I’ve now been in China for two and a half weeks.
I arrived at 3.30 am on Thursday, to grey skies, smog, and snow on the ground. A woman named Nancy met me at the airport at 7am, and I was so tired that I was dozing in the taxi as we left the airport. Occasionally I opened my eyes to see a city that looked like something out of a black-and-white movie, with a never-ending amount of rectangular buildings the same filthy grey as the sky.
Here’s how the last couple of weeks have gone:
A Filthy, Unlivable Apartment
I was taken to a dirty apartment on the West side. Both of my roommates smoked inside so the whole apartment stunk of stale smoke. The company I was with hadn’t even made sure that my room was clean, and it was full of dust bunnies and dirt from the former occupant.
I’m definitely not a “neat freak”, in fact I’m naturally messy. But there’s a huge difference between mess and dirt.
The rest of the apartment was just as bad, and I’m lucky I had almost cleaned out my bank account, since I’m pretty sure I would have gone straight back to the airport if I had enough money left.
The next day I had what could loosely be called “training” for my interviews. The way they interview for schools over here is by giving you a class full of kids to teach for 20 minutes. Instead of doing practice demo’s, we were taught songs and rhymes, none of which got through to my jet-lagged brain.
Quitting the Company and being Homeless
A week and a half later I emailed them to tell them that I quit. Basically I chose the company because it was the best of a bad bunch, but they’re extremely unprofessional and I’ve had an awful time with them. People are getting interrogated and deported all the time, and we’re expected to work on an F visa until they get us a Z visa, which is completely illegal.
Not to mention that they take 3/4 of the money that English teachers earn. Do I look like a sucker?
They responded by telling me that I couldn’t leave and threatened to report me to immigration. As you can imagine that didn’t go down well. Whoever taught their employees how to interact with foreigners should have let them know that we don’t take too kindly to being told we can’t leave a country. I told them I had booked a flight to Thailand and changed my phone number.
I was lucky enough to meet some lovely girls while I was “training” on my second day here. Brigitte is Canadian and Hollie is from the UK. They invited me to hang out, and even let me crash at their place when they heard my apartment was disgusting. I’m now staying at my friend Phoebe’s since I still don’t have an apartment, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without the kindness of these guys.
On Wednesday I had an appointment with the New Zealand Embassy so I could talk about my visa situation. Unfortunately a little bastard stole my wallet while I was waiting in Starbucks for my appointment. I know exactly who did it because he sat next to me and was shaking like a leaf. I thought he was sick and didn’t pick up on the signs until it was too late. My instincts told me there was something going on, and he even put his jacket over my bag while he took my wallet. Lesson: always listen to your gut.
My only bank card was in my wallet with all my cash, and I was left completely stranded.
I also broke my personal rule: Always have travel insurance. My insurance ran out while I was in Thailand and I’ve been too broke to get it in China. Somehow the little shit accessed my account and managed to clean it out. Karma is coming for you mate.
I was saved by another Canadian woman, who walked over while I was crying on the phone, and handed me enough money to get home and feed myself for a few days. She could have walked right by, and instead was insistent that I take the money. In one of my worst moments a complete stranger went out of her way to help me, and I only hope I have the opportunity to pay it forward sometime soon.
Dealing with the Pollution and Getting Sick
I now have a really bad cold. It’s one of those colds that leave you feeling completely weak and exhausted. It was probably inevitable after spending so much time riding the subway, and the pollution isn’t helping me feel any better.
The pollution is actually one of the main reasons why I’m considering leaving. Breathing is a struggle, and the smog here is making news around the world. A few days ago it was 10 times the healthy level and literally off the chart.
I don’t like to boast…but I have pretty awesome lungs. You know that test at the doctors where you blow into the pipe as hard as you can to move the little ball? I nail it every time.
While I try to wear my mask as much as I can, I do wonder what the filthy air is doing to my (exceptional) lungs.
Should I Stay or Should I go?
I’m still deciding whether I’ll stay in China. I’d like to at least give it a couple of months and see how I go, since originally I was going to be here for a whole year.
I’ve had a run of bad luck in Beijing, and although it could happen anywhere, the language barrier and general reluctance of the Chinese to help those in need has made it 10 times harder to get myself sorted here.
My biggest problem is my visa. Basically if the company I came here with have informed immigration that I’m no longer working for them then my visa may have been cancelled without my knowledge. I’d then be charged minimum $20 each day I overstay and may even be subject to detention and deportation.
One of the main reasons I want to stay here is that I’m simply determined to not to let Beijing beat me. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right? Everyone I’ve talked to here says that the first few months are the worst and Beijing is a city that grows on you. I’ve also hardly seen anything in here. I haven’t been to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Birds Nest, or the Forbidden City. I also want to visit Shanghai and see the Terracotta Warriors.
But at the same time, I’m forced to wonder if staying here is the best thing for me at this stage of my life. I’m currently homeless, practically unemployed, and in a limbo while I figure out what I should do. Is it worth being miserable here just to prove a point to myself?