I walked through Huzhou last Saturday in a desperate attempt to change money. I did not expect a good rate of exchange or stellar service, but I did expect it to be possible. After all, even with the rise of touch-pay mobile phones and nearly-universal use for bank cards it is still advisable to carry some cash. My efforts were futile. Most banks only exchange money on weekdays and only for their customers. The one bank that will exchange currency on weekends for non-account holders is the Bank of China but they require extensive documentation and special residence papers. At that point, I had neither. In frustration I quietly returned to my flat with a small pile of cash in hand that might as well have not existed. I went to sleep nervous. The internet installer was supposed to have come the following day and I could not pay him. At around 1 AM I woke up and decided to give it a last go. A bank was 2 blocks away and they had a secured cash machine. My losing streak broke – my account was open and I could withdraw cash.
The following afternoon a company employee came to inform me that the internet installer would not come as promised, but the next morning. Annoying, but one survives such things – just. At that point it was best simply to grin and bear it. After all, at least I now knew where my next meal would come from. She also told me that I needed to go to the provincial capital, Hangzhou, for a full physical examination at a state clinic specialising in international medicine. It seemed pointless – I told her that I saw a German GP only 2 weeks prior and she found no health problems. But, no, I had to go as their signature was required to convert a work visa into a residence permit.
She came a few minutes early and continued her annoying habit of nearly banging my door down. She isn’t content to knock once or twice – no! She has to bash the door and yell until I open it, never mind that I was drying off after taking a shower. Mind you, I was not yet late – the arranged meeting time was not for another 4 minutes. To annoy her I made a point of going even more slowly. What happened next was horrific and I still carry obvious wounds from it.
I was not permitted to eat or drink for at least 12 hours – in 100-degree-heat. Tired and thirsty, I was subjected to one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. After waiting for 20 minutes, I was summoned to give blood and urine samples for analysis. The needle used to collect blood was larger than normal and sloppily inserted. The phlebotomist hastily re-arranged the needle several times leaving me with a 3” by 2” bruise on my left arm, several damaged blood vessels and still notable pain. She also refused to provide a plaster preferring to let me bleed for an extended period of time. It only grew worse. I was forced to strip half-naked in front of strangers repeatedly to be poked and prodded. On several occasions I was not permitted to dress fully before other patients were brought in.
The following day I was taken to a new school the company is working on opening and met their third teacher – an experienced, Tanzania-born teacher and administrator now residing in Canada as a naturalised citizen. He is as exasperated as the young Mainer and nearly as cynical and embittered as me. The school is to be opened, in the administration’s infinite wisdom, in August – when most families are holiday with their children prior to the new academic year formally starting in September. Many of their classes are still empty leaving the Mainer sitting in empty rooms playing on his smart phone. This led me to question why they chose to drag me to China in July when there would hardly be anything for me to do for over a month. Since I am not working they do not pay me and I am presently relying on the remaining vapours of cash in my bank accounts to see me through. Strangely, they wanted me to go to China even sooner than I did – late June, early July at latest. I begged the Tanzanian to let me co-teach a few free classes at a new development in order to provide me with the chance to do something.
Both teachers warned me that once the term begins it will be hectic and stressful, demoralising even. Students are brats and parents are unreasonable. I assured the senior teacher that I really can’t be bothered. I simply don’t care. I will do my job, no more, no less. When my contract runs out, I will leave. Should finances permit, I will leave the region on holiday during extended holidays. My full-time student schedule and second job will also preclude me from doing more than I contractually have to. Still, it isn’t all bad. There are some nice people here who try to be helpful. The food is good, if only I could communicate with anyone and order it. I also have enough Japanese courses to give me a pastime. Somehow, I think that I will grow relatively fluent in Japanese before I go to Japan this winter.Because the provided mattress is so hard and lumpy with many broken springs, and little else, I’ve taken to sleeping on the floor as it is more comfortable.