Dispute

I had to be up at 6:30 for a medical the University wanted me to take for insurance purposes.  After finally getting to sleep at 3:30, I was roused by the numerous and loud alarms I had set for myself to avoid oversleeping again.

The medical was interesting.  I was very anxious that the health centre would turn out to be some dodgy back-alley affair, but thankfully it took place at an international health centre.  The impressive building and wide open interiors were sparkling clean.  It made me jealous on behalf of my shithole apartment.  The usual queueless rabble crowded the front desk and my guide did the appropriate shoving and waving to get me seen to.  I watched the people behind the desk: one man in a lab coat stood up from his computer, opened an official looking locker, and took out an encrusted saucepan to drink from.  Soup, hopefully.

Sleep-deprived and anxious, I was led through a battery of tests.  The first was a dreaded blood sample.  I was horrified to see that I would have to sit on a stool and stick my arm through a window in a pane of glass for the nurse.  I have an embarrassing habit of going grey and falling over when I have blood taken.  I warned my guide, went through the painless sampling, and draped myself over two chairs to wait for the tunnel vision and cold chills to dissipate.  The other tests seemed odd or excessive: an x-ray (alarming), an ultrasound on my stomach (“He should work out more,” the doctor told my guide), blood pressure and some kind of body water/conduction test with electrodes.

By the time I was dropped back off at the University, it was only 09:30.  I was starved and shaky, so resorted to McDonalds again, my oasis of Westerness.  I was still experiencing what I assumed was culture shock.  Nevertheless, I had plenty of time before a meeting with the Assistant Director of Studies at 17:00, so I went home for a nap.

Unfortunately the meeting was not a success.  I had already discovered that the school was not part of the University, but a private school renting office space.  I’d already had clues that they wanted me to teach IT as well as English, which wasn’t what I was there fore.  Before the meeting I was taken to a room to sign the contracts.  It seems typical that the employment contracts school are required to send to the government are different to the contracts that the employer-employee have.  “Which one is legally binding?” I asked. “They both are,” was the spurious reply.

The government’s version of the contract omitted a schedule of amendments, which included all my negotiated changes as well as my salary.  The government caps the limit of a foreign teacher’s salary, presumably to keep China self reliant – at half my agreed wage.  It’s to my benefit, but the dishonesty was off-putting.  Apparently I was also to be put on a three month probation at a reduced wage.  Payday is the 10th of each month. “So on 10th of December, I’ll be paid for six weeks?” I asked. “No, just four,” was the reply.  So was I to work for free?  The questions was to go to the accountant, and meanwhile I was to sign…

The meeting took things a step further.  It transpired that now I was to be hired as an IT teacher, not to teach English.  The responsibility was pawned off on me by my predecessor, who hadn’t wanted it either.  I had also been promised that I would teach adults, but all the students I’d seen so far were undergraduates.

I asked the ADOS to reconsider the changes to the agreement.  She would take it to the Director, but any compromise seemed unlikely.

I had gotten in touch with another teacher who had worked with the school.  He had nothing but nightmares to report: refusal of personal leave, lengthy enforced overtime, sly games with his housing agreement, being screamed at by the Chinese staff.

I’d done plenty of research about the pitfalls of accepting teaching jobs in China, and had rejected a dozen offers before settling for what I thought had been a trustworthy company, a University school.  Now, I’d learned that I’d been lied to about the nature of the school, its students, the job and the salary.

These practical things are easy to describe.  Harder to expound upon are the nebulous emotions and thoughts that fueled my decision to walk away from the job.  I’d felt ill at ease – at best – since I arrived.

Two fortuitous things happened that same day.  The first was that my lost luggage had been found, abandoned at Heathrow by Virgin Atlantic.  It was battered and there were some damaged contents, but nothing serious.  I tipped the delivery guy generously for reuniting me with 80% of my worldly possessions.  The second thing was that I’d been given my passport back by the school.

I booked a night at a hostel in Xi’an’s tourist-friendly old town, then started looking for flights home.

—db

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