When I made up my mind to relocate to China, I had intended for the move to be permanent. I sold my house, my cars and just about everything I had. What was worth keeping I put in storage; what I would need I took with me. I envisioned finding a nice place to retire to and, perchance, welcome friends and family from abroad.
I knew, coming into this gig, that China doesn't hand out green cards to just anyone, and I had that covered. You see, I was privileged to receive training in environmental sciences and safety and health. Knowing that China's pollution has become a global, life-threatening concern, I intended to put all of the knowledge I have to use in order to help remediate the waters and soil, and maybe start a recycling program – not that I wish to take anything away from the senior citizens whose subsistence consists of pilfering through garbage to salvage the odd plastic bottle or soda can.
Furthermore, as China and I had made our acquaintance just after the massive earthquake in 2008, I thought that, surely my skills/training as a safety specialist and emergency responder could help people. I saw myself helping emergency teams in rescue operations, and maybe could help train and educate people in what to do in case of fire and earthquake and severe weather.
Before I did all of that, certainly I would have to learn Mandarin. That, I started stateside, while dreams of helping people and this great country danced in my head.
Knowing that guanxi is an integral part of Chinese business culture, I sought out friends to share my ideas with. Of course, that is not the only reason that I sought out friends, but after becoming fast friends I confessed my ambition. They nodded eagerly and agreed to everything, and then, nothing happened.
Well, things did happen.
I got pretty sick. Dizzy all the time and robbed of energy, barely able to withstand a single class, my dreams of helping China went on the back burner. Falling down and bashing my head in was a turning point; a doctor's visit revealed the return of my nemesis: thyroid disease. Once that was all better – well, managed, I broke my leg.
Now that my thyroid is balanced and my leg is healed, I am once again ready to tackle my plan.
And that's when I learned that my efforts were... not needed. Maybe even not welcome. The friends I had hoped to enlist enthusiastically embraced these lofty ideas of mine but come time to do anything with them, suddenly hemming and hawing were all they seemed capable of. Even something as simple as initiating Fire Safety plan on our campus was stonewalled: “We already have one in place” I was told.
In the 7 years I've been here, I've yet to witness or participate in a fire drill (I have witnessed a fire). The dorms, offices and teaching buildings have no alarm or sprinkler system. When I quiz my students what they would do in case of fire, they invariably answer: “Run!” or “I don't know.” Ditto with earthquakes and severe weather. Even the recently built apartment complex I live in has no fire safety equipment in place. And heavens forbid a fire truck should need to make its way through this housing area! Jam packed full of cars as it is, they probably wouldn't make it through.
As part of my duties here include involvement with the 2 English clubs, I thought: “There might be opportunities here!” More fool I for thinking that.
Year after year I have suggested – at first casually, and then in writing, and finally formally that our club members could conduct a paper drive, collect used clothing for charity, start a recycling program, even donate to the blood banks around town, seeing as blood donations are abysmally low in China.
Mind you, I don't think that everything I say should be adhered to or adopted. It is just so hard for me to see a real need, and be capable of helping the environment, capable of helping save lives and...
And my green card. Obviously, seeing as they are not given out like candy over here, and all of my efforts to make a positive impact, if only in this one little area – and who knows? Something we do in our school might catch on nationwide! Bottom line: I am not likely to earn a residence permit with no substantial contribution to China.
At least I learned Mandarin.