OFFICE POLITICS AT PEI ZHENG COLLEGE:
Reports on 3 foreign supervisors, 2 office managers, a foreign affairs office director, and a vice president.
When I asked Vivian to contact EMS about my medical package, she said, “There’s no EMS office.”
EMS is the express delivery service of China’s postal system. China is littered with EMS offices. The driver who put my package in the locker took it out of his van, and he transferred it from the EMS warehouse to his van. Every delivery service has a website and every one of those websites has a listing of every branch, including street address and desk phone number.
For some reason, the EMS driver put my package in a locker instead of dropping it off at the package warehouse in the sports building or calling me to the bridge. For some reason, EMS notified me too late to use the code to open the locker. My shopping assistant’s phone is in another province, so she could not open the locker by scanning with her phone. I was out of options and running out of time.
Vivian was determined to go with plan A, ie, trying to open the locker. I kept telling her, “No, don’t call my shopping assistant. No, don’t send the volunteer to the locker. They can’t open the locker, I can’t open the locker, you can’t open the locker. Only EMS can tell us how to open the locker. Call EMS.”
That medicine is not available even in Hong Kong. I looked for that medicine for months. I waited for that medicine for weeks. I had English Corner all afternoon and evening. I had to get that package before noon or that medicine was going back to Los Angeles.
When Vivian started dialing her phone and telling me she was calling someone other than EMS, I took the phone and said, “Listen to me. I can’t lose that package. Call EMS.” Then I put her phone on the counter.
Vivian never called EMS. I had to find another translator to call EMS. EMS gave the other translator instructions on how to open the locker.
Because of Vivian’s stubbornness, I had to look outside the office, outside the campus, indeed, outside the province for assistance.
Last semester, I asked Somnus, who was the office intern before Vivian, to find the English speaking clinics in Guangzhou for me. He got on Baidu, found the websites, locations, and phone numbers, pasted the information into a Word document, printed the list, and downloaded the document into my USB. Very quick and very efficient. He didn’t argue with me, second guess me, or refuse to help me. As a result of Somnun’s assistance, I was able to find an English speaking doctor, take a medical exam, get a prescription, and buy important medication, and my health has significantly improved.
Contrast this with my experience with Vivian. I asked Vivian to call EMS. I was trying to get a package of much needed medicine and was having trouble opening the locker that contained the package. I looked for the medicine for a long time, it was very expensive, it was not available in Hong Kong, I had to order it from Los Angeles, and it would be sent back if I didn’t open the locker soon. Vivian refused to call EMS. As a result of Vivian’s actions, I had to find another translator to call EMS and almost failed to get the medicine.
Two office interns, one facilitated my medical treatment, one hindered my medical treatment. Two translators, one called EMS, the other did not call EMS.
Rod said Vivian was in fear of her mortal life when I took her phone. She wasn’t afraid.
While I was contacting a replacement translator, I was on the other side of the office and facing away from Vivian. I’m 60 years old, she’s 20 years old. I’m out of shape and she hears me breathing heavy every time I get to the top of the stairs.
Even if I saw her fleeing and tried to chase her, she could have dashed out the front door of the office and been downstairs and out of sight in seconds. Then she could have fetched the campus police to the office. She also could have called one of the program supervisors or department heads.
These are the natural and instinctive things people do when they are afraid. She did none of these things for the simple reason that she was not afraid.
After I talked to the other translator, I gave Vivian the phone and she talked to the other translator. Then she assigned the office volunteer to help me. Then she resent me the old code.
During all this activity, she maintained quite the composure and diligence for someone who was supposedly experiencing dread.
Vivian has translated for me many times in a variety of situations. How many hours has Vivian spent with me? I stopped counting her translation hours after 5 hours. Vivian knows me well enough to know I am not a physical danger to her.
Nor has any other translator ever expressed fear that I was a physical danger to them. Same with a multitude of ban zhangs. And some of these translators have spent many hours alone with me on the computer in my dorm or in the classroom.
If anyone should have been afraid, I should have been afraid she would prevent me from getting my medicine.
It was an office spat. Rod magnified it into a grave offense.
Matthew and Rod were not in the office when I was talking to Vivian about calling EMS. Matthew arrived a few minutes after Vivian assigned the office volunteer to go to the locker with me. I went into Matthew’s office and briefly explained the situation.
Then I said, “I have to dash off with the office volunteer to get my package of medicine. In the meantime, Vivian is upset with me because I insisted she call EMS.” In American culture, this is a hint that I wanted him to talk to Vivian. But he said, “You can work that out with Vivian yourself.”
This wasn’t the first time Matthew refused to help me with a student. I asked him to help me with a student who is a stalker and who clearly is a bit crazy.
After a lesson, one of my ban zhangs invited me to dessert. Then she walked across the hall to another classroom and told the foreign teacher, “I want to go to your dorm.” He told me, “She kept talking to me. I wanted to go home, but I couldn’t shut her up.”
A few days later, she saw me and called out to me, “Carl, where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to the office to type the Kingo attendance records.” She said, “Wait for me, we’ll go together.” I said, “No, I can’t wait.” She chased after me shouting, “Carl, stop! I want to go with you!”
I contacted Matthew by WeChat text message and described all this for him. He responded by WeChat voice message telling me, “You can handle this ban zhang yourself.”
But it seems other foreign teachers can get intervention from Matthew.
Me and another one of my monitors found an empty classroom for Robert’s students to wait during Robert’s midterm exam and moved them to the empty classroom.
Matthew then told me, “Robert said his students said you yelled at them.” Too many he-saids in that sentence, which is cause enough for suspicion.
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the gaping hole in this story. I was standing right outside Robert’s classroom. If I had yelled, he would have heard me. And he would have rushed to the door. When he opened the door, he would have seen me. In which case, he would have said to Matthew, “I heard Carl yell at my students.” But he didn’t rush to the door, because he didn’t hear me, because I didn’t yell.
My ban zhang was standing next to me. There was no yelling. In 17 years of teaching, I have never once yelled at a student. I told Matthew I didn’t yell and that my monitor was my witness.
I went through the same scenario with Robert my first semester. Matthew had a long talk with Robert. Nevertheless, Robert pulled the same stunt again during final exams.
No disciplinary action was taken against Robert or Matthew. Nor did Matthew interview my monitor for confirmation. Nor did Matthew tell Vivian, “You should have called EMS.”
It seems Vivian is free to interfere with my medical treatment, Robert is free to make false accusations against me, and Matthew is free to play favorites.
It’s clear there is a pecking order and it’s clear who is at the top and bottom of this pecking order.
Rod has inappropriate feelings for Vivian. The evidence is circumstantial but overwhelming.
There are 3 types of relationships that would motivate a man to be obsessed with a woman’s honor: mother, lover, or daughter.
Vivian is obviously not Rod’s mother. I don’t have any evidence Rod and Vivian have a physical or romantic relationship. Maybe he’s just sweet on her. If he views his relationship with her as father-daughter, that is inappropriate too, because his relationship with her is supervisor-worker. Meanwhile, his concern for Vivian is much different than his concern for any other office worker.
When I told Rod that I too was concerned that Vivian was upset, he was pleased. Very pleased. Too pleased. Suspiciously pleased. His face lit up. Whatever the exact nature of their relationship, this is a red flag.
He told me, “The office volunteers don’t have a contractual obligation with you or the school.” Of course they do. They understood that obligation when they applied for the position. They accepted that obligation with they reported for duty. The fact that they are volunteers doesn’t change that.
Dozens of translators have spent hundreds of hours translating for dozens of foreign teachers for many months. In the process, they have an opportunity to practice their English. This arrangement has become an integral part of the daily life of the students and the foreigner teachers.
Volunteer translators submit their names to the schedule, then sit in the office for 2 hours waiting for a foreign teacher to come into the office and request translation. Why would they do all this only to say, “No, I don’t want to help you, and Rod says I don’t have to help you, so I’m not going to help you.”
No office volunteer has ever said this to any foreign teacher. The whole idea is absurd. But this is Rod’s version of the volunteer program.
Rod also said, “Vivian is not the office manager. She’s just the office secretary.” She supervises the other office workers. They answer to her. She assigns them their duties and they consult with her about how to carry out those duties. She tells them what to do and they do it. This is management.
What was Rod trying to accomplish by talking to me about “contractual obligations”? What was he trying to accomplish by correcting my vocabulary about the office intern? In other situations, Rod’s explanations make sense. But when Vivian’s feelings are involved, suddenly he starts talking stupid.
In his desperate attempts to excuse Vivian’s refusal to do her job, he resorted to such ridiculous statements, I finally had to ask him, “Do I need to turn on a recorder every time I ask Vivian to translate for me?” He had no answer for me.
I interacted with Rod many times throughout my first semester, observed his WeChat activity during the summer, and interacted with him for most of my second semester. So I am familiar with his MO. And his MO in other situations has been much different than when he tried to protect Vivian and defend her actions.
Rod has allowed his feelings for Vivian to severely interfere with his judgment.
Pete was a super cool supervisor.
He was also the answer man. I nicknamed him my good luck charm. Whether it was helping me buy a new bike or sorting through Kingo procedures, whenever he got involved, everything went smoothly.
I offered to let him use me as a jobhunting reference and we were on good terms when he left.
But I finally had to say to him, “I’m getting tired of people using you as a conduit to me.” I also had to tell him, “I will not answer any more accusations.”
Pete had turned his office into an accusation factory. I’ll share the most vivid example.
Pete said to me, “One of the office volunteers said you humiliated another office volunteer by asking her to bring you water.”
I’ve never asked this office worker to bring me water. Without even knowing their identity, I can tell you categorically, I did not ask this person to bring me water. I’ve never asked any office worker to bring me water. I’ve never asked anyone else to bring me water. Not even a waitress. I don’t even drink water. Or juice or milk or beer or any other type of drink except cold, sweet, lemon tea.
As all my Chinese friends can tell you, I drink bing hong cha exclusively. This has been my distinctive habit for many years.
And it has to be the brand with the yellow label because it’s sweet instead of the brand with the red label because it’s bitter and it has to come from a bottle and it can’t come from the large or medium sized bottles because it’s bland and it can’t be hot and it can’t be cooked from a bag or mixed from powder and it can’t be served by a restaurant and it has to ice cold even in winter.
Not black tea, not green tea, not herbal tea, not milk tea.
In Thailand, it’s Lipton. In America, it’s Arnold Palmer.
My students often suggest alternative brands of red tea. I waste my own money pouring out these products after tasting them.
I have to be pretty desperate to drink anything other than bing hong cha. On the verge of overheating or on the verge of dehydration or stranded with no access to red tea.
When I had a fire sale, a foreign teacher asked me if I was selling glass cups. I said, “I don’t have any cups at all, glass, plastic, ceramic, metal, or any other material, except one backup cup. I drink tea from bottles.”
But someone told someone that I humiliated someone and someone told Pete I humiliated someone.
Last semester, several teachers left the school to accept offers from other schools in China. Abraham met with these departees and informed them of the time frame for receiving the documents they needed to transfer to their next school. They realized they would not receive their transfer documents in time to transfer their resident permit before it expired.
Having been in this situation several times, I can tell you what happened next. They had to make multiple trips to Hong Kong, camp out in Thailand, or return to their home countries to jump through numerous paperwork hoops. All of these options involve savings being devastated.
Even if you ride a slow train, eat on the street, and sleep in a match box, you can’t get to Hong Kong and back for less than 2000 yuan. The China visa fee for American passport holders is up to 2000 and climbing. You have to pay extra to go through a travel agent or risk having your application rejected for insufficient or improper documentation, plus staying longer in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
Visa regulations have gotten so extensive, a 30 day tourist visa is no longer enough time to process all the paperwork for a work visa. So consider yourself fortunate if you don’t have to make 2 trips to Hong Kong for tourist visas, then another trip for a work visa.
All of these expenses are absorbed by the teacher. Whereas if you transfer your resident permit to your new school while still in China, you don’t have to travel, IECO clerks handle all processing, and the new school pays all visa fees.
Without the cooperation of IECO, the only hope a foreign teacher has in this situation is a school with an awful lot of guanxi or a province/city government with very lax policy.
The turnover rate here is 50%, so IECO processes at least 25 visas every year. They know what documents are required and they know when these documents are required. And they know what happens when teachers get these documents too late.
The foreign teachers explained the situation to Abraham, as if he needed an explanation. Despite multiple trips into the IECO office, despite pleas of urgency, Abraham allowed these resident permits to expire.
Multiply the amount of money these teachers lost to Abraham’s callousness by the number of semesters this has been going on. It’s no exaggeration to estimate into the hundreds of thousands.
Abraham had long since notified me that he had reversed his decision to renew my contract. Final exams were finished. Academic sign out paperwork had submitted and accepted. Most of the students and most of the foreign teachers had left the campus. IECO and the financial office were on the verge of closing.
Yet somehow Abraham couldn’t process my final payments and couldn’t give me a departure date.
Meanwhile, I received offers in Taiwan, Thailand, and Korea. The schools all had the same question: When can you arrive?
Can you guess what happened next? That’s right, those offers were snatched up by foreign teachers who could provide the schools with an arrival date.
Meanwhile, I had no income, my translators had gone home, and I couldn’t book ahead to get a cheap price on a plane ticket because I couldn’t give my travel agent a flight date.
Jia saw a foreign teacher on his way from the resident compound to teaching building #4. She looked at her watch and realized he would not arrive on time. She tracked down his schedule, visited his classroom, and interviewed his students to confirm his tardiness. He was called into the Program A supervisor’s office, the deputy dean’s office, and the IECO director’s office to be reprimanded. He was 5 minutes late. Jia was a vice president.
During my discussions and correspondence with Abraham, Matthew, and Rod, I repeatedly invoked the medical treatment issue. They were unmoved.
Most of the office translators are super, but some of them – including Vivian – have a bad habit of trying to be shopping manager instead of shopping translator. When Vivian doesn’t agree with your translation request, she engages in passive-aggressive resistance with questions and suggestions and contradictions and plain silliness. The medical package was not the first time.
With more medical packages on the way, I asked these 3 gentlemen several times to assure me they would intervene and prevent a repeat of this episode. Their pattern of complete silence on this issue eventually became conspicuous.