Book Sample: An American in China

Well, it has been a while since I had updated this website. There is a bit of a reason for that. I have been working hard as a teacher in China and have been working on both editing and touching up Road Trip of the Damned. But I have also been working on my first non-fiction story An American in China: An Alternative and Gonzo look into United States and Chinese Relation.

It is the written story of my time in China as a foreign teacher and what normal foreign teachers will have to go through to teach overseas from first arrival to the language barrier. So, with a further ado, here is the first sample of one of my current projects.


Chapter One: A Quilt of Lies.

 

With this first sentence, I had not slept for twenty six hours which would eventually become thirty hours by the time I arrived in Beijing. Sitting in and waiting for my plane to start boarding over the course of fourteen hours, I had found no form of rest and I doubted that I would find any on the twelve hour flight ahead of me, even with the pack of overpriced sleeping pills in my pocket.

Several cups of coffee proved to be of no use, despite the strength or size. It’s almost funny; we live in a world where there’s inhalable chocolate powder, over the counter hallucinogenic ‘bath salts’ for 7.99 pre-tax and enough flavors of easily accessible vodka to make Ben and Jerry want to make an alcoholic ice cream[1]. Yet, we don’t have an over the counter needle of stimulant despite the presumable demand of the caffeine addicted nation of mine. I couldn’t imagine it being too expensive; a syringe costs less than fifteen cents each and the chemicals, well…I couldn’t imagine that Guarana and Caffeine are too costly to make if we are putting it in ninety nine cent cans of energy drinks[2]. But I am getting off track[3].

At twelve ten in the morning on February 19, 2016, I found myself in Toronto Airport, the overpriced small coffee from Starbucks wearing off and my phone starting to die. My phone had no service to call or text my family, my saving grace the intermittent Wi-Fi.  I would later have to replace the expensive brick that was my Verizon IPhone 4 with one with a replaceable SIM card, coverage my ass. I wandered through security with no trouble and found myself in the only bustling area at the time, ‘Arrivals’. Slung over my shoulder and cutting into it as well as my flopping satchel with its worn out Velcro that contained my laptop, my camera, tablet, a few books, pencils and an empty sketch pad. In my other hand, I carried a suitcase filled with clothes, a guide to drawing, essentials like toothpaste, a small hair trimmer for nose hair and condoms, a deck of cards and a bobble-head doll resembling a hula girl zombie from the video game for Dead Island.

I walked over to the nearby Starbucks, plugged my computer in and began typing. What I was typing, it doesn’t matter really. Sitting across from me was a beautiful young woman; looking no older than twenty five, she had medium length blonde hair that covered part of her skim milk face. She approached me, asking if she could use the outlet under my feet and I obliged her. Though to her surprise, the cord was not long enough, so I offered to move one of the large red polyester armchairs for her so she could use the outlet. After a while, we began to talk and I would learn that her name was Selene, a native from Toronto who was leaving for Cuba. We discussed our travel plans, American sarcasm, and the politics between the United States and Cuba, which I knew little about. She left on her plane a few hours before I got onto mine, which I regret not giving her my email.

As it grew close to five am, I found myself sitting in the empty atrium commonly known as ‘Departures’. Looking around, several people were lying wherever they could; on the matted floor for children, sprawled out on the seats, on the heating vents, anywhere they could curl up for the few hours of sleep they needed. Truthfully, I was tempted to lie down on the heating vents, but if I did, my body would be pressed against the cold glass window as well. I wish I had that opportunity. My ‘attempts’ at micro-napping for minutes on end failed with the periodic intercom calling for the people who had flights at eight forty in the morning which repeated for over an hour and a half. I grew to hate the people who were flying at 8:40 in the morning.

The next few hours of waiting for my gate to be announced were the longest hours of boredom that I could have. Even with a bag full of electronics, I had to save their power for the actual flight. I didn’t know if there were available outlets on the plane. The same went for my books and my drawing book, I had to save them for when I was desperate. By the time nine came by and my gating area, E73, was announced, I was thanking every deity that man had conjured up as I walked towards Gate Five.

I went through security one again, performing the full dog and pony show called ‘Airport Security’. What people will go through for the illusion of safety, it’s both amazing and sad with all things considered. Though it was surprisingly more comfortable and laid back than the security at Tampa International. Tampa International Airport is lined to the brim with boy scanners, multiple metal detectors and the pretentious looks of the TSA of an imaginary superiority over the masses who simply wanted to travel. In a Canadian airport, it was just a quick walk through the metal detector and a pat down sans the happy ending.

Going down the escalator, I found myself surrounded with shops I clearly couldn’t afford. Restaurants like Fetta and Lee’s Kitchen were abundant in this stretch of the airport and essentially sang of the hyper indulgence of the elite. I sat myself down at one of the many stretches of electronic enabled tables and began to work on my computer while my phone charged.

Across from me, three people sat; a married couple, Tony and Collene, and a young woman I did not have the opportunity to ask what her name was. We had a lively conversation about where we were from, our home towns, our destinations and more. The young woman was almost similar to me; fresh out of university, looking to expand her horizons. You have to love the youth life crisis, too young to buy a sports car, too old to act like a child and get away with it legally and unsure with what to do with the next forty years. She told us that she was going to India to learn Yoga and if she ran out of money, teach anything she could. I could only guess that she would probably have to ‘teach’ other things to get by. Tony and Collene on the other hand, were off on vacation to Cancun Mexico. One of the topics that they found interesting was Donald Trump running for president, considering it as funny as The Real Housewives of LA. After a few minutes, we bid each other farewell and I was left alone to my work.

When I had boarded my plane, I was assigned Seat number 60-A, a seat with a view that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy for several hours. Though I was able to get some rest during the flight, contorting and twisting into every single Kama sutra position of sleep imaginable just to get comfortable, only to be awoken periodically for drinks and ‘meals’.

Between me and the aisle were a man and a woman, unrelated and differing in age. During the twelve hour flight, I didn’t speak to the man who appeared in his forties, if not older. The young woman on the other hand, I managed to talk to her for a while on the plane towards the end of my trip.

We discussed the cultural differences between the United States and China, our personal lives and what cities I could visit if I had time. I had to admit, she looked cute when she fell asleep as the plane was landing, wrapped up in the paper thin black blanket that Air Canada had given us. She told me that after she finished her university level education; she quickly became employed at an outsourced internet company working for travel websites such as Expedia and Travelocity, both of which I was amazed to find Microsoft Word accepted as actual words as I was writing this. Her only visit to the United States was just over a year ago, where she traveled to San Francisco.

I told her how I was a recent graduate who wrote novels in his spare time, but when I told her that I was a tourist, only visiting for a month, rather than the truth that I was staying for a full year to work as a teacher. Truthfully, I felt bad after telling her that, but in the worst case scenario, it’s better to have plausible deniability.

I was outsourced by Best Learning to teach children how to not only speak English, but to write and read it as well. I was hired through emails and Skype communications by Brian, Sally, and a man named Jerry, none of whom I had met in person until I set foot in China. It was a woman named Anita who helped me through my visa process, one that would cost almost three hundred dollars for me. However, there was a problem; the Z visa that I needed to be able to work in China legally was being altered due to American-China relations and was outside of my reach[4]. In order to apply, I had to be twenty five, have two years of experience under my belt, and have a bachelor’s degree. I only had the degree. Anita then suggested that I should instead apply for the ‘L’ visa instead, which not knowing the visa system, I applied to it with little thought. It wasn’t until I had the paperwork in hand that I realized that it was a tourist visa.

From the very start of the process, I was being woven into a serious of potentially dangerous lies and criminal offenses. The first being using false documentation on the visa application, claiming that I was flying from a plane in Baltimore to Detroit and then to China rather than the route I was actually going. The second half of this would be Anita using her home address to say where I would staying at rather than the locations that Best Learning had given me to live in. I would later have to lie again when I arrived in China, when foreigners like me were given immigration forms to fill out that would feature our arrivals, our residences and our departures.

By the time I left immigration, I had a fear clouding my mind. What if they called her to verify the information? What if they began to look over the paperwork? How will I be able to stay here if I can’t get the proper paperwork? With only ninety days allowed on my visa, it didn’t give me or the agency much time to work with. The first night in Beijing, I didn’t sleep well. The fear of the police arresting me or worse kept me awake.

Looking out the window as we were preparing to land, I saw the vast stretches of land that made up China. The mountainous stretches filled with cracks and sparse areas of white resembled freshly made wheat bread rather than Earth, though that might have been due to the barely passible airport cuisine. I saw the billowing pillars of industry in the distance, spaced from each other by kilometers.

When I first stepped in China, I walked through the needless maze of blockers and turnstiles to reach the desk of a female employee adorned in a uniform resembling something more akin to military design rather than airport staffing. I know I seem like I am talking a lot about women in the first chapter alone, but they make up some of the more ‘interesting’ people I talked to during the first part of my journey.

Silently with a stern demeanor, she looked over my visa and immigration form, entering the information on the computer, reducing nothing from my overall paranoia. She then tore the immigration form along the side, giving me half of it and bidding me on my way.

I wandered through the spacious Beijing Airport as I tried to search for the exit and in turn, the person Sally had called upon to give me a ride to the hotel. After passing through customs, I walked through a walled off walkway with people clinging to the railings, waiting for their loved ones, friends or business associates to arrive. It looked like the least enthusiastic red carpet walking of celebrities.

Waiting at the end of the walkway was a man named Peter, somewhere between his late twenties and early forties, clutching a white piece of paper with my name written in black sharpie. A slightly portly man that was roughly my size, his black hair was cut into a ‘modern’ design. He met me with a smile and a handshake, something I didn’t expect. From what I had previously read before coming to China, physical contact between people such as public affection and handshakes were avoided unless you knew the person. This was confirmed with the girl I had talked to on the airplane when she described herself as well as other Chinese people to be ‘shy’.

In truth, I must have stuck out more than other people in that airport. A blue eyed, dirty blonde haired white American walking into an Asian airport with a vintage leather bomber’s jacket, black shirt and jeans on, you either expect him to be some pretentious hipster trying to be ‘hip’ on his blog with the newest spicy condiment to talk about or think that he is up to something.

I followed him to the car in the lower garage, making idle chitchat with him about where we were from, sports and the beginning of training. He told me that along with six other teachers, I would begin training of Monday, February 22nd 2016 at nine am sharp. He handed me a service guide to the metro, showing which subway entrance was closest to the head office building and directions to office.

What followed was one of the first frightening moments I would have on Chinese soil; riding shotgun in Peter’s Buick. Before you begin to accuse me of racism, let me explain.

With little use of turn signals from everyone, people pulling out even with the light red, and the constant barrage of people crossing the streets either on foot or by bike, it was amazing to see that no one got harmed during the twenty minute drive. We had nearly hit other people and cars, barely dodging them with less than a few centimeters. Over the radio of music Peter had playing through his stereo, we were listening to Chinese pop music, more vocally focused with little instrumentals. I made a light comment about playing harder rock and he changed the station. But what began to play were songs more focused on love and romance, one of them being ‘Love Potion No. 9’. I wanted badly to make a joke about introducing him to Judas Priest or Black Sabbath, but I didn’t want to offend him.[5]

Driving down what I could only assume was Main Street, he showed me a few banks where I could exchange currencies as well as the Best Learning Office. He drove the car through the darkened alleyway and led us down into the barely lit subterranean garage under the hotel. The garage was poorly lit and littered with trash; it made me think that I was going to be jumped by someone. With my belongings in hand, we walked up the stairs into the hotel I would call home for the moment.

We entered through the glass doors of the ‘Homeinn Hotel’ located on Anli road and Peter began to discuss my arrangements with the young man at the counter who I would later learn from asking about the outlets that he did not speak a word of English. After filling out the paperwork on the computer, the young man scanned my passport, visa and all, into the computer and Peter took a photo of it with his phone. Great, I thought, who doesn’t have a copy of my passport now?

Peter led me through the lobby to the elevator that moaned and creaked as it led us up to the light banana crème walled hallways of the third floor. After a left and a right turn, Peter had shown me room 392 and mentioned that another of the teachers that would be joining me for training on Monday was in the room next to me. He bid me farewell and left me to my own devices.

I took a much needed shower to wash the smell of sweat and airport food off of me. Though one smell of the ‘shampoo’ they had available ala metal pump, came off as a blended assortment of grass clippings and soy, another thing to add to the growing list of things to buy to survive in China. Glancing at the twister style wallpaper that adorned the left wall, I was glad that they didn’t decided to cover the entire room with it.

The next thing I did was send a message to my mother to tell her that I had left Canada and made it to China unharmed. I hope she had the same success getting back from California with my nephew Vernon. I know it must have hurt her, not being able to see off her son for what could be the last time, but timing can be a bitch.

My parents, friends, coworkers/employers, and stockbroker had all had their laughs about me traveling to China ranging from marrying a Chinese girl to joining the communist party to getting kicked out of the country within a week. My response to them would be that I would be more likely to end up in Vietnam somehow, sitting at a wooden table with a black revolver in front of me as a crowd of men chant for me to pull the trigger. Sadly, only a few people caught on to the Michael Chimino joke I was making.

Though at a point, I was half tempted to take a photo with me and another man at the Toronto airport and tell my parents that me and a man named ‘Phillipe’ fell in love and were going away to Montreal to elope. But something told me that they would quickly catch onto the joke.

I prepared for bed, my mind immediately thinking of what I would have to do tomorrow now that I was in the country. Visit Best Learning, learn the area, buy a prepaid burner with a usable SIM card, drop the bastards at Verizon, the list just kept growing. I still thought about what was going to happen with the visa.  There was no way I could work under the table as an undocumented worker without someone catching on eventually. It made me think, did Sally and Brian know about this too or was it all a game for two between Anita and me? A quilt of lies brought me here and it was going to take a lot to break free of it.

Before going to bed, someone slipped two business cards under my door, both of them covered with scantily clad women offering massages with one hundred RMB or yuan, roughly fifteen dollars and thirty three cents, off if I gave them the card. I let out a light smirk and thought to myself, I can still get some fun in this town[6].

[1] Author’s Note: Considering the different flavors of ice cream that Ben and Jerry’s have made over the years including ‘Scweddy Balls’ and ‘Miz Jelena’s Sweet Potato Pie’, I would not be surprised if there was a ‘Johnny Walker’ flavor coming out in 2017.

[2] Author’s note: Do not attempt to inject any stimulant directly into your bloodstream. It will end badly for you.

[3] Fair Warning: The author does like to trail off from time to time. He is easily distract….oh, someone left doughnuts in the office.

[4] Author’s Note: This went into effect in late December 2015.

[5] Curiously enough, I have not heard any form of Chinese Metal music for quite some time in China. Pop, muzak covers of classic rock and EDM seemed to reign here.

[6] *See Figure 1.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Samples, Updates

One response to “Book Sample: An American in China

  1. Yo, this is an absolute KILLER preview. So much detail…good detail, though, not tedious detail. And something about the dry-observational-humor tone really draws me in. I’d read the shit outta this book.

    Hope everything is going well in China and that you continue to remain incarcerated! I look forward to the rest of the book!

    Like

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