Hooray for Jobs, or, The Month His Brain Exploded


The only flood damage photo to not include poop water. Consider yourselves blessed.

The only flood damage photo to not include poop water. Consider yourselves blessed.

It was a murky, gloomy Monday evening. Rain belched down from the sky in great greasy globs, slapping into the ground with inelegant heaves. The sky was black.

I was completing an assignment for a professional development class on teaching kindergarten, which is to say, I was probably cutting out little shapes out of felt or thinking about how best to provoke children into using Venn diagrams.  An email popped up: a school interested in an interview. And not just any school–the one in China where my friend works, the one in China I had already visited, the one in China I had written into the margins of my trapper keeper with little pink hearts all around it.

I sat in front of my computer for several minutes, contemplating how quickly I could reply without seeming desperate. My will-power allowed me exactly 19 minutes and 47 seconds, and suddenly I had an interview scheduled for days later.

Simultaneously, a gurgle emerged from the basement, several floors below. It sounded like the splash of water needing to be bailed, of a boat sloshing about in a slick black ocean during a storm. This was, of course, problematic, as our house was typically landlocked. I rose briskly and rushed to the basement to discover that the entire thing had flooded with roughly 30 centimetres worth of backwashed sewage.

I surged bravely into the deeps to rescue the power bar of the computer and the modem from total submersion, and hid them in a high place. In the bottom of our sudden submarine, water was now tickling halfway up my shins, and I refused to look at either the colour or texture of it.

Our power miraculously stayed on for several hours, at which point it zipped into silence and black for the rest of the night. Soupy heat was already filtering into our walls, and while the water down below was thankfully sinking back from whence it came, the carpets still swelled and bubbled with torrents of sewage lodged into every fibre. Placing one be-shoed foot on the basement level caused a burp of fluid to emerge, and so we decided to simply pretend we no longer had a basement and that no one would go down there.

I ran to the bus for class the next day, and grew concerned when none of the traffic lights worked. While my neighbourhood had regained power, brown-outs were sweeping through the city in cackling tornados. The subway was out in the west end of the city, and I attempted to board the horrific barge of pallid, rain-slick commuters on the desolate shuttle bus. When it took nearly an hour to make the one kilometre drive between one station and the next, I hopped out and jogged through the rain for the 5 kilometres to the station that was still operational.

I trudged into class over an hour late, and my professor inquired as to whether I was prepared to do my scheduled presentation. I threw down my bag, grabbed my book, and went to town.

In another few nights, my interview was upon me. This was, in many ways, my last real shot for the year. I had ESL in Korea locked down as a backup, but in terms of international schools and my actual career, I had few angles left to exploit. The only schools that were contacting me these days generally had the reputations for being gulags lodged in the darkest, scariest corners of Sudan, Venezuela and Myanmar, with principals who held Mrs. Trunchbull as a personal hero and inspirational figure. I hoped desperation did not show across my weary, tired features.

The interview progressed nicely, with only minor interruptions from using the internet simultaneously among Canada, China, and Australia, where each of the principals was currently calling from. They noted that there were still more interviews to perform, and that I would hear early next week.

Early next week turned out to be within 24 hours. I had a job! Did I want it? Yes I did. Hugs and handshakes all around, and then a series of emails outlining the metric ton of paperwork I would need to complete. I was to move to China in approximately 17 days, and I really should be moving fast.

My days suddenly swelled. I ran to acquire documents, to scan them, to stain and smear my fingerprints and send them to the Chinese government. One form required a full physical, including a chest x-ray, a blood test, and an ECG, all scheduled for different days and performed by different people. An elderly eastern European nurse shaved my chest and let various strangers wander into her room while I was being examined. They conversed in Ukrainian, considered my bare stomach, possibly discussed the nature of my health and what these kindly old ladies thought about it.

Blood was extracted from my arm, a curious number of vials. I began to suspect my nurse was a vampire and stocked up for a long winter. “How long will the results take?”

The nurse shrugged in communist nonchalance. “Maybe two weeks. Why? When do you need it?”

“Not in two weeks.”

From there it was a high-strung waiting game as I sat in front of my computer sending stalling, cheery emails to my new employers and cursing the nurse as a spawn of hell. Surely she was holding back my test results simply to ruin my life, and was cackling somewhere deep inside of her office while stroking her wretched talons across her dripping, fetid horns.

At last my results were released, and once I was deemed just AIDS-less enough for the Chinese consulate I began rushing downtown with stacks of documents in tow, an array of passport photos, and vials of my blood and semen and stool and bone marrow in case they were required.

Upon arrival, a receptionist deemed my forms inadequate and sent me away to fill out another set by hand as row after row of people appeared in line. The dilemma, as it occurred then: I was applying for rush service, which according to various sources was the same day, or one business day, or the second business day, or two business days. If I could manage to apply before 11:30, I might get my Visa the next day, and I might be able to fly out the day after that and actually begin living life in China.

I scrambled through the form, my writing growing loose and shaky and unlike any language of humans. I prayed to whichever various and sundry gods might be listening to my plaintive mewling—I couldn’t think of any good Chinese ones, but I hoped the others were pretty pro-Asia. I turned in my forms and all of my money and walked out into the Toronto sun, hoping, as I often have in my life, that the people who held my fate completely in their hands were kind.

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16 thoughts on “Hooray for Jobs, or, The Month His Brain Exploded

  1. So this is an “international” school where you will be teaching mainly non-Chinese plus the kids of upwardly mobile Chinese?

    I attended what was then the American (now renamed International) School of Manila from K-12. It was a college prep school and teachers there were a mix of Americans and Filipinos.

    If you are American, I think the tax law still gives an exemption on income earned from working abroad. In the 70s, it was $70,000.

    Depending on where you are in China, try to visit my birth country of the Philippines during vacation. Stay away from summer and rainy season if possible….

    The only places in China I made it to were Hong Kong / Macau…

    Enjoy!

    • Late replies!

      It is an international school teaching mostly non-Chinese kids, although they’re starting to let some in due to a change in policy. The elementary school is pretty mixed between East Asian kids, some Aussies and Americans, and a few Europeans.

      I’m not American, but one of my friends is, and the income exemption is now up to 100,000! That lucky jerk.

      I’m hoping to get to the Philippines in maybe April or May. It’s one of thew few places in Asia I haven’t gotten to yet!

      • I wouldn’t spend too much time in Manila except to catch a few historic sites, such as Intarmuros, the “walled city” dating back to the Spanish colonial era and, if you’re interested in WW2 history, maybe a tour of Corregidor ruins, the last holdout of the US after the Japanese invasion. Tagaytay, a short distance from Manila, is nice, especially if you go out to the “island” and ride a horse to the crater.

        Since you’re an IS teacher, you may be interested in visiting the IS school; they may give you a special tour. It is a fairly new campus, not the one I attended back in the 60s and 70s.

        • All of that sounds really cool, and when I finally make it to the Philippines, I’m glad to already have some recommendations!

          The IS tour might be cool, actually. It’s always interesting to see new schools and how they run, and also to squeeze connections.

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