Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Lounging on a chair by the apartment I either meet KB while he's browsing the internet on his phone or while he's engrossed reading his French novel. A big fan of Brazilian football, Malaysia and the Netherlands feature high on his travel bucket list. Even though I don’t speak French, which is KB’s first language, it's been easy to talk to him about journalism and the differences in food, culture, and lifestyle among African countries.

KB is the live-in guard at the apartment building I am staying in.

If I met him in a different setting he could just as well be a colleague at work or a friend from school.  Originally from Guinea, a former French colony in West Africa, he gave up on a University degree to come to Accra in search of work so that he could help his family – parents and 6 siblings.  Convinced that he can do better, his next goal is to get to Europe.  Last weekend we researched ticket prices and visa requirements for various cities in Europe – he wants a cheap one-way ticket to get out of Africa and earn a higher wage in Euros or Polish Zloty.

His is not a story I haven't heard before.  Bombay would probably be the best place to find millions of similar stories of brave and bright young men and women who come finding work, better pay, and a means to help their family.  But whenever I have been surrounded by these stories in India, they have been buffered by a large gap that, as I realized last weekend, never allowed me to identify with them wholly.  They were always stories of the other.  It was the story of the pot-bellied building guard that doesn’t speak English, the 40-year-old who sweeps the floor who has trouble operating a non-smart phone, or the grocery delivery man who probably couldn’t identify 3 countries correctly on a world map.  Over time, the social buffer between us made me almost indifferent and made the stories themselves routine and uninspiring.

There is no visual or otherwise identifiable social buffer between me and KB.  His interests, music preferences, language, dressing, and goals are ones I can easily relate to as my own or that of friends.  And with the collapse of an identifiable social buffer, his story hit home unlike any other had all these years.  I felt helpless, inspired, unintelligent, and many other things – but instead of trying to identify exactly what I felt, I am happy that I still had the ability to feel at all. 

New Experience In Home Country

Yisi Zhan

Even though I’ve been back in China for more than a month, I’m having a quite different and brand new experience from what I ever had in the past 21 years in this country.
I was greeted by Sophie from Vision in Practice (ViP) in Shanghai, and had the orientation during the weekends, getting to know the staff of Huaqiao Fundation, which is the supporter of ViP.  The following week, I went to Xiantao where we have the project with Aipu Eye Hospital.

Arrived in Pudong National Airport in Shanghai

Streetscape of Xiantao city
Xiantao is a city in central China, which history can trace back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th Century-771B.C.). Living here I can feel the deep culture ambience, the beauty of city and kindness of people.

The Aipu Eye Hospital is famous in this area and has ten branches around Hubei Province aiming at eliminating avoidable eye disease. The Xiantao hospital is the first and largest one of the group and major patients are the elders. 
During the past weeks, I got along really well with the people here. They’ve treated me like an important guest. Besides my work, I have had three rounds of transformative leadership training with the hospital staff, which is among the three main aspects of the project. Every round last for one week and nearly all of the 70 employees took part in them by different batch. They have provided me profound understanding of the project going on in the hospital and knowledge of the staff.

Group photo of one batch from first round training

trainer from ViP is giving a lecture
The other training of the project is clinical training targeting on the doctors.

Dr. May(from ViP) is introducing a new technique to two 
doctors in Aipu hospital through real case with patient.
Staff members in the hospital are so nice that they not only take care of patients but also treat each other like families. During the staff conference every month, they celebrate birthday together.
Celebrating birthday party for staff who was born in May with cake and gifts.    
During outreach eye camp, I found people grow plenty of lotus in the countryside and have the roots made into different kinds of dishes. It is worth mentioning that there is one kind of food only offered in Xiantao through the whole country, which is called baby lotus.
Baby lotus

Lotus pond in ancient Mian City
It’s been lovely experience working here, living in a place I’ve never known in my country, talking to people with an unfamiliar dialect and getting to know a concernful profession related to people’s livelihood. It’s my first time writing a blog, I hope you enjoy reading this. I’ll share more interesting things later.