Sick, Dazed, and Confused in China

I was paid my last salary in cash, after a recurrent illness that took me to ER in a few occasions. The last time I got sick I still went to work, then my stomach was in so much pain I started crying and screaming. They called Elina, the coordinator, and she said she’d meet me at the nurse’s office in 20 minutes. At that point the part of the contract that says Part A will explain the rules and regulations of the country to Part B hadn’t been fulfilled, and despite of having been working at the school for almost a year they managed to never reveal which doctors or hospitals I had access to since the school didn’t provide health insurance, breaking one more of the clauses stipulated.

With the help of Paul, one of my students, I went to the nurse’s office where I was given three brown pills (I recognized this “medicine” from the very first time I got sick in China). These are supposed to stop the frequent diarrhea. Nevertheless, this time my body didn’t react so positively. The stomach spams increased, I was squirming, Paul helped me walk to the restroom, then we kept waiting for the coordinator. My confusion and despair grew bigger. I didn’t know which hospital to go to since the school hadn’t paid for my past medical bills and I didn’t have a hospital’s Chinese address to show to a taxi driver. I was thinking if only the coordinator showed up she’d be able to interpret between me and the doctors either at the Chinese or at the No. 2 hospital. One hour passed by and the pain was increasing so I looked for help at the international school. Paul helped me get there. As I explained the situation, the director immediately called for help and I was put in a taxi with instructions to take me to the Number 2 hospital making a little detour to the ATM for the hospital received cash only. Now I realize calling for help at the other school was a bad move, because this made my school lose face; but what  else can you do when facing a matter of life or death?

Once at the hospital, the angry VIP or Chinese interpreter (she didn’t like that she had been called last minute) started asking me questions. I had to tell her to cool it off. I was the one in pain, she was there to be the language bridge, plus she was getting paid for her time!  I had a fever, they wrote my symptoms, and plugged me to an IV for 4.5 hours. The VIP told me I had a virus, but she couldn’t tell what kind since the doctor was on another floor and everybody was pretty much getting ready to leave.

I came back home around 11:00 pm and texted my friends that I was okay. I was falling asleep around midnight when a drunk teacher who lived in the same building started banging on my door accusing me of betraying my school and faking my illness. One of my friends came downstairs and I pulled her in immediately while this teacher kept screaming that I had kidnapped my own friend! I called the police but they didn’t speak any English so they let him go with a pad on the back… and he banged on my door again at 3:45 am. I was recording as much as possible and sent the initial video to the school leaders.

The next day, Elina and four guards knocked on my door around 4:00 pm. Naively, I felt glad to see my video had caught their attention, but who was I in this country? Just a foreign woman teaching English to their children. The four guards and Elina were speaking in Chinese basically ignoring me, and the guards were invading all my space, pacing in my kitchen, bedrooms, looking around… I had the video with me and was ready to answer their questions, even to call my friend as a witness, but they didn’t let me speak. The school year was almost over so Elina pulled out a huge envelope filled with money explaining this was my last salary. She asked me to count the mountain of 100-yuan bills. I was still in naïveté mode feeling thankful they were paying me earlier while all the guards took photos of me counting. I confirmed the amount was right after making a bunch of 1,000-yuan packages.

“You have been sick for a long time and it’s better for you to go home to recover.” Said Elina. I was bewildered. What about the attack I had suffered the previous night? I pulled out the video, but they continued speaking in Chinese. “They will take care of it.” The coordinator spoke again.

“I can help you pack.” The coordinator continued. Suddenly I realized what was happening and called my friends right away. I started asking a bunch of questions. I was still sick, I had been attacked, the perpetrator was still in the building, I couldn’t just pack and leave!

My friends came with no delay asking questions as well. “She’s been sick and she needs to recover at home.” The coordinator repeated. “But… you want her to leave now?”

“She’s been sick…” Okay, okay… My friend told her I would stay with her and they could leave the apartment, but they didn’t move. “The guards are staying because she said she needs protection.” The coordinator muttered as she was exiting. “No! She doesn’t need your protection now! We are here and she’ll be okay!” My friends jumped like lionesses protecting their cubs.

They left, and being aware of how ill I was, my friends packed for me only stopping to ask what to trash and what to bring with me. They did all the work, and the next day I woke up in a nice bed at my friend’s apartment, still in shock.

It is said that if we were to help remove itself from the cocoon, the butterfly would not be strong enough to survive. It is the struggle that prepares the butterfly to become strong enough to fly.

And When There’s a Real Emergency in China…

My friends and I shared such a great time that Saturday night. I had just met this couple two weeks ago and they had been living in Ningbo for only three!

We met at this beautiful Middle Eastern restaurant in Lao Waitan, ordered lamb, cheese bread, a few drinks. Later on our Colombian dance instructor arrived with his Chinese girlfriend. We were all so excited! We danced bachata, salsa, merengue, vallenato, champeta… Oh my gosh! I was in Paradise.

The Morning After

Around 6 a.m I woke up with horrible spasmodic stomach pain and diarrhea. I went back to bed hoping it was temporary, but “it ain’t!” Since I last got sick my questions about emergency procedures hadn’t been answered, I texted the officer in charge of health insurance and our coordinator in separate messages:

“I woke up with a lot of pain and diarrhea. What should I do in case of emergency?”

The officer responded plainly:

“No. 2 Hospital.”

“What’s the address?”

No response whatsoever, and no news from the coordinator either. I was bending over with every spasm when I remembered I still had Hospital 2 as my contact on WeChat. They sent me one of the assistance’s (a.k.a. bilingual person or VIP) card. I told her my symptoms and she asked me for my insurance card. Back to the school’s health insurance officer.

“You don’t have insurance card. You pay fully first and the school will cover your first 1,000 […] Contact your coordinator.”

“She hasn’t responded.”

Sounds familiar? It’s because it is!

The doctor’s assistance also said I should pay 500 yuan for consultation with cash, but I was in so much pain I couldn’t think how to make it to the school gate, wait for a taxi, get out of the taxi, withdraw the money… So I asked if I could pay through WeChat, which is what most people use for almost any transaction.

“If you can’t accept this, you can see the doctor by yourself.”

Wow, people! Is it the culture or is it the translation?

“Yes, I can pay with cash!”

Then she sends me two lines of happy face emojis…

The Ride to the Hospital

I messaged one of the teachers from the international school and his response was so different.

“Yes! Meet me by my car in ten minutes!”

He stopped at the ATM where I withdrew some money, though I almost fainted. We continued to the hospital, which was full so there was no parking. Despite himself, he dropped me at the hospital entrance. This is not like the United States where they put you in a wheelchair as soon as they see you. I had to painfully walk through the parking lot and find a seat by the information center where I called my VIP person.

“You see? It’s 9:10! Your appointment is at 9:30! I’m not there! You wait! Understand?”

Whatever, they just like to yell…

LingLing met me, introduced herself, and started walking. She was almost out of sight when I yelled, “Wait for me!” Then whispered, “I’m too sick to follow.” We went upstairs where she opened an office with a desk and a couch where I lied down almost immediately.

“You need fill out this form!” She said putting the form on the doctor’s desk and going back to her cell phone. I stood up and noticed the form was in Chinese, so she translated it for me.

“You have to pay 501 yuan, 1 yuan for hospital book.”

She offered me water, but then said to wait because the water was room temperature and that’s not good.

“You should drink hot water because you’re sick. Hot water is good for your body. Doctor will come in twenty minutes.” I lied down again while she watched videos on her cell phone… loudly.

The blood work

Suddenly LingLing stood up and told me to follow her.

“We need your blood.”

She walked fast, then stopped to wait for me, which she continued doing until we arrived to the lab. We stood behind a chair with a man who was getting his blood work done. When he left I gave a step to take his place when another man came running and sat as if I wasn’t even there. He rolled up his sleeve speaking very quickly, while I sat at another chair not believing my eyes. We went back to the office after the nurse filled up two little tubes with my blood.

The doctor came and asked if I’d had a fever, to what I answered, “I don’t think so.” So she didn’t take my temperature.

She touched my stomach pushing gently, “Ouch!” I said a couple of times.

“Okay. You need to go get an injection.” She said in Chinese while my VIP was interpreting simultaneously.

“Injection for what?” The  VIP’s voice interpreting could be heard as background noise.wp-1493123466122.jpg

“For pain. Go!”

We went to the third floor where LingLing told me to wait at an opened IV area. I was there minding my own business when a teenage girl came excited, sat next to me, and took a selfie with me in the background. Most people had cell phones and some of them were playing loud music or watching videos.

Pain Injection

My VIP took me to another room where a shirtless man was getting injected in one arm, then she told me to pull down my pants to get my injection.

“What? But that man is still here!”

She exchanged a few words in Chinese with the man who finished putting on his shirt quickly, but I was still looking at the open door which (noticing how uncomfortable I felt) LingLing closed.

We went back to the office where I lied down again. I was having a pleasant dream when my stomach woke me up.

“I need to go to the bathroom!”

LingLing walked me to the office door and pointed to the end of the aisle.

“Go there. You see the sign? Then turn right.”

Oh boy, why isn’t the bathroom next to the doctor’s office? I was walking as fast as I could  tightening hips and thighs all the 30 meters to the bathroom, opened the door and… there was no toilet paper!

When I turned around LingLing was standing by the door and for a second I thought she would have brought me some tissue.

“What happened?” She asked.

“There’s no toilet paper!” I said hoping maybe she’d get it for me.

“Oh, go to office. Doctor has.” Maybe my body language didn’t tell her I was about to stain my pants!

It took me a while to find the box of tissues because it wasn’t on the doctor’s desk. When I was leaving the office, LingLing was standing by the door! Why was she following me?

I returned to the restroom (all the toilets were squatters), I went down, relieved myself, and when I was pulling my pants back up the squatter flushed down automatically splashing my jeans with my own diarrhea. “Ugh…” I thought while I was walking to the sink to wash my hands, but there was no soap, so I only rinsed them, and when I reached for the paper towels… the box was empty. Luckily, I was carrying a little bottle of hand sanitizer which I almost emptied in my hands  to the surprised look of strangers (wait a minute, I am the stranger.)

Back at the office I fell asleep until the doctor woke me up.

“Your blood is okay. You have an intestinal inflammation caused by food that wasn’t properly cooked,” she said in perfect English!

“Take this, eat noodles or rice with little oil, and drink hot water with salt”

When she was about to leave I felt another couple of abdominal spasms, so I asked her why the pain wasn’t gone after the injection.

“Maybe you need a day to rest. I will write a note.” She left with the VIP.

LingLing came back with a bunch of fãpiào or receipts, the doctor’s note, and three small boxes.

“Take this okay? Here is the medicine, okay? Bye bye!”

“Wait! This is Chinese! How am I supposed to take it?”

“This one, one pill three times a day before a meal…” She started impatiently, and before I could ask her if she could write it down for me on a piece of paper she gave me a pen.

“Write on the box!”

I didn’t want to be obnoxious, but I needed her to help me find a taxi. We went downstairs, she wrote in Chinese what to tell the taxi driver.

“Taxis are outside, okay? I go home. Bye bye.”

C- for customer service.

I walked outside still in pain and saw no taxis. When I saw one, the couple that was walking behind me ran to grab it. Fortunately, there was another one coming right behind it. I showed the note to the taxi, he brought me home where I texted my friends that I was sick. They said they had been sick too, though not as bad as I was. I contacted the restaurant but they denied everything.

Two days later  I was still sick and I texted my doctor. Their answer:

“I am orthopedics, not intern, you can call VIP.”

Well, life in China is certainly very interesting.

Chongxi or the Wash of Misfortune

I’ve grown fond of China after seven months of living and working here. However, certain circumstances continue being a stone in the shoe.

A few days before the Chinese New Year holiday, I hurt my big toe during the rehearsals for the school celebration. Every step was so difficult during the 7 minute walk to the office and more so while teaching my classes.  This was the fourth day already. I left school to a hospital where I could be seen in private (I was tired of the “collective” consultations). A bilingual woman was waiting for me, she asked me what the issue was as I followed her to the doctor’s office. This was the first time I was going to be seen privately, and despite the pain, I had a feeling of wellness and relief.

“You Don’t Have Insurance”

The woman asked me for my insurance card.

“I don’t have an insurance card, but I have insurance through school.” I showed her all my other  documents: Passport, expert certificate, hospital book…asian-doctor

“You need an insurance card to be seen or you need to pay 400 yuan for the consultation.” I repeated my previous statement and added that she could look me up in the system, which she did, only to give me the bad news, “You don’t have insurance.”

Startled, I tried to convey an explanation that I myself could believe as well, but nothing coherent came out.

I texted our department coordinator and her answer just shocked me, “The insurance that is made available to teachers is for serious injuries, surgeries and conditions. If you are at the doctor and it is minor that is not covered.”

When I asked for an explanation she told me to talk to one the school’s officers. She works for the international school… and ours, the domestic. They were on vacation, but I could set an appointment with her a few weeks later.

The Foreign Affairs Officer

At the appointment the officer started, “Not because you’re friends with some people at this school that means you have the same insurance.” What? Where did that come from? I took a deep breath to prevent blurting out the answer I felt she deserved, then pulled out a copy of my contract, “Here it says the school provides health insurance, I went to the hospital and they told me I don’t have insurance, what’s the deal? I’m complying with my side of the contract, I feel that you’re not.”

She smiled in a condescending way, “It is different.”

“That’s what the coordinator said, that I can only use my insurance for emergences, but where do I go if I have an emergency? And who determines that? And, I don’t even own an insurance card!” I breathed again and pointed at the contract, “Plus, here it says, ‘Party A shall introduce to Party B the laws, decrees and relevant regulations enacted by the Chinese government,’ but nobody has explained anything to me!”

“Huh, I went to college in Europe and nobody explained the rules of the country to me!” She laughed superciliously and I was losing it. “I really don’t care about the ‘rules of the country’, I just need to know how the school works! And if the contract mentions ‘laws and decrees’ there must be a reason for it. You could have prevented a lot of stress for us foreigners who don’t know how the school operates by explaining this to us. Like, who’s my boss?”

“Your coordinator.”

“And, who’s her boss? You?”

“No, your coordinator’s boss is the school owner.”

“I need to speak with the school owner then.”

“You have to understand, she’s a very busy person.”

“I get it, but if I’m here for a year I’m sure she’ll have 5 minutes for me. How can I arrange an appointment? Can you show me where her office is?”

“I can talk to her to see when she can see you.”

“Perfect! And going back to my insurance. How does it work?”

She drew a horizontal line with the number 1,000. “When you spend up to 1,000 yuan out of pocket, the school gives you a refund. If you spend more than 1,000 we submit a claim to the insurance.”

Nevertheless, months ago our coordinator had said we had to spend 1,000 out of pocket before we were able to make an insurance claim.

“I haven’t spent 1,000 yuan yet, so I still can get the money back?”

“Yes, ask your coordinator to sign this form, bring it together with your receipts, and I’ll give you the money back.”

“Oh, great! Thanks! And when can I talk to the school owner?”

“I’ll let you know as soon as possible. And if you have any questions, just come to my office, I’ll be happy to help you.” Two months have passed. No news about the school owner despite my inquiries.

Back at the Office

wp-1489128211094.pngI asked the coordinator to sign the refund form. She seemed confused, “But, have you spent 1,000 yuan yet?”

“No, but I understand that if I bring my receipts I can get the money back.”

“That is only because you asked!” Whoa! I’m trying to practice not to lose face (stay put, not to lose respect) so I point at the document politely, “Will you sign here, please?”

“I have to ask.”

She makes a phone call, I hear my name, she hangs up.

“You’re not planning to go to the doctor anymore?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“They said they will save your receipts until you have reached 1,000 yuan, then they will file for a refund.”
“That’s okay. Could you sign here, please?”

I leave the signed form and receipts on the officer’s desk. Three hours later she shows up at our office with an envelope for me, “Here is your money.”

Maybe they didn’t want to lose face. However, why in the same day two people contradicted themselves about something so important as the health insurance? And why didn’t they tell us about it since the very beginning? I don’t get what losing face has to do with not following protocol. If the contract says they have to tell us the “laws and regulations”, why don’t they just do that?

The answer came to me when I was listening to the radio on the internet. This American Life Podcast 585 “In Defense of Ignorance” was talking about how Chinese doctors usually don’t give test results to the patients, but to their relatives, if it is bad news, the relatives decide either to tell them or not. And in honor of mental health… It’s better not to receive bad news. Chinese people think mental and physical health are deeply connected. On the radio, the Chinese lady told a joke, “One patient is healthy, the other patient is terminally ill. Their results are mixed up. The healthy patient gets the bad prognosis, and the sick patient gets the good results. A few weeks later, the healthy patient ends up dying while the sick patient ends up living a long life.” And let’s face it. If I hadn’t gotten sick and looked for private assistance I would have never known I didn’t have insurance and my thoughts towards administration, Chinese regulations, etc. wouldn’t have been affected. Instead, I had a headache, anxiety, became sicker, and resentful. They didn’t tell me about the lack of health insurance because they wanted me to work with them, and also “save face.”

I am also aware of chongxi or the Chinese believe that you can wash away a misfortune with joy. The coordinator never stopped smiling and giving me compliments despite of my long face, and the officer waves at me warmly when she sees me though she never responded to my messages about being able to see the boss. Nobody apologizes. People just go on, like a splice between before the dispute and the afterwards making the actual event vanish. No casualties.

School Schedule

wp-1487752948607.jpgLater that week, I was presented with another matter. I seriously believed I was done with the Chinese schedule and the “tentative” dates until they gave us the “tentative” schedule for second semester.  Because there are a few holidays we have to make up for the leisure time by working on weekends. Check it out. “Tentative” School Calendar 2017:

  • Week 7 Work on Saturday
  • April 2-4 Qingming Festival Holiday
  • Week 8 Work on Saturday and Sunday
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Chinese students walk into the entrance of university for Gaokao test (photo from the web)

  • April 11-16 Gaokao Holiday
  • April 29-May 1 International Labor Day Holiday
  • Week 15 Work on Saturday
  • May 28-30 Dragon Boat Festival Holiday
  • End of School Year July 1 – July 5 ? ? ? Which Day? We don’t know!
  • Summer Holiday ???

I’m not kidding! This is the “official” document for our “tentative” school schedule and they wrote these last two bullets like that (question marks and exclamation point included). And as I’m writing this they have already changed one of these dates, last minute.

The end of my contract is June 30, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll be taking off soon after.

I hope I don’t lose my face by then… Or my mind!

NINGBO, CHINA

Sometimes it rains with windwp-1489379371428.jpg

Soggy memories add heaviness

To gloomy days like this

I repent and regret

Not to have loved enough

To have let go too fast

To have dreams

To have had dreams that I never shared

wp-1489246984760.jpgI mimic a stork

Entangled in a fisherman’s net

Where to go… I aim to flap my wings

Where to go… my wings cry in shame

Looking back my pierced mind wanders

And wonders

Why my existence seems meaningless in the big picture

On the horizon

The bright lights remind me of home

While the fireworks attempt to shoo away the evil souls

The fireworks… used to make me happywp-1489379504143.jpg

But where did happiness go

I’ve broken so many hearts

I’m sweeping away the pieces from the floor

Accidentally I sweep away a piece of my heart too

In this place

The only way out is alcohol

Or faith

When it rains God opens His gates to listen to prayers

Praying to be able to find a blue sky

Behind this misty afternoon.

Advantages of Living In China

As an international teacher who works in China I find the country fascinating and challenging at times. However, if you are planning to live in this country there are several advantages to your journey that you must certainly enjoy.

Free Rent

In most cases, foreign teachers are granted a furnished free rent apartment. I was a little skeptical on what kind of place I was going to live in because I’d heard spaces are small, but they provided a spacious two bedroom apartment with a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a washer! No dryer since in China most people dry out their clothes by hanging them outside.

Free Lunch

wp-1488711494290.jpgAs if staying in a place for free wasn’t enough, teachers are offered free lunch made daily by a chef trained in the west. Menus are varied, nutritious, delicious, and there is always fruit and soup! We have been blessed, because our school has its own farm, so all products we eat are organic and fresh!

No Taxes

Of course you have to pay taxes, but when you go shopping the tax is included in the price of the item. And it applies also for sales. If a piece of clothing has a 40% discount you don’t have to do the whole math of calculating the extra 8 or 10% after the discounted price. Paradise for shopaholics!! Which leads us to…

Cheap Food and Clothes

Almost everything in China is inexpensive or really cheap. You can dine out literally every day and that won’t ruin your budget. And if you buy groceries to cook at home you are saving much more! You can also find good quality clothes and shoes. However, even

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though in the United States I can wear sizes S and M, here I have to aim for the biggest sizes, especially pants, which for me are XXL, but even that size sometimes doesn’t fit me. That made me feel a little self conscious for a while, especially when I was denied to try on a coat because I was too (big), but I understand that they make the sizes smaller because the population in general is short and slim. The other problem is if your shoe size is 9.5 or bigger. “Meiyou”, no shoes for you ladies 😦

No Tips

This is actually a good thing! At least for customers 😉 Restaurants, spa hotels, coffee shops, bars, taxis, manicurists… You name it. No one demands a tip. You pay for what you order then you don’t have to think about that 15-20% tip or how to split this when you are out with friends. Yipee!!

“Celebrity” Treatment

mmexport1475937099457.jpgChina is a country with zero diversity. That’s why people feel enthralled when someone different is around. Anywhere a foreigner goes heads turn, people elbow their neighbors, and cell phones are pulled out to take pictures of you. It’s funny the tricks they use to get your picture taken. They might follow you for a few steps, or if you are at the bus stop or on the train, they shoot selfies with the peace sign, making you the background of their photos.  Now I know how Halle Berry feels when the paparazzi are all over her. Give me some privacy, please!!  😉

Traveling Options

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Thailand

Because one is able to save money, it is relatively easy to travel to nearby countries. I have had the great opportunity to visit Taiwan and Thailand. And if one has more money and time there’s Vietnam, Laos, Korea, Japan, the Philippines… But also being China as big and ancient as it is there are tons of landmarks and tourist attractions, like the Great Wall, and Shanghai Disneyland.

Safety

China might be one of the safest countries on Earth! For starters, no one is allowed to carry guns, and there are cameras everywhere, so if there is a crime the guilty would be identified and get punished without delay. I love to be able to go out for dinner or a late movie with friends, and take a taxi at 1, 3, 5 in the morning. By the way, all taxis are equipped with cameras as well, which makes it safer for the driver as well as the passengers.

Art Lovers

China has a long history of poetry, opera, and visual arts. Chinese love art in all its forms and they are very appreciative when you perform for/with them during their holiday festivals. Performances are an important part of the Chinese and no one is shy when it’s time to demonstrate their talents. Old Chinese women dancers or dama are often performing in the streets no matter the late hours or if they block traffic, and from a very young age children learn to play the piano, the violin, or more traditional instruments like the guzheng.

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Friendship

And last, but not least, you start friendships that might last a lifetime. It didn’t take me long to meet my “besties” at school, and once you begin to socialize and loosen up your circle of friends becomes wider and stronger. And your new friends are always there to cheer you up when you feel homesick, which is inevitable. Expats give their support freely, because we are all on the same boat.

“China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.”

Charles de Gaulle

Hui Piao (Or Personal Check)

One of my coworkers heard about my frustration when transferring money to America, so he suggested to ask for a hui piao at the bank. This is basically a personal check for any amount of money that you can either send to America for a friend or relative to deposit for you, or to deposit yourself by taking a picture with your bank app. No fee for this service.

I was hopeful again, went to the bank and asked for a hui piao.

“How much money do you need?”

“1,000 dollars.”

“You can only buy 500.”

“But I need a hui piao. It’s different.”

“Do you have your tax certificate?”

“No. Here is my debit card and my passport.”

“For the hui piao you need bank card, passport, contract, tax certificate, and expert certificate.”

I go back to school to ask the coordinator for the tax certificate. She says the school can’t provide it, but we could go together to the tax office and ask for it ourselves.

“Do you have your passport with you?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go!”

Tax Office

It is raining. We arrive at the tax building, but the gate doesn’t open. The coordinator gets out of the car, pushes all the buttons, but the gate doesn’t move. She asks a passerby and he indicates to go around.

Once inside, the coordinator shows them my passport and asks for my tax certificate. The woman shakes her head, “Méiyou” (don’t have). Other employers come, all speaking at the same time, repeating méiyou everytime they look at my passport and back at the computer screen. Another woman comes, she seems to have more authority than the rest. She speaks with the coordinator, “Blah, blah, blah, méiyou.” The coordinator tells me they cannot give me the tax certificate because they only give those before August. “But I’ve been in this country for three months, I have the right to ask for this document!” They send us to customer service. The man there does the same thing. Checks my passport, looks at the screen, “Méiyou.” However, he gives the coordinator a website where she can print my tax certificate from her computer.

Back at School

The coordinator gets excited. She says that from now on she can print as many tax certificates as she wants thanks to that website. This employee shouldn’t have given her the website information but seeing the desperation on my face he felt a little bit of compassion. She also says that having the tax certificate gives me the advantage of being able to buy as many dollars as I need to at once. She prints the tax certificate and I go to the bank at 4:00.

The Bank

“I’m here for a hui piao

“You mean you want a check from the bank?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry, this bank is small. Hui piao is in the big bank.”

Breathe…

“And where is the big branch?”

She leaves and comes back with paper and a pen. “You can take the bus number… get off here… take bus number…”

“I’m not going to take the bus, I need the address so I can take a taxi.”

She writes the address in Chinese characters, I leave, then I hear, “Miss! Miss!!!!”

The lady says, “The big bank they close at 4:30, you have go tomorrow.”

The Big Branch

The next morning, I take a taxi that arrives at the Bank of China 45 minutes later. It’s beautiful, big, clean, and shiny. I take my number, fill out the hui piao form, and wait.

“You don’t have 1,000 dollars.” My heart drops.

“Of course I have more than 1,000 dollars!”

“I mean, you can’t buy 1,000, only 500.”

“I was told at work that if I asked for the hui piao I could buy 1,000 or more.”

“But you need other documents.”
“I have all the documents.”

I handle the passport, expert certificate, contract, and tax certificate.

“This tax certificate no good.”

“My boss printed this for me at school.”

“It doesn’t have the government seal.”

“No, because my boss printed it at the office!”

“And you need other document. We need see proof of salary.”

“Here is my contract, my salary is there.”

“Yes, but you need timetable, your money for every month.”

My voice breaks.

“I went to the other bank, this one is very far from where I live, they told me this is what I need, they never mentioned a timetable, the tax office didn’t give me this document because they only provide these before August, that’s why my boss had to print it at the office, I’ve been trying to do this for a long time, my contract says how much I earn every month, I don’t understand why I need something else, please…”

The teller turns to talk to her colleagues, there’s shouting, she nods (yes!), then she shakes her head (oh boy).

“Please, don’t worry. The manager come talk to you.”

A woman comes with a list of documents I need for the hui piao. I want to take it and put it in my pocketbook, but she says to take a picture. The only thing I could do that day was to buy $500 and put them in my Chinese account.

The Other Bank

I attended a birthday party that weekend and during the taxi ride I told my friends about my bank issues. One of them tells me I shouldn’t be doing so much and offers to take me to the bank she always goes to, where she’s been able to send much more than $1,000 at once.

Since I already bought $500, I just want to buy the other $500 and send the $1,000 home.  Forget about the hui piao, with all that has happened I might not be able to make a deposit with my bank’s app.

That Sunday, I climb on my friend’s e-bike. The wait at the bank is at least one hour according to my number. We go shopping and come back, but the numbers haven’t moved much. They tell us about a new branch, since almost no one knows about it there’s the possibility it’s almost empty.wp-image-1527885523jpg.jpg

They were right. The bank is almost empty, but when it’s my turn they all start asking questions among each other, I hear the word méiyou and I start to wonder what now. They tell me to wait a minute, then ask me if I had another passport. One teller says they can’t find me in the system, we wait for about 30 minutes, another teller tells me there are two passport numbers in my account. My friend tells them it might be because another person opened the account for me. They tell me to come back the next day and I refuse. If they can’t find me or there’s another passport number it isn’t my problem, I am there to buy dollars and make a transfer, period. They keep working in the system.  A couple of hours pass by. I feel sorry that my friend has to wait for so long, plus it’s Sunday and I’m supposed to be at church.

The Documents

In the meantime, my friend asks them which documents I would need to transfer X amount of money at once. As she asks, she shows them and me the papers she has always brought to do her own transfers. I ask them if I can use the tax certificate the coordinator printed, and when they say that’s okay I think I might try to do this $1,000 transfer thing one more time.

After all the wait they say they fixed the problem and I am able to transfer the money to my American bank, but as soon as we leave the bank I break down. I’m a nervous wreck. The waiting, the banks, the mistakes, the coordinator, the tax certificate, the méiyou’s… I am exhausted!

The Transfer

A month later, having desisted from getting a hui piao, I ask the coordinator for the school’s letter and go to the bank determined to transfer $1,000 at once! The new bank is empty, I sit in front of the teller.

“I need to buy $1,000 and wire them to America.” The teller calls another employee. They both revise my papers. Lots of conversation. Lots of typing. Lots of “Sign here, please” and “Enter your password.” An hour later the transfer is finished! My e-bike friend has arrived a few minutes after me and makes her transfer much faster, but she waits for me to grab lunch together and gives me a ride home.

It only took me four months to get the right documents and the right bank (the banks here have different polices even if they belong to the same branch). And from now on I’ll only need to go to the bank once a month to send myself money to the United States! Yeah China! 🙂

Chinese Fireworks

It was about 9:00 a.m. the first time I heard the bang, kaboom, crackle, and whistle. I was in a classroom and the first boom made me jump a little. My students chuckled. I was puzzled. “What is that? Is somebody shooting?” I asked nervously. My students laughed louder. “No! Those are fireworks!”

chinese-new-year-fireworks-phuket

Taken from the web

“Fireworks?” I ran to the window hoping to see the bright lights in the sky, but it was the morning, plus a big cloud of pollution was covering everything. We kept hearing the loud noises outside. “It sounds so close… that’s dangerous. And why are they lighting fireworks so early… no one can see them!” My students continued having fun with my observations. Fireworks in the morning… even for China this has to be a bit odd. “It’s a wedding!” One of my pupils yelled. “A wedding? Really! With fireworks? How romantic!” I rushed to the window again. My students were more delighted than if I were a puppy. “They bought a house!” Another one shouted. “A wedding and a house? Wow… this has to be the best day ever for that couple!” My students found my words amusing. I paused. chinese_fireworks“How do you know there’s a wedding and that they bought a house? Do you know them?” My comments cracked my students up, meanwhile I didn’t understand why my inquires sounded so funny to them.

The same day I heard the fireworks around 3:00 o’clock. I didn’t ask why, but looked out the window with the same hope as in the morning… and again saw nothing. I remembered my beloved North Carolina and all the 4th of July celebrations I attended there. Waiting till dark to see the fireworks was the best part! Hearing the fireworks now made my heart leap with joy. Whatever ceremony or festivity they were having I wanted to be part of it, even from a distance. The kaboom, and the crackle, and the whistle continued, I could only imagine how beautiful those colors decorated the sky for my eyes couldn’t reach them.

I heard them again one night when I was resting in my apartment. I grinned as I levitated towards the window and opened the curtains. Bang, pop, whoosh, crack, badaboom. All these noises filled me with a nostalgic joy… but I saw nothing. I stuck my head out of the window, opened my door, looked at the sky from the hall, I even went outside as if I was hunting a ghost… Nothing. I blamed the tall buildings that surround my school; then I thought about the pollution. It was possible that I couldn’t see the fireworks for the same reason I couldn’t see the stars.

new-year-fireworks_celebrations-20141

Chinese New Year 2014 (from the web)

I came in, disappointed that one of my favorite things to see had become a distant, sometimes scarily close uproar. I continued hearing fireworks in the morning, in the afternoon, on weekdays, and weekends; nevertheless, I didn’t ask more questions, until one Saturday morning I was sleeping and the badaboom startled me. I sat bolt upright. My heart beating fast for a minute.

I asked the department coordinator and she said it was because they were celebrating, moving to a new house, or something. Weeks later a friend clarified this for me. “The fireworks are to scare the evil spirits, the same way as when they hawk and spit on the floor, they are expelling the evil spirits from their bodies.”

They light fireworks so the noise scares the evil spirits. They whoosh away the bad luck and the demons when they buy a house, when they get married, when they start a new business, when they graduate, when they have a birthday… The list is interminable. But in this case I have to agree with my Filipino friend who once said jokingly, “The Chinese make it so noisy outside the evil spirits fly back inside the house!”

It’s an interesting tradition though, and they make it happen even when it’s raining, seriously!

Light the fireworks in your heart…

Xīnnián kuàilè 2017 dear friends!! ^_^