China, November 22, 1999
Don't even think of being a foreign expert in China!
Well that was quick. In less than one month, Beijing Review, or at least
the publishing house behind it, exceeded my bullshit quotient and forced
me to walk away from a comfortable situation before I was ready to leave.
When I first started, for reasons still a mystery to me, they expected me to come to work at least two hours before any of the staff writers would have articles for me to review. Not one to waste good sleep-time staring at the wall, I never even attempted to follow that plan and thankfully no one seemed to notice. I was glad, since the hour-long morning taxi crawl was insane when it would only be a 20 minute breeze later in the day, and I would still wait around for work to land on my desk.
Then, after I'd been at it a week or so, they told me I needed to get a physical to obtain the work visa required by the Chinese government. I was fine with the idea, until they said I'd have to pay for both the exam and the visa myself. I've heard of exams before, never liked the idea, but if the company would reimburse you for it, which I understand is the norm, then okay. As to the visa, anyone who's worked abroad will tell ya, that if they want ya, they'll fix the visa for you. Neither was the case here.
So far, I was still content to go along with the deal. I knew that my $300 a month pay would be well below my actual $800 a month expenditures, but they were gonna put me up in a nice apartment and they didn't ask me to work more than 20 hours a week. I could live with that. Not overjoyed mind you, especially since the exam and visa costs surpassed $200, but still reasonable for a job that would allow me to wander around China for a year.
Last Thursday, I reached my limit. The publishers of Beijing Review finally gave me my contract to sign and I immediately turned it down. Why? Because they expected me to pay them $500 for the privilege of working. Oh, they said they'd give it back to me at the end of my contract if I stayed the year, but that really didn't matter. That I would pay them what amounted to one and a half month's salary up front, did.
After the physical & visa costs, already pretty much one-month's salary, to actually pay another month and a half more for what amounted to a golden handcuff, was completely unacceptable. If they'd told me I would get a bonus for staying a year, that would be one thing, but this 'ernest' money was too much.
Way too much if this was my first direct contact with the publisher. The editors I worked with on a daily basis were cool, but they had to follow the publisher's rules. If the publishers were gonna treat me like this before I was hired, what hell would I live through after I was actually an employee?
I spent that night thinking about my gig here in Beijing, and how much fun I was or was not having, and I realized that I was kinda glad they'd pulled this crap. It gave me a wonderful excuse to wrap up my stay here and head farther south before the smog got thicker, winter got colder, and I got whiter.
Its time for me to follow the warmth I felt in Hong Kong, the warmth in the air and in the people. The Beijing Chinese don't seem all that nice, or at least friendly. Maybe its the introspective culture of the north, but I don't like it. And since I don't have to take it, I'm gonna go where I can feel warm: Hong Kong, Thailand, and in 2000, Australia.
In the end, I'm not so worried about working either. For me, jobs are not that hard to find. I'm smart, hard-working, and professional (or at least I think I am), and I seem to be hired during every interview I make, so as to work: easy come, easy go.