They warned us we’d have days.
Days when everything would go wrong in the worst possible way.
You’d order chicken feet by mistake, people would stare a little too much, you’d get diarrhea with no western toilet in sight and *gasp* no tissue paper or hand sanitizer in your bag.
One month into my move to China my China day came.
After a horrible night’s sleep on my rock hard mattress (chinese basically like to sleep on tables) with no sheets or pillows I started my first day of work…well kind of.
I arrived to my office 10 minutes early with my flash drive ready to go and a hand written lesson plan for the day.
Did I know what grade I’d be teaching, where I’d be teaching, when the f*ck I’d be teaching?
So I sat and waited and waited and waited. I finally worked up the nerve to feebly ask a Chinese English teacher if she had any idea of my schedule.
“It’s not ready yet. Sorry. You can enjoy surf the net”
Oh yeah. “Surf the net.” The heavily censored, Facebook and Gmail blocked net.
I sat and explored 9gag until my eyes hurt when I finally did work up the courage to again ask if my schedule was prepared.
I was more than happy to work that day, but my mind kept wandering back to the fact that I was down to my last few bucks and my stupid bank canceled my card and was sending me a new card. Not wanting to bother my new found english teaching friends for a loan I asked my mom to wire me the money via western union.
So, when I finally asked a colleague I made sure to hint about making it to the bank in time before it closed at 4pm. She made a quick call and said I could leave. As if it hadn’t occurred to anyone to let me know that I wouldn’t be teaching that day. *sigh*
I made a dash for my room to grab a copy of my passport (original was and still is with the police getting the visa processed) and headed out to catch the bus to the city.
With no internet in my room and a ridiculously blocked service in my office, I relied on my phone to use it’s VPN to find the nearest Western Union.
After a 30 minute bus ride I made it into town and began following my phone’s directions to the office in the sweltering heat. Drenched in sweat I arrived at the address only to find I was standing in front of a gated community. Tears started to well in my eyes. I just wanted some god damn sheets and pillows! (…and maybe something to eat)
After a lot of grunting and woe is me-ing I decided to make the trek all the way across the city to the bank near Ikea. I’d already gone all the way out there once before and was burned. “No work today. Come back tomorrow.” The answer I got when asking to pick up my western union money that according to the email was “DELIVERED.” It was a gamble to go again, but I knew exactly where it was and my phone couldn’t screw me over again.
At this point is was already 3 o’clock and I knew time was escaping me. I flagged down a taxi and nervously watched each and every cent jump up on the meter. We finally arrived at 3:45 PM so I threw the last bill I had to my name to the driver and ran toward the door.
A friendly Chinese person greeted me and I sat down to fill out my Western Union Receive Money form. The kind enough girl asked for my passport so I whipped out my passport’s copy, my driver’s license and my debit card (you know, just in case.) She frowned and said I’d need the original. I smiled, took an assertive stance and said the copy would have to do because the police had the original. A moment later she was on the phone with her manager blasting away in Chinese and I was sure I’d finally get the chunk of change I needed in order to buy my bedding and dinner.
Only she didn’t look content when she hung up and although I didn’t understand a single word she said from her conversation, I knew what she was going to say next. “Sorry.” My hand came up to my face and like a tidal wave all the stress of the day and lack of sleep came over me and I just started to cry uncontrollably. Shaky voice and tears rolling down my cheeks I was making this poor girl squirm in her seat trying to tell me sorry.
I finally was able to mutter an “It’s not your fault” and awkwardly gather my things to make my exit. Eyes cast downward to avoid the stare of the woman who welcomed me and the security guard who smiled my way upon my entry, I hurried towards the exit.
Once I was a bit away from the bank I plopped myself down on a wall and (still crying) wrote an email to my mom relaying everything that had happened probably in doing so worrying her to pieces.
Just a moment after hitting send I felt someone sit next to me. It was the girl from the bank. “Here. Take this. I’m sorry,” she said shoving a $20 in my hand. With my snotty nose and puffy eyes I looked back at her bewildered and said I couldn’t accept. She told me I could pay her later and stood up to leave. “Wait! What’s your name?” I asked still stupefied by what was happening. I glanced at her name tag and read a Chinese name I’d never remember. She almost smiled and said, “You can call me Liz.” I gave her a hug and headed on my way to make the 1.5 hr journey back to my sparse apartment (at least I’d have enough to eat that night).
After a minute or so of walking I heard heels clicking behind me like someone was running. I looked back and it was Liz again (!!!) but this time with a nearly $100 Wal-Mart gift card. Once again I tried to refuse her generosity, but like last time she shoved it in my hand and pointed out the Wal-Mart that was only steps away. I started ugly crying, thanked her and promised to be back soon.
Now settled in my apartment with sheets, pillows and a stocked fridge I can’t wait to get my first paycheck to pay Liz another visit
and who knows, maybe I can figure out a way to take her generosity and pay it forward to another China Day struggler.