Mongolian Dentistry and a Harbin Christmas

Early last week, one of Grace’s teeth started to hurt. It was one of her wisdom teeth. When I looked in her mouth, I saw that it had already pushed through the gums, but there wasn’t nearly enough room for it. It was coming through the tissue that connects the jaw to the head. We decided to wait a couple days to see what would happen, and after cruising through a couple days on painkillers, we knew she had to have it pulled.

Eve, a student that comes and sits in on one of my classes, has lived in this area her whole life, so we asked her for a recommendation on where to have it removed. She had her wisdom teeth removed at a hospital near by, and everything seemed to have went smoothly. Since Eve’s command of English is pretty strong, we asked her to accompany us to the hospital. The hospital was within walking distance, and the dentistry ward was on the third floor. Eve started walking into rooms in the area and talking to the dentists and their assistants. We took a peek into the rooms as well. They appeared to have standard dental equipment; there was the standard chair next to the little sink, adjustable over-head light, and tray with normal tools. The only difference was that there were more than one set of equipment in each room. They came in set of two and four chairs. Grace commented that it was like going to the dentist at the nail salon; the dentists could catch up on the latest gossip while they worked on your teeth. Eve eventually found someone who appeared to be the head of the department. He had Grace get an x-ray of her tooth.

Paying for medical care is really different in China. All the prices are listed, so you know what you’ll pay beforehand. Unlike most other financial transactions in China, you can’t haggle for price on medical care. However, you can go to another hospital and shop around for a better price. Insurance isn’t necessary, and from what I gather, very, very few people have it. I had to go to the cashier, pay for the x-ray, and bring back the receipt before they would take Grace’s x-ray. Grace’s tooth was growing in sideways, so they said it wouldn’t be the easiest to take out but it wouldn’t be particularly difficult either. When we went, it was four o’clock on a Friday, so they told us to come back Sunday morning. We ended up missing that suggested appointment time. Grace had to submit her last final and teach two classes on Sunday, and she wisely decided that neither of those would be enjoyable or even possible after having her tooth removed.

On Monday, I taught two classes. Usually, I don’t teach on Mondays, but I had rescheduled these classes because I was not going to be in Harbin when they next met. Next week, I’m meeting my family in Beijing for New Years, so I’m going to miss some of my regularly scheduled classes. I gave both these classes their final on Wednesday, so on Monday, I gave them the opportunity to ask questions and take a practice final to see how I would grade. I gave them the same final as I gave to my other tour management classes. They got into pairs and did a dialogue, and after speaking for a while, I would jump in and start talking to them about whatever topic they had chosen. The first class was a little more nervous about everything, so they asked more questions and did sample dialogue. The second class didn’t care at all, so I let them go on their way. A character you may remember from my fashion post is in this class, Sino. We got to chatting a little bit during class, and he and Mark decided to stick around after class to talk some more. It was certainly one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with a Chinese person. He talked with me about things you are certainly not allowed to talk about it China and explicitly voiced criticisms of Chinese society and policy. I don’t think its wise to put on the internet what he said given how the government monitors the internet, but I assure you that I learned some really exciting things.

The next morning, Grace was ready to get her tooth pulled. We called Eve to see if she could take us back to the dentist, but she had class that morning. Grace didn’t want to sit around and think about it all day, so I call Sino to see if he could serve as our translator. He readily agreed, and we were on our way.

When we got to the hospital, the dentists recognized us and asked why we didn’t come in on Sunday. I told them that Grace had to teach. Sino started asking them about the price of having her tooth pulled. They said it would cost one hundred and twenty to pull the tooth and another eight for the medicine. Sino said that it was too expensive and advised that we go to another hospital. Since the cost wasn’t really an object, we decided to stay and get the tooth pulled there. Eve had recommended the place, and we wanted to make sure Grace got the best service available rather than the cheapest. I paid in advance while Grace was taken into one of the rooms. She was put into one of the smaller rooms with two chairs, but the other chair was unoccupied. While Sino and I were outside, one of the other dentist started talking to Sino. I had talked with this dentist in a mixture of English and Chinese the first time we came to the hospital. She was asking Sino if I could tutor her son, and she was willing to offer over two hundred yuan a hour. Since this is more than I make at my school, I gave her my phone number, but I haven’t heard from her yet.

I went in to see Grace and see how she was doing. Nothing had started; the dentist was filling a needle to numb Grace’s mouth. Hoping to see some skilled dentistry in action, I asked if I could watch. I’m China after all, and I want to take advantage of it; I doubt a dentist would let me watch something like that in America. The dentist let Sino and I stay in the room. She quickly stuck the needle into Grace’s gums without any ado, so she didn’t get so anxious about it. In about a minute, Grace was tapping around her mouth and giggling because she couldn’t feel it at all. The dentist pulled out some sort of drill and start slicing through Grace’s gums. Grace started making some moaning noises, but it was over quickly. Then the dentist grabbed what looked like a miniature crowbar, reached into Grace’s mouth, and started prying her tooth out. Grace was kicking her feet and moaning loudly as if to say “Stop! Stop!”; the dentist grunted back at her meaning, “Just hold still and be quiet; I’ll be done in a second.” The dentist jerked back and slapped a bloody, pink mass on the tray with her tools. Assuming the tooth was somewhere inside there, I started telling Grace, “Its alright; its over.” The dentist had Grace open her mouth again and went back in with the crowbar. In an attempt to stay as still as she could, Grace squirmed and writhed in pain. The dentist triumphantly pulled out the tooth and threw in in the sink. Grace spit out a mouthful of blood. We immediately started wondering what that first mass was that she pulled out and started asking, “Did she pull out two teeth?” Sino asked the dentist, and she said she only pulled out one tooth.

We sat out in the hall for a couple minutes to make sure Grace didn’t continue to bleed. She was exhausted; I was exhausted just from watching someone get violated like that. Sino said it looked like the dentist was in a hurry because there were more people waiting. The numbness in Grace’s gums started to fade and gave way to pain. We waited a couple minutes, and the dentist cleared us to go. We went to a drug store on the way back to get an antibiotic and a painkiller. Grace collapsed on the bed right went we got back home. She started spitting out more and more blood, so we got a little nervous. Finally, I called Sino back and asked him if he would go back with us to the hospital. When we talked to the dentist again, she just put in new gauze and told us that the bleeding was good. It would bleed out all the bad things. I thought that “bleeding” went out of practice a long time ago, but apparently not.

We went back home, and Grace jacked herself up on enough painkillers to go to sleep. She napped until late in the evening. While she was asleep, I did some research on the internet and learned about what should have been done. Grace had a horizontal impaction, and the dentist should have cut the tooth in half and pulled it out of a smaller hole instead of just ripping the tooth out through the gums. I also froze some bags of ice, so she could numb her face when she woke up. After sleeping so long, she still didn’t feel any better. We ate a little, watched a movie, and went to sleep for the night.

She felt much better when we woke up the next morning. I got a flashlight and took a look in her mouth. It looked like everything had healed substantially, but there was a small black hole where her jaw is attached. We think that the hole is opened up from where the hunk of gums was ripped out. The hole is still there, but Grace feels fine now. The moral of this story is to get your wisdom teeth removed before you come to China. We have resolved that if anything else requires major medical attention while we are here, we are going to the American hospital in Beijing.

On Wednesday, I gave finals to two of my classes. Sam, a friend of Sino, said to me when I came into class, “I heard your girlfriend met a Mongolian dentist.” I expressed my surprise at learn that the dentist was Mongolian, but he explained to me that calling a dentist Mongolian is an insult. He said that in Mongolia, dentist do more work on animals than on people, so they aren’t very skilled. In administering those two exams, I have six hours left of work until March 1st. I’m settling in nicely for this two and a half month vacation.

We had a very nice Christmas here. It started with a Christmas party in my Engineering class. I came in a makeshift Santa costume that my class loved. I had my UGA sweatshirt stuffed with some pillows, a toilet paper beard, and a red Santa hat. I told them a little about Christmas and Santa Claus, but as I was speaking, my toilet paper mustache kept falling into my mouth. We sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and played the same game with presents as we had played when Sinterklaas came to Harbin. Grace and I spiked the presents with some “sanitary napkins”. Given that Chinese people my age are still in adolescent in maturity, they responded just the way we hoped they would. They liked the game and were very competitive, so the party went well.

With the red hats we purchased for the Christmas party, Grace and I intentionally deceived Chinese people about American Christmas traditions. We wore these hats everywhere from Friday until Christmas. We wore these hats like it was our religious duty. We drew more giggles and hellos than usual this week, and we occasionally got Merry Christmas or Shendan kuaile. Hopefully, people in Harbin will come to expect Americans to wears these hats for future Christmases.

Grace and I feasted on delicacies inaccessible to the average Chinese person for Christmas. Grace’s family always makes peanut butter balls and a tuna tree for Christmas. A peanut butter ball is a mixture of peanut butter and sugar rolled into a ball and dipped into melted chocolate. A tuna tree is can tuna mixed with cream cheese and a bit of onion molded into the shape of a Christmas tree and served with crackers. Both were extremely delicious. On the Saturday before Christmas, Stephan and Sven came over, and we shared some of our peanut butter balls with them along with some chili. Grace and I went to the nicest restaurant in town for our Christmas Eve dinner, Pizza Hut. We were greeted by a man in a suit; there was a twenty minute wait (waiting for restaurants in nearly unheard of in China), so he took our phone number to call us when our table was ready. We were starving, so we ate an ice cream cone and French fries at McDonald’s in the mean time. When our table became available, we sat down and ordered a supreme pizza. It was wonderful, and it doubled the amount of cheese I’ve eaten since I’ve been in China. It was also the most expensive meal I’ve had here. Christmas morning, we opened presents and ate the tuna tree and some granola. Grace gave me a soccer ball and two ping-pong paddles, and I gave her more rare foods: chocolate icing, whipping cream, cupcakes, and dark chocolate. We indulged ourselves in some luxurious foods with Christmas as the excuse.

In the afternoon on Christmas Day, we met with Sven, Stephan, and Leke (our Nigerian friend who studies at HIT) to go to the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival. The Snow and Ice Festival is the only reason that any tourists come to Harbin. In the afternoon and into the night, we went and saw the snow sculptures at Sun Island Park. This year they made the world’s longest snow sculpture. A Canadian team came and helped with it, so it has a Canadian theme. Half of the sculpture is of indigenous Canadians (i.e. Indians), and the other half is Niagara Falls. The Niagara Falls part of the sculpture wasn’t quite finished, so we got to see them working on that. Some of the smaller sculptures were also pretty impressive. Later that night, we went to the Ice World. The Ice World is a collection of buildings made from blocks of ice that are cut from the Songhua River and illuminated with neon lights. The theme this year seemed to be religious structures. We all enjoyed it, and Grace and I particularly enjoyed the ice slides. They were fun, but lame Chinese people were going too slowly on them and held us up.

There are many pictures on my picture site from all our Christmas activities if you’re interested in taking a look. I hope you and your’s had a very Merry Christmas.

  • BlackLion

    that is quite a crazy experience, ryan murphy, i miss you like the deserts miss the rain

    also, i’m naming my first born child murphy, than i’m consuming him