Hospitals and Train Stations

The past two weeks, I’ve had occasion to visit two different hospitals in Shanghai. Both were large, public hospitals that served a huge volume of patients every day. I came away from both feeling that Chinese train stations and Chinese hospitals are very similar.

– Both serve huge numbers of people
– Both contain a wide cross-section of society
– Both involve a lot of helpless waiting and nerve-wracking purchases
– Both offer VIP options which offer English-language services and a quieter, more private atmosphere
– Both leave you with a sense of wonder and hopelessness at the magnitude of the problems heaped on a government which has to provide for 1.3 billion people.

(I can also totally understand why many of the doctors and nurses had attitudes scarcely better than train station ticket vendors.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Hmm. Interesting post. When I visited a hospital in Sichuan, I couldn’t help but notice the efficiency that they have there, I was in and out really quick!

  2. gregorylent Says: November 10, 2009 at 12:23 am

    and both are far more modern than india, (except the vip hospitals) and from my (limited) experience, maybe than usa too … at least the train stations, maybe the hospitals too

  3. Ha… very nice comparison!

  4. hope all is well with you.

    8 years ago (last time I was in Beijing) .. hospitals varied widely in their sanitation. some were very clean, but a couple were scary in terms of cleanliness. like you said .. it’s a huge problem for the government in such a huge nation.

  5. I went to a few hospitals during my time in Changzhou last year. They were mostly pretty awful. That said, 常州第一人民医院 is pretty damn nice for a Chinese hospital. And with “only” 3 million people in the city, it wasn’t quite as bad as the train station and significantly better than a train station in Shanghai.

    But yeah it’s hard not to feel like it’s hopeless in those places.

  6. One thing I notice that has improved a great deal since I left is the general living condition. Those real estate ads in various Chinese web sites such as this one really blow me away. Those apartments and condos are about as good as any in the US, if not better. I have also heard the highways and freeways there are just as good. I guess their strategy is probably to get the more important things fixed first, then go after others. Health care could be next.

  7. Well I think they’ve done a great job at fixing the transportation systems in the past 10 years considering the volumn of people that have been getting around the country each year.

    The healthcare problem though, is a b*tch to fix, which I’m sure all our American friends here can testify to. But they’re gradually stepping up their effort and they know it’s gonna take a long long time for the whole country to have even just basic healthcare coverage. But I have faith in them.

  8. @gregorylent although you can book train tickets online in India

  9. They don’t give you an IV at the train station. Do they?

  10. jdmartinsen Says: November 11, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve often felt that hospitals resemble banks, at least when your there to get blood drawn. People are lined up in front of a row of windows, and when you get to the front, you pass your materials through the small slot and make your deposit, and it’s all over in a minute or two.

  11. @Jaques: Thanks, it was nothing serious.

    @Tim P: Good point. But also, this time, I wasn’t treated with an IV at the hospital either! Kind of a shocker.

  12. Both are plagued by scalpers.

    The waiting, uncertainty and cost of both can be circumvented if you’re well-connected.

    Big difference: train ticket prices are fixed and relatively cheap, and train tickets always work. Medicine… not so much.

  13. I’ve spent a lot of time in Chinese hospitals as I went there to study medicine. The thing that always struck me about them is they were a lot like bus stations.
    Crowds of people with flimsy paper tickets all trying to squeeze in ahead of some else and keeping an open ear for gossip along the way.

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