(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/29LnaH1) One of the greatest phrases I have heard in recent times is, ‘If a computer can take over your job – it should’. Makes you think doesn’t it? For some people it is worrying because they are not entirely sure that they are good at what they do, but they are sure […]
It wasn’t an easy decision to abandon the job in Xi’an and return to the UK. I had already invested a lot in the venture and knew that I wouldn’t likely return any time soon. It seemed that a mixture of issues left me little choice, but in the end I was not disappointed to leave, but drawn home and grateful for the excuse.
There were significant issues with the job posting (see last post) as well as peripheral hardships that were expected, but difficult to deal with nonetheless. I considered staying on in China to find another post, though it had taken me months of hard work to sift through the obviously bad options to find this one, apparently-promising, opportunity. I didn’t have the patients, money or will to hang around in Xi’an for another shot. In truth, I just wanted to go home. A year ago this seemed like one of my last few options, but certain changes in my personal life had happened and my ambitions hadn’t caught up.
Eager to get going, I moved out of my crummy apartment in the Yangjiacun district and into the old city, which is surrounded by four ancient walls. I took up for two nights in the Han Tang Inn hostel. I realised upon arriving that I had stayed there before, a few years ago when I last visited China. It was a perfect haven after the difficult and emotional week I’d had. I checked into my six bed dorm and marveled at the relative luxury compared to what would have been my home in Yangjiacun. It felt clean, safe and comfortable.
I ordered some comforting grub and a cup of tea and mapped out my next day and a half. It says something about my experience that I’d felt extremely nervous about lugging my baggage out into the street to hail the taxi that would bring me here, and that I was reluctant to go outside. I wanted to stay where I was protected. This was a far cry from my attitude in 2012, when I flew out with my then-girlfriend to explore India and Southeast Asia and bounced from plane to taxi to train without batting an eyelid. That trip was a breeze with barely a worry in the world, and no compunction about hailing a taxi, or trying to buy fruit from people who we couldn’t communicate with except for the odd word and lots of gesticulating.
So that these new anxieties didn’t get the better of me, I forced myself out into the daylight. The hostel is centrally located so I was right in the middle of the old city. The area inside of the city walls is barely touched by the area’s notorious smog – most of the traffic and ever-present dusty construction is without – and sunlight shone down as I reacquainted myself with the ancient capital.
It took no time at all for me to remember why I’d chosen Xi’an to be my new home. The city, like any in China, is horrendously crowded, but provided one isn’t in a hurry there is little to get wound up about. The crowds stroll along and the traveler strolls with it, up to the lynchpin of the city, the old Bell Tower, and beyond to its partner the Drum Tower, on through the Muslim Quarter to barter for trinkets, out towards the Temple of the City Gods. I was out until dark and then headed back. But even the trip out into the clean, well-maintained centre of Shaanxi culture didn’t make me regret my decision to buy that flight home, though it served to balance some of the disappointment of my experiences.
That night I suffered the bane of the backpacker: sharing a dorm room with a snorer. And snore he did, that friendly bearded Swede, from 05:00 for over an hour. I hadn’t been able to get to sleep, but just as I was drifting off I was treated to that pre-dawn sonorous honk. After a failed attempt to sleep in the common room, I dug deeper into my overdraft for a private room.
I took a similar wander the next day (the inner temple was closed the day before). I met a few interesting locals, watched arguments over a game of Chinese chess, and was asked to have a photo taken with a group of local students.
Soon it was time to head to the airport. This time the route was via Hong Kong, and I would get a train from London via the Tube rather than fly to Manchester. It was 30+ hours of sleepless travel, but I was immensely grateful to be back home amongst the loved ones I’d missed so dearly, even after only a week.
Returning so soon is disappointing and embarrassing, but these are short-lived emotions. The sensation of peace upon finally climbing into bed in the house I grew up in clarified a lot of thoughts and feelings for me. For now I’m very happy to be home!
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.
It’s been a long few months of training and preparing, but things are finally ready for my journey to China.
Whilst I was on the CELTA training course I was put in touch with a University in Xian who was looking for a teacher. After long talks, giving a demo class via Skype, and contract negotiations, I was offered a great-sounding job with them to start November 1st.
There are some horror stories out there about TEFL teaching in Southeast Asia, especially China, as unsavory types catch on to the idea that “rich” foreigners (many irresponsible uni-dropouts and hapless travel bums included) can be duped into taking poorly paid jobs in terrible conditions with only a few well-worded lies. Thankfully after being very careful, exceedingly dubious and with a bit of experience in that corner of the world, I landed a well-paid job with a reputable language school.
It’s taken a while to organise my work visa, as these require official documents inviting me to China that are approved by the Chinese government. The papers came via international mail early this week, and I was able to apply for my visa at the consulate in Manchester.
It was great to visit Manchester again. I was there in 2011 for Chinese New Year and had a great time wandering around China Town and enjoying the festivities. Walking through China Town this time, I reminisced and wondered what the year ahead will be like.
Although it’s been a busy, anxious week – hoping the visa gets approved, catching up with as many people as possible, and packing my few surviving possessions – I’m trying to look ahead positively. I set off on a 24-hour journey this Monday, flying via London and Beijing, and arrive in Xi’an on Tuesday with just a few days to settle in before I start work the following week.
Thanks to all my loved ones for their kindness and support!