Saturday, March 18, 2017

Adding Insult to Injury

I hadn't seen Gary since last weekend, when he dropped his car off for overnight parking because he was going to enjoy a night of revelry and his apartment is too far out of the way to catch public transportation to where he was to revel. 

I saw Sam last Wednesday. After the first 2 Wednesdays this school year, when he dropped by unannounced, interrupting my lunch, I started inviting him. Sam has an odd quirk: while he shows no compunction about dropping in, he is more reserved when it comes to being invited, often saying he has something to do. Thus I make it a point of inviting to lunch him every single Wednesday, virtually guaranteeing I will eat undisturbed.

However, this past hump day, he did come but seemed preoccupied and bowed out hastily. We conversed little, as he was mostly focused on his phone.

At no point did he say anything about my tenure here, but he did mention wishing to expand the school's partnership with Gary's firm: establishing a cooperative work experience in international trade.  (See Gary's New Hat entry, posted June, 2015). The school is prepared to offer him an office on campus and set up a course, with him as teacher. Of course, they would pay him for his services.

When Gary texted me yesterday about us going out this weekend, I quickly agreed, and then asked if Sam had contacted him. I was excited for him and wanted to know if he knew about this new development Sam outlined. The answer Gary gave was completely out of the blue:

“Yes, he asked me to plead you to stay. He said the school will pay for validating your diploma and guarantees you employment until 60 years old (China's mandatory retirement age).”

The 'validating diploma' reference calls to China's new law about foreign teachers having to take their diplomas to the Chinese embassy in their home country for certification (see 7-Year Itch entry, posted September 2016). 'Garanteeing employment' refers to China's '5-year rule', where foreigners can only obtain work visas for five consecutive years, after which they must sojourn outside of the country for a minimum of six months before applying for another work visa. According to Gary, that requirement can be waived if the teacher is extraordinary. In my case, it has been waived for the last two years. 

I am not extraordinary, at least not in the teaching arena (or any other arena, as far as I know). I am remarkable in the sense that I am still here while other foreigners are fleeing the country. And, as the proverb goes, a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. Or: a teacher in the classroom is better than 2 teachers looking for classrooms. I can see why the school wants to keep me.

Because only 'desirable' foreigners are fleeing China. 'Desirable' meaning 'white'. Prospective teachers from African nations that are approved to teach in China are clogging headhunter websites and job postings but nobody in China wants to hire teachers from Nigeria. Not when an American teacher (with white skin) is present, and could be pressured into staying by, say... her best friend? And a bribe? And a guarantee that any reasonable person would realize might not be fulfilled?

This is business, Chinese-style. Goods are bartered based on Guanxi, China's true business currency. Gary, knowing that the school was seeking to replace me when I broke my leg, made use of it when entering in partnership with this school 2 years ago: “Keep Sophia or I walk and take my business with me.” It is quite typical in China for negotiations to involve valuable pawns.

I don't enjoy the thought of being reduced to a bargaining chip, especially one that has nothing to do with my teaching abilities and everything to do with something I have no control over: the color of my skin. I didn't particularly like it when Gary 'protected' me 2 years ago and I am outraged that my friend would be called on to put pressure on me instead of Sam telling me the terms of his alleged guarantees himself. Especially as, only 2 days ago, he was sitting in my house, eating my soup.  

In February's post Beginnings, I listed some things I was beginning to wonder about, now that my departure from China is imminent. As I clean out my cabinets and sort through 7 years of accumulation, as I enjoy the ease and convenience of Alipay, as I smoke the evening's last cigarette, I reflect...

There's no doubt that I seriously compromised my future financial and social security by walking away from a desirable, high-paying job in America seven years ago, but I don't regret my move. Still: where can I go and how will my life be once I leave China? Returning to America offers a host of challenges, not the least of which would be securing health care. I have my sights set on Germany, but…

Here I am, in the same situation as the school is in: the one in hand is better than the two in the bush. Wouldn't it make sense to pursue it?

Here, I have a job, a home, medical care (of sorts). There are downsides to living in China, some only recently discovered. It is true that foreigners have restrictions imposed by the government. Limits on travel, for example: a strong factor in my decision to leave. However, with the world of online trading now open to me, travel wouldn't be limited: Alipay has partnered with Airbnb, meaning I would not have to stay in expensive hotels should I decide to vagabond around.

As far as day-to-day living is concerned, at this point the 'staying in China' pros outweigh the cons. And, quite frankly, I still can't really imagine living anywhere else – and that's scary, seeing as I am mere months from uprooting myself and HAVE to choose someplace to live.    

Or DO I? Do I truly intend to once again cut my nose off to spite my face?

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