My Chinese Headache Part 1

bya Gabrielle at 12:09 PM

Since it seems like it is going to take longer than I anticipated, I am going to go ahead and post what I have written thus far. I am going to try to finish the second part of this story in the next few days or so. Alright, well, enjoy!

A month or so ago, I was sitting in front of the office computer passing the time away waiting for Phil to be done teaching when Belinda, my local boss, approached me. I knew what she was going to ask long before she opened her mouth. I knew because it was about that time when questions needed to be answered. It was time to see who was going to stay on board for next semester and who was going to be jumping ship and swimming home. I already had my answer, even though it had been difficult one to make. I was just waiting for her to ask.

“Gabe, will you be staying for next semester?” Belinda asked.

“Yes, I will, but Phil won’t.”

“Oh, why?

“Cause he needs to find a computer job either here in China or back home in the States. That is what he studied in school.”

“How long will you be staying?”

“Just one more semester. Maybe more. I don’t know. I’ll make that decision later.”

“Just one?”

“Just one.”

And that was that. She told me that she would get the contract from Beijing soon and off she walked on her two inch heals to her corner office.

Several weeks passed before I got the contract. I wasn’t surprised. Things in China rarely happen quickly when you want them to. It is quiet the opposite when the Chinese want something done – at least from my experiences. I told Belinda that I would have to read over it and make sure that it was OK. There was no way I was going to sign it immediately. I’ve been in China too long to know better.

The contract that she gave me was more or less an identical copy of the first one I had been given for the spring semester. Basically, it was very vague and didn’t protect me in the slightest. This didn’t come as a big surprise or anything. They give all of the teachers the same standard governmental contract. Well, since I had worked under it in the previous semester, I knew of the many flaws and problems it could and would give me. This is why Phil decided to write an amendment to my contract, so that when he left me to go back to America, I wouldn’t be left defenseless.

The amendment ended up being two and half pages long when Phil was done writing it, the same length as the original contract. I want to clarify that the amendment wasn’t asking for anything special. Its soul purpose was to explain in fine detail what my duties as a teacher were, what was to be expected of me, and the school. I didn’t want there to be anyway that anyone could interpret the contract in any other way than the way it should. We sat down and talked to Belinda about this, and she didn’t seem to have any problems with it beside the part that said the school would provide me a safe if I had a roommate. She thought they were expensive even though we tried to tell her we found a small one at Carrefour for 99 RMB. Since it wasn’t that big of a deal, we took it out. Belinda then told us that she would have to ask Richard, our main boss, if this amendment was OK to sign.

A few more days past and we waited. And then we waited some more. Belinda was having a hard time getting a hold of Richard. He supposedly had gone off on some sort of business trip or else he was trying to hide because he knew we needed his approval. He has a tendency to do things like that. Finally, Belinda came to us and said with a rather large frown upon her face, “Richard says that it is impossible because all teachers get the same lame contract so that he has every opportunity to screw them eight ways to Sunday.”

Ok, ok, that is not what she really said, but that is what she meant to say, I know it. What she really said was this, “Richard says that it is impossible. He said that all teachers get the same contract.”

My response was,” Nothing is impossible and you need to let Richard understand that I will not sign a contract that I don’t feel comfortable with. We can either reach an agreement, or I just won’t sign.”

It was then that we decided to talk to Richard ourselves. Looking back on it now, I think I should have decided to leave right then and there. There is no reason we ever should have had to argue over the amendment with anyone to the extent that we did. It was written in a very fair and reasonable manner and any half decent person would have realized that and signed it without hesitation. The problem is that we were not dealing with a half decent man and a part of me really A) wanted to stay and B) thought we could eventually work something out with him. I guess a year in China hadn’t taught me everything I needed to know yet because like I said, looking back on it now, I would never had put myself through the hassle. It wasn’t worth it. Not even in the slightest.

Flash forward a day or so. I was back in the office sitting in front of the computer wasting time as I waited for Phil to be done with teaching again when Belinda poked her head around the corner. She was holding her cell phone in her hand.

“It’s Richard,” she said. “He wants to talk to you.” She turned and started walking down the hallway to her office. She wanted me to follow.

My heart fluttered and the quiet and still butterflies in my tummy awoke and started to jump around like mammoth bunnies. I was alone, and I hated that. I hate talking to Richard by myself because he is a bully and a manipulator. You would think knowing that little bit of information would help me immensely and it does, but I really don’t like dealing with his manipulating ass over the phone. He comes off a lot more tough over the phone and very rarely can you win an argument with him, but in person he almost nearly folds. I took a deep breath and said hello while silently praying that Phil would somehow figure out where I was and save me from this asshole.

Our conversation started out nice enough, but it took all of three minutes before we started to argue. We weren’t yelling at each other or anything, and that was nice, but God, I had to try so hard not to. There were many times I wanted to jump up and down on Belinda’s desk and yell every dirty word in every language I could think of at him, but I restrained myself, barely. He didn’t like my amendment idea at all and he really, really didn’t like the idea that I wanted to make sure that the current contract agreement about my airfare being paid in full whenever it was that I decided to go home for good would continue on with my new contract. That was why we came to WECL in the first place. Our old school in Fuyang only agreed to pay up to 5,000 RMB for a flight home and so our recruiter was forced to find us a school that wouldn’t mind paying for the full cost.

At this point, I really wish that I could just hit a play button so that you could hear everything that was said in the next three hours. That would make this much more simple. There is just so much to say and I have no where to begin. The only thing I can do is sum it up, I guess, or else this particular blog will end up being a mile long.

For the first hour or so, I argued with him alone. He started by saying he didn’t have time to argue because he was so busy and that I should just go ahead and sign it and that we could talk about the details later. I think I laughed hysterically when he said that – or least I did in my head. He must have thought I was a complete idiot. Finally, he relented and we started going through the amendment one point at a time. For the rest of the hour we’d played tennis or perhaps I should say badminton, since I’m here in China. Someone is almost always playing it in the street. Anyway, he’d serve a ridiculous bird of a reason why he couldn’t do something at me, then I would immediately smack the bird back into his court and tell him that he could and why. There were a few things that he was OK with like the part that said if I were to have a roommate that the person would be a girl and . . . well, I think that was the only part in which he agreed.

As much as I like to argue, I actually didn’t argue that much with Richard. For those of you who know me well, I know that that comes as a great shock to you. :) When he said no about something, I tried two or three different ways to convince him that it was crucial to have or I wouldn’t sign. When that didn’t work, I just stopped arguing that particular part all together telling him I would think about removing it but that I probably wouldn’t. Richard didn’t want to compromise at all. He just wanted me to go ahead and give up and sign his supposed governmental contract. I say supposed because I don’t think it followed many if any of the government standards. If it didn’t protect me, he didn’t care. And that is how it went for an hour or so. Nothing was solved and I was no nearer to signing than I was before. Sometime toward the end of our fruitless argument, Phil showed up. It didn’t take him very long to figure out that I was frustrated and pissed and that the conversation was going absolutely no where. At this point, my conversation was done with Richard. In fact, I haven’t spoken to him since. It was Phil’s turn to argue.

Phil took the phone from me and preceded to have almost the exact same conversation that I had just had with Richard. The only difference was that Phil was being much more of hard ass and wasn’t budging at all about anything and was not afraid to call Richard out on everything illegal or wrong that he had tried to pull with us or with anyone – which happens to be a whole freaking lot. This probably wasn’t the smartest move to make at the time, but Phil was just being honest. He was probably getting more enjoyment out of the situation than he should, too, but that is because Phil likes to argue even more than I do. They argued for about two hours like this. I could hear the anger in Phil’s voice rising, and it wasn’t excessively hard to hear Richard’s voice belting out of the ear piece. After two hours though, nothing was solved. We were still at the predicament that had brought us here. Richard wasn’t going to change the contract and I wasn’t going to sign. Phil hung up and the ulcers in my stomach started to grow. I could smell trouble.

This only scratches the surface, and like I said, I wish that I had some way of telling you what exactly was said over the phone to Richard because it would surely make this post that more exciting. If you have read any of my previous posts about Richard Guo, that may give you some idea of what we were dealing with. If not, just imagine the most vile person you think you’ve ever met, multiply that by say one million, and you’ll have something that resembles Richard in your imagination. The real thing is much worse. Trust me on that.

So, more or less, I was left with a decision. I could either stay in Xiamen with a contract I didn’t agree with/trust or go home. Even though I liked Xiamen and WECL I had to weigh both options carefully. If I stayed, Richard or someone beneath him would probably find a way screw me especially after the fiasco mentioned above. If I went home, I would have to go back to my normal Western life and look for a job and what not and all those other things that I would become responsible for again. The decision was much more difficult to make than I thought it would be, but thankfully I had several days to think it over before I had to sit before Belinda and report.

As I said in my last post, I reached the decision that it was probably best that I go home and that is what I told Belinda. I was nervous as a twit walking into her office and sitting on her plush sofa. I hated that I had to tell her that I was changing my mind, but I think she understood why I had to make that decision. Belinda doesn’t like Richard either and she knows as well as I what kind of man he is. Why she ever decided to be his business partner is beyond me. Hopefully, one day she will abandon him and start her own school. Perhaps then I could teach for her. Our meeting went surprising well. There were only a few instances that she tried to convince me to stay, telling me that she thought everything would be OK. I wanted to say sure, no problem, sign me up, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t sign a contract based on one person’s hope.

It was then that the subject of tickets home were first mentioned. We informed her that we would need the school to organize our tickets for us, but that we weren’t sure exactly sure of the date yet. At this point, we were intending to travel and thinking about acquiring an L visa so that we could stay a bit longer. Neither one of us was in any hurry to get home. We told her that we would have to count our cash and look at a calendar, but that we would get back to her tomorrow. She said no problem, and we took off to our apartment. We were mostly all smiles then. Even though things hadn’t worked out with my new contract and Richard, at least we were going home and the school was taking care of it. Or so we thought.

After looking at our finances and discussing whether or not it would be worth it to get an L visa and stay a little longer, we decided against it. We didn’t feel like going through the hassle of applying and possibly being denied for whatever reason and having to find a cheap place to stay for how many days that we would be staying extra. It just seemed easier to get going. It made the most sense.

The next morning we came back to the school and told Moon, the head of the office staff, that we wanted to leave on the 30th of August, the day our visa expired. Yeah, it was cutting it close, but it would give us the most time to see and do everything that interested us in and around Xiamen. She said she would start looking for tickets and get back to us soon. She asked if Richard was going to pay, and we told her yes, he told us that he would. Plus, it was written in our contract that he had to.

Through our experiences in China, we decided that it would be best to go back to the school the next morning and double check on the status of our tickets home. Surprisingly, Moon had been able to find tickets for us – sort of. Apparently, like many things in China, buying plane tickets is an entirely different beast. Moon said that the agency always says that the international tickets are sold out and that in order to have a chance to get them, you have to apply for them. You have to give them all of your information like passport number, where you are going, and why. It didn’t make much sense to me. The tickets that she was applying for weren’t the best in the world, but they would get us home after a 11 hour layover in Seoul, South Korea and some what of a quick stop in DC. So, we had to wait another day to find out whether or not and when we would be going home.

Like a broken record, we woke up bright and early and went back to the school the next morning to find out if our application had been approved. The look on Moon’s face told us the whole story before she had time to open her mouth.

“There are no tickets available.”

We argued with her for awhile trying to explain that there were tickets available because we had seen them on the internet via Expedia and Travelocity. We even printed them out and showed her the flight numbers and the cost. Her eye brows raised at how much the tickets were going for. They were expensive – something like $1200 each. Phil and I tried to help by finding other agencies that sold international tickets and gave Moon all the numbers. She called them and they all told her the same thing. There were no tickets.

. . . .

Until I sit down and finish this story, you’ll have to use your imagination. Soon I will be uploading a lot more pictures that I didn’t post while I was in China. I just have to get them from Phil. Also, Phil should be finishing the new location of my blog soon. It is very impressive.

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