The 7 Year Laowai: Part 7 – Safety

I had an English class once where this girl interrupted me to ask what I thought of Japan, and without waiting for an answer, proceeded to tell me that Japan had killed many Chinese people, that they hated China, they were jealous of China. Then she went into Korea. Korea “stole our culture”. You’d think imitation the sincerest form of flattery, but not this girl.

I didn’t know what to say. On one hand, listening to this recorded message, it dawned on me that I was 12,000 miles away from everyone and everything I had ever known…and that according to some people, this, this, blind allegiance, blatant censorship, and self-checking all in the name of “harmony”…this is the next superpower.

On the other hand, she was speaking. I take what I can get.

Be sure to start at the beginning with “The 7-Year Laowai: Part 1 – Introduction“, or see all posts in the series here.

I had an English class once where this girl interrupted me to ask what I thought of Japan, and without waiting for an answer, proceeded to tell me that Japan had killed many Chinese people, that they hated China, they were jealous of China. Then she went into Korea. Korea “stole our culture”. You’d think imitation the sincerest form of flattery, but not this girl.

I didn’t know what to say. On one hand, listening to this recorded message, it dawned on me that I was 12,000 miles away from everyone and everything I had ever known…and that according to some people, this, this, blind allegiance, blatant censorship, and self-checking all in the name of “harmony”…this is the next superpower.

On the other hand, she was speaking. I take what I can get.

While not typical of my students, thinking about Tom reminded me of her.

Of Nicole too.

I don’t know Nicole’s Chinese name, nor do I know exactly how her family was “powerful”, suffice to say that she had an aunt in our university’s administration. That despite having no Bachelor’s degree, she was enrolled as a postgraduate student…and that she did not particularly care for laowai.

Or anyone else for that matter.

When Keith wrote “…you can guess what happens next”, he refers to the harassment and subsequent vandalism carried out on Tom’s apartment by our school’s fenqing.

Like Matt, Keith saw fit to give Tom a special farewell. It began slowly at first. Keith started by telling some other teachers that he had read Tom’s blog, that it was “offensive” against China, and with no segue, went into what a “poor” teacher Tom was and how his contract would not be renewed.

Then it gained speed.

I was walking on the backstreet one evening when from behind me I heard a wheezy moan. I turned in time to see Keith rumbling up towards me.

“Did…you hear me calling your name? Where are you going?”

“Just to get some dinner,” I told him.

There was a silence lasting several seconds stretched to forever. I smiled and went up the street.

Keith followed.

We ended up in a Muslim noodle place.

Over dinner, Keith asked me if I had read Tom’s blog. I said ‘no’, although I had, and he told me what he’d told the other teachers, except this time with a little more tacked on.

“He just writes these things…his teaching’s just very ineffective,” Keith said. “We won’t be asking him back.”

I didn’t ask why his teaching was ineffective or how Keith knew that without sitting in on his class. I didn’t know, but what the hell, that made two of us…

Around contract renewal time, Tom got an email:

Subject: YOU

I have read all your disgusting blog articles. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You have no one to blame for your own problems but you. You clearly do not fit teaching in China. I strongly suggest you resign, effective immediately. I am so disappointed in you.

I shared with the young man what I’d heard, and then got this bit of news:

They wanted Ashley back.

From what I gathered, Keith caught Ashley out alone one day and lassoed her into an early lunch. Over fried rice, Keith kicked things off by telling her that he had secured admission for Xia Yu’s daughter to Middle Tennessee State University. He had accomplished this feat with one simple email, sent to someone very powerful over there. What a coincidence too, as Xia Yu herself was awfully powerful, as was her husband…and of course, Keith knew all of them so well.

Keith also told her what he’d been saying about Tom. Wondered aloud why Tom was getting so angry, as Keith was “just trying to help”.

Because the office didn’t want him back.

Because “they” did not want Tom back, none of this “we” business anymore, and though Keith could do nothing for Tom…he could keep Ashley safe.

Ashley informed Tom. Liking China as they did, the two of them decided to apply for jobs elsewhere. They sent their resumes to some local universities.

Then Ashley got her own email from Keith, reprimanding her for sending her resume out after he had told her she was safe. Admonishing her for not “understanding” China.

I guess getting let down sucks at any age.

They did not tell Tom his contract wasn’t being renewed–he had to call. So he calls our FAO up, and she tells him…

“We cannot renew the contract. Your teaching is ineffective.”

Ineffective. Where on earth did she pick up that word? Ineffective.

Which raises the question, what exactly is effective teaching? Do they know what that is? How do they know his teaching is ineffective? I asked these questions–Tom asked these questions.

After the vandalism.

You see, Tom went to the office and complained about Keith. Xia Yu told him what he wanted to hear, then relayed the information back to her fat, wrinkly, running dog. And Keith?

Nicole was one of Keith’s students. Tom had posted Keith’s email on his blog, mocking it…and Nicole, she “just found” Tom’s blog by googling Keith’s name…like she just found Tom’s “uncomplimentary” writing.

They vandalized the wall outside Tom’s apartment.

“Tom, you suck. Go to hell!” was splashed in black paint. “Jerk Ass”, on his door.

All over some writing, most of which they could barely understand? Warm. A racist attack? Getting warmer. Horrendous xenophobia, with an inferiority complex to match? Exactly! Don’t knock the Century of Humiliation. It gives your life direction, purpose. Miserable little emperors have so much time on their hands.

As do foreign teachers.

Keith sent Nicole the link to Tom’s blog and told his classes that Tom was writing “bad” things about China. This, several students readily admitted. Nicole, little nationalist, little racist Nicole, she organized the whole thing on the BBS. The school said they would investigate what happened, so of course they did not. Tom raised hell. But Tom…

He forced a meeting. With Xia Yu, our FAO, and Keith. It was like forcing a meeting with the principal and his son, when the son had beaten you up…and the principal had helped him. In the meeting, Keith started wagging his finger at Tom, accusing him of writing “bad” things about China. When it came to Keith’s email, why, he was “just expressing” his “disappointment” with Tom. As for the blogs, why, Keith never mentioned them in class. He “just replied” to the “many emails” he’d received about what TOM posted on HIS BLOG about Keith. You know, the blog, where Tom had written such “bad” things about China.

Later, Keith simplified the story: Tom wrote bad things about China, the students googled him, found it…and you can just guess what happens next. Poor Keith just can’t understand why Tom keeps blaming him. As Keith put it, “It’s so typical of a young American. He made all kinds of problems for himself and by himself – leading to nasty comments posted outside his apartment by some irate students.”

And would you know it, right after this, Keith caught Ashley outside, and said they wouldn’t be renewing her contract after all. “They say you’re mean to your students,” Keith told her.

So what was Tom to do now? What could he do? Who could he turn to? No one is here to help foreign teachers in China…but I couldn’t tell the kid this.

Keith “recruited” through university career services email lists in America. So I told Tom his best bet would be to email the career services Keith had recruited him through and file a formal complaint. Include pictures, write everything you can remember. I told him all this, keeping my suspicions to myself, and Tom did it. He wrote a lengthy, professional email, detailing what happened, Keith’s behavior, how it represented a threat to the teachers he’s supposed to be “helping” in this very foreign country. Tom even mused on what would’ve happened if he or Ashley had been hurt. It was long. It was professional.

It was cathartic.

And that’s all it ended up being. They sent Tom back an email saying they would “keep it on file”. That was it. Tom and Ashley are in Shanghai now, Ashley interning somewhere, while Tom’s doing a Master’s degree in Chinese.

As for Keith, well, he got to recruit “twenty” new teachers, “real” teachers as he called them. Not young Americans who just don’t know how to teach, who just don’t belong here.

Fortunately, I missed this particular extravaganza.

DISCLAIMER: While drawn from real life, this post is fiction.