The long and winding road


It’s been a while.  What’s new?  Everything and nothing, that’s what.  When last we met I had a plan of sorts that I was quite pleased with.  But as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men”.  I never understood that, but now I do.  I looked it up.  Everyone (okay, almost everyone) knows it comes from John Steinbeck’s moving and wonderful novel, “Of Mice and Men”.  But where did Steinbeck get it?

I recently attended a séance on a wet afternoon to speak with John.  He came into contact with me (it was kind of creepy) and he told me he scooped it up from a famous Robert Burn’s poem, “To a Mouse”, written in 1876.

I quote:

“But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone] 

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry] 

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promised joy.”

What does it mean?  Almost everyone knows it means that the most carefully laid plans may go wrong.  And guess what?  They sometimes do.  You spend a great deal of time thinking up what you think would be the best move for your future and lo and behold, you get it.  (By George, I think he’s got it).  And then through circumstances, some beyond your control and some of your own doing, they all go out the window and it’s back to the drawing board.

I had a job lined up in the lovely city of Zhuhai.  No winter, clean air, pretty, close to Hong Kong for visiting, I was happy.  I was going to finish up my prison term here at the high school and then lie and say I had to leave the country.  Then things started tumbling down.

At a school in China, it is usually the Foreign Affairs Department that helps you get your paperwork in order to give them so they can get you a “foreign experts certificate” and the official “Letter of Invitation” from the government that you need for your visa.  It was just my luck that the University in Zhuhai had a total moron in that position.  I think it was her first year doing the job and it was obvious she was at a loss.  She was asking me for crazy things (copies of my marriage license, etc.) and such including a resume listing all my relatives.  I couldn’t get an answer whether that included 3rd cousins, twice removed.  I couldn’t get details of anything.  She said someone from the English department would get in touch with me.  Finally the woman from the English department did even though it wasn’t her job and gave me a new list including a medical check.  The medical check is done at a government place, costs too much money, is useless, and takes about 4 business days to get the results.  I was going to go the following Monday.

On Wednesday I got a call from the foreign affairs department telling me that they wanted all my paperwork (including the medical check) by the weekend.  I told her that was impossible since I wasn’t going until the next Monday.  I didn’t know it was a rush.  She told me that was too late and they needed it know or they couldn’t get me the “Letter of Invitation”.  You probably think it’s some government foolishness but you’d be wrong.  The school wants to totally close down for the summer and have no one working so it must be done before then.  That is unusual.  This moron told me that someone would call me shortly with details.

On Friday I still hadn’t heard anything.  Was I surprised?  Not at all.  I wrote them off in my head and wrote a semi-nasty letter about how incompetent they are.  I thought we were done and I would never hear from them again.  Shujie was very happy because she had a “bad feeling” about this school.  I had a good feeling and it was just their Foreign Affairs Office that were morons.

On Wednesday night (2 nights ago) I got a call from the school from the English teacher who shouldn’t be involved asking me what was happening.  I told her nothing  was happening and reviewed the mess they’d made.  I had copied her on all emails so she knew everything.  She told me she tried to got her boss involved and her boss had called foreign affairs and asked them to do the job.  But naturally she never followed up, and one department in China can’t dictate to another department even if the incompetence of that department causes them trouble.  Hattie (the English teacher) kept apologizing and I kept saying it had nothing to do with her and that foreign affairs office should have done her job.

I don’t think she likes her job there but she is Chinese so her life is much more difficult than that of the foreign teacher.  I think she was indicating to me that I should find another job and I’d be lucky to.  But it was good money for little hours in a beautiful location with half-decent kids.  At least Shujie was happy with that outcome.

I had been looking for other jobs in the meantime because I didn’t trust them to do their job.  I will get to that story in a minute.

Last Thursday I was let go from the high school.  Why?  Good question.  No one told anyone (including the vice-principal) that this was about to happen.  They had some story about what the problem was and most of it (to my mind) sounded like lies.  The real reason in my opinion is that one day in the hall a student was asking me why she failed her test and she wanted to see the test.  I had been told that you don’t show the students their tests so I told her no.  The head Chinese teacher came up to me after and asked why I didn’t show so and so her test and why she failed.  I said, “Who do you mean, I don’t know anyone’s name”.  And it’s true that I am awful with names.  I think she ran to the school owner and signed my death warrant.  Someone from the English department overheard this and told the vice-principal who is American.  The head of the agency I work for and who placed me at this school came to the school and we had a meeting.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t care.  I hated going there and wasn’t crazy about the students although there were a few dream students.  Leaving like this meant I wouldn’t have to lie to anyone about leaving.  I was actually quite happy.  I was quitting in a month but the sooner the better.  The agency offered me a bunch of different placements that I said no to.  I’d been to a University they sent me to and I hated it worse than the high school.  They offered me what they claimed to be excellent teaching academy’s, which is where you learn English after school.  You work nights at these places.  I said no, I don’t work nights.  They offered me middle schools but I said, no, I don’t work middle schools.  Fussy, aren’t I?  It was agreed upon that they didn’t want me to stay in a place I wasn’t happy with so I was done.  We looked for flights (rip off central) and booked something for June 5.  First it was the 3rd, then there was a problem so it was the 5th, then there was another problem and we were back to the 3rd, and then there was another problem so we finally got something confirmed for the 5th.  It’s a one-way ticket and the reasoning behind that was that I had no job in my hand (although it was my goal to have a Chinese job before I left) and I didn’t want to rule out the possibility of a different country.

So we are gone from next week.  I love this apartment and this town has a decent steak house, a Subway, and a Starbucks close by.  That’s good.  But it’s not enough to live through a job I hate.  If I’m going to work for peanuts, I have to like my job.

So while all this is going on, I’m job hunting.  I’m looking in Iraq, Afghanistan, Romania, Poland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and wherever.  I would love South America but there are no jobs there really.  Volunteer jobs there are, but I’m not working for free.  I’ll work for peanuts, but not for free.

Naturally I’m also looking in China.  Shujie wanted to go to Saudi Arabia because they are supposed to pay the best and I had 2 offers there, but I don’t trust them.  Their contracts are not exact enough so I can literally be trapped in a bad situation.  You have to jump through hoops to get a visa and if you’re a woman (which Shujie doesn’t get), you can’t do anything.  I’ve read that the foreigner man’s life isn’t much better.  They try to keep you segregated (many foreigners live in gated compounds) and since there was no $100,000 job (and that’s tax free), I’m not moved enough to go there.  I would be teaching only males and I prefer females.  It sounds exotic but for about 3 weeks of a fascinating time, you’d be giving up a year of your life.  I don’t think that’s a fair trade.

I didn’t get a position in another country.  For every position in another country, there are hundreds in China.  Granted, many of them are teaching academies (or school after school as I call it) and I don’t want that.  So I applied to Chinese jobs that paid more than I was getting now (it’s not a lot of money but with the free apartment it’s good).  I ended up with 3 job offers, one of which I believe to be a no-go.

The no-go is a high school type situation in Beijing.  The annual salary is about $36,000 (good for China) after tax.  It includes a paid for apartment.  However, you would be working full days, 5 days a week.  Twenty teaching hours and twenty office hours.  You’d be living about 45 minutes from the school so they would have a bus to take you and bring you back.  I’d be looking at a 10 hour day (including travel time).  That’s a real job.  The money for China is good but I really don’t want a “real full-time job).

Some of my documents aren’t what we call kosher and in most places in China that’s okay because they just need to see a scanned copy but this place wants an actual transcript to check you out.  I thought I’d play the game so I’m moving forward on that to see how far it goes.

The other two jobs came in as a toss-up.  Either one was fine with me.  One of them was a private college in Guangzhou (that means dumb rich kids).  The woman there was nice, it was a nice area (about an hour away from Zhuhai where I accepted the job that didn’t turn out)  Shujie and I both had a good feeling about it.  The pay was fair and I really couldn’t think of anything negative.

The other job was at Beijing University—Zhuhai campus.  Beijing University is the number one school in China.  It’s where all decent students aspire to go.  Their main campus is in Beijing but they have one in the south in Zhuhai.  So I’m back to the nice city.  They have more than 30 foreign English teachers so that’s a lot.  I will probably only see a class one time a week.  There is no holiday pay.  They pay you by the hour and the contract offers you a minimum number of hours a week.  Totaling  it all up, it’s the most money per hour (even with no holiday pay).  On the down side I’d be one of 30 teachers while at the college I’d be one of 3 foreign English teachers.  I’d prefer that naturally.

Shujie and I were looking at the pros and cons.  When Shujie first heard the words, “Beijing University” she was quite excited.  I would be happy with either school as I see pluses and minuses with either.  Shujie thinks Beijing University will look good on my resume.  I don’t’ think that’s true.  I think in 10 years it will look good as China is changing but right now it’s all about the colour of your skin.

Since I was happy with either choice, Shujie chose Beijing University because of the city and because of the prestige.  She also feels (and it shouldn’t be a problem) that she can monitor English classes there and improve her English for free.  So I accepted that offer.  I think I’ll still look in other countries over the summer, but we have a place to come back to.  We are shipping the bulk of our stuff to Baoding to her son to hold for us.  Since a lot of it will be winter clothes and there is basically no winter where we are going, who knows when we’ll need it again.

So that’s the plan.  For now.  We leave next week and we will come back near the end of August for this new school.  I think it will work out fine.  And if it doesn’t, no one dies.  As long as they’re honest people I’ll be okay.  I’d rather have a class more than one time a week in an effort to build a relationship but I guess I’m grabbed by the prestige of the name.  Of course, maybe there is no prestige to this campus and you have to go to Beijing to get that.  But on my resume it won’t say “Zhuhai campus” so I’ll sound good (if they look past the white face).

So that’s the story for now.  Who knows what the future brings.  I know I shouldn’t say this but here goes, it couldn’t be worse than this year.  When you take a new job, or someone hires you, you don’t know what you’re going to get.  Is that like life is a like a box of chocolates?

I may post a couple of times in the summer.  I don’t know.  We’ll see how it goes but I’ll be back for sure on my return to China (or maybe another country).  I will try to do a better job but the only thing I’ve learned about blogging (for me),is the more you have to complain about, the more you have to write.


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