I Crapped My Pants While Teaching In China

Everything started on Friday when I asked Elina, our coordinator, how I could make appointments for the dentist and the eye doctor; she said she could help me with that. Minutes later she texted me she had made an appointment for me to see the dentist the next day at 11 am and to meet downstairs at 10. It is not that I had made previous plans or anything, but it would have been nice of her to ask if I was available at that time.

On Saturday I was standing there. She came down at 10:16 with her husband and daughter, she didn’t apologize, we all entered her car and she started to drive. Suddenly she said, “And you’re going to the eye doctor, too!” I wear contact lenses and just the night before I was trying to order Progent online to be able to clean them, but I couldn’t because they don’t deliver to China. I asked her to please return so I could bring my contacts with the solutions for the eye doctor to recommend something similar. Tim, her Australian husband, mumbled something about asking my Mommy in the United States to send me those things because doctors here don’t prescribe “Western” medicine. I was going to refute, but Elina intercepted my words and said, “Yes! That’s what Tim does! He asks his mother  to send him his medicine, and all the foreign teachers do the same! Just ask your Mommy!” I told them, “I can’t because my mother is dead and I live alone.” We left, I was still telling them that I needed a special liquid for my contact lenses… Words went to the air.

I was seated on the back seat trying to see the city but couldn’t because Elina hasn’t removed the transparent film from the back windows (apparently, that’s how they sell the cars here) and since it’s been so hot this summer the film is full of amorphous bubbles, therefore all the way to the dentist I was trying to see the landscape through the windshield. Tania and Tim also had appointments with the dentist, so Elina came with me. I was only alone for a couple of minutes in the X-Rays room where they signaled that I should stand behind a phallic instrument they had covered with latex, put it in my mouth, and wait until they took the X-Rays. They told me not to move, but I couldn’t help it, I giggled during the whole process.

Elina served as my interpreter, but I felt she left a lot of information out. Like, I was asking the dentist about a crown that had been bothering me but I never heard anything back. They made molds of my upper and lower teeth and Elina told me they were going to have a meeting with a “Western” dentist and call me back, though this was about my teeth  alignment, not my crown.

Elina seems to always be running, so when we left the dentist building the three of us were following her to the hospital to see  our respective specialists. I asked why the hurry and what time my appointment was, but Elina said there wasn’t an appointment, you just have to show up!

Goggles I had to wear minutes before getting my new glasses made.

We arrived, joined the line, paid, and were given hospital books, that’s where your medical history is written; but Tim forgot to write his information in the book and had to go to the line again while Elina was screaming at him, only leaving him alone to take me to see the eye doctor, whom at the time was seeing a patient. Elina entered the doctor’s office and told me to come in too. I felt embarrassed with the person who was there first, but the doctor didn’t seem to care and asked me to sit on the empty chair. Elina started talking to the doctor whom at the same time was giving instructions to the other patient. Then the doctor asked me to sit in front of her. She folded out my eyelids and told Elina that I had a spot of black sand inside the muscle of my left eyelid. I said, “No, my doctor in the United States told me that it is a mole.” Elina interjected that Chinese doctors are better and that this one particularly was very good. So the doctor looked at me and said in slow English that she was going to take it out, so she gave a receipt to Elina, we went downstairs, paid a few yuan, and came back. Other people had started to come into her office, but she didn’t seem to be bothered, just told me through Elina that she was going to give me a numbing injection, then she was going to remove the sand. Elina was reassuring, telling me that this doctor was the best, and I trusted that being in a hospital they’d take care of me if anything bad happened.

The doctor numbed the eyelid with the injection, saw another patient for a couple of minutes, gave him a receipt, he left, then it was my turn again. Since she was going to perform a minor surgery I thought everybody else would leave including Elina, but the doctor kept the door opened oblivious to the other three people. Elina was head to head with the doctor and both were telling me to keep looking down and to breath as if I was in the delivery room! I felt violated. The doctor, Elina, other patients, everybody staring at the foreigner getting a spot of black sand removed. When the doctor finished she handled the bloody Q-Tip with the spot of black sand to Elina, who was over excited saying that “Western” doctors weren’t as good. I had to tell her to let me see it, and she showed the Q-tip to me for only one second, then to the other patients who nodded in approval. Elina then told me that the doctor said I’d “recover in the next 24 hours so you can work tomorrow.”

Then the doctor told me that my glasses seemed to have an old prescription, I took the opportunity  to tell her about my contact lenses when she said that I shouldn’t be wearing them because my eyes were “weak and old”, and Elina repeated exactly the same, adding, “Yeah, don’t wear contacts.” Then the doctor asked me to stand across from the office to check how well I could see. In China they don’t have letters for the eye test, but the letter E rotated up, down, right, or left. I stood where she told me to and other patients joined, even popping their heads in front of me to look at the test board. I yelled at one of them, “Hey! Move!” I felt claustrophobic with so many people staring at me, invading my space and interrupting my eye test. The doctor gave me some eye drops to take home, then told me to follow her assistant to choose the frame for my new glasses.

We left the hospital and Elina told me to take a taxi back to school. Oh, wow! What a nice way to tell me I wasn’t going to get a ride back after a minor surgery. She said she had an appointment so, “See you later.”

The next day was Sunday, and we had to work. I was feeling dizzy, and my stomach kept rumbling. Completely unexpectedly during my first class I felt a leak. I couldn’t believe I had just defecated in my pants, but I tightened my gluts and continued the lesson until the end. When the bell rang I rushed to my apartment toilet to release a diarrhea attack. I had to come back to the toilet before 2:00 pm, and about an hour later I was feeling shaky and dizzier than I had felt in the morning. At 4:45 I texted Elina that I couldn’t go back to the office because I had fallen sick. She texted back, “Yeah, the doctor said you’ll need one or two days to recover.” Then the chills started, and more diarrhea attacks came even though I hadn’t eaten anything except for a small breakfast.

I texted Elina all my symptoms and asked her if the eye doctor had disinfected the needle. “Yes! I was there! She disinfected it!” Then she said that Tim and Talia had exactly my same symptoms. I was outraged, I told her we had to report this to the health department, but she said it was normal that those things happened after visiting a hospital. I asked her where I could go in case of an emergency and she said to call her if I needed anything. Later I texted that I was feeling extremely sick with fever, but she didn’t respond. So I became paranoid and took pictures of the conversation to send to a friend in the US. Then the thermometer showed my temperature was over 100. I asked my Egyptian friend (he lives in my building)  for help and he came to my apartment with a Chinese ointment that I could rub on my temples and behind my ears. I checked in my medicine cabinet and took two Alka Seltzer Cold medicine tablets to try to lower my temperature. I had the chills all night, all my body was hurting and I was super dizzy in the morning. I could only text Elina that I wouldn’t come to school and passed out in my bed. I woke up at 11 am to a bunch of messages from Elina, being the last one, “Do you want me to take you to the school clinic to get medicine?” Are you freaking kidding me? “I don’t understand why you didn’t offer to take me to the school clinic yesterday when I was feeling the worst!” She just said, “Excuse me, but the clinic is closed at night.” I had to refrain from answering something very offensive because the first time I had referred to my symptoms was before 5:00 o’clock ! “Yes, when can you take me?” “See you at the office at 12.”

She saw me and started walking very fast… I could barely follow her with my sight and my heavy slow sick pace. We went to a small office across from ours. Elina talked to the nurse, who gave me a packet of brown smelly pills to take 3 times a day, and that was it. Elina told me to eat rice and vegetables, and a lady that was lying down on a bed told something else to Elina then smiled at me as she finished her sentence… It was happening again, other patients were intruding my appointment and I didn’t have a say on it.

It took me about 3 days to recover. Elina asked me at the office in front of everybody if Chinese medicine was very good, huh? She’s so proud of her Chinese medicine that I just said, “yes”… Unfortunately, I haven’t had a bowel movement in 4 days!

wp-image-1889610407jpg.jpgThat wasn’t it. I had contacted the plumber from school to ask him to unclog my kitchen sink. They told me they’d come on Monday, but they came on Thursday while I was at work. When I came back I found a mess on the kitchen floor. Trash, putrid little pieces of food, water, and a fork! The odor stunk the whole apartment. I texted those people to explain the mess. I couldn’t believe they had left the kitchen in that condition. They said they were sorry, but I shouldn’t put anything inside the sink (What??). I tried to let go and cleaned the mess by myself, but later that day when I tried to take the trash bag out of the trash can it was full of water that spilled on the floor… so I had to clean again. When I complained they said it was because they didn’t have a bucket.

I was angry then I tried to tell Elina about it, and before I finished she screamed, “It’s normal! Look!” She pointed at a spilled in our building. “They always do that. You should see the 2nd and 3rd floors!” I contained all my fury and walked back to my desk… to implode. But then I thought, “Thank God I didn’t need them to unclog my toilet or who knows what they’d have left on the floor!”

My cousin, who lived in China for 5 years, calls this a “China day” I call it a “Freaking crazy China week.”

Today there is no water in the apartment. On a much brighter note, I don’t have diarrhea. And the adventure continues…


How to Transfer Money From China to the United States (You Tell Me!)

wp-image-1174356975jpg.jpgThis is my third week living in China and I must report that a few things have been a little frustrating, like transferring money to my bank in the United States for example. Last month while in the USA I consulted with which would be the best bank for me because of their relationships with China. Laura, the representative from my American bank told me very confidently that I didn’t even have to open an account with the Construction Bank of China, only insert my rewards card at their ATM and deposit the money which would be transferred to my account in America in dollars. After moving to China for work and with that confidence in mind, I went to the Construction Bank of China to deposit the refund of my plane ticket and other money that I got from exchanging my dollars to RMB or Yuan (Chinese currency).

First Attempt

On a very rainy day during the Moon Cake Festival I took the bus, then a taxi (a Chinese friend had written the address in Chinese characters for me.) When I arrived at the Construction Bank of China, I went to their ATM, inserted my card, chose English as my language and the only two options I got were withdraw and print statement. I tried another ATM that had extra buttons with the same result. Breathe…

Second Attempt

Everybody seemed so busy, but I waited for one of the clerks to walk by and asked in Chinese, “Do you speak English?” He responded with a very long sentence in Chinese (I didn’t understand a bit of it), then left. Oh my gosh! Did I say something wrong? As you know, Chinese is a tonal language and missing the intonation of a syllable can completely change the meaning. What a relief was when he came back with a woman who started speaking to me in English, though slowly. I told her about my attempts, and she said it wasn’t possible to do what I was attempting to do. But I said, “Yes, it is,” because that’s what they had told me in America. Then she asked me if I had dollars, and I said no, I had exchanged my money to RMB! She said maybe I needed to buy dollars in order to put dollars in my account. “No!” I said again. “In America they told me, no matter the currency I deposit, it will be transferred to my account in dollars automatically!” “No, you have to buy dollars.” She said coldly.

Third Attempt

At the risk of looking like a crazy person I asked her to tell me step by step how I could deposit the bunch of money I had in my book bag into my account in the United States. She responded that first I needed to open an account in the Construction Bank of China. Confidence came back to my body. “Ah, okay, I can do that today, thanks!” Without changing the expression on her face she said, “No, this week we’re celebrating the Moon Cake Festival, you see, it’s a holiday.” (I took a deep breath as if that was the last bit of air in the whole Earth). “Okay, I’ll come back next week then, that’s it?” “No, you have to bring proof of income, do you have a salary?” “Yes, I’m a teacher, and the school opened a bank account for me.” “Good, bring the statement with the money your school has deposited.” “Oh, no, I’ve been working for only two and a half weeks, I haven’t received my first salary yet.” “Oh, then you can’t open an account.” (Breathe before that little vein in my brain pops).

Fourth Attempt

I didn’t let her finish turn to her desk. “I’m sorry, you don’t understand. I have bills in the United States and have to transfer this money or I’ll get in trouble. Please, help me.” “Okay, I’ll call customer service for you and you can speak to them in English.” I followed her to a wall-mounted telephone and as she was handling the phone to me she said, “Here, you can speak in English to them.” So I greeted in English and the operator greeted me back saying, “How can I help you?” I explained my predicament feeling now that it would come to an end soon. When I finished telling him my troubles he said stammering, “Wait, I’ll transfer to someone speak English to you.”

Fifth Attempt

Another person came to the line, I explained myself for the nth time, she said I needed dollars, I told her I had already exchanged my dollars to RMB at the Bank of China, she said to bring the receipt of that exchange to the office, I told her I didn’t keep the receipt, she then put me on hold.

Sixth Attempt

When she came back to the line she said that I needed a tax statement from the school. So I asked her if it was possible to get one even if I hadn’t gotten my first check, she said, yes. She added that I needed to ask for a memo at the Construction Bank to be able to exchange my money back to dollars and transfer them to America. She added that she needed to ask a few questions at the bank to make sure the information she was giving me was accurate and to please let her speak with the clerk that had dialed the customer service number. I turned, didn’t see her. Went from window to window and didn’t see her, until the guy I spoke with first stopped me and pointed me in the right direction. The clerk I needed was with clients now, so I signal “phone, now, please…” She sent another clerk, we ran to the phone, she had a long conversation with customer service then gave me the phone back. The voice said, “Please, don’t leave the bank. I think you are okay to open an account with us next week. You just need to get some information from them.”

Seventh Attempt

I went back to my initial clerk. She said, “You need a tax statement from your school and your passport, then I can help you open an account next week. I will give you a memo for you to exchange your money to dollars, too.”

“Ah, okay, that’s it? Just the tax statement from school and my passport? And when I bring that, can you help me exchange my money to dollars and transfer them to my bank in America?”

“Yes, I can help you next week.”

“Can you give me your email in case I have any other questions?”

“Sorry, I don’t have an email”

Despite the three hours I had been in the bank and that there was torrential rain outside I was happy to know there was at least something I could do to put money in my bank in the US, so I left with that hope in my chest.

Eighth Attempt

That night I went to celebrate my Egyptian friend’s birthday, and even though the rain never stopped, we had a great time. The next day (September 16th) I sent a message to my coordinator through WeChat.

Me: Hi Elina, at the Construction Bank they asked me for a tax certificate from school so I can open an account and make transfers to my American bank, would it be possible to have it next week?

Elina: Need to get your first pay then you can have it.

Me: And when will that be?

Elina: I think it’s about 10th of October.


To be continued…


The Importance of a Name

First Days In China

I don’t know anything about China and its people. I am just a passerby who is trying to learn and understand their ancient culture… after barely a week of living among them. I have started teaching English as a Second Language at an international school just today. I was following my coordinator to be able to find my classrooms, but she also stayed with me to help me with the Chinese names. Nevertheless it wasn’t only that I couldn’t read nor pronounce any of their names, the issue was that I had to re baptize them.

Photo on 9-1-16 at 4.05 PM #2

Ningbo International School (China)


We went to my first classroom, I greeted the students in English, told them my name and tried to write it down on a blackboard (it’s been a while since I’d seen one of those), the piece of chalk broke with my first attempt, they laughed, I looked at them offering a weak “Namaste” (I know, wrong culture), and tried again, successfully this time.
Elina, my coordinator, told me, “I’m going to call out their names, and if they don’t have an American name you give them one.” I looked at her with disbelief. I had to “give them an American name”, that is a lot of power.

What My Name Means

I had a little flashback. My name is Kurma, but my parents called me “Kerma” all my life. I never understood why they’d change the pronunciation of the first syllable  of my name when in Spanish the vowels are always pronounced the same. When I asked my mother, she said, “Your name is German”, and I went by this for years until my eighth grade teacher told me that in German as in Spanish the vowels are pronounced the way they are written. But my parents, friends, and relatives called me “Kerma’, and I was perfectly happy with that, getting aggravated every time some silly acquaintance dared to called me “Kurma” with a u. Only when I visited the United States for the first time I understood. They called me something very close to “Kerma” at immigration . It is because the vowel “u” changes to the phonetic sound [^] when between consonants. Understanding this was huge. Also, at the first school I had the privilege to work, I bumped into the definition of my name in a small book. It has to do with one of the reincarnations of Vishnu in the shape of a giant turtle in order to churn the ocean of milk and find the chalice of eternal youth. From then on it didn’t bother me to be called “Kurma” with a u because that is the phonetic sound in my mother tongue and in sanskrit too; then in English, they use the [^] which sounds very close to “Kerma” so I have allowed myself to be identify with these variations of my name. But I draw the line here. Do not call me “Karma” or “Kermit”… THAT-IS-NOT-MY-NAME!!

Kurma deva.jpg

Incarnation of Vishnu as a Turtle
Devanagari कूर्म
Affiliation Turtle God and second Avatar of Vishnu
Weapon Chakra
Consort Lakshmi

Lord Vishnu Has ten Avatars, of which this is the second

Chinese Names

Going back to my Chinese pupils. I felt it was a big responsibility to have to choose a name for them. If I were them, I don’t think I’d give them permission to call me by a Chinese name because in my small opinion there is a sacredness, uniqueness, semantics, and blessing that come with  that word or set of words bestowed upon you sometimes even before the moment of your birth.

Learning Moment

Know your strengths and limitations, and open your boundaries to make your bother’s/sister’s life lighter. In the United States I had a handful of Chinese students who told me they had chosen an American name, but since that name was the one in their progress report I didn’t think so much of it until now. I am humbled by the gift my students offered with both hands open. They resign to their names so that I (or any other foreign teacher) have a lighter burden. I am unable to speak their language so they help me by giving me the power to name them the way that is easier for me.

American Names

It was a pretty interesting exercise. Some expressed they already had American names, and though a few times they didn’t seem appropriate, my gift to them was to let them keep their chosen name. As far as for the others, I looked at them briefly and asked myself “What American name do you look like?” And I came out with a name for each one of them, without repeating, even when the classes are as big as 42 students. Thomas, Kevin, Alan, Lily, Jenny, John, Charles, Emma, Elizabeth… They are respectful, they listen, they follow instructions, and most importantly, they are very excited about their learning!!

I have bestowed them with a name, and in return they allow me to give them my gift. The gift of teaching.

Blessings to China!! ❤