Ding dong. I cringed as the doorbell rang. Usually such a welcoming sound … guests arriving! But we feared being thrown out of the apartment here in China. On the streets. At least one good Western friend said he would take us in. Foreigners, stuck in Suzhou, suddenly without jobs along with the other teachers in our company, squatting in an apartment, and also without our passports. The company we worked for, U-Learn, screwed us over (including our bonuses) along with all the other teachers. I have never been in such a desperate situation in my entire life.
And only a week before we had been reassured our contracts would be renewed, that we would be given decent increases, and two days before we received the shocking email that our employer took in our passports to renew our visas. Clever move. One of the first things U-Learn did was ask for three thousand RMB upfront if we wanted our passports back. I phoned the branch manager and said I would call the police if they tried to hold onto our passports. The issue suddenly became a “misunderstanding” and we promptly got our passports back. Marion and I were upset as we know we taught well for the organisation and burnished their image in the schools where we taught. I know of how China can be a terrifying place for some people … but it had never happened to us.
And now we were squatting in a U-Learn apartment … trying to find new jobs and there are plenty out there. But decent pay? Reliable organisations? We were now very nervous as to who we should go with. And had precious little time. And my blood turned cold every time I heard the ding dong. We have moved to Kunshan, between Suzhou and Shanghai, to work for another organisation, a mixture of kindergarten teaching and adult training. Quite a mix. Not the best of pay but beggars can’t be choosers and we won’t see a decent salary till the middle of September as we only started right at the end of July, a month after U-Learn suddenly said they were not renewing contracts. They were also demanding fake bills for fictional damage done to the apartment they provided for us – including two thousand RMB to repair a bed – and will not pass on documentation needed for visa purposes. But an expert attorney friend of ours says the documentation is not ultimately necessary. Like the passports, they were hoping we did not know the law.
Why blog about this? Why wail woe is me? Partly to get it out of my system, partly because so many readers have been trying to contact me, wondering why I am not writing. When I am depressed and terrified like this, feeling to the acid core of my gut a sense of worthlessness and failure, I cannot write. We are countryless, have not been able to save much in our year back in China, as Suzhou does not pay like the big city Shanghai, and will never see the money again that we gave to the family to invest in a joint property in New Zealand. Right now Marion’s much stronger than me. I am like a whipped dog with my tail between my legs. She still finds things to chuckle about and time to play with a cat we have inherited. His name is Nangua, Chinese for Pumpkin because his fur colouring is almost that of a pumpkin. Yes, I get up every day to do my job, but currently I feel like a dead man walking. And self-pity I know is such a destructive emotion. But being honest about myself is always the first step out of this hell hole. And owning up to the responsibility of my own choices even though we had no clue what they were about to do to us and the other teachers.
Much as I admire and believe in teachings like The Power of Now, I have had black visions of annihilation, being deported to either South Africa or Ireland and being separated forever from my beloved Marion. On several occasions I think I came close to having a stroke, from the way my heart was pounding and my shortness of breath at 3am. And God, should I really be writing this publicly? I apologise for venting. I apologise for using or abusing my Thought Leader blog account for this tale of misery. But for what it’s worth I feel a little better, and realise that people who apologise a lot are struggling with an enormous sense of inadequacy. I very nearly did not publish this.