked with Bishop Koerner on the phone and the hospital bus came back for me.
Brexan, Kelsie, Kevin and I went to tour Suqian. First stop: the same water park from last year. The water park was literally empty, quite the opposite from last year in the spring. As I looked at the deserted bungie jump, I distinctly remembered the time when Ashlyn, Lindsay and Jonathan bungie jumped; all the locals were gathered around and laughing. We were all disappointed the bubble was closed. It was the highlight of the water park.
Brexan and Kevin raced, or at least attempted to race on 4 wheelers. I rode on one for the first time. Then we took a few pictures before leaving to this artillery and war memorial park. Then we went inside this random and decorated cave, a surprisingly nice golf club and another park where we walked around. Our English tour guide and our driver was ecstatic to take us around and they were so nice. Everyone in our group felt a bit disappointed and didn't want to be there. Althought it wasn't the most exciting thing in the world, secretly I actually enjoyed every moment of it. I liked the idea of having adventures that people have never heard of and will never hear about.
We eventually got back to the hospital and hanged around for a while. I had no choice but to use a squatter. That experience reminded me of how gross and how much I hate them. My legs almost died.
I had lunch with Bishop Koerner and Brexan. After lunch, I assisted Dr. Seth Spangler with fillings and enjoyed the learning experience. After having so many fillings myself, I finally got to see how fillings are done. Numb the gum, etch, suction, glue, light, filling, light, filing and floss. Assisting with fillings is a lot more work than working with a hygienist, but I liked it.
Afterwards, Brexan and I walked to the Puma store. We decided to walk back to the hotel. There were so many kids on the street, many bicycles and cars. Everyday on campus, I almost get ran over by a golf cart, a van or long boarders. After crossing the streets in Suqian, I realized I shouldn't be complaining anymore. Crossing the streets in Suqian is serious business, risking your life. It's like playing Frogger with only one life to spare.
We had hot pot dinner that night. I ate a cuttlefish on a stick. At the time, I had no idea what a cuttlefish was or looked like. It had a chewy texture to it. I'll probably never eat one again, but I'd like to say it was one of the braver things I've done.
After, we walked around this nice place with a grand government official building, neon lights and a sign commencing China's anniversary.
That night I contemplated about this trip. I felt that the week I was away, I lost touch with the world. No e-mails or cell phones. Yet at the same time, I was in the world and quite literally experiencing another world. I had learned so much in a few days. Although the city might be gray from pollution, smoggy and dusty, I love it there. And it's not that I love the air. It's those familiar shops I see along the side of the road, the people I'm with, the people I meet, strangers on the street, getting to meet new friends and reuniting with old friends.
Assisting hygiene that morning with Kelsie. We were working on a government official's teeth. I learned how to chart probings and I was proud of myself. Now, I knew what those numbers meant. I felt terribly bad for her and how high those numbers were. The government official and her husband were grateful for what we did. I wish we could have done something more for her.
Brexan and I went to watch a surgery in the O.R. Dr. Williams was performing a cleft palate. Seeing all of it was amazing. Even though Dr. Williams tried explaining the parts and what he was doing, I really had no idea where the parts belonged or what he was doing exactly. He explained something about a muscle and yet I still had no clue. I wish I had understood more of the procedure. Everything was held together by wires and threads. I watched Dr. Williams work with such precision. As I looked at all the machines attatched to the 4 year old girl, I thought how fragile and vulnerable we all are. I looked at all of this during the surgery, it looked real and yet, none of this looked real at all. I'm more appreciative for what I have. Afterwards, I went to teach English at one of the schools with Brexan and Adam. I was scared out of my minds. I don't know how to teach little kids. One of the English translators tried to tell me it was ok, but I was actually freaking out. Little kids were staring at me and expecting me to be smart, when I had no idea what to do. The first class liked me. I sang and danced for them. I sang "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." In mid-song, I forgot some of the words. Then I realized how long it's been since I've been a "kid" again. I answered a few questions and played games. We played heads, shoulders, knees and toes and musical chairs. I taught a bit about brushing teeth. The second classroom was a bit smaller. We did some of the same things as the first classroom. We played picking up the marbles with chopsticks game and musical chairs. I let the kids win on purpose. Apparently, the teachers didn't like that at all. I took pictures with the kids before I left and in the end, I had fun "teaching English."
While everyone went out to the schools, I helped Dr. Seth Spangler write things down for the patients. I like working with him a lot and I learned more dental things. I went in the O.R. again. It's so interesting how much is involved in keeping the baby alive. When everyone came back from the schools, I watched Bishop Koerner take wisdom teeth out of Dr. Zhang's sister. After having my own wisdom teeth taken out by Bishop Koerner, I know what that looks like.
A few of us went to KFC before going on an afternoon field trip to Si Hong. We drove and drove and drove. There was a lot of honking involved. When we arrived, we saw lotus and birds.
Dinner that night included fresh water crabs and eels. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal except for me. Since when did eating turtles suddenly become ok?
I couldn't believe it was Friday. Time went by much too fast and it only felt like 3 days. We went into the clinic and there was nothing for me to do so I watched an operation on 'lipstick girl.'
Leaving the hospital was sad. I hate saying goodbyes. There was a firecracker farewell. We went back to the hotel, packed our bags and left for Xuzhou. President Zhang and her daughter took us to the airport, where we saw doggy meat for humans. I was shocked.
We arrived in Shanghai that night. Some of my family friends who live in Shanghai took me out for dinner. It was the best meal I had all week! Then they took me to Xin Tian Di where we went to a museum about Shikumen houses. Looking at the night life and the architecture, it was oddly strange how Westernized it felt compared when we were back in Suqian.
These two days went by fast and like a blur. Saturday we toured Shanghai. I remember visiting all these places 2 years ago. Since I had already been to the Yu Garden, I went shopping with Bishop Koerner and Brexan instead. Except I didn't really shop. Then when we left for home from Beijing, we had a long delay and arriving in San Francisco was chaos. Leaving everyone and saying goodbye was too sad. I didn't want the week to end.
I learned a lot from this trip. There are some things I've learned that I wouldn't have understood when I was just 17 (I like to think I have matured some bit). I've learned more about dentists and dentistry. I've learned to be braver, come to realization of what's important to me in life, found a part of myself and who I want to be. I've learned I have a lot more to learn. I'm just very grateful I was a part of this group and had the opportunity to go back to China for humanitarian work.
To everyone who went on this trip and read this, I love you and miss you. I'm so grateful I got to be a part of this group and meet so many wonderful people. I'll never forget any of you. I hope one day we can all meet again, maybe go on another trip. Lets stay in touch (via e-mail, facebook, etc).