You would think that at some point I’ve taken enough COVID tests to prove that I’m safe, but no, there is always room for one more. I’ve had five tests over the last 4 weeks already. One test in Austin to make sure I wasn’t caught off guard in San Jose, 2 tests in San Jose (nasal/throat swaps and a blood serum test) that were required to fly to Shanghai, one in the Shanghai airport and another test when I left the quarantine hotel. Now, according to my company, I have to take yet another test in order to catch the train to Beijing.
It’s a little bit unclear whether I really need the test. Friends of mine recently took the train to Beijing and didn’t do a test nor were they asked for it, but the rules change quickly and frequently so I just follow my company’s guidance.
The instruction I got were just that: Get a COVID test within 7-days before you go to Beijing. Because I’m staying in Shanghai for 10-days my quarantine exit test was no longer valid, so I needed a new one. When I asked where I could get a test, I was told they are available everywhere and that it shouldn’t be a problem to get one. Not exactly the step-by-step instructions I had hoped for. I decided to ask my hotel’s reception and they pointed me to the local hospital which is just one block away from the hotel. I asked whether I needed to make a reservation and that wasn’t necessary.
I decided that Thursday afternoon would be a good time for the test and on the Wednesday before I asked my Chinese teacher to practice the following sentence with me: I need a COVID19 test report. I’m taking the highspeed train to Beijing. That came out as: 我需要一份核酸检测报告,我坐高铁去北京 时使用. I worked on the pronunciation but just to be sure I also took a screen shot of that sentence and kept it on my phone.
On Thursday I walked over to the hospital. The Shanghai Changzheng hospital. It’s actually a very big hospital and takes up an entire city block and it’s at least five stories high. The initial entrance process was straightforward. Show your green health code and that gets you into the registration area. That area was massive, crowded and everything is in Mandarin. My plans to practice my pronunciation were immediately thrown overboard because there was no way I was going to make myself heard. There was an information desk in the center where I showed my practice sentence. They gave me a yellow piece paper and sent me to booth 11.
At booth 11 I patiently waited in the queue. When it was almost my turn, an elderly man pushed his way in front of me. My first reaction was what the heck but then it immediately dawned on me that this may be a common sign of respect. You let elderly people go first. I just let him do his thing and when it was my turn, I showed them the Chinese sentence. The woman behind the counter asked me for my id. That’s when I realized I should have taken my passport with me. Unfortunately, it was still in my hotel room, but I do always carry pictures of my passport and visa with me and I showed that to her and she was fine with that. After paying 25元 with WeChat (I’m not sure they accepted anything else) I was given a hospital ID card, a receipt and told to go to the third floor.
When I arrived at the third floor it was again very hectic. I waited in line for the information desk and when it was my turn, I showed them my sentence. They simply point to right, which was the other end of a long hallway. I tried to ask questions, but they didn’t speak English and more empathetically pointed to the right side of the hallway. I walked down the hallway in that direction and did cross booths that looked like blood drawing booths. I figured I’d ask them. They swiped my id card, after all I was now in the system, and in broken English told me I hadn’t paid. Confused, I showed them my receipt, but they were very persistent and told me to go down to the first floor to pay. I figured this was for the COVID test itself.
Back at the first floor I went to the information desk and showed them my receipt and id card. They pointed me up to the 3rd floor. I tried to explain to them that I had already been there and that I had to pay for the COVID test, but they clearly didn’t understand me. I kept repeating that I had to pay and eventually someone got the message and told me to go to counter 3. At counter 3 the queue was much shorter, and it quickly was my turn. I showed them my practice sentence and told them I had to pay for my COVID test. They scanned my id card, charged me 80元, and I paid with WeChat and I got my receipt. Back to the 3rd floor.
At the 3rd floor they were amused that I was back again. One of the nurses got her phone out and showed me a translated message that said: go to the tent in front of the emergency entrance. That meant going back to the 1st floor, outside the hospital and around the block to the emergency entrance.
When I got to the emergency entrance, there was indeed a tent with a small queue. I got in line and waited for my turn. There were a whole bunch of notices at the front of the tent, and I took a picture of it so that I could translate it. A few seconds later the nurses started screaming and I wasn’t paying attention to it, nor did I understand it. Everyone was looking at each other and then someone pointed out that it was directed at me. Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to take pictures and I had to delete them. So, I did but I still don’t know what those signs said. I never got the chance to translate them. When it was my turn, I gave them my id, they checked my name, gave me a receipt with a QR code and then took a throat and nasal swap. I then left, like the other folks did, and I assume that I have to get the report after 24-hours by checking the QR code.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but I think the process was more complicated because I’m a foreigner but, in the end, it was not that difficult. It just feels overwhelming because you are in the middle of it and don’t speak the language. The process as far as I can reconstruct is as follows: I first needed to register as a patient and get an id card. For this they charged me 25元. I then needed to see a nurse or doctor to make the assessment that I needed a test, followed by paying for the test and then taking the test. As a Chinese citizen you carry your state id card and since the government pays for everything so you can probably skip two of those steps.
With a bit of luck, I’ll get a clean bill of health and I can take the train to Beijing next week.
UPDATE: I asked various friends after I took the test how I could retrieve the test report. They were all telling me to go back to the hospital. This seemed somewhat weird to me. It was a very modern hospital and I suspected everything was online. That evening I started to navigate the hospital’s Chinese-only website. With the help of Google and Microsoft translation tools I was able to figure it out and get to my medical reports. The results obviously weren’t ready yet, but as promised, the next day at noon they appeared. As expected, I tested negative.
I tried to print out an official report but that didn’t appear to be an option. Instead I made a printout of the screen and folks ensured me that was sufficient even tough I was somewhat skeptical because it wasn’t very official looking. On Saturday afternoon I decided to go back to the hospital and ask for an official print out with stamps and all. The Chinese love their stamps. Every official document has at least one stamp, if not more. Quite often they include some impressive looking red ones too.
As I did the first time, I practiced with my teacher the sentence that I needed to a print out: 请问打印机在哪里. Like the last time, that wasn’t even necessary. Among the many self serve kiosks there were convenience service counters with actual people. I walked over and gave them my QR code, they printed the result, and put an official stamp on it. Voila, I have some that looks official enough to impress the folks when I check into the train station on Tuesday.