I'm not like the guy from Mr. Robot, who curls into a dramatic ball now and then and just cries from his loneliness. I wish I were him. I'd take the loneliness if I could hack my employers and put them out of business. I have a hoodie. Wearing it now cuz I have no heat in my apartment. By the way, GREAT show!
I go years without seeing family and friends with narry a tissue worth of tears. It's just survival. Forced onto me by a country I just outgrew. I have always had a yen, (pardon the pun), to see the world. I loved Rupert The Bear, Tintin and a few other books where you can find pictures of other countries. They seemed like other planets to me as a boy.
But we DID have some Tintin books. Both of these series' are old, even by MY standards, but nostalgic for me. Even old enough to have a little bit of racism in them. But I didn't notice. I loved the architecture and the total foreign-ness of the pictures. Like this one:
It shows things a lot less crowded and cleaner than what I have experienced, but the Chinese hustle and industriousness is accurate. The architecture and clothing, though some is more modern, is still almost as foreign today. And I just love the adventure of seeing different cultures!
But I have to admit feeling a little bit like the Thompson brothers. I'm trying to fit in and get along here but feel less like a Wae guo ren, (foreign country person), and more like a Laowei, (slang, offensive term more commonly used. Like "gringo" in Spanish.), all the time.
Right from the very first day I was in China and my employers virtually abandoned me saying, "Welcome to a huge city in the most populace country in the world where you don't speak a lick of the language! You're on your own! Find your hotel with no directions from us and don't be late for the meeting early tomorrow morning even though we won't tell you how or where to find us."
I thought I was going to be okay when I moved to Taiyuan because Faith showed some intelligent concern. I say that because it's remarkably uncommon. I sometimes get asked by students if I miss some things from home. I usually talk about the food I miss and they always have the same, unhelpful answer: "Just buy it online." It's not, believe it or not, just the fact that all the online websites for buying stuff here, (Taobao and Ali Baba are the main ones), are impossible for me to use due to my Chinese illiteracy, it's also got to do with banking. Foreigners have special accounts that do not have the privileges you get if you're a native. Then if you can navigate THOSE problems, you need a mailing address. That's notoriously undependable. And if it's a package, you have to go to the right location, which will be on the card in Chinese and you won't know where it is so you'll need someone to help you with that. And people have told me that even if you go to the right place with the right card, and see your package behind the counter, they STILL might tell you there is some more paperwork or bureaucracy required. It's just not worth it. Like just about everything in my experience so far, and I'm serious about that, just about everything is at least twice as hard to do here.
I just got up to get a glass of water. Let me run down the procedure to illustrate what I'm talking about. To GET drinking water in the first place, I have been given a card. I wave it in front of a sensor on a wall-mounted water machine then choose hot or cold, (the Chinese and their hot water!!!), put a container under the spout and get the water. It's up one floor in my apartment, but at least I don't have to go outside to get it. There's that "at least" thinking again.
In my old place I brought jugs to work, filled them up and carried them home. So far the water has been fine. As far as I know. I usually get it at night here, which causes a bit of trouble. See, the hallways are not lit up. The lights are on sensors. Not motion, but noise sensors. Chinese volume noise sensors. So in order to see if my jug is nearly full I have to stomp my foot or yell or cough really loud to get the light on. I'm sure it's annoying to the people who live on the third floor.
Since my fridge no longer works and, despite my telling the correct people, despite asking for the use of one of the two in the spare room on the third floor opposite the water machine, I still haven't been given permission. My fridge is just a lighted storage box for food. The weather here is cold enough now so that it's warmer than just keeping the food out. My freezer is a bit colder than fridge temperature so I can't keep the water in there, but I can't make ice cubes really. I make cubes full of water. So that's what I put in my water so I can have a cold glass of water. When I'm done, I'll fill a tub with hot water in my shower, put it in with some other dirty dishes and wash it beside my bathroom sink, rinsing it under the same tap where I wash my hands, shave, brush my teeth etc. As I always say, it makes for fun stories, but it really sucks while you're going through it.
I'd like to go shopping and buy some stuff like cheese, milk, meat, ice cream, just think of all the stuff that you can't buy without a functioning fridge! It's forcing me into eating habits I don't like. And eating, as anyone who knows me can testify, is very important to me. But I do most of my own cooking. Even in Korea where I like ALL the food, I didn't usually eat out. Here, where I have yet to find anything that has wowed me, it's even rarer for me to eat out. And I'm being nice. The fact is, I don't like the food here. Everything is street food. And it's not even GOOD street food like chicken skewers in Korea or yaki mandoo or beef/cheese ramyun. It's average at best. I eat it just to fill up. By far the biggest discovery to me has been the little chicken burgers one place on campus sells. I usually buy one of their burrito bread wraps so they aren't insulted at my only buying the chicken burgers, (which I think they buy from a 7-11 somewhere). The wraps have egg, cucumber and lettuce, which I like, then there's a strip of mystery meat that is marginally better than spam, some brown sauce painted on, some unidentified pickled veggies and a squeeze of spicy powder. They're not bad, but I can't see myself ever buying one if necessity didn't dictate.
And it's not like I'm not trying things. I have tried MANY things that I couldn't even finish. I mean spit out what's in your mouth and throw away the rest bad! Like today with the shrimp chips I bought. I like Saewoo gang, the Korean shrimp chips. The ones I bought today were spicy shrimp chips and I nearly puked when I bit into one. They're at the bottom of my garbage bag as I type.
This is what I'm talking about. The Chinese ones were shaped identically and most likely made of similar, but cheaper and easier to mass produce stuff. And the flavouring was a nightmare! Awful!
Even the one meal that I need to eat to get my veggies and cut down on my bread, my chicken stirfry, has become more challenging for me. There are easily bought veggies right on campus. Fruit too. So if I wanted to really health out, I could just eat them. I actually did that on my day off. I cut up some cucumbers, carrots, green peppers, celery and just made a dipping tray. What, you might ask, did I dip them in? Well ranch dressing can't be found. Dip mixes are not available. A cream cheese and spice mixture would be good if I could purchase cream cheese, spices or other dairy products needed. Even milk is at a premium here. But, I find myself doing this constantly too, I improvised. I had made some pasta with Ragu roasted garlic and parmesan sauce. I put bacon and green beans in it. It was excellent! But I didn't use all the sauce and my "fridge" wasn't keeping it cold so I needed to use it. It became veggie dip. Not bad, but just not the same.
But my stirfry is now not as good because I have to cook it in the wok that I explained in another post, has the stickiest cooking surface known to man, but it's the only kind of cookware I can use with the electric burners I have. Oh there's a gas stove here, but no gas. "Could I get that hooked up?" I asked when I move in here. I think the answer was something like, "Hummina hummina hummina."
The more I think about this place, Taiyuan University of Science and Tech., my GOOD employer, the more I get a twinge of being completely on my own here. And it pretty much started right away too. I was put to work in late August and I still have not been paid for those hours. I have confronted the person in charge of that by text and in person about 5 times and so far have received nothing but the runaround. I think she wanted me to think she FORGOT about it and not say anything. She's an Asian woman. She's an Asian woman who has been put in charge of accounts so is even better with money, presumably, that other Asian women. This means she would push her best friend into the mud to get a 1 RMB coin they both saw on the ground at the same time. Chances she forgot to pay me: less than zero. One time I texted her and got the reply, "I'm not in town right now." Then the other day I bumped into her on campus and she asked if I'm doing okay so I reminded her of the money. She quickly excused herself to get a taxi she said was waiting and mumbled, "I told George not to give you hours in August." Funny thing is, she was AT the table when I was told by George that I should start right away. She didn't say anything. She printed out my schedule and it included August starting dates for some classes. She went with me to get my bank account and mentioned that we need to do this so we can pay you this month. THAT month. That month was August. Chances that there really was a taxi waiting for her: improbable.
I went up to talk to someone in the office two floors above me. Cindy and a guy I call David are the two people up there who have offered to help if I need stuff. So I mentioned that I have no heat. David came down and fiddled endlessly with the air conditioners, explained the settings to me, didn't answer my other questions with anything concrete, then left. The aircons were on for a few hours and the place was no warmer. But the heat will be turned on at the beginning of November. We'll see how good that is.
I asked about a new fridge and was ignored. I asked if something could be done about the shyte internet and how I have had to alter lesson plans repeatedly because of it. He thought it would make me feel better knowing that THEY are having trouble too. He mealy mouthed about someone maybe coming to fix it but it's no better. I also asked about the computers all over the school and explained how they have messed up one of my USB flashdrives and cost me some important files. The response was that he'll ask George to ask if there is a technician...blah blah blah. Nothing will be done. George, the guy who speaks English the best of the three, is the guy who did most of the talking at the meeting when I agreed to work here. He scheduled 6 hours of classes for me at the South Campus and didn't tell me where to catch the bus there or how to get to the room where I teach. He also neglected to mention two scheduling changes and gave me the wrong starting time for one of my classes. He assigned me a TOEFL class and a Survey of Major English Speaking Countries class and I requested books or ideas or any help at all. I got it AFTER the classes had started. It really didn't help for either class and, here's that lack of intelligent concern again, he told me to meet him in the pink building beside the library. Well it was just dumb luck that I knew where the library was. Of course Chinese people all go there, but why would I? There are no English books and I can't yet read Chinese though I have been here studying once a month for over a year now.
There are pink buildings on both sides of the library. I just chose one. He gave me the room number. In English. But the rooms didn't have numbers in English. I know it sounds weird because the Chinese use the same number we do, but they have characters for their numbers as well.
Okay, one to three I have under control but if I'm looking for numbers, I'm certainly not going to notice them. His office had the room number in Chinese characters. He didn't think to mention that. We ended up having to call each other and meet outside the building, (I had chosen the right one and actually walked past his office). And HE was the one who acted annoyed! Like I should have been able to locate him. He might as well have given me the hand signals. Yes, they have those too and they are not the same though the general public will assume you know them. One little shithead at one of the stores near my old place, where they actually ripped me off a couple of times, charging me the Laowei price, tried a few times to tell me the price in the hand signals. "I don't know your fucking hand signals, but here's one for you!" I wanted to say. I didn't say that because, like the Thompson brothers, bless their bumbling, Belgian behinds, I was trying hard to fit in.
Liu is 6. I know that one cuz they, borrowed/stole the hang loose gesture from some creative genius Hawaiian surfer, (I'm guessing), and say liu liu liu to mean cool. Interesting... cool in China is 666. Isn't that a familiar number??? It's one that appears on the spawn of some evil, evil entity in the world. Who is it again???
Anyway, I can rest unassured that THAT problem will be solved at any time in my future. And twice while he was here I mentioned to David, the little scam Cindy ran on me with the August pay. It's not a lot of money, but I am already thoroughly sick of being ripped off here. He got this weird look on his face, a kind of, "hmmm... what's going on here," look but gave me the perfunctory, "I'll talk to Cindy about that." And once again, these are my GOOD employers. I'm getting paid 7000 a month here for full time hours. That's a bit over a thousand American bucks. I prefer to think of it as 1300 Canadian. But still I have to go WAAAAY back to my salad days to remember a salary like that. You'd think the apartment that comes with that would be palatial! I can't even get a fridge that works, heat or a kitchen sink!
And then to add to my solitary melancholia, my original employers. Since the massive screw job, you'd think they would be treating me like gold, not slashing my profits to nothing. I seriously have been here for 8 months and am just now reaching the amount of money I had when I came here. And when I quit, it was made quite plain to them that without me, they have nothing. I'm their only teacher. So I AM gold. But if anything, they've been worse. Not a week goes by without some major fight. This week was payday. Because they have the month and a half stagger, (used only by crooked employers who know their employees will quit and leave suddenly, because of being mistreated no doubt, and they, the employers, want a whole pile of the employee's money when he/she takes off), I have made 12000 RMB by payday, that's close to 2300 Canadian dollars! So I don't want to be stiffed for that! But a month ago, when I was paid 5 days late and 3000 RMB less than I'd earned, I suspected I'd be ignored at payday this time. As it got closer, and we had argument after argument, I was feeling worse and worse. This is stress I don't need working 9 different classes with about 350 students.
Payday was on a Sunday. Back in the good old days, when Huasheng actually WAS paying me, I think there were two paydays that fell on weekends. They paid on the Friday before. This time, they didn't. But I didn't get too worried thinking it must have been the new, useless and thoroughly annoying HR girl they have there. I think she's in charge of putting money in the bank. Then Sunday rolled around. Nothing. Again, I was going to give them the umpteenth benefit of the doubt. My doubt is running out of benefits for these guys, lemme tell you! Monday nothing. Tuesday nothing. I tried to reach three people and was ghosted for two days by all of them. I was pretty sure they had just decided not to pay me. 12000 RMB down the toilet. "Hey, a whole case of beer beside, (not inside where it should be), my useless fridge. Why, I think it's about time to do the end of employment day off." I says to myself. This is something I've only done a few times at places where I had totally decided to quit. I drank about 22 beer.
The next day my phone was ringing off the hook! Because it was time for me to make THEM money. NOW they had to stop enjoying the little game they were playing. When they called me and told me I had to work I told them I was sick. Here's how much I hate the Chinese lying culture and will NEVER be able to fit in: I drank my face off so that I'd be able to half honestly say I was sick. A hangover IS sick, sorta. They annoyed me all day long asking if I was feeling good enough to work, asking if I could go in and just not say much... I just told them there was nothing they could do. At the end of the day I went to check my bank account. Guess what.
Once again, be an asshole and you get rewarded here in China. At least where I work. But I can't keep this up. I have a bit more than a month left in the semester at TUST and my contract with Huasheng. I really want to just quit right now because I STILL think Huasheng will stiff me one of the next two paychecks. I think TUST will pay, but who knows? They're all part of the same hypocrisy. And just when I thought I was out, they keep dragging me back in.
I am REALLY hoping that I can get on at an Australian uni up in Shenyang where my friend Gord works. I have been in touch with them and given my CV and they have said I would be a suitable candidate. We are waiting for word from above, but once she receives it, Donna, the girl who I hope will be my boss soon, will call me in for an interview and we'll get some paperwork done and by next semester, in late Feb., early March, I might be out of the Chinese wok and onto the Australian barbee! EVERYTHING about this job is better. I sure hope it pans out. So in my solitary darkness, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it's not an oncoming train.