Just got back from Beifang Shichang 北方市场 or the North Market, It’s a large textile and fabric market in the east of the city, where you can get clothes (or anything really) tailored.

Foreigners come here because you can actually get clothes that fit you, and because it’s so much cheaper than getting tailored things made in the west. It’s strange, many Chinese have a totally different perception of tailored clothing – that it is not so good, they would rather buy from off the peg. Also lots of people tell me they think tailored clothing is expensive, I have friends who say that they only time they had clothes made was when they were children, or many years ago when things were less developed.

I think it’s cheaper – especially if you are too big/tall to find clothing from elsewhere, and there is much more choice (for men anyway).
However, the quality of the fabric varies from very good to very poor, as does the quality of the workmanship.

Therefore, I think you have to be careful when getting things from here, it would be quite easy to get conned.

So they way to avoid this is – of course – to know people who work here, to have a contact that can guaranteed you quality of work for a good price.

There are some very high quality tailors that will charge you a normal price. For example, for a suit (trousers+jacket including all materials except the outside) the labour should cost around 120 yuan. A tailor you don’t know will try to get you to pay 2X 3X 4X this price.
Your tailor will measure you and tell you how much material you need to buy, in order to make whatever it is you wish to have made. I require 2.8 Square Metres of fabric in order to make a suit.

It can be time consuming finding the material you want, but it takes even more time bargaining it down to a price that is reasonable. Many foreigners come here, especially the foreign workers, and I think they don’t get a great deal on the price (what’s an extra 1 or 200 yuan to them?), so when the sellers see a foreigner they expect you to pay more even more than they normally do.

I often tell them, I can’t afford those prices, I’m a poor student with no money – Look at my clothes, do I look like I have a lot of money? Of course this approach fails as by virtue of being foreign immediatly makes me ‘rich’ in their eyes at least, however saying this always makes people laugh.

The great thing is that there are so many vendors you can just move on to the next one, compare prices and use the old ‘but she over there said this cost …’ technique. This is an effective way of getting a fair price I think, but it does take time which makes It great Chinese pratice!
Almost every vendor wil tell you how great this or that piece of material is, how beautiful a certain colour is, which one is best quality and so on. I guess you have to be able to decide what you’re looking for then try to get a price that is reasonable or you could spend all day here choosing, such is the choice.

There are many types of fabric ranging from formal looking materials for suits, to bright fluorescent shiny fabric that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1980s. Actually, comparatively speaking, Changchun doesn’t have such good choice when it comes to different types of materials, Shenyang is much better and cheaper.

In terms of suits, and lets face it that’s what 99% of foreigners have made here, the material ranges from about 50 yuan per sq/m to over 200 yuan a sq/m. I went around everywhere just casually asking the price – I have an idea what things should cost – because I’m interested in what kind of mark up they put on the fabric when a foreigner asks how much it should be. The most expensive price I was given was 275 a square metre :shock:, the lowest 85 – the real price is probably more like 40-50 and 150-60.

I’ve had a few suits made, I’ve tried the cheaper fabric 50yuan sq/m and the more expensive stuff at 90yuan sq/m – and they are all fine, but my tailor said to me that the cheaper material is cheaper because it wont last as long.

Once you’ve got the material you want, you take it back to the tailor who most probably has a magazine full of images of different clothing. You browse through this and pick whatever style you like, the beauty of this is you can ask for pretty much any style you want – I got a very nice suit made but requested bright red lining just because I could!

You can also take pictures of clothes you like, which are perhaps too expensive to buy in the shops, or copies of clothing made – It goes without saying they can copy almost anything!

Extending a Visa

This is more of a guide than one of my regular blogs, about extending your visa. At the beginning of this month I had to extend my visa for an extra month as the residence permit I was on expired before I planned to go back home.

As I was technically still under contract I wanted my employer to do this for me because it’s so much simpler for them to do these things- and it’s their job- but they weren’t willing to help me 爱莫能助. So…
To get the extension you need a temporary residence document filled out in Chinese, stamped by the place you’re staying at (or with a recipt from hotel), and also stamped by the local police station nearest to your residence. Probably the hardest thing about this is finding the nearest police station, the right department, the right person, the right time of day, the correct celestial date etc etc etc On top of this If you need to find someone at one of these places that speaks English, then you can forget it.
residence form for visa application

Technically, as I’m now a tourist I’m only meant to be staying in designated places for foreigners i.e certain 3/4/5 star hotels. (but, of course, I’m not doing this!) I took the form to my local police station, and after eventually finding the right person to talk with, he asked me where I was staying, what I was doing etc…, how long I’d been here. I was fortunate to meet a very helpful polieman, probably a similar age to me and very eager to help.
We started talking about football, David Beckham, basketball (I always say just because im tall doesn’t mean I play basketball!) The officer was obvioulsly bored, the other police in his office were playing majiang (mahjong) on their computers.
They have a database of all the foreigners that have registered before, and he tried to look me up on this database but gave up after I told him I haven’t used a Chinese name to register this. He didn’t seem like he cared much, just going through the motions, he was more interested in talking about Manchester United.
He then went to the next office gave the paper to his superior – who was sitting in a reclined position chain smoking – then he gave the form the red stamp.
visa place

After this I went to the place in Changchun that deals with visas, it’s the city Public Security Bureau 市局 near to People’s Square on guangming lu .
I’ve extended visas myself before, It really is very straightforward when you know how, a million times easier than trying to do this in a western country I’m sure.

Every time I have come to this place it’s always been packed with Chinese applying for passports, permits to travel and the like. I think they need a bigger building.
Annoyingly, there is only one desk that deals with foreigners (desk 3), you can’t just line up with the Chinese. (Interestingly Hongkong and Taiwanese also have to use this desk, one country right?).
As my old visa was a residence permit (Z visa) I had to have this changed into a L (旅游) tourist visa if I was to stay in the country. For me this presented no problem as I’m not working and I only wanted a 1 month extension.

For this you need to give them a photocopy of your previous visa, photo page in passport and bank statement (According to them you should have 800 yuan per day of stay, so it isn’t cheap!)

You’ll be asked a few questions – I was asked about my old visa, where I was working, what I’m going to do now and why I want to stay in China. For the last question
I simply said ‘我想去旅游’ ‘I wanna go travel!’ and that was sufficient to asuage her!
I’m told by others that they do speak some English here, I did everything In Chinese so I’m not sure of this – but whether you could do everything without knowing some of the language, I’m not so sure. But it would be interesting trying.
Then you will be given another A4 sized form to fill in, which is the actual visa application form. You need one passport sized photo for this. Took about 2 minutes to fill in, gave that back then got a recipt telling me to come back in three days time.

The L visa costs 160 yuan and takes 3 days to process, I applied the day before my visa was due and got it back with the new visa date 1 month after the expiry of the old one.

The Last Week

So this is the beginning of my last week in Changchun, and my last week living in China  and Asia for the forseeable future at least. It’s quite stressful and hectic having to move, decide what to take home; pack; throw-away; say good bye to friends; stock up on things to take home; get things made; plan things back home; and doing those things that I’ll miss most/regret not doing here.
The weather now is almost perfect, not as hot as other summers I have experienced and so very comfortable for doing anything outside. It’s been 25-35C with a breeze and low humidity, blue skies and that constant Changchun sunshine.

My current contract situation is still going through the motions, It will take time but I suspect eventually something will happen. Despite what you may think from reading my previous posts, I’m pretty laid back about all of this, I’m so used to these kind of situations happening – they are not unsual.

Just sometimes It’s frustrating and this probably comes out through my writing. In a perverted way, I enjoy testing the procedural nonsenses and trying to solve such problems. I like challenges. It provides an insight into the inner workings of organisations that I would otherwise never have an opportunity to see, however good/bad the outcome may be.

The Chinese have a  saying 百闻不如一见 bai wen bu ru yi jian-
meaning seeing something once is better than hearing it 100 times – you really don’t know what its like until you’ve been there yourself.

I’m lucky as I can just walk away from this, tell others, forget and move on. Many are not so fortunate, I am aware that what I have experienced/ing is just the tip of the iceberg.
Indeed, outside the provincial government offices on one of the days I went there, was a group of maybe 30-40 employees sitting on the steps, protesting over corruption. A few of them were holding placards, each with a different character on it, when read – I didn’t understand all of it – said their dept (Jilin province government hygiene dept) was corrupt. I think this is unusual though I have seen pickets like this before outside various government offices in Changchun (esp around renmin guangchang).

I just wonder if you got 10 laowai standing outside one of these government buildings protesting with placards, whether this would prompt action faster? It certainly would spread the news fast…

Some people have emailed me saying saying ‘well if you dont have to go there, why bother?’ If you don’t have to experience something that isn’t all good then why experience it at all? Life is short, right?
For me the answer to this is that If you never even bother to ‘go there’ then you don’t even give yourself the opportunity to see what might happen, what things coud be like. I believe its worth taking the risk if only to realise that you wont do the same thing again, I think I’d feel regret in the future at never doing something , never even finding out.
It’s kind of a paradox, in that its sometimes easy to complain about how things are not fair here; how you often can lose out; how you can find yourself in difficult positions through no fault of your own; But, in a sense, part of this is what makes the place such an enigma – for me at least, things are much laissez faire and free.
In my life here, I am seldom bored, Life is never monotonus. It’s certainly a challenge and at times very tough, but I never wake up in the morning and think ‘this is just another day’.

The final problem continued

It’s  4.39am, can’t sleep .
So I’ve been back to the government offices  4  times now,  each with pretty much with very limited success.  I’ve given them two letters stating the facts, and stating my position regarding the contract as requested, but so far nothing else has happened.

It’s a very slow process, and you have to keep on going every day, keep on pushing them to do their job, keep on pushing them to try to help your situation.

It’s quite frustrating as they are obviously stalling and puting things off in the hope that I just give up and move on.  If you actually calculate the amount of time I have dedicated to persuing this then I probably could have made the money owed by now, I am asking myself is it really worth persuing this any further?
Yesterday I went to the offices, I had arranged to meet the man there at 1.30, but when I arrive he says that he has no time today and that he will be in a meeting for the rest of the day.  I say that we had a time arranged, and he says why didn’t I come at 8am to do this?

This is the thing, In my experience trying to catch people at the ‘right’ time is often the hardest thing to do.  Governement workers it seems have lunch from 10.30/11-1.30-2ish then go home at 4.    It’s so difficult as I don’t want to sound weak and capitulate to his ‘busy’ schedule but I also don’t want to annoy him so as he won’t help me with anything!

This time, I’ve brought some Chinese friends with me so they can help with language problems and co-oberate anything said by him.  When dealing with problems like this I try not to get anybody else directly involved because it usually complicates things further and annoys the people whom I bring to help me.  If I am just there myself they are more direct and simple, we get to the point (if only because my language skills are not up to complex nuances).  If you take others, they ask all sorts of  irrelevant questions like ‘why are you helping this person’ ‘what’s your relationship with this person’ ‘why did you come here’ etc etc etc…
So he then walks out of his office, closes the door and past us, so we follow him – my chinese friends asking him can’t we do this now, it’s important, we dont have so much time you know!

He gets agitated at this and replies saying that he has a very good relationship with Jilin University and he doesn’t want to damage this!

I didn’t believe he’d actually tell us this, I didn’t expect a truthful response – at least he’s trying to being honest . So he wont do his job because it will harm his relationship with the uni, and he doesn’t want to lose guanxi.  Then I guess the only way is to go to his boss, and his boss and so on, until I can find somebody that can help!

He also said some irrelevant stuff about the fact that Jilin University gave me a letter of release and that I should not be complaining, what cheek!  I thought he was supposed to be impartial!!!haha

I think that If I keep on going back, day after day, pressuring them, maybe this would eventually get somewhere.  I believe It’s a question of putting the right amount of pressure and getting to the message to the right people, but unfortunately, time is not something I have much of in Changchun and I don’t want to spend my last days here fighting.
Maybe those people that initially give up fighting for the money are right, basically it boils down to the clear point that it really isn’t worth your time and effort  persuing this.  I feel consolled for at least trying to do things legally, there are other methods but as I said before I simply don’t have the time to pesue this further.

So I have given my information to a Chinese lawyer that I found online, he will persue this on my behalf, and maybe just maybe will get something out of it.  Im not so concerned about the  money involved (11k to be exact) it’s the principle and the attitude of jida that annoys me most.

For anybody who wants to do this, the offices you need to go to are on the second floor of the building on the south eastern side of the junction on renmin dajie and shanghai lu.  It’s an old building dating from the Japanese time, the room number for the office is 240, but the room I’ve been going to is 227.

人民大街和上海路交汇  renmin dajie he shanghai lu jiaohui or just go to the 省政府 sheng zhengfu


There is are many blogs with stories about about what Chinese people think of laowai, its also one of the most popular questions that people ask me.  Laowai basically means foreigner (though the Chinese don’t use this to describe Koreans, Japanese)  some dislike being called this but I have no problems with it, it’s the way people use the word not the meaning that is more important.

Last night for the first time in several months I spent the evening at a bar mixing with some of the other expats here in Changchun.  It was fun and interesting and made a change, however I still don’t understand why people want to do this every weekend – it must get very boring.  The funny thing is that many expats know ‘of me’  through this website, but have never actually met me in peson.  I’m quite illusive and beyond a few good friends, actively avoid contact with the foreign community in Changchun.           

I’m like this because I’m In China, I should make Chinese friends who can help me to understand things, not just huggle together with other expats just because we’re ‘foreign’.   I also don’t like the environment associated with this in Changchun, perhaps in see something in the people who frequent such places and think to myself ‘I hope I dont end up like that’ – also the choice of venues here is quite poor, it seems to range between dafeningly loud disco music and 80s stuff, that’s it.  
However, there is an element of me that sees the reasoning for this – China can be a scary place especially for those new here, In many ways it is natural to cling to something you find familar, something you can relate to.   Perhaps I’m different as I’m just not interested in hanging around with expats, afterall I can do that everyday when I go back to the UK!
Laowai in Changchun and China and Asia to an extent are an interesting bunch.
I will say that the foreigners in Changchun are not, and should not, be considered representative of what foreigners are actually like outside of China. There are many people here who couldn’t cut it in the west. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad people, but I’m just trying to make the point that often the laowai here are not a good representation of how people are back home.
Most Chinese don’t really understand laowai not just because of not having had exposure to foreigners before, but because often we do things in different ways. I often hear people say we’re strange, cold blooded etc… I understand why people say this, compared to the Chinese way, we probably are, but most laowai will not see this as they haven’t had enough exposure to Chinese way of thinking – they will see the opposite ‘those Chinese are so strange’
So, as a laowai I can much more easily work out fellow foreiger than the Chinese can, just as most laowai find it hard to work out the Chinese.
Of course Im a laowai too so you can put me into one of more of these groups!
This may seem a little negative but I’m just trying to be as realistic as possible:
Mostly Russians and Africans at Jida and Shida. Maybe here for a semester or two, unfortunately don’t have the opportunity to pick up much about Chinese culture beyond the textbooks. Generally pretty naive about China as never have the opportunity to actually experience the real world.
Foreign Workers
These make up the biggest proportion of laowai in changchun behind students, nearlly all men (some families), 35+ with professional experience in their given field. Usually stay a few months to 2 years in Changchun, mostly from Germany, France and north America – all working for automotive related companies.
Live in area just for other foreign workers, thus wil never face many of the day to day problems of  integrating into the community. 
Most dont really want to be here, have been sent here by company – no real interest in learning the language or culture, often can’t wait to get back to familes back home, spend most time working or in bars.
Christians that operate here exploiting the Chinese infactuation with cost saving (they work for pretty much nothing, their host organisation back home pays them) spreading the word of god or poisoning the minds of others. Here to convert Chinese from the classroom, despite preaching religion here being illegal the authorities turn a blind eye. Keep to themselves, generally not here very long, mostly despised by fellow teachers for diluting the market.
Very few in cc, there’s actually lots of things to see in the northeast but they are not so well known, and without language skills very difficult to do, which makes them out of reach to most foreign tourists.
Married to/serious relationship with Chinese
Quite a few of these, probably the most popular reason for laowai to be in Changchun beyond a year. Almost always men with a Chinese women (not all though) waiting to get visas sorted so they can go to the west. Very few stay long-term, almost all leave within a few years. Often younger people, though there’s the odd  老牛吃嫩草。
Shady Foreigner
When not teaching spends most time at bars, Look like they’ve just come out of prision (which they may well have!) Probably on the run from something bad they’ve done in the west – making the most of China having no extradition treaty with most western countries and Changchun being a little off the beaten track.  Usually older men, almost always have a younger Chinese girl friend(s) who help them live as they are incapable of surviving on their own.  
Men, have been around a bit, probably travelled/worked in other asian countries teaching i.e thailand, korea etc… Generally aged from late 20s to 50+, dont have interest in the culture, can’t communicate beyond basic taxi driver Chinese, are here for the women.  Are not interested in integrating into the Chinese way of life, often only eat western food. Spend lots of time at bars, massage places,  esp around guilin lu area, hitting on much younger Chinese girls. Probably have no long term plans or ambitions beyond teaching in China, love the lifestyle, too lazy, lethargic or stupid to want to do anything else with their lives. In a few years will move into the lifer category. Give a bad image of laowai to Chinese…
Often rich Japanese or Taiwanese men,  looking for a wife – usually arranged through one of the many introduction companies that operate from here. Pay lots of money to arrange this, will both go back to home country afterwards.
Prostitute/black market
Russians here for the money, trying to make a fast-buck.   Making the most of slack law enforcement, economic liberalisation and the boom in cross-border trade.
Long term China teacher 
Been in China a while, almost certainly teaching in various different cities. Likes China, likes teaching, no long tems plans beyond this – not interested in going home any time soon.  Usually men in their 30s, often have Chinese girl friend/wife.  Perhaps would be unable to adjust to life back in the west.
People that will probably be here for the rest of their lives, for various reasons but most probably because they couldn’t survive back in the west.
Generally Older men, that are too old to retrain and or lack the skills to be able to get into another profession. Whether by chance or planned have ended up here, mostly teachers making the most of a job that has low entry requirements. Usually don’t understand the language/culture despite having been here many years, perhaps in love with the vibe of the place, nice enough people but cant help feeling sorry for them…
Not so many in Changchun have come to China to retire.  Almost always have a Chinese partner, probably will do part-time teaching to keep active.
Career Break 
Younger or older people taking a career break, here for a year or two teaching, to pick up some new experience and see what things are like outside the comfort of the west. Will leave within a year of year to get back into their career


I’ve had many memorable experiences involving taxi drivers over the time but today beats them all! 😀

This afternoon I was running late, so jumped In a cab to get to a very important meeting I had scheduled.  I get in, tell him where to go, he looks at me and straight up asks me ‘你会开车吗’ ‘Can you drive?’.  I have had cabbies ask me this before and I always say ‘yes I can drive, but I don’t want to drive in Changchun- It’s just too dangerous!’

Many foreigners complain about taxi drivers messing them around, taking them the wrong way, causing problems, not understanding them etc…  My opinion on this is that you have to engage with the driver, chat with him if you can,  tell him exactly where to go, don’t leave anything to chance.  I’ve had some of the most interesesting conversations with taxi drivers, like in any country, a complete fountain of local gossip – you want to know something ask a driver.   I have never had a problem doing things this way, even in different cities. 

If you say nothing, you probably will be taken the long way as the taxi driver will assume you dont know the city (stupid rich foreigner syndrome) and can get more money from you! The taxi drivers at the airport will try to trick you because that’s what they do, so take the coach (its just as fast) or negotiate beforehand for the total price (including tolls, make sure the whole car is yours, not just a seat!) 80 yuan is a good price. 

 Also,  If you give him a piece of paper with an address on it because you can’t communicate with the driver then its very high that you’re end up paying a little more (the same applies for giving him your phone to talk to someone),  honestly I dont blame the cabbies here, I would probably do the same thing If I was in their position to make a little more cash!    

 This time though the cabbbie was persistent and kept on offering so I reluctantly accepted his proposition (and when will I get another opportunity like this!), he pulled up and we swapped seats.  I have to say It was really fun to be a taxi driver for a few minutes, but doing this as a job may not be so much fun. Actually driving the Jetta wasn’t so hard, just  I’m not used to driving on the right-hand side side of the road.  I took it down round Culture Square, Xi’an Street, negotiated People’s Square and pulled up at Chongqing Road.

It’s fun to be able to use the horn all the time, overtake anywhere, ignore traffic signs and traffic laws – however I still would never buy a vehicle in Changchun.

 The cabbie sitting next to me was giving a commentary of the different cars we were passing, asking me for my opinion on them and telling me the price.

 He told me that Land Rover’s cost 70wan or 45K pounds , we then passed an Audi Q7, he said its costs 138 wan/ 1,380,000 yuan  or about 90K pounds – I’ve seen lots of these in Changchun, I seem to see one every day.  Where they get that sort of cash from I can only guess!  

 In think as a general rule Chinese people value social status highly, ‘To be rich is to be glorious’ said Deng Xiaoping  and they sure like to show their status to others, whether this be through the clothes they wear, the car they drive, whether they have a pet dog, whether their child goes to the most expensive school – you name it.  Some people are like this in the UK too, but in Changchun I think many, many people are materialistic – especially those new to money, its as if they need to announce ‘they have made it’ to the rest of society.  Just eaves dropping on peoples conversations you get to understand that it’s all many people ever talk about, It certainly is very important.

It’s a little different from the UK, in that Changchun has a very small middle class – there are super wealthy and the working class but this big gap in the middle, which is gradually increasing.  

I read about the gap between rich and poor in the UK increasing, but here the gap between the haves and have nots is massive.  When you see such cars and people collecting 3 Jiao plastic bottles side by side, It really makes you wonder how can things keep on going like this?  I think the gap is growing.      


Net bar 网吧

So I’m at the internet bar since I’ve lost my connection at home, trying to write a very complected text and I notice the guy next to me has turned his web camera so its pointed at me, and that he’s chatting with somebody on QQ。 This is a type of Chinese chat software (apparently the code was ripped from the AOL messenger) , that almost everbody uses here – MSN, SKYPE and the others are not so well known and most net bars dont have such programs installed on them. 

 I find QQ a really buggy piece of software and so don’t like it much  (MSN is better)- but I do use it, as it’s an invaluable tool with which to chat with people in Chinese who don’t understand English and also that most the people I know here don’t use MSN.  

The system is all in Chinese so your computer must have language support or you’re just see those squares, apparently there’s an English language version though I’ve never tried it first hand.  

Anyway, he then notices that I’ve seen what he’s doing, and moves the camera back to its original position, not before I asked him what he’s playing at.  He gave me a ‘souurrryy’  ‘souurrryy’ looking quite embarrassed then spouted out‘喝啤酒吗’’wanna beer’.   I replied jokingly ‘当然了’ of course, he then disappeared for a few moments and returned with 4 bottles of Huadan 花丹啤酒 。 It’s Funny how these things go, just another one of those many interesting experiences to add to the list 🙂 

The Final Problem

I’ve been very busy, planning things and fighting (yet again 🙁 ) to get what I’m due.  I am done teaching… forever! 😀  Feels very satisfying to be done, though also tinged with an element of sadness as at times the job was immensly rewarding. 


I’ve learnt that laws here are really not so important, consumer protection is almost non existant (this is afteall a very recent development in the west), so with the absence of this whom you deal with becomes ever so important.

I now know that in Changchun you shouldn’t trust anybody you don’t know well, many Chinese will have no problem stabbing you in the back at the earliest opportunity – this isn’t just because you’re a foreigner, they have no problem screwing anybody – but being foreign makes you a better target in their eyes.

Of course It is generally easier, where-ever you are in the world to trick, exploite, swindle or lie to to someone from the outside for obvious reasons –  they are unfamilar with the local surroundings and not so tuned in as to how things operate.

This is especially apparent to those coming from the west, where we are mollycoddled with consumer protection, so that once you get to somewhere as cut-throat as China you realise you’re totally unequiped with how to deal with things (notwithstading the huge culture shock), at least that’s how I felt initially.
It’s rough and ready, you can no longer fall back on law and authority to protect your interests – I have found that in many situations you have to be very aware and pushy bordering rude, to get what you want. This is not so easy for me to do, I’m not really that sort of person but I think I’ve adapted to an extent – probably as a survival mechanism more than anything.   

Just last week I was at the 市局 city police station extending my visa for a few more weeks, waiting in line, I get to the front and the chap behind me (yes he was chinese) tries to push in front of me, pushing his documents in front of mine trying to get in first.   I know that a year ago I would have let this go, I would have just put this down to ‘this is China’ and given up, I don’t want an altercation, life is too short etc..  But this time I pushed his documents to the side and said to him in my fiercest chinese ‘what are you doing?’ ‘queue up!’ ‘idiot!’‘你干嘛’? 别插队!白痴! He looked at me totally shocked (I think he thought I was going to hit him! 😉 ) and started laughing, then turned around and went to the back of the line. 

I think, If you want to do many things successfully in Changchun you also need to have people that you can trust, meaning people you know well. i.e. Friends.  Friends that have skills and knowledge in different areas, that are able to help you when you need it.

If you have a problem, you have somewhere to turn and you can guarantee not being swindled. For example, with my computer, It needed upgrading so I go to a local store and get a friend I know who works there to help me out. 

Likewise with my phone, I know someone who runs a phone shop. The tailor, if I need something making – I know the quality will be good and the price realistic – I know people whom I can go to and buy such things and they will get me things for trade prices. Of course such relationships cover all areas – I’ve got so many jobs thorough friends, opportunities that would never have otherwise come up.  If you get into a sticky situation,  not knowing the right people means you can do nothing.

In return I help can help them if they need anything-  I think building relationships is so much more important here than it is in the UK. Perhaps being a laowai here helps in some circumstances (especially being to speak some Chinese) and It’s not so hard to make friends with people and build mutually benifical relationships.

This moves me onto my latest, and hopefully last, dilemma I’ll have in Changchun.  I’ve had quite a few nasty situations with money, visas etc but the good expereinces have far outweighed the bad ones – its just that a combination of tending to remember bad things and the fact that at the actual time, some of these bad things took up a large proportion of my life.

I’m writing this so hopefully others will be able to learn from my mistakes and to inform how some bosses treat their employees.

Yes, It’s common for Chinese bosses (and some foreign companies too) to screw their subordinates but this surely would never happen at a place like Jida….   They’re not some cowboy outfit that will just run away to the next province and carry out the same scam again, they are a government university they can’t just disappear and they have a reputation to keep….  However, like so many things here it’s difficult to tell until you are upon the actual situation.   I thought wrong again.

I touched on the problems I’ve been facing in previous posts but didn’t elaborate as I was trying to sort things out through negotiation.  Unfortunately that has failed, and so I’m now in the process of taking Jida through government arbitration.  You may think I’m totally mad for doing this, but the reasons behind this for me are that It gives me some useful new experience, allows me a chance to personally test the system, I still have a few weeks here to persue this, I want the money owed, and hopefully other foreigners can use this information as advice in the future.  

I tried to find somebody at Jida to talk to for the final time, but couldn’t find anybody available or willing to even meet with me.  I have been faced with this obstructionism for months now, they think that If they refuse to see me, the problem will vanish, and they are right as all the other foreign teachers gave up as and went home. So, I maybe the people at the government could help me…?

Now, my contract is a legal contract with the government and Jida so I have the right to take any problems to a government department called the ‘State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs’ 吉林省外国专家局’.  

Finding this place isn’t easy, I initially went to the wrong government offices, a huge red square fortress of a building – the city government in the very south of the city – and the man there was very good and told me (in very good ENGLISH!) where I should go.  The place I had to go is the provincial government offices, based on Renmin Dajie not far from Chongqing Lu.      

My complaint was registered (for what its worth) – you have to have everything written down, in Chinese (they have no English skills, beyond please and  sit down).  Then he made a few phone calls, trying to get through to somebody at Jida.  It took him a while but eventually he did, and he told them what I was trying to say and quite forcibly told them to wait in their office for me and that you should sort out this problem as its your job.  He then said if I have any more problems to come back again, and to give me a report of the outcome. 

Whether he’s actually going to help me I dont know, He could just be going through the motions, only time will tell.   Maybe this will get me nowhere but at the very least it will cause  ‘mafan’ trouble for the people at jida, bad news spreads fast through the grapevine. 

Anyway, I took a bus to the South Campus and got there 30 mins or so later, went to the office and they were still waiting for me. 

I went into the office, sat on one of those sofa things that all Chinese bosses seem to have in their office and waited a few moments before she (there were 2 people quizzing me, names withheld for the time being)  burst out saying:

‘Who told you to go to the government?’

 I didn’t know what to say, she was clearly very unhappy with something, so I told her the truth

‘noone’ I replied.

She didn’t follow and asked again so I said ‘if you read the contract it tells you this. It is my right’ 

She then had the cheek to ask ‘why didn’t you come here first!’  and so I told her despite many, many efforts over months you have been uninterested in communicating.

 I then explained the situation (they of course already know this, since many teachers have complained).

Basically it comes down to the university saying our contracts are for 2 semesters and not 1 year, therefore you’re not entitled to vacation pay. 

As far as i’m concerned the contract is unambigious, It’s plain and simple.  I then explained a few concepts to them that show this, just to show that I’m serious.  There’s so many things in the contract that back up my case it’s not worth my time listing them all, it’s totally one sided, yet they still refused to agree making up their own interpretations based on fantasy – nothing to do with the contract.  On top of what the contract says, their actions show everything.

I had my apartment throughout the year, throughout the vacation free of charge – as only available to one year contract employees.  They said that  they did this ‘as an act of co-operation and friendship’ They then went on to give me all sorts of rubbish about us being friends and relishing the spirit of international cooperation bla bla bla.  At this point I was a little annoyed so I said bluntly, this is nothing to do with friendship, its a contract – if you were my friend would I be here now????  They got angry at this and made another threat.

Because these are two, one semester contracts you owe us for the time you stayed in the apartment free of charge and that comes out to 16,000yuan @200yuan a day!   They then added that we can take the money out of your account through a back transfer (its the account used for salary – obviously this concerned me – can they actually do this?

Anyone know??, because I haven’t been able to get a yes/no answer on this from anybody yet. I don’t think it’s possible, but as I have learnt anythingis possible in China with the right connections/cash. 

I managed to withhold from bursting into laughter, and said that their reasoning makes no sense, where does it say this in the contract??   I then made a jibe that their logical reasoning skills were very much below par for people in your positons of seniority. 

Maybe the biggest element against them is that they paid me and extra half months salary last month, as a bonus for the completion of 1 year contract.  I waited until this time as often in China unexpcted things happen with the last months pay – I wanted to see how they’d react. 

Infact the contract says: ‘at the final payday Party B (me) is entitled to an extra half months salary.  This is limited to employees on a 1 year contract only’

Clearly their actions imply this, I thought they’d consider backing down, but no.  They said this was done as an ‘Act of friendship, to the foreign teachers at Jilin University’, sorry but there’s only one word fit to describe this – BULLSHIT.  I’ve heard these kind of ‘friendship’ lines before, it’s a classic trick used by people trying to gain your trust – sorry, but I’ve been there before!

 At this point after 1.5 hours of trying, it’s almost 8 on friday evening, they are not going to listen, I tell them we agree to disagree, thanked them for their time (they didn’t thank me) and walked out of the meeting. 

I said I shall continue to persue this through whatever means I think appropriate, they asked ‘where will you go to persue this?’   I refused to answer them – just giving them a general ‘lots of places’ answer.     I know if I told them, they will get in touch with those people first and get the bribe in so as to block me from doing anything – I remember when I had visa problems, telling the police what I was going to do, and my avenues suddenly got cut off.

Overall what really surprised most about this was their aggressiveness, unprofessional behaviour and general tone when talking to me.  It was as if I was the naughty schoolboy, taking a lecture from the Headmaster – looking back, I think they are really nasty people, whom I gave far too much respect to.    

 Actually, many of the people I have met here who hold senior positions really are not very nice people, not people whom you’d look up to or want to emulate.  Not really dedicated, thoughtful, or intelligent people, I just get the impression most are simply chancers and opportunists born into the right family, desperate to protect their social status.

Clearly they are worried about this, It’s really not so much money to them (or me) but this only goes to show just how greedy and selfish they must be.  I’ve given them the offer to settle now, they refused, so now its out of their hands.   I’m not worried at all, infact I relish a challenge like this, I think I have everything to gain by persuing them.   

I think this situation has reinforced the position that I shall never work directly for a Chinese paymaster again. There is just too much risk, too much uncertainty.  I try to be professional and hardworking, but working here under this system doing such is not recognised or valued – I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting my time.  I am very lucky that I have other options, I shall take those up but still would like to come back here again – you just have to be working for (or getting paid) by someone outside of the chaos.  


Will write more as events develop  




This came up in a conversation the other day and it reminded me of something that happened to me when I first got to China.  It certainly isn’t something you ever think would happen, but It happens to most foreigners that come to China for the first time, usually for the first few weeks here.

Unless a person is particuarly distinctive (i.e dyed hair,) , I remember the only way I could tell most people apart was by the clothes they were wearing. Once, when I’d just got here I had some friends visit me, but I didn’t even recognise them until they introduced themselves!

 I’m sure you could write a paper on why this happens,  but I have my own little theory based on experience. I think It has something to do with the differences in recognition through facial characteristics. We perhaps look for the hair colour, eye colour, the structure of the nose and eyes, maybe even the build of the person.   

As most Chinese have brown, smaller eyes, black coloured hair and different facial structures, It may be that those with little experience of seeing such looks, haven’t been able to fully work out how to recognise such people.

Therefore in China, I think different rules apply.  Perhaps we subconsciously look more at the structure of the face, the height, the hairstyle, different facial characteristics.

I think most westerners are initially less familiar at seeing so many Chinese looking faces and being able to differentaite those such differences.  Just as many Chinese I know say that all foreigners look the same – are fat, big, different coloured hair, deep eyes, big noses, the list goes on.   

I guess we’re all conditioned to an extent based on the environments we’ve been exposed to.   I’m willing to bet that Chinese travelling to the west for the first time experience the reverse of this.