1,339,000,000… +1

Recently overheard in the Heath household:

“Honey? I need you to get me some envelopes.”

“And why do you need envelopes my dear?”

“To hold the money for bribing the doctors and nurses at the hospital…”

Yay China!

Before we can begin to discuss the always fascinating, occasionally shocking adventure that is becoming a mother in China, we must understand a bit of the larger picture.

Maxims of Modern China:

  • China does not want any more citizens. Achieving 0% population growth would be a historic, transcendental achievement.
  • China desperately wants to become a super power. The Human Development Index – particularly quality of medical services, and especially infant mortality – is a key measure of a nation’s development.
  • Construction is a spectacularly corrupt sector of the Chinese economy, and hospitals are much more troublesome to build (and harder to abandon) than roads, railroads, stadiums, and apartment blocks.
  • Medical care remains strikingly inexpensive (for the most part) due to the simple fact that the vast majority of the population has no real insurance and little savings. Doctors and nurses have relatively low incomes, at least on paper.

Now throw those four maxims in a hot pot and simmer. The result?

China doesn’t want you to have a baby, but if you are foolish enough to get pregnant they’re (grudgingly) gonna see that you get the minimum amount of no-frills care necessary to deliver successfully.

Despite the low birthrate, the hospitals are perpetually overflowing with expectant mothers because the government receives yachtloads of illicit income building pretty much everything except hospitals.

Want your own hospital suite post-delivery? Buy a plane ticket to America, honey! But if your envelope has enough “padding” I can arrange for a “private room” with only 2 or 3 other women in it. Oh, and if you deliver naturally you’re going to get an episiotomy because it speeds up the process. Oh? Don’t want one? Well then let’s book you for a C-section. It’s much more convenient for our staff and we can bill you 4 or 5 times the normal rate – a nice plus!

Is it always like this?


In Shanghai and Beijing there are foreign doctors happy to deliver your child for a foreign price. But these are exceptions. One would never offer NYC or L.A. as indicative of “regular America”, thus we must not gaze too longingly towards Beijing and Shanghai.

Is it usually like this?


The system here – Capitalism with Chinese Refinements – is wonderfully simple: everything, absolutely everything, is for sale. It’s simply a matter of a) can you afford it? and b) can you get the cash into the right hand(s)?

The hospital at which my darling wife will deliver our child is the very best in Shenyang, and yet it has no post-childbirth beds. The hospital is full.

And yet, as a nurse kindly pointed out during my wife’s Tuesday check-up, for $100 to $350 per night we might be able to find you space in one of our suites!


Always “might”, as it leaves room for covering one’s ass should some ugliness come to light, or a deal fall through.

The child is due on May 7th, and so we prepare.

The baby clothes are neatly folded…

The infant car seat is ready and waiting…

The apartment is spotless…

The crib stands vacant…

The hospital travel bag is packed…

…and our envelopes are stuffed with cash.

Brotherhood takes Drew beyond the last Gastric Frontier

Last night a going away party was had. A former student of mine, and now also a former co-worker, has taken a job in Chengdu. To send him off, myself and two other close friends spent the evening carousing in the dingy backroom of a tiny Sichuan restaurant. The variously joyful and solemn affair kicked off just after work with a round of baijiu and tottered along until late in the evening when the four of us spilled out of the restaurant and scattered to the four winds to plead forgiveness from our wives.

Continue reading Brotherhood takes Drew beyond the last Gastric Frontier

The Crib

The crib has arrived.

A hand-me-down from Ma Li’s elder cousin, the only other member of our generation to have had a child, it is a wooden behemoth – too wide to fit through doorways. I assembled it in the living room, and in the living room it shall reside.

Having been assembled and left unobserved for but the briefest of moments, its slumber suitability, its naptitude, if you will, was inspected by Slu, our oldest cat. Mika reclined nearby to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.

Goodkatt (Mika) monitors Badkatt (Slu).
Goodkatt (Mika) monitors Badkatt (Slu).
This crib is Katt-approved.
This crib is Katt-approved.

The Kindle Epoch

Expatriation is, at its core, an elaborate compromise. The expatriate covenant generally entails the abandonment of the old and familiar for the embracement of the new and unknown.

So long as this delicate balance of deprivation versus revelation can be maintained, the expatriate happily thrives. However, should the scales begin to tilt too heavily towards deprivation…

Drew’s Journal lay dormant from 2009 November to 2011 March. Why? Because my scales tipped too far. I was unhappy, but in a way that was impossible for me to understand. Something was missing from my life but I couldn’t pinpoint what. That there was a void was clear enough, but there was no clue as to what had been before the void.

My adventures, though naturally fewer in number due to the intensity of a 50 hour work week, continued. The oddities and occasional downright bizarre events of expatriate life in NE China continued. But I could muster no passion to chronicle them. Instead, they slipped by appreciated but quickly forgotten like so many autumn leaves upon the surface of a bubbling stream.

Continue reading The Kindle Epoch