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