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JISHOU, HUNAN — Today, while I was working on the computer in the office, my deans asked me if I would like to get a flu shot.

That’s the way they phrased it, anyway. The real meaning, however, was, “We really expect you to get a flu shot. Today. With the rest of the staff.”

But such directness is very un-Chinese. As it was phrased, it took a while for the true meaning of the “request” — or “mandatory option,” as my high school chorus teacher put it — to sink into my thick skull. They caught me while I was in the middle of entering students’ names into the Epals.com website, a task which Epals does not make especially easy by limiting you to 25 names at a time.

Distracted as I was, and still without a morning cup of Joe, I stalled and said I would think about it. My British cohort, David, was also likewise pecking away at another computer. He basically said, no. If it wasn’t a requirement, he would rather not. “I try to avoid taking medicines,” he added.

Soon after, David left to teach his classes, leaving me alone with two deans, the staff assistant and one of the head teachers. They chatted away in local dialect (It’s bad enough I can’t understand putonghua, they have to speak Jishou language!), so I could catch a few words, including the Chinese for “flu” and “teachers,”, and our names, David and John. The dean told me she had had her shot earlier in the morning, so I asked her how she felt. (FYI, she’s about my age.) She said her arm was sore and she had a slight headache. No biggie.

(Note: she did not say, “No biggie.” I am paraphrasing.)

After about 15 minutes of listening to them, I decided, while still working on my tasks, that I might as well get the shot. I had no real objections to it, and they seemed quite concerned that I was not eager to get one. David’s remark about avoiding medicines was an additional spur in my side. It offended the scientist in me. (David is a former engineer, I learned recently. ‘Nuff said.) Since our students and colleagues have already concluded that their foreign teachers’ temperaments are so different, I figured doing the opposite of what David did would just solidify that conclusion.

After I agreed to receive my poke in the arm, Prof. Tang, the associate dean and my immediate supervisor, revealed that each college had a quota of faculty and students to be vaccinated. This explained why Dr. Peng, the dean, was checking off a list of the staff’s names earlier in their animated Chinese conversation. So, my agreement would help take the heat off the college.

The university and local health officials are really quite serious about H1N1 after nearly 24 students came down with it since school started in September. Several girls in my G2 sophomore writing class were sent to the hospital, and their roommates were confined to quarters for a week. As a result, I did not meet that class at all during their quarantine, and our college has had extra attention paid to it.

China has mobilized a huge supply of vaccine, and schools have high priority. I am guessing health officials want enough of a “herd immunity” to confine, or at least control the pandemic, especially in the College of International Exchange, a veritable hotbed of H1N1. (We only have 300 students, so five H1N1 cases at one time is kinda significant.)

Anyway, I walked to the school clinic with the staff assistant, where we were joined by two other teachers and three sophomores. There, we discovered we did not have the proper forms, and had to wait awhile for copies to be made. Then we went in one a time to get jabbed by a very efficient and masterful nurse. (Seriously, I didn’t even feel the needle go in. It was over in less than 10 seconds.)

It’s now about 12 hours later. And I feel fine. No headache. My bicep feels only a little achy. Earlier in the day, I felt a little weird, but it was probably more fatigue than the vaccination. I’ve had a very busy day; fortunately, only half of it was work.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important part. The shot was free. Damned socialist medical care!

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