The Group Physical

Authored By:

Allana I.

    When I arrived to China, I was surprised to hear that all CIEE students who needed to get a residence permit would need to partake in a group physical. I had thought that the visa process would be much like the American way, with lots of paperwork but loose health requirements and no need to physically present myself to anyone.

    However, after living in China for a week, I can just how wrong I was. China has strict policies to ensure extensive documentation of foreigners; police officers can request to see my passport and visa at any time, SIM card companies require me to provide my passport and have a picture taken, and the visa change process includes a strenuous physical examination.

    In this post, I’d like to talk about the physical exam.

    First, I filled out a preliminary medical form and signed my name to indicate that I didn’t have HIV, the plague, or relapse fever (whatever that is), among others. I brought along 4 passport photos, a copy of my admission letter to the (CIEE-affiliated) university, my passport and passport photocopies, and 500 RMB, and waited in a long line to get my information processed by 3 women.

    In China, government public service employees have monotonous jobs that require immense patience, since they are dealing with many people in a short period of time. Everyone wears uniforms and often even uniform accessories- hats, hairbands, shoes. These three women stamped, clipped, and otherwise authorized our papers with maximum efficiency- sending us off to the next teller for the next stage of the process.

    Down the hall, another woman checked our papers and handed us a locker key and a robe, saying, “Shirt off.” She weighed us and measured our heights in the room with others watching before we changed our clothes. I was self conscious about the numbers, even though I’m sure most American students didn’t care enough to convert the kg measurement to pounds to determine my weight. We progressed the assembly line room by room, where women with face masks and tired faces grabbed our arms to draw blood, smeared gel on our stomachs for an ultrasound, and stuck suction cups to our chests for god-knows-what test. I entered each room not knowing which test would be performed, and was rarely spoken to, besides the occasional, “Robe off” “Sleeve up” “Face front.” Since I’m afraid of needles, I was visibly shaken up when I walked in the blood test room and saw the needles, but the nurse didn’t register my fear, and just performed the test. To these nurses, I was just another person who needed a test done- over and over, day in and day out. I might as well have gotten my physical done by machines. Kinda creepy!

    I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is- I guess just to show an interesting side to China! I didn't expect to undergo a process like this. I can’t quite capture the feeling that the group physical gave me, but it was unlike anything I’ve experienced.