Living with the Han 2: Other than that it wasn’t too bad…

I walked through Huzhou last Saturday in a desperate attempt to change money. I did not expect a good rate of exchange or stellar service, but I did expect it to be possible. After all, even with the rise of touch-pay mobile phones and nearly-universal use for bank cards it is still advisable to carry some cash. My efforts were futile. Most banks only exchange money on weekdays and only for their customers. The one bank that will exchange currency on weekends for non-account holders is the Bank of China but they require extensive documentation and special residence papers. At that point, I had neither. In frustration I quietly returned to my flat with a small pile of cash in hand that might as well have not existed. I went to sleep nervous. The internet installer was supposed to have come the following day and I could not pay him. At around 1 AM I woke up and decided to give it a last go. A bank was 2 blocks away and they had a secured cash machine. My losing streak broke – my account was open and I could withdraw cash.

The following afternoon a company employee came to inform me that the internet installer would not come as promised, but the next morning. Annoying, but one survives such things – just. At that point it was best simply to grin and bear it. After all, at least I now knew where my next meal would come from. She also told me that I needed to go to the provincial capital, Hangzhou, for a full physical examination at a state clinic specialising in international medicine. It seemed pointless – I told her that I saw a German GP only 2 weeks prior and she found no health problems. But, no, I had to go as their signature was required to convert a work visa into a residence permit.

She came a few minutes early and continued her annoying habit of nearly banging my door down. She isn’t content to knock once or twice – no! She has to bash the door and yell until I open it, never mind that I was drying off after taking a shower. Mind you, I was not yet late – the arranged meeting time was not for another 4 minutes. To annoy her I made a point of going even more slowly. What happened next was horrific and I still carry obvious wounds from it.

I was not permitted to eat or drink for at least 12 hours – in 100-degree-heat. Tired and thirsty, I was subjected to one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. After waiting for 20 minutes, I was summoned to give blood and urine samples for analysis. The needle used to collect blood was larger than normal and sloppily inserted. The phlebotomist hastily re-arranged the needle several times leaving me with a 3” by 2” bruise on my left arm, several damaged blood vessels and still notable pain. She also refused to provide a plaster preferring to let me bleed for an extended period of time. It only grew worse. I was forced to strip half-naked in front of strangers repeatedly to be poked and prodded. On several occasions I was not permitted to dress fully before other patients were brought in.

The following day I was taken to a new school the company is working on opening and met their third teacher – an experienced, Tanzania-born teacher and administrator now residing in Canada as a naturalised citizen. He is as exasperated as the young Mainer and nearly as cynical and embittered as me. The school is to be opened, in the administration’s infinite wisdom, in August – when most families are holiday with their children prior to the new academic year formally starting in September. Many of their classes are still empty leaving the Mainer sitting in empty rooms playing on his smart phone. This led me to question why they chose to drag me to China in July when there would hardly be anything for me to do for over a month. Since I am not working they do not pay me and I am presently relying on the remaining vapours of cash in my bank accounts to see me through. Strangely, they wanted me to go to China even sooner than I did – late June, early July at latest. I begged the Tanzanian to let me co-teach a few free classes at a new development in order to provide me with the chance to do something.

Both teachers warned me that once the term begins it will be hectic and stressful, demoralising even. Students are brats and parents are unreasonable. I assured the senior teacher that I really can’t be bothered. I simply don’t care. I will do my job, no more, no less. When my contract runs out, I will leave. Should finances permit, I will leave the region on holiday during extended holidays. My full-time student schedule and second job will also preclude me from doing more than I contractually have to. Still, it isn’t all bad. There are some nice people here who try to be helpful. The food is good, if only I could communicate with anyone and order it. I also have enough Japanese courses to give me a pastime. Somehow, I think that I will grow relatively fluent in Japanese before I go to Japan this winter.Because the provided mattress is so hard and lumpy with many broken springs, and little else, I’ve taken to sleeping on the floor as it is more comfortable.


8 Responses to “Living with the Han 2: Other than that it wasn’t too bad…”

  1. Ike Jakson Says:

    Christopher, what a pleasant surprise? I am not as active in Blogging as I used to be but still tinker along. However, I had no idea where you were since we last talked or whether I would ever be able to find you.

    My eye is still bad and getting worse and I must rest it now; simply saw tour Post and decided that I could still leave a short reply and talk some more later.

    Do short little Posts on where you are and what you do. This one reached me by Gmail notification; others will thus come through and I Promise PROMISE that I will react on every one.

  2. Christophertrier Says:

    Hello Ike. I spent most of the last year in Europe and am now living in China on a 1-year-contract. Nothing glamorous, clearly, but it will pay the bills for a while. I have also been remiss. A lot of things were torn apart and for a while everything in my life was absolute chaos. I would love to say that things are calming down, but it seems that life will be disordered for a while yet.

    • Ike Jakson Says:


      Life, I have learned is “a thing that happens” and though I firmly believe that every single person must accept responsibility for his own good or bad it is an over-simplification of reality to start and end with it. But I have learned that life is also a continuous learning process.

      When you say “A lot of things were torn apart and for a while everything in my life was absolute chaos” it actually echoes my life since February 2011; the year 2012 was worse and 2014 a nightmare. I am only seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel at the moment but I will be 75 years old next Monday 3rd August.

      Keep on writing. I have been following China quite closely [there is a fresh new and quite exciting relationship between China and South Africa], though many on our side only see what they want to see through their eyes. I would like to have your views.


      • Christophertrier Says:

        We can’t always control everything that happens to us, but we can control a lot of it and we can influence the outcome. Sometimes it is best just to bunker down and accept that things will come together more slowly than one would like. This also allows us to gradually pick up the pieces.

        At the moment it seems that every bit of light I see in the tunnel is coming from a train. Still, thus far I’ve managed to muddle through…

        South Africa is in for a rude awakening and some nasty shocks. Chinese views of Africans are little different from the Apartheid regime’s. The only difference is that the Chinese disguise them a little better. Imagine that 2 people from Zimbabwe are applying for the same job in China. One is white, one is black. The white applicant has a 3-year university degree and no experience. The black candidate has a PhD and 15 years experience. The white applicant will get the position. In many places, black people will not be served at shops or restaurants. Once the Chinese tire of South Africa, the country will be tossed aside.

      • Ike Jakson Says:

        I have been without a computer connection for more than 28 hours. Need to catch up soon.

        What are you teaching? And at what level? How come you picked China? So many things I would love to know. You are lucky having the opportunity to travel so much.


      • Christophertrier Says:

        I’m just an English teacher. I was stuck with teaching at 2 schools, 6 classes of 40 minutes. Ages between 6-18. I didn’t pick China as much as it fell in my lap. Short-term need led me to accept a position in a place that was hardly my first choice to spend a year.

      • Ike Jakson Says:


        Every new experience is a good experience; getting paid for is a bonus.

        In China at least you will find most students are willing to learn. Out our way they attend school to disrupt the white people. Come give it a try here one day if you don’t believe me.

        Our country is going to be unfit for dogs within a few years.

      • Christophertrier Says:

        These children are the spoilt monsters of local wealthy families. They don’t care as much about learning as having fun. I honestly can’t see South Africa holding on much longer. The “blame everyone else for my problems” mentality seems only to be growing stronger with younger generations. I really can’t see how the country can claim to be a rising power, regionally or globally. I get to re-read JM Coetzee’s “Disgrace” soon. I’ve been told that it’s a fairly good depiction of life in South Africa today.

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