Well, I’ve officially been in China for over twenty four hours now, and boy, is it an adventure. Let’s start with how I came to be here…
Stas and I have been apart for most of the past school year, and as of about a month ago we finally reached a point where we don’t have to be apart anymore. We decided a few months ago to come to China over the summer because we can both get visas to come here, we can both afford it, and I can find well-paid teaching work which does not require living in a dorm with children, which means that I can live with Stas.
So, I set about finding a job and landed a GREAT job about a month ago. It is in Shanghai, pays 13,500 RMB per month, and comes with a free shared apartment (shared with another teacher) for the employee.
During the interview, I told my employee that I would be traveling here with my boyfriend. The topic definitely came up multiple times throughout our communications. Then, two days before getting on the plane, weeks after I signed my contract, bought the ticket, and paid $300 for the visa, I got an email from my employer: “will your boyfriend come with you to Shanghai? Teachers apartment is only available.” Puzzled, I replied ‘yes’, wondering if she meant that there was only one apartment free or that he wasn’t allowed to live with me. She replied the next day and said that he cannot stay at the teachers apartment. After signing the contract. After the visa, after the plane ticket, after it’s too late to find another job. Two days before departure.
I replied with “OK, he has a hostel booked.” But obviously it’s not really ok. That’s not how our relationship works. When we’re together, we’re together. If working hours are 9:00-5:30 for me, that leaves very little Stas time if he has to live somewhere else. So, we set about making a plan to get around this little hiccup, eventually settling on pretending to be married. The next day, we went to New York City and went shopping for wedding bands. We couldn’t find one for Stas, but I eventually settled on this nice gold band with crystals, $5 at Forever 21. We came up with a whole story: We married soon after we met, away from our home countries. Our friends and families did not know our spouses, and people in America thought it was strange for us to be married so young. Eventually we just started referring to one another as boyfriend and girlfriend until we knew people well—it is simpler that way.
When I went to meet my employer to go to the apartment, Stas stayed in the train station where I was to collect him later. A driver from the school where I’ll be teaching came and picked me up. He must have seen me wave goodbye to Stas, because he said “couple?” I said “nono, friend, he has a hostel, don’t worry.” I think he had been instructed to take Stas somewhere, maybe to his hostel. I hope that doesn’t come back to bite me.
We finally arrived at the school after sitting in traffic for awhile, during which I had time to look around. Shanghai is NOT what I expected. I know it is very polluted, but it doesn’t look polluted. It looks just fine. It looks very modern, actually, and there are trees and plant life everywhere. Anyways, at the school, we picked up my employer and drove to the apartment, which was just down the road.
After a few minutes, I nervously carried out the marriage plot. I told Judy that actually Stas was my husband, and related the story about why we say boyfriend and girlfriend sometimes. A few minutes later, she said that maybe Stas could stay at the apartment with me if there is no one else living in the apartment. If it was just us. Apparently my housemate, Gaby, will move out precisely the day I return from traveling (my job doesn’t start for about three weeks, so first we’re going traveling to Tibet.) However, it’s possible that another teacher could move in.
So, we decided to wait until Gaby got home to talk to her about the situation and get her insights. She would know how often Judy comes here and if it would be enforced. However, strangely, Gaby never came home last night…
A few minutes ago I called her to get the internet password. Guess what? Turns out I locked Gaby out. You’re not supposed to lock the door from the inside because it means it cannot be unlocked from the outside. WIN! I’m about to ask this roommate to help me sneak around and I’ve already locked her out! Yessss.
In other news, I had quite the adventure last night. After I was shown the apartment, we drove to the school. It was raining slightly and getting dark, so it was hard to see well out the window. After my employer showed me around the school a little bit, I went to walk back to the apartment to get a sweater before picking Stas up.
So, I got to what I thought was my apartment complex and the man at the gate turned me away when I said “Jingting Yuen” (the name of the complex), pointing in the opposite direction and around a corner. Confused, I remembered that Judy had said that there is another gate. Ah ha! He must want me to use the other gate! Around the corner I went, only to find no other gate or familiar scenery. I went back to the man and this time jingled my keys and pointed forward. He let me pass. I wandered around this huge apartment complex in the dark and realized I did not recognize anything. Finally, I turned back, thinking maybe I really did have the wrong complex. I found a taxi driver and said “Jingting Yuen” but he looked at me like I was a martian.
On my way out, however, I spotted a white guy. “Excuse me!” I shouted. “You look like you speak English!” I asked him if this was Jingting Yuen, and he was not sure; he didn’t live there. However, he said, his friend Ian lived here, and if I came to Ian’s house with him Ian could definitely help me find where I needed to be. Somewhat reluctantly and at his insistence, I followed him.
His name was Jason, it turned out, and he was another English teacher, from Florida. Once in Ian’s apartment, he introduced me to his friends. They were both British, and also English teachers. Then he offered me a shitty Chinese beer. I turned away for a split second, and in that split second he opened the beer and offered it to me. Convinced by my childhood memories of being told not to talk to or go with strangers that it had surely been roofied, I took a few fearful sips and waited for my instructions. Ian called a few of his friends to no avail, and began chit-chatting with them promptly after receiving the directions. I waited and waited, impatient. “You sure are lucky you met him!” one of them said ruefully. Not that lucky, I thought…I could be back at the school getting real directions by now. They were a very bro-y bunch and well-intentioned, but I felt very fed up with them for taking their time when I was rushing. Finally, they concluded that they could get me a cab, but that was all. I knew that wouldn’t help because I was already told cab drivers do not know where Jingting Yuen is. Finally I made my escape and headed back towards the school, leaving my shitty probably-not-really-roofied Chinese beer on the sidewalk just in case.
When I got in touch with my employer, I discovered that I had simply walked the wrong way out of the school. I finally found the complex, then set about getting a taxi to pick up Stas, who had been waiting at the train station for hours at that point and was feeling very impatient. The first taxi driver didn’t understand me when I said where I wanted to go. The next one did, luckily.
Here’s the thing about China in comparison to every other country I’ve ever visited: Almost no one speaks a word of English. I can see why it is so easy to get a job here—there are a lot more Chinese people who want to learn English than there are English teachers in China.
On the bright side, though, this place is extremely asthetically pleasing and developed. Can’t tell yet if all of Shanghai is like that or if it’s just this part—right now we are staying in Korea Town. All of the restaurants are Korean and the signs are in Korean and the people look like the stars of You’re Beautiful and Personal Preference. As someone who is distasteful of consumerism, this place sure does indulge the consumer in me. Everything is beautiful—there are lots of trees, buildings look nice, there are shiny signs and cute clothes and bright colors and bubble tea and Krispy Kreme and frozen yogurt and and and and…It sure is a lot to take in. This city, or at least this part, looks much nicer than any big city I’ve been to in the US. The buildings are nicer the sidewalks are nicer, the colors are brighter. For a developing country, this place sure is nice.
The downside is that every restaurant we went into so far was really expensive for Asia—like $5 and up for a dish. Now, I know $5 isn’t a lot in America, but a friend told me that if you go to hole-in-the-wall restaurants here you can get a good meal for under a buck. Plus, I’m used to Nepal and India, where I can always find good food for under $2 easily.
It sure is hard to get around and get things done here with no one speaking English. Now I understand why people here or people that have been here are very surprised to hear that I don’t speak any Mandarin. You really need it. I’ve got some audio books and will start ASAP.