Rich and Poor in China I went to the hospital today. And my heart hurts since returning. Two weeks ago a former student called me to ask if I remembered another classmate nicknamed “Coffee.” I did remember the delightful girl with a fervor for learning, who had been a second year English major at my school. I try to remember most of my students, but Coffee was easy: She had emailed me with serious questions about cultural issues and after several meetings, at her request, we changed her English name to one better suited to a Business English major. And I remembered that pretty young Coffee came from a poorer rural family and had an older brother and sister. It was this knowledge that especially dismayed me when I was told that she had been diagnosed with bone cancer. I knew instantly that not only would she suffer ostracism associated with being handicapped in China: It it is an enormous social burden that she would not be able to afford to lighten. Cost will prevent treatment that could help minimize her disability in this hyper-vigilant culture. Her father, aware of the same, took more than half a day to accede to the surgeons requests for a consent form. It takes no special education to know the shame and hardship ahead for his daughter and family. Please don’t judge him harshly. He loves his daughter and has already invested his life’s savings to see her through three years of college. He is back at home while Coffee’s mother must pay a daily fee to maintain her vigil at the hospital. They live two hours and many years away from China’s third largest metropolis. The hospital was without air conditioning and in desperate need of paint and renovation, but I knew that even this questionable house of healing was more than she could afford. I met her mother, a woman who has obviously labored hundreds of long days under the sun, and immediately knew that finances were going to the biggest single factor in Coffee’s treatment and recovery. And worse yet, the hospital’s worn facade was a metaphor for the growing disparity between rich and poor in China that has enmeshed Coffee and her family–and just at a time when they had hoped to improve their station in life through school. The rich are living, and living well, while the poor are dying for want of health care. Coffee was smiling and genuinely optimistic during our meeting. She could already navigate, on crutches, the area from her bed to the common television alcove down the bleak corridor. Her leg was removed only two weeks ago, but Coffee is far ahead of the healing curve. I am told that Coffee attended class up until two days before her scheduled surgery and today she shared, in confident and relaxed English, that she intends to go back to college next semester even if it is during her chemotherapy. I believe her. The school, with no handicapped accessibility, no air conditioning, overcrowded dorms and mind-numbing class schedules, is all she thinks about. She will finish college even if her post-graduate chances for good paying work have been diminished. If I could have bottled one-tenth of one-percent of the courage that issued from her today I could sell it and fund a cure for her disease. But, the best anyone has been able to do so far is take up a collection for her at school: Her classmates, no better off financially, have raised about $600 USD for her care. She is still several thousands short of what she will need for prosthetics alone. It is with great sadness that I welcome another courageous soul to the League of Extraordinary Chinese Women (LOECW)…. The league, by the way, has already, via the Unsinkable Ms Yue, made arrangements to visit their youngest and newest member. She was mentor today and taught this tired old professor in ways I will long cherish. I still ache from a full, and heavy heart.

Be Sociable, Share!