My First Time in China
The Invitation to China
I was back home in Wisconsin after having worked a teaching contract in Tokyo, Japan and after enjoying a few weeks of vacation in Cebu, Philippines. I spent some time with family and friends but wasn't sure what I would get up to next. I didn't have any solid plan, but it was most likely that I would return to another teaching job in Asia.
I had posted my resume on a few websites but hadn't really started to search for a new job all that seriously yet. I had just finished having dinner with my parents at their home where I was staying when I got a Skype message from a recruiter. He had seen my resume on one of the job sites and thought he had a good match for me given my business background.
We discussed some of the basic details of the university lecturing position, which sounded fairly reasonable. He asked if I was willing to do a phone interview right away. It was getting a bit late for me but I understood it was morning in China, where the company was located, so I agreed.
The phone rang and I had a short interview with a representative of the company that placed lecturers in Chinese universities. He asked me a few questions about my education and work background. I was in the middle of giving some details about my previous positions as he apparently made up his mind. "It sounds like you are what we are looking for.", he said. He followed up quickly with the salary, schedule, and a promise to send over the contract by the end of his workday. I let him know I thought we had a deal and would confirm after reviewing the contract.
When I woke up the next morning, the contract was in my inbox. It was as we had discussed and I would be working as a management science lecturer with 18 hours of lecturing maximum per week with up to 4 hours of administrative work. The salary and benefits were reasonable and included in the deal was a western style apartment on the company.
I hadn't heard of the exact location, Shaoyang, but did a little homework online and at least saw that there was a shopping mall nearby along with familiar restaurants like McDonald's and KFC. With about 4 years of experience teaching in Asia under my belt, I felt I was up to the challenge. I replied to the company and let them know that I was in.
A Long Journey
I had a little over a month to get my Z visa for work and easily obtained it using a service company that processed my visa at the Chinese Embassy in Chicago. I sent in my passport along with all the documents the company had mailed to me and it came back with plenty of time to spare. The process was still relatively simple back then. Shortly after receiving my visa, it was time to catch the flight to China.
My family dropped me off at the airport and we said our goodbyes, I checked in, made my way through security, to the gate, and boarded the plane with relative ease. After about 23 hours in total between flight time and layovers, I arrived at the airport in Changsha. My company had previously told me that since my flight was arriving at 11 p.m., I would have to make my own way to a hotel for the evening. I was able to reserve a hotel online but still hadn't arranged transportation. That's where things got ugly.
Jet-Lag and Borderline Kidnapping
Exhausted, I approached the arrival area and found an ATM. The machine seemed to be out of order, so I made my way back up a floor in the airport and found one that I could use to withdraw some cash in the form of Chinese RMB. I returned back down to the arrival area and walked outside to where the "taxi" drivers were waiting.
I'd had enough experience with airports and taxi drivers before to know I'd need a few phrases to get things in order. I attempted to ask the older man that approached me if he would use the meter. He nodded and motioned me to his vehicle. I showed him the hotel information I had printed out in Chinese and he seemed to know it. I was buckling my seatbelt as he sped off. However, I didn't see him start the meter.
I attempted to say meter again in Chinese but he seemed to ignore it. I thought he didn't understand me. So, I got out my trusty phrasebook and pointed exaggeratedly at the word "meter" as it was written in Chinese characters. He continued to ignore me while accelerating to a speed which I assume he calculated would prevent me from exiting the vehicle.
I went from addressing the meter issue to telling him to stop in both Chinese and English. Even if he failed to understand either, I am certain that my body language and increasing anger were clear. He motioned for me to wait a moment as he got on the phone. I couldn't imagine what he was up to now.
After jerking the vehicle around a corner, the vehicle came to a stop in front of a house where a younger man was waiting. The man introduced himself in English as the driver's son. He told me what his father wanted to charge me to take me to the hotel, which was some ridiculous amount. At this point, I was angry. I told them I was going to talk to the police. This didn't seem to phase them in the least.
We argued back and forth about the price and I thought about just grabbing my bags and heading off into the night. Against my better judgment, being jet-lagged, in unfamiliar territory, and outnumbered, I finally agreed to pay for the ride to the hotel. The number we settled on was still way too much but my eyelids were getting really heavy. Both the driver and I were silent the rest of the way. Upon arrival, I begrudgingly shoved the money into his hand and exited for the lobby.
Insult to Injury
I was at least able to get some much-needed sleep at the hotel and despite the stress and financial damages of the previous evening, was feeling better overall. I received a phone call from a representative of the company, telling me to meet her in the lobby downstairs in one hour. I hurriedly got ready and made it downstairs in time. Within a few minutes, the representative showed up with another new lecturer and their driver. Come to find out, the company had sent her to the airport to pick me up the night before but nobody had informed me. So, since I wasn't looking for her and she had no idea what I looked like, it was an easy miss.
We got into the car and headed to the medical facility for our required check, even though we had to have a recent medical check to get the Z visa. There were 5 stations for various tests. The blood test was the most worrisome as the man in charge never changed his gloves between patients and I could see the spatter from his previous customers. They rushed us through the remaining stations, we paid our bill and it was time to leave Changsha and begin the three-hour trip to the university.
That adventure is a tale for another day!
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