The Shenzhen Diaries #6: Little Trouble in Big China (Part 3)

To round out this really terrible day, we were in tow of my all but lost adviser as he shuffled us around Shenzhen according to a plan that were not privy to.  After setting our unknowingly unemployed South African friend up in her sham apartment, we doubled back to meet up with Cockney Guy.  He apparently had been on his own adventure while we were moving everyone else into their apartments.  He met up with a fellow teacher from the program who was moving out of his apartment, and it was arranged by my adviser to move Cockney Guy in.

Apparently this was not flying well with the landlady.  When we got there, the two of them were trying to triangulate communication with a shrewd, elderly Chinese woman who seemed to be convinced that the odd westerners still owed her ¥1000 (~$160).  My adviser needed to sort this out in his own tongue, so we were instructed to hang out by the car and busy ourselves.

I had to report back to my parents the failures of the recent day.  It made my father anxious, and that’s not fair to do to someone with a heart condition.  My mother was disappointed that I could not pull it together for that interview, but she nonetheless felt for my situation.  I told her that at least I wasn’t the girl from South Africa.  My troubles were real, but at least they were known. I had images of her cleaning and moving into her apartment, happily settling into her new home in a foreign country.  Then I pictured someone breaking the news to her that she didn’t really get the job.  It was going to be crushing. 

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have told my family any of this, but the reality of it was how gut-wrenchingly lonely I was throughout all of this process.  I was growing a spine because I had to hold myself up. It just sucks to do that sometimes.  In any case, don’t forget about South African Girl or her situation.  Our dealings with her in this story are not done yet.  

I was well aware that my adviser was stretched thin, and I did feel bad for him for it, but I needed a plan.  Between conversations with the pissed off landlady, the pissed off cockney guy, and the pissed of tenant who was stuck between them, I had to bother him as to what our next move would be.  “I’m working on it” or “I’m waiting for a call” were his placating answers.  Yeah, problems suck, but being in the thick of them can make you feel like you’re at least doing something.  One issue at a time, and my adviser was hiding in this one with the landlady right now.  Meanwhile, I could only marinate in my failure and sit on my thumbs. From what I could manage out of my adviser, he had something in mind and would reveal it as it materialized.  

Again, my only solace is Quiet Guy and he is not much conversation.  He returns to his phone, mumbling Arab and Mandarin to himself practicing his pronunciation by himself.  The most aggravating thing about him I would have to say is that he has become rather proficient with his speaking and reading.  There are times when we are out in the wilds of Chinese city life, where he has a complete understanding of the situation and what somebody is saying, but rather than offering any sort of assistance, he only smirks to himself like ‘Hey, I understood that’ like a jerk.  Even though his Chinese is spot on, he doesn’t feel the need to let anyone know it.  There’s humility and then there’s leaving your friends hanging.  Contrary to popular belief, you can still be a dick without saying a word.  Then again, I am not sure that he is completely clear on the idea of ‘friends’ or that other people have problems that he could in any way be concerned about. I still see him now, and he’s doing well for himself.  That story isn’t quite done yet either.  

The multinational arguing group seemed to have migrated elsewhere, but I continue to communicate with my adviser through text.  He just keeps sending the same hollow reassurances.  I wonder if he knows how full of shit he is or if he actually believes in the garbage that he tries selling us.  My guess he has to believe it, and these fantasy expectations are what carries him through his day.  Sounds stressful.  Sounds familiar.

We are left out in the dark parking lot on a strange Chinese streets, which I suppose wasn’t the worst of it.  I was an American without a job and nowhere to live.  Every street was strange.  About an hour and a half later, my adviser reappears, seemingly at least semi-successful in getting the problem situated, seeing as Cockney Guy wasn’t in attendance.  This is the time my adviser chooses his great reveal on his plan that he’d been tooling together.  It turns out he did find a high school, after I was promised how hard they were to get into.  Great, right?  Now I’m only a couple grade levels below where I taught at home.  These kids should at least be survivable in English and I can relate to them in some way.

“What’s the catch?” I asked.  Nothing came easy here and didn’t expect China to start taking pity on me now.  My adviser dragged his feet, but finally he came out saying that the school was for ‘naughty children’ who couldn’t get into regular high schools.  That is another scary thing about the Chinese school system.  You had to apply to your high schools like colleges based on your standardized testing in middle school.  As where in America, private schools are better funded and offer higher quality education than public schools, the opposite is true in China.  Private schools were offered as a back-up option if you couldn’t pass your tests to get into a good public school.  It was an expensive last chance to get your kid into good standing in society.  Many of the kids didn’t even want to be there.

I am pretty sure this was my lowest point.  Not only was I rejected from the really nice school twice, and then taken only to be let go from the school I didn’t even like, I was going to get shipped off to alternate high school.  Once more, I kind of lost my shit a little bit.  Breaking down all over again.  I was dejected and under-slept. I couldn’t stomach a good meal since I got off the plane four days before, and it seemed like I dedicated the next year of my life to a place hasn’t seemed overly excited to have me.  I threatened to quit and go home.  I contacted the main office and started asking around if I could transfer districts.  I began seeking other advisers because I was done with this guy.  Regardless if I was right or not, in that moment, I put it on my adviser’s shoulders because I couldn’t bare the weight for another moment.  I asked him to his face if we foreign teachers were in such ‘high demand’ out here, then why the hell an alternate school was my only option.  

A common theme in my nightmares as a kid was a sudden muteness.  An inability to speak or scream at an important moment to save or help someone or myself.  And this is all it felt like out here.  I was underwater.  I could have screamed and cried and pleaded for help, and no one could understand me.  My only access way of communication out here was my adviser and he picked and chose every communication that came across him.  I felt what it really was to be on my own.  No ghost ship from the Lord of the Rings was going to come.  No Goku coming back from the afterlife.  No Marisa Tomei to have a sudden and inexplicable knowledge of car mechanics to save my career.  This was real life.  I had to be my own Deus ex Machina and I wasn’t sure that I could handle it. 

I keep trying to figure out the meanings of things out here.  Probably simply out of self-preservation as much as anything else, but I have very much taken to the idea of ‘everything happens for a reason’.  Given, ‘reason’ could just be self-generating, but nonetheless, out of pride or a sense of justice, I needed something to show for my hardships.  Maybe I would get transferred to the city-life that I was looking for?  Maybe I would meet someone or several someones that I never knew I could have lived without. Maybe it will all make sense when I get there.

What this trip has really come to be about is working with what I have.  Becoming self-reliant.  And not in a financial sense or in my ability to feed or take care of myself.  To scrub a toilet and change my sheets and take out the garbage.  Those things are only faculties of what the real journey is:  Identity.  It is allusive and self-reflection is done through a glass blurred by experience and prejudices we’ve made to protect ourselves.  What I am really learning is:  This is me in China. I am sizing myself up.  I could join a seven piece jazz band or write a novel or get caught up in a museum heist; none of that matters because ‘action’ isn’t the thing.  It’s important, but there lies something deeper.  It’s not wheels that make the car go. 

After the fact, now that I am settled and the material things are taken care of, the major persisting feeling I have here is just loneliness.  But as a result, it is revealing fatal flaws in my way around the world.  I getting in touch with myself because there is nothing to hide behind out here.  I love my family and my home.  I miss my girlfriend and places where we would eat and walk.  I miss my dog.  And truthfully, in some capacity or another, they will always be a part of my life and my identity, but I now realize that for many years of my life I have let them take the foreground of my day to day existence.  Hard questions like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my purpose?’ never made it to the surface because I could diffuse it among these other staples of my life.  That is why I had begun to lean on them, then put my weight on them, and then began to hurt them.  I needed to banish myself because they loved me too much to do it.  Out here, the difficulties and hardships are right up against my bare skin.  It hurts like hell, but I needed to hurt.

My adviser begged me to give him one more day to find me something.  If he were to fail, he would accept my resignation and get me into another district.  I agreed.  I wanted a job then and now, but it was already 9 o’clock at night.  I hadn’t eaten, but I wasn’t hungry.  No school was taking interviews that day.  We left. 

In the car on the way home, Quiet Guy and I received texts.  Quiet Guy was getting an interview with Turtleneck’s middle school.  He knew he was dead in the water a day beforehand.  I didn’t pity him. At least they would tell him ‘no’ flat out and not kill another day of his time with a shitty call-back.  

In my ranting and pleading earlier in the day, I mentioned to my adviser that I would be willing to drop down grade levels if it would be easier for me to find a job.  He still pushed his alternate school with the high schoolers, probably because he already promised them a teacher. I stood firm and refused.  Now, hours later he called to tell me in a somber, nervous tone (he had been beaten down by the situation just as bad as I had) to tell me that I had a demo for a fourth grade class at a foreign language school.  

Direction.  I knew right away that this was it.  No more excuses.  It was a fresh start.  I was going to take this ‘me’ that I was forging in the fire out here and I was going to hammer it into steel.  This was my last chance to start work on the first of the month and get a full paycheck the next month.  I didn’t want to think about the consequences if I didn’t get it, but failing four demos was unthinkable.  This wasn’t a time for self-pity and melancholy.  This was the call to adventure.  Crunch time.  Was I going to be worth it? Could I rise to a situation?  Could I lift myself out of the shit without training wheels?  No parents.  No siblings.  No girlfriend.  Just me.

It was about time.  



Hey all,

Very quickly, I apologize.  I am aware that this one is shorter than my usual entry and not much really happened ‘plot’-wise, but given, this all was a pretty weird situation.  It’s kind of all knotted together and it is hard to draw clear lines where events begin and end.

To be honest though, the 5/6k word entries were probably getting a little out of hand.  It’s is good to produce that much content in a week, but now that I’ve slicked my writing gears, I have begun the process of starting a new novel that has me really excited.

This blog is supposed to be simultaneously entertaining for you and therapeutic for me, and thus far it certainly has been that (Surely the ladder and hopefully the former).  The second that my procrastinator mind starts registering this as work however, it is going to start having the reverse effect.  So it may take a little longer to get through a particular arc, but overall it will take the pressure off of me to not have to generate so much material every week.  Maybe I’ll bust out a big one from time to time, but I would like to allocate more time to this new project.

This blog does keep me honest, writing and publishing regularly, and help me feel like I can bring my friends and family out here with me.  That being said, I think I owe it to myself to keep it up, but I do want to stress that I want to dial back the lengths of the entries to make more time for fiction writing.  Please email or comment to let me know what you think or even if you are enjoying the material. It’d be really cool to hear some feedback.

Thank you anyone who takes the time to read these.  It makes me feel like a real writer or something.



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