So the Big Day has arrived. The Day I finally work up the courage and determination to go get my blood checked for antigen levels to see if the Hepatitis B virus which has taken my liver hostage the last 33 years of my life has finally decided to either;

a) miraculously commit suicide; or
b) kill me instead.

Oh please, don’t sympathise with me. I have cried my tears what, five years ago, since I’d discovered that I had the virus, after which my whole extended family had to be rushed to the clinic to get vaccinated since I didn’t want to inadvertently infect anyone simply by osmosis. You never know with these things, as my mother-in-law would say.

Anyway, life as a chronic HBV carrier is such: you go get your blood checked every six months or so. After I became a mother, it’d simply become a duty to remain alive, so I stuck to this regiment strictly. Until I came to the US. I’d missed my last two checks, mainly because keeping my kids alive became slightly more important.

I searched for a GP/gastroenterologist. Took down his name, address and number, and promptly made an appointment. And the Big Day arrived. The Day I finally work up the courage and determination to get my blood checked.

The doctor is a Taiwanese man perhaps in his 50s. Small, wears glasses and parts his hair at the side with Brylcreem or some such thing. He also has a heavy Taiwanese accent and walks briskly even as he converses casually with me about my ‘business’ in the States .

“I treat a rot of Microsoft employee, yes,” he says, nodding to nobody in particular. And then chuckles as he reads the small printed receipt-looking thing that is my urine test result.

“You cannot keep any secret in America,” he tells me. I am obviously alarmed. Is my urine ratting out on me? Is it saying, “Jennifer Tai, took TWO of your name cards because she’d dropped the first one in a puddle!”?

I give a nervous smile.

“Their saterite in space. If you VIP, they issue instruction, and you’re watch TWENTY FO aaawas!” He says aaawas instead of hours, to emphasise the severity of the situation. Another chuckle and shake of the head. He looks over my paperwork.

“Yo name, Chai. Is it Chai?” he points with a pen at my last name.

“It’s Tai,” I say.

“Can you wry in Chinese pris?” he gives me the pen. I hesitate, and for the first time in 15 years, scrawl in shaky, scribbly penmanship, the three Chinese characters. One for my family, two for me.

“Ah. Tai Pei Leeng.”

He seems to ruminate over my horrible handwriting for a moment. I feel eight again, sitting in my almost-empty afterschool Mandarin class.

“You speak Cantonese?” he suddenly asks.

“Yes. Mostly.”

“No Mandarin?” he grins. Why is he grinning so much?

“I can understand it, but not speak it, not very much.”


We chat a little about my medical history as he checks me up on the examination couch-table thingie.

“…so aside fom Antigen levels, we will need also to see yo birarow.”

This is the third time I hear the word. I would be content to not know what birarow means if not for my pesky need to know everything about my own body.

“Can you spell that out please?” Curiosity finally pins propriety down.

“Bi-ra-row, you know? The birus?”

A light clicks on in my head.

“Ohhhh, you mean VIRAL LOAD?”

“Yes! Bi-ra-road! Yes, I have probrems with my Aa-yeows.” His ‘L’s is what he means. Dr Chuang is amazingly good-natured about it too.

“Here, take this to the rab, building A, and I will see you in one week,” the man sticks triplicates at me. I take them.

As I stand to put my coat on, Dr Chuang leans over and makes as if to tell me my fly is still open from the examination.

“FFID, you know FFID?” he asks.

“RFID?” I correct him.

“Yes, FFID, you know! FBI say now they have FFID in coin! You know? Penny?”

“Oh! Really?” I ask, more amused with my new doctor than ever.

“Yes, one in your pocket and they know EVERYTHING abou you! It’s terrible!” he slaps a knee for emphasis.

“You never know these day,” he shakes his head once more, before sending me on my way. I go to the front desk to make an appointment for the coming week.

And slip another card into my pocket.