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!

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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

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.

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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!! ^_^

When You Lose Your Debit Card In China

I was feeling blue. The end of the year caught me almost off guard. I woke up crying and hadn’t eaten much. It was December 31st, and my mind was divided between the USA and Colombia… I couldn’t focus on any task as simple as this would appear.

I needed cash for a taxi because I was going to attend an end-of-year party at Shangri-La Hotel that night, so a little bit against my own body I took a bus to the mall. Traffic was awful. Even though the Chinese New Year date is different from the Western New Year, everybody was out and about making the streets and transportation more crowded than usual.

I inserted the card in the ATM, took the cash and left. I completely forgot to take the card back from the slot. I noticed later, when I was almost ready to leave my apartment…

The Bank

January first was Sunday and a holiday so I decided not to go anywhere. On Monday the second I stood at the bus stop for quiet a while. Buses were scarce and packed. Luckily the bank was almost empty.

“Passport please.” The teller looks at me not knowing how to ask, so I tell her, “I lost my debit card.”

“Do you remember your card number?”

“No.” She calls another teller who understands English a little better. She becomes my interpreter.

“Do you want the same card number or it’s okay to have another number?”

“It doesn’t matter. Any card, I just need a card.” As soon as I said this I remembered I’m in China!, and nothing is that simple. “Wait! Does it matter if you give me a different card number?”

“Mmm, maybe, if you have another number your salary will be late or they can’t pay you.”

“But my account number would still be the same (again, Kurma, you’re in China)… Yes, give me the same number, please!”

The teller makes copies of my passport while I fill out the “lost card” form. Then I remember, for some reason I had taken a picture of my debit card (Yes!) so I show it to her. She types the number, gives me a bunch of forms to sign, and asks me to enter my password.

“Huh… You have to pay 10 yuan.”

I’m getting ready to give her the money, when she interrupts me, “Sorry, sorry, it’s 20 yuan.”

“Okay, here you are.”

“Your card will be here in 7 business days. Come to this bank with your passport and this form.”

Wow. They’ll pay me the 10th, my card will be ready on Wednesday the 11th, and I’m leaving to Thailand the 13th… Oh God, please, make everything go smoothly this time.

“Thank you. Can I withdraw some money now?”
“No, you need your card to take money out of bank.”
“What? But I’m here, this is my passport, I gave you my card number, I need some money now.”

“Sorry, you only can take out money with your card. Wait 7 business days.”

Oh boy, almost two weeks without access to my money in China. I’m still able to use my American credit card, but then to transfer money there is a hassle.

Happy New Year to me… 😡 😦

Transferring Money By Myself

I had talked about my multiple attempts to transfer money from China to the US. Now I was going to try the “easy” way.

Setting Up Online Banking

Our coordinator (who had convinced me that transferring money would be easier and cheaper if I did it online) took me to the bank because each time I had tried to set up my online banking the page opened in Chinese, stopped working a few minutes later, or didn’t open at all. Once inside, the coordinator spoke in Chinese to one of the tellers who was texting, the other one was having a conversation on the phone, but they both were “helping” me set up my online account. They didn’t invite us to sit at an office, we were all standing at one of the counters, cell phone in one hand, and a kind of pager they gave me in the other hand. Clients came, they talked to them, then came back to the coordinator, who at the same time, gave me the short version of what they were asking. “Enter your password,” which I had to do about 12 times, then check for a message from the bank on my phone, enter that pin, and the numbers they sent to the pager. They warned me I needed my phone and the pager every time I wanted to make an online transfer . They logged out and asked me to log in. And it worked! But everything was in Chinese. The coordinator said I could change it into English and do my transfers online from now on. “So I don’t need to come back to the bank!” I said excitedly.

-No, you still need to come to buy dollars.

-And how much can I buy at once?

-$500.

“Then this was a waste of time. I’ll still need to come to the bank twice before I can send money to the US, by then it will be at least the 12th of the month and the transaction takes 3 to 4 days!” I almost yelled. “Yes, but you won’t have to pay as much and you won’t need a Chinese teacher to come with you!” The coordinator almost yelled back.

It was the 10th of the month so I told them I needed to buy the first 500 dollars immediately. “You don’t have enough funds.” “But it’s the 10th! The school has to deposit our salary on the 10th!” The coordinator said they would make the deposit later that day.

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The First Transaction

Saturday afternoon I went to the bank to buy the first U$500 with a feeling of independence, knowing I wouldn’t need any help or intrusion again. I filled out the two forms they gave me, then sat in front of the clerk’s window, gave her the forms, passport, and bank card. She grabbed everything together, wrinkled the forms, folded my passport, then tossed everything in front of her. I swallowed. That’s my passport. She reviewed every page for a long time, opened my passport, the American page… the Chinese visa… and tossed it again. “Sorry, again this paper, please.” She gave me back one of the forms. When I gave her the forms back, she didn’t shred the old one, just tore it up in half. She kept looking at my passport, her computer screen, and occasionally talked to another teller. “You changed your passport?” She asked.

“No this is the only passport I’ve had.”

“You renewed your passport recently maybe?”

“No, this is my only American passport, never changed it, never renewed it.”

“Sorry, there is problem. Please go next teller.”

The Next Teller

The female client seated at the next counter was open-mouth chomping her lunch hard while watching a loud video on her cell phone, no earphones. The client that had the next number stood quickly in front of me and I moved to the side anticipating a fight. Fortunately, her number began flashing on the other window and I could have access to the teller who repeated the sequence. Looked at my passport, turned the pages, looked at the screen… In the end, the purchase of the first 500 dollars was successful. I left. Tired.

The Second Transaction

Our coordinator let me go to the bank on Monday morning. I arrived twenty minutes before they opened. I was alone standing at the bank gate when the bank’s armored truck parked in front of me. After they were inside for a few minutes I risked to enter, but one of the tellers told me to wait until the guards finished unloading the money. They left and three more people came and stood behind me. I appreciated them respecting me being there first, until the woman who was second stepped inside the bank. I yelled, “Hey, I was here first!” She stepped back, but stood in front of me. I looked at her and told her again, “I was here first!” signaling to stand behind me with my left thumb. She nodded, but didn’t move. Immediately after we got the green light, she rushed to the ticket machine, printed ticket number one, gave me ticket number two, and sat down! I was astonished! How did she dare!? I wish I knew the Chinese words to tell her to f#@&#$ herself!! But, I don’t curse, so I’m glad I know so little Mandarin right now. For a moment I thought, they’d open at least two windows so we’d make our respective transactions at the same time. But they only opened one. She went first, and she had a big withdrawal to make. I saw the packages of money being given to her and I was seeing red because I couldn’t believe this woman had cut in front of me so “smoothly.” My turn came twenty minutes later. I could buy the $500, but I was furious.  I went to the gym and after that, I needed a little retail therapy.

The Transfer

I opened the bank’s website, but as in previous attempts, it closed a few minutes later. I was using my VPN (the one I need to make my internet access private and be able to open Yahoo and Facebook), but since it was a Chinese site I decided to open it without the VPN, and it worked, but it didn’t accept my address, ergo, I couldn’t make the transfer. I asked our coordinator for help, she changed the language to Chinese and started to type, which made me feel I had lost control again. It didn’t work for her either. I had to make 162 progress reports, print them, and sign them, I really didn’t have time for her to try, and try unsuccessfully. I told her to stop though she truly wanted to help, but it was precious time I didn’t have.

I went back to the bank with my laptop. I was standing when one teller opened the site for me. The other tellers came by the bucketload to see what she was doing, comment and laugh among them. Another client came, he started making his transaction, I moved my computer to the side so this client wouldn’t see my information, but the teller didn’t catch on that as she even showed this client that she was trying to do my transfer. I was transpiring and breathing fast. The lack of privacy in China is unbelievable.

The transfer was done, but the fee was the same as if I had made two transactions. In other words, having online banking is worth nothing, I went to the bank 4 times, wasted money and time, stressed out… Why on Earth would my coordinator tell me it would be cheaper and easier?

This is too much. I need to go back to work now, but this weekend, more retail therapy it is!

How to Transfer Money from China to the USA… Part 2

In a previous blog, I had talked about my attempts to open an account at the Construction Bank of China because in America they’d assured I could transfer money from that bank directly to my account at little to no charge. I only needed to bring a tax certificate and my passport, but the tax certificate would be granted only after my first salary had been deposited, which happened on October 10th in the afternoon, and since Elina, our coordinator, had told me I could have it that day, I asked her on October 11th.

Ninth Attempt

Elina said that in order for me to get the tax certificate I needed a copy of my passport. Unfortunately two weeks before, Linda, the school finance/international/foreign affairs person, had asked me for my passport to apply for my one year work visa, and gave me a receipt that would act like a legal document for the time being. I found a copy of the passport in my email and printed it, but I had bought a ticket to go to Taiwan so I needed my passport back asap, for which Linda requested the passport receipt, so now I had neither.

I asked for permission to go to the bank after having been working for 8 consecutive days, once there I asked if anyone spoke English though I had a note in Chinese from Elina, sat in front of the first teller who said a little, and handed the note to her. She asked if I had American dollars in my account. “No, I only need to transfer money to my account in the United States.” She asked something to the other teller, then turned back to me, “For transferring money to the US you need dollars.” “Take the dollars out of my account then.” “Do you have dollars or yuan in your account?” “I work for a school here, they pay me with yuan.” “Oh, no. You need dollars.” The other teller intervened with a combination of Chinese and English; then my teller asked, “How much do you need to transfer?” “$1,000.” “You can’t transfer 1,000 dollars. In China, only 500 dollars a day.” “Okay then.” Another teller approached, he told me to give him my passport. I answered that my boss had my passport to get my work visa, but I had my bank card. He said, “We can do it with the receipt.” “My boss has the receipt too because I asked her for my passport, for traveling purposes.” We all smiled uncomfortably. Then one of them asked, “Do you have a Chinese friend? A foreigner can transfer $500, but a Chinese person can transfer $1,000” “Oh, excellent! Do you want to be my Chinese friend?” I joked. They said they were sorry they couldn’t help me.wp-1479367977589.jpg

10th Attempt

The next morning I explained everything to Elina emphasizing the Chinese friend part. She looked flustered, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. A Chinese person can only transfer 50,000 dollars a year and I already used my transfers.” “Do you know any Chinese person who can help me?” I inquired desperately. “I’m going to ask Mr. Cho, our director. If he hasn’t used his $50,000 maybe he can go with you.” She left and returned with Mr. Cho. Much Chinese was spoken, then both left and came back with a third person. “Funn Yi will meet you at the school gate at 7:50 am tomorrow, and she has a car.” I grinned, said thank you in Chinese, Funn Yi left and I turned to ask Elina if I still needed my passport even though I was going with a Chinese person. Another teacher interjected, “Yes!” But Elina said there was no need if I was going with a Chinese citizen; however, during lunch she said I’d better ask Linda for my passport just in case. I texted Linda, and hours later she responded,  “I plan to go get it tomorrow morning because I have some work to do this afternoon.” I started to pray that showing up at the bank with a Chinese person would give me enough credentials to finally transfer the money to my American account.

11th Is A Charm!

Once Funn Yi and I arrived at the Bank of China I started to speak:

-I need to transfer money to my bank in the US, and I come with a Chinese person to help me.

-How much do you need to transfer?

-$1,000.

-You can only transfer 500.

-I know, but she can transfer 1,000.

-Is your money in her account?

-No, I have my money in my account.

-The money needs to be in her account for her to transfer.

Oh gosh… I didn’t even know this person and I had to put my money in her account?

“Okay.” The teller took both our debit cards and started working. Then he looked up, “Sorry, the printer is not working so I write your transfer here” on a paper with a carbon copy. What can I do? I’m in another country. Trusting God is my only alternative. He asked Funn Yi to enter her password a few times, then I had to enter mine, after which he announced, “Your money is in her account.” Funn Yi had to go to get a ticket for the 1,000 dollars, at her return we started transferring the money. I had to provide my American account number and SWIFT code (I had asked at school what this was, and very solemnly my co-worker answered, “Well, it’s a code they have at the bank and they call it ‘swift'” Really!?) I also had to provide my bank address. The teller continued working in front of his screen, kept typing on the computer, and scribbling on paper.  Stopped to make me aware the transfer would cost 200 yuan, the equivalent of 30 dollars; then gave me the hand written receipt and told me to wait 4 to 5 days for the transaction to show in my statement.

Three days later, the money was in my American bank, and I was happy, but there had to be another way. Our coordinator says it’ll be easier and cheaper once I set up my online banking. In the meantime, I have asked her again for my tax certificate. This week she gave me back all the documents I had provided. “They can’t give you the tax certificate yet, maybe in December.”

TIC (This Is China)…

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)

Introductions

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
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!! ❤