Listening to: the busy street outside
Reading: Memoirs of a Geisha
I have been in China since July 10th and arrived on a tourist visa. This visa only allowed me to stay in the country for 60 days otherwise I would have to go to Hong Kong or Seoul (or somewhere else out of China those two are just the closest) to reenter China on my second entry. I was promised a work visa from the company I was working for upon my arrive in China. The following is an email I sent to friends and family about what happened:
Some of you may know the troubling times that Patrick and I have been having recently. I am happy to say that these are over, as far as we know. "Troubling" is perhaps an understatement but you can choose your own adjective after you know what is/was going on.
We are working for a large American-owned company in China called Aston English. There are numerous Aston schools and franchises throughout central and eastern China. When Patrick and I started applying to work for this company we told the recruiter that we wanted to teach and work in Dalian. As you may know, this is the city that we lived in about 5 years ago. Dalian is a beautiful city of about 6 million in Liaoning Province. It is on the tip of the Chinese peninsula that juts into the Yellow Sea just west of South Korea. The corporate headquarters for Aston are in Dalian and the original Aston schools, called "Future School", are in Dalian as well. Because of the reputation of the city of Dalian as being the most beautiful city in China and the large population of ex-pats, Dalian is one of the most requested cities to teach in. Because of this, Patrick and I were told that Dalian was full for the summer semester (our plans were to teach the summer semester and the fall semester). We were told that we could work in Dalian during the fall semester but we would have to teach in another city for the summer semester. We were eventually placed in Xuzhou, China. Xuzhou can boast nothing other than being the national capital during the Han dynasty.
During our stay in Xuzhou we met some great people and some not so great as can be expected. One of the "not so great" people was our boss. This is a franchise school and the owner, You Kai, treats the school as a business and seems to forget that it is a school. Naturally, Aston is a business first and a school second. For You Kai, the school is a business first, second, third, forth, and so on. He regards the school as a school maybe twentieth (that's being generous).
Patrick and I had been sucking up to him from day one. We knew that he was hard up for teachers and he would constantly tell us what great teachers we were. As is the custom in China when trying to impress someone during a meeting, You Kai practically shoved cigarettes down our throats one after the other. We never signed our contracts with him because we could be disciplined for breach of contract but because there wasn't a precedence You Kai could not be disciplined in any way for breach of contract. After numerous meetings with this man it became apparent that we were being blackmailed.
During a private meeting with You Kai, Patrick and I made a supplemental contract that was signed by You Kai, Patrick, the interpreter, and myself. This contract stated that we would receive bonuses if we broke our future contract with our Dalian school and stayed at his school. We would also receive bonuses if we recommended our friends to work for Xuzhou Aston and they signed on. I can deal with bribery. It's not that bad, especially in this case. The main part of the contract was that he had to provide us with Z (work) visas before our contract ended on August 31. If proper visas and paperwork were not secured by this date, You Kai would pay any expenses related to getting a proper visa which included travel expenses to Hong Kong or Seoul, visa processing fees, and food and lodging while waiting for a visa among other things. We felt a bit relieved after having this contract written and signed. Although we were working illegally on a visa with a fast approaching expiration date, we would get a proper visa in some way. With that in mind we bought plane tickets to Dalian for September 3.
The day after our contract expired we had another meeting with You Kai. We were hoping that it would be about our visas since we had not heard about the progress of our paperwork. You Kai suddenly decided to tell us that we had to sign a contract with him in order for the government to finish our visas. Here we were the day after the end of our contracts with no passports and no visas being blackmailed for our passports! We immediately got on the phone with corporate Aston in Dalian about this matter. We had been talking with numerous people in corporate about our visas and other problems with this school for quite a while. Corporate immediately began calling all their contacts, including the U.S. Embassy. We told You Kai that we would discuss the matter the next day after speaking to Dalian and giving them some time to work on the situation.
At this point I was ready to head back to the States. If Dalian couldn't help us with this (because of the Olympics it is very difficult to get a tourist visa transferred to a work visa) I would rather go home than to work for a person like You Kai. No matter what he bribed me with to stay I would more than likely go home.
Corporate Aston worked on getting us our visas until at least 11:00 pm when we got a call that we had a few options. We could sign a new contract in Xuzhou and stay there, we could go back to the States and either stay there or come back after securing a work visa, or we could enroll as students at one of the universities in Dalian and work with a student visa. We were instructed to go to our meeting with You Kai the next day and ask for our passports back and leave. When we got to the meeting on the 2nd You Kai said he didn't have our passports; they were at the visa office waiting for a contract with Xuzhou Aston before they could be stamped with the government seal. We told him that we needed our passports because we are leaving on the third for Dalian. We told him that Dalian had figured out a way to get us a visa and he literally laughed in our faces. After about an hour and many calls to Dalian from both Patrick and You Kai, You Kai walked back in the office and simply said, "Okay." He shook our hands, gave us our Foreign Expert Certificates, and invited us to dinner at "the best restaurant in Xuzhou." (I do have to admit it was an amazing dinner. If you can find "dragon fruit", splurge and get some, it's amazing.)
The next day we had some bags mailed to Dalian and received our passports including our work visas! That evening we were driven to the airport (which is about an hour out of town) by You Kai's personal driver. We arrived in Dalian and were greeted at the airport by our manager and a Chinese teacher who had gorgeous flowers for me. We were taken to a great dinner and shown our apartment, which is magnificent.
Everything here is amazing. We get free lunch at school everyday whether we are working or not. I have a personal locking desk at the school. We are about 2 miles or so from the beach. Our apartment has hardwood floors, mattresses that aren't just blocks of Styrofoam, new sheets that are clean, tons of closet space, a dresser, high speed Internet, a desktop computer, a toaster, coffee maker, coffee bean grinder, tea kettle, rice cooker, dishes, eating utensils, towels, soap, toothpaste, some food for our apartment, personal heaters for the winter, extra comforters, a bathtub! (very rare in China), a huge mirror in the living room, large bedrooms, a large television, huge stereo with extra speakers, and satellite TV complete with HBO, BBC, CNN, Discovery, National Geographic, and more!