On the 12th Day of Christmas...
On Sunday, December 29th, I was getting ready for what was supposed to be a relaxing week. My regular classes were done for the semester with no more until late February, so I was looking forward to a week of reading, writing a few articles here on Steemit (I'm still working on the same three I mentioned three weeks ago, but have not found time to write), and perhaps taking a few lessons of my Russian language course. I was also getting ready to fulfill one of my two New Years Resolutions for 2020: to begin the year with a romantic vacation in Bali with the woman I love more than my own life.
But best of all, I was looking forward to watching 2019 end. After all, it was a year of absolute and utter hell, as I may have mentioned once, or twice, or maybe even a few times more, and I was more than happy to see it out the door. And with only two days left, the year couldn't have too many surprises waiting for me, could it?
I have really, really, really got to learn to quit tempting fate by saying things like that.
Monday, 30 December
Monday morning began with a phone call from my school principal saying "can you come to the school at 2 PM this afternoon?" Considering that my classes were already over, I have been in China long enough to know this is roughly the employer-to-employee analog of an angry wife's "we need to talk." Upon arrival, the principal greeted me with forced smiles and questions like "is there something in China you're not happy with?"
I bit my tongue because the obvious answer of "do you want the list alphabetically?" would probably not earn me many Brownie Points. So instead, I simply asked "can you be more specific about your meaning?" She answered "I don't know. I've been told I should ask you this."
"Told by who?" I asked.
Her response of "by some officials from the government" was enough to inform me that the conversation was only going to go downhill from here. At that moment her phone rang and after excusing herself to answer it, and having a brief conversation in Mandarin with whoever was on the other end, she hung up and said "can you come with me to the car please? We have to go down to the Police Station."
Yeah, let me tell you, THAT's exactly what I want to hear when I'm living in society as infamously Orwellian as China, right?
Once at the police station, the personnel from the school were herded into one room and I was escorted through a blast door and down a concrete stairwell into an underground interrogation chamber, and told to change my shoes and leave my coat and cell phone in a plastic box in one room before following three cops into another. This was the point where I crossed my arms, stood up to my full height (from which all three of them had to look up to see me) and said "I will not go another step until you explain why I am here."
Cue some chittering and chattering in Mandarin before one of the three cops says to me, in virtually unaccented English, "you are here because you are a suspect in a crime."
There is only one logical, rational response to that. "You will hear nothing from me, and get no further cooperation from me, until the U.S. Embassy has been contacted."
A second cop chuckled and said "you don't get to call the embassy." At this point two of the three tried to take me by the arms and drag me further, but... well, let's just say the Chinese are not all that muscular and they lost some face when I didn't move an inch. However, I was still a little frightened.
Why? Because there were three of them?
Nah, if it had come to violence these three would have gone down easily (one of them was a woman about half my weight and the biggest of them was a peach-fuzzed recent college graduate about 30 pounds less than me, standing about armpit-high). No, what scared me was "oh shit, they brought not one but two cops who speak English. NO cops in China speak English except a handful of the ones from specialist squads at the national level. That means whatever the hell this is about, I'm a high-profile case, which means I'm probably already on the State Security Ministry's radar."
The three cops whispered to each other for a while before the first one who spoke (the petite woman I mentioned) said in a calmer tone "the embassy is only involved if you are formally charged. Right now it is an investigation, not a... not a... (out came the phone translator) ...not a court procedure."
I still wasn't moving. "So you're detaining me without a charge?"
The second cop shook his head. "No, we're not detaining you. We are only questioning you. By law, we cannot keep you here longer than 8 hours as long as you cooperate. And frankly," and he held up two pages of questions, each with four or five lines to type my response, "this is more likely to take 2."
It goes without saying that I didn't believe a word of what I was being told, but there was little I could do.
I left my items in their bin, signed a receipt for them, and followed into a room with no windows and only one light, which was shining right into my face with the three cops (and I have no idea who else) sitting behind it. The first three questions were:
- "Where do you work?"
- "When did you start working there?"
- "When were you issued your visa?"
For any reader who is familiar with China, it's already obvious where this was going, but for everyone else I'll explain. It is exceedingly, exceedingly rare to find a school that guarantees they have finished their teachers' visa applications before the teachers start work. After all, to complete a visa application before beginning work would mean being in China with no employment for nearly 3 months before starting work, or quitting work at the end of May (the school year here ends in July) to prepare for work in September. In my case, I already had one from my previous school, but my seedy agent had dragged their feet about transferring it to the new school, so even though I was on a work visa the entire time I was employed, it was not issued by my current employer until December. I did finally get a visa issued by my current school (the application process began in September and was not finished until December thanks to an incompetent visa officer in HR), which is more than most waijiaos in Beijing can say.
Simply put, I have never, ever, EVER met a waijiao who already had their visa squared away before they started work. By eventually getting one at all, I was already more legal than 90% of the country. The general practice is (or always has been) if a teacher has the qualifications for a visa and has begun the application process before an inspection, the cops look the other way.
But apparently, as 2019 was the "Glorious 70th Anniversary," this was the year China started to say, in the words of Darth Vader, "I'm altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."
To make a long story short, I was told I had to pay a 5,000 RMB fine (the exchange rate at the time was roughly 7.05 RMB to 1 US Dollar) for "working illegally," since I started work before the visa was transferred from my former employer to my current one. I was also told I had 15 days to pay it, that it could be paid at any bank, and that I should then take the receipt to the police station in my district of Beijing (Fengtai). The police also told me, off-record, "since this is your agent's mistake and not yours, you should probably demand that they pay you back for it."
I wholeheartedly agreed, and the agent reimbursed me... for half. I was responsible for the rest. Annoying, but not devastating.
The next day was New Year's Eve.
And dammit boy, let me tell you about the fireworks.
Tuesday, 30 December
The day began with a WeChat message from my agent, saying "the school principal needs you to be at the school at 3 PM, with the receipt for having paid the fine already. You have to go down to the police station together." I explained that this was not what the police told me the previous day, and the answer was "the police called this morning and told us something different." The problem is that it was New Year's Eve and after going to three different banks I was told by all three "no bank has the staff to do this today." So I informed my agent (who called the principal, who called the police and then called my agent and got back to me with a third-hand answer) and was told "that's alright, the fine is the least important matter. But the police have said they need to have this cleared up before the end of the year, so we need to go to the Immigration Office at Yonghegong."
The last made my ears perk. Recall that I was told by the police on the 29th to take the paperwork to the office in Fengtai. The Yonghegong Office is the central immigration office, basically for the entire country. They do two things: issue visas and cancel visas. I'll cut to the chase: by the time the day was over the fine had been raised from 5,000 RMB to 25,000 RMB, and the police informed me "we're not deporting you. You just have to leave the country."
If you're confused after reading that sentence, join the club.
Upon asking for clarification, the English-speaking officer (one of the same two from the previous day) explained "if we deport you, you go to jail while we arrange your flight, you go home in handcuffs with a black stamp on your passport and an interpol-documented criminal record while we seize everything you own in China. As it is, you can apply for a new visa if you wish, keep your belongings, and leave with no criminal record." In short, I was given the option to self-deport at my own expense within six days, and thus avoid having any criminal record.
A criminal, fucking, record. For an administrative screw-up that wasn't even mine.
Around 8PM, the papers were all signed and the cops smiled at me and had the cheek to say "Happy New Year. Enjoy your evening."
By the time I paid the fine, purchased the plane ticket and began making initial arrangements to later ship my belongings to the US, the year 2019 ended by eating the last of my US savings account, an account which began the year 2019 with enough money in it to leave the country and start my own business in the Philippines (which was, indeed, my plan back then.
Out With the Old...
So here I was at the dawn of 2020, doing exactly what had been my plan at the beginning of 2019: to get the hell out of China. But when I made that plan in 2019, I wanted to leave slowly. I wanted to do one last volunteer stint in Thailand before I left, and then pack my things when I got back to Beijing in early February. It was just going to be two weeks, right?
This began the series of events which would define the entirety of 2019 for me. But the year just couldn't resist a parting shot on its way out the door. It just had to double-tap and make sure I was down. After beginning 2019 with both legs functioning and 27K US dollars in the bank, I now, at the onset of 2020, had five days to say good-bye to everyone and everything I have come to know for five years (including one intensely passionate and emotional good-bye which I pray was not permanent, to the turquoise-eyed-angel who was the only joy I found in the entire dark, cold, brutal year) and slink home with about $800 in my pocket asking "dad, is it okay if I stay with you for a while?"
Leaving China doesn't exactly devastate me. I've always hated that country and indeed, I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to return to China when I went home to America last summer, but I planned on doing it on my own terms, with my next destination already chosen, walking instead of limping. Not like this.
By the time all was said and done, here is what 2019 has cost me.
- 47,000 RMB in hospital bills
- 45,000 RMB in lost wages while hospitalized
- 36,000 RMB in lost FT wages (I still had my PT) after May
- 25,000 RMB for the fine for this
- 13,000 RMB transportation costs for leaving on a week's notice
- 19,000 RMB lost income from Winter Camps I was to teach in this coming January
- 185,000 RMB Total ($26,610.28 USD)
...Virtually everything I had managed to save in the previous four years of dealing with the everyday nightmare of Chinese life.
I arrived at DFW international airport, jobless, penniless and directionless, on 6 January...
...The 12th Day of Christmas.
Congratulations, 2019. You whipped my ass. In the first half, you took my savings, my health, and you damned near took my right leg.
In the second half, you took my hope of ever going into Law Enforcement again.
You nearly took my Martial Arts career.
You tried your damnedest to take my teaching career.
And on your way out the door, you tried to take my dignity, my reputation, and even my liberty, before you finally settled for taking my job and everything I owned.
Well, you can fuck yourself, 2019, just like every "Year of the Pig" before you (2007, when I lost my job and my house and had to move to Middle-of-Nowhere, Louisiana; 1995 when my parents traded city life for country life and everything I'd built at a Blue Ribbon elementary school became meaningless at a rural middle school with less-than-impressive literacy rates even among their teachers).
Because you're already nothing but a memory, and I've bounced back from worse straits than this. This, too, I will survive. Now begins the Year of the Rat, which has always been a year of new beginning for me (2008, when I was certified as a Corrections Officer; 1996, when I wrapped my fingers around a clarinet for the first time and joined the school band, which would define my future in ways I could never have imagined then, and 1984, when I was born).
I have recovered from darker nights than this, and I will recover from this as well.
'Cause you can't hold back the wind.
If it's meant to be again,
then some day he'll find his way back to her arms.
So if you care to find me, look to the Western Sky!
As someone told me lately, everyone deserves a chance to fly!
And if I'm flying solo, at least I'm flying free.
To those who'd ground me, take a message back from me.
-"Wicked," the musical
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Incredible @patriamreminisci. 😧 I have no words really to express my sorrow on hearing this, as I have never been even remotely close in a situation like the one you describe. 😞 (Except for a tense few minutes at a drug stop in the middle of nowhere in Mexico in 1976 ...)
Have you heard from your Russian girlfriend? Any hopes there? Do you still have some dreams of opening your own business in the Philippines?
Hopes? Yes, and she (as always) is optimistic and calm even as I plan for the worst. It's why I need her, truth be known: for her ability to always find light, while my life has trained me to always prepare for a day when there is none.
But hope and assurance are not the same thing.
Right now I don't have the luxury of dreams. I can't see beyond the here and now.
Okay, understood @patriamreminisci that all seems pretty dark at the moment. Hopefully, we will hear from you in the near future that you are beginning to see some light returning on some brighter prospects for your future.
Hang in there!
You're out, that's the main thing, albeit not on your terms. But as you are fully aware, you do not get to define the terms in China.
Look forward, it can't get worse than 2019. All the best.
(Cringing)Oooh, please, I just commented on tempting fate with statements like that, lol.
Did you live in China for 12 years? Are you Mexican American?
Five and a half. Why?
I'm sorry. I misunderstand your writing because I'm not good at English. As I read your writing, I was curious and asked. Are you Filipino-American?
That is a question many people ask, especially because of my profile image.
I myself am ninth-generation American, mixed Irish and Scottish with only a trace of Cherokee; Louisiana-born, Texas-raised. The Philippine flag is because of my children (who are Filipino/American dual citizens) and their mother (my ex, who is Filipino).
Your wife is Filipino, so your children are dual citizens. I'm sorry to ask you about your personal details. I know it's an excuse to ask Americans about their personal lives.
I am a Korean Protestant. Nice to meet you.
Yes, you've mentioned being a Korean Protestant. Nice to meet you.
You seem hard to live in China.