The legend goes that sometimes your boss screws you over and runs away with the money. Not common, but not unheard of either.
Legend materialized for us. Twice. With two different bosses.
It all began when our old manager flew away with all the school assets and the car last April. The bastard abandoned his dog though.
“Fear not!”, said the government, “for we have appointed the almighty sir Xiaolin to save your salaries and jobs!”. The latter, a proud young lad with socks, flip flops and hair trimmed in a fancy motif, pointed out that he was being super nice by paying the salaries from the month before -hem… well we would’ve left if you hadn’t.
Point is, we never liked him, and he reciprocated by conspicuously staring at the floor on the rare event our paths would cross at the office. We signed a contract anyway, trying to ignore gross errors, such as wrong dates (at least we corrected those), extra hour fees that made no sense and the absence of Xiaolin’s name and signature on it, assuming the legal representative was someone who owned the bigger entity that had bought us out. No-one was questioning that detail so we decided to go along and asked for a higher salary to compensate for our lack of trust and running the risk of the story repeating itself.
I’d like to say “Little did we think it would happen five months later!”, but sadly I have to admit we were half-expecting it.
After a fairly successful summer, Xiaolin had pocketed his profits and realized to his dismay that business ain’t so easy the rest of the year. He therefore decided to sell one third of the assets to another fellow who would buy the rest later. “Because he has more money than me” (his words allegedly), Xiaolin thought it would be cool for the soon-to-be new owner to deal with all of our September salaries. Being endowed with the gift of common sense, this fellow said no, and to our repeated inquests as to what would happen if Xiaolin refuses to pay, he confidently answered “he has to”.
Here unfolds the crisis.
Last Friday night the general assistant sends us a mysterious message.
“I have something I think I should tell you but I’m not sure if I can but I think it’s important”.
As you inquire further, she slips out that no salaries are being paid and everyone will be on strike tomorrow. We call the manager who was almost never there in the first place and announces that the new owner backed out of the deal. She concludes by kindly offering to help us find a new job.
A charming evening.
The following day, we join a gathering of colleagues and barking parents (“My child has fifteen lessons left and now has this four hour gap in his/her weekend schedule!”) at the Bureau of Education. I manage to get a hold of a nice mum who speaks English and who thinks we could just get together, parents and teachers, and take care of kids who want to continue.
The biggest mess we have ever had to deal with. In Chinese. Never have my linguistic skills made so much progress in so little time.
People harassing you to have no more than six children in one group, a delusional 12-year-old going through a page “House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende for fifteen seconds and casually boasting that “she can do it” to comfort her bottom-painful mom and dad, egos split in two when for very logical reasons you have to put some kids to a lower level, shouts erupting as you try to figure out a decent timetable, and plain yawns and phone phubbing if you want to explain your vision of teaching on PPT. I can’t say how grateful I am to the few parents who fared much better in open-mindedness and flexibility than the majority of them.
The rest of the week is the longest succession of mayhem-ic episodes I have ever encountered.
A trip to a murky room in a police station with Chinese colleagues and a cop that barks at you as the obvious most efficient method to get himself understood.
Another fundamental gathering at the Bureau of Education, where the guard remains untroubled as a scarlet driver is about to punch the tiny female co-boss in the face, but scolds Riley if he drops one peeling of tangerine to the ground.
Continuing, thank god, classes in the public school where a total of 500 children, most of them enthusiastic, appear as a sudden blessing. From now on though you have to board a public bus with seniors shouting a conversation and leaning towards you to check out the fascinating PC work you’re trying to accomplish.
A big, big company takes in all the parents (and all the trouble) from us and integrates our jobs as well. Their team is mostly female so I trust them. We are thus saved and relocated to a couple of offices to keep things simple. Seriously, they did save our skin.
Still, we are owed quite a bit of cash (more than I made in all my cumulated summer jobs), so we go on another trip to the police station to find and clarify multiple errors in our contracts with the same old cop who wants to become buddies with Riley.
After three hours of Scrabble, silly-filter photos, snacking and a capella singing, he assures us he cares about the case so much he lost 4000 dollars not having taken the time he usually would’ve to bet on the stock market by doing his job with us.
A true servant of justice.
When we ask him if we will get paid by the legal -and apparently broke- person on the contract whom we’d never heard of till a week ago, he mimics pressing someone down on a chair. I genuinely appreciate his efforts to help us out. This is his Wechat profile picture.
News today. The broke boss refuses to pay. We have to sue. Of course. Our personal cop will get us a free lawyer. “China is different from America”. Okay. I’m not sure what he means by that but okay.
And now here I am, staring at the gloomy weather that has faithfully punctuated the last ten days. Yet I remain unbroken and am still waiting for the other bizarre blows we’ll likely encounter for our last eight months in China.
幸苦, my friends.