Sunday, September 11, 2016

The 7-Year Itch

Thus began my disenchantment with China: not being able to get a hotel room (see previous entry).

No, that's not true. I've been suffering minor irritations for a while. The staring. The touching. The taking my picture without asking. The shouting HELLO! inches from my face. The questions: “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” “How much money do you earn?” “Where is your husband?” - as though it would be inconceivable for a woman to travel to China without one, or that a woman would dare to live without a man by her side.

The people wishing to practice their English with me, no matter where I am (on a bus, in a restaurant) or what I am doing (reading, shopping). People at the supermarket, looking into my shopping cart, as though I were buying something exotic that they would be denied. Vague distrust, as though I might suddenly burst into flames, or attack. Other random impositions on myself and my time.

My practically useless bank account, when the rest of China is progressing to a cashless society by loading their virtual wallets via online banking, something that I've longed to participate in but couldn't. Nor could I reserve accommodations when traveling, or shop online... not that I have ever done much online shopping. Try as I might, I couldn't, and couldn't get Sam to help me fix my bank account so that I could progress, along with the  Chinese.

I am fed up with it all. The joy of discovering China is almost not worth all of the aggravation. And now, discovering China has been made much more difficult now that I have to lodge like a rich person instead of the vagabond that I am. 

The irony doesn't escape me that this is my seventh year in China.

Seven-Year itch: a psychological term that suggests that happiness declines after around year seven of a marriage. The term has been expanded to cover any relationship or even a job, or where you live. Is this why I was contemplating moving on while flying back from Germany? 

Gary met me at the train station, coming back from Beijing. Such a happy homecoming! And such a great friend to welcome me! Would I have that anywhere else, save for my loved ones in the states? Coming down the train station escalator, eyes moist and grinning widely at Gary's wild waving, I banished all thought of leaving China. Of leaving Gary, my friend who would battle traffic at nine-thirty at night to drive me home, even though he has to get up early the next day. Of leaving Sam, Penny and Erica. Precious little Erica, who has become my ersatz granddaughter.

That misty 'forget about leaving China' feeling persisted for exactly 2 weeks.

I couldn't wait to catch up with Sam! Germany is his favorite country. He studied German for his Master's degree. Finally, first-hand, he could receive an accounting of what that country and its food is like: I prepared a traditional German meal, using what ingredients I could find at Metro and home made bread. In return, he dished out 4 courses of outrage:

·         A new rule states that foreign teachers must validate their college degree by presenting at the Chinese embassy in their home country with a notarized copy of their transcript. The cost of this venture runs in the hundreds of dollars, and it does not get reimbursed either by the Chinese government – the sole beneficiary of this mandate, or by the institution that hires you.
·         The 'five-year' rule: foreigners who have been in China for five years must take a 6-month sabbatical and reapply for a visa. I have feared this rule since I learned about it my first year here, but the school took care to see me approved for another visa, even beyond the 5-year limit. Sam stated that there would be a distinct possibility that, when next he submits my passport for visa renewal, it would get rejected because I've been here too long. Or because I haven't had my diploma validated. Or both.
·         The school's leaders fearing I am too old, and that my bones will spontaneously break. Apparently my broken bone from last year created a climate of fear on this campus and, even though I never missed a class or an extracurricular activity, the general concensus seems to be that I would soon be too lame to even hobble to class.
    Since last year, there has been talk of replacing me because of my uncertain but most likely weak skeleton. However, no other foreign teacher can be found because of the new diploma validation rule. Thus I continue to be the only foreign teacher in this school. In spite of a heavier course load than even Chinese teachers, who are younger than me, the attitude prevails that I might (literally) fall apart at any moment.
·         Sam's obligation to report my every move to the school leaders. Unbeknownst to me until now, Sam has the duty to report in when/where I travel (to), when I arrive at my destination and when I return to campus.

No doubt that last extends to disclosing any health conditions I might need a doctor for, seeing as Sam must accompany me to the doctor, per my contract. He has my medical insurance card, and even if I should ask for the card so I can go to the doctor by myself, my need for a doctor would surely be reported. IF I were permitted to go to the doctor by myself.

It's not Sam's fault, and I am not angry at him for it. He has his duty, just as we all do. Unfortunately, I feel his duty is a violation of my privacy. What I was sharing with him as a friend – where I travel and how I feel physically, he was compelled to report to the ever-scrutinizing school leaders.

The sad thing is: for the love of being here, I would have endured all the petty annoyances of being a foreigner in China, and I might have even reconciled myself to limiting my travel to destinations that have hotels permitted to welcome me. However, I find the intrusions on my personal life and the regulations foreigners must comply with in order to live and work in China offensive and demeaning.

Is it coincidence that I had just returned from Germany,  and was actively contemplating moving there when I learned all this?


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