Sick of surviving on dole money, I did absolutely no research and decided to move to China. I hadn't been expecting a fearless welcome, but Christ, I didn't expect what I received.
After sleeping rough in San Diego, the floors and sofas of very well and some less well-known friends in London, getting by through coaching tennis and the 45-pound a week dole money, I felt enough was enough and applied to teach English in China. There’s a stigma that goes with teaching English abroad that we seem to have created ourselves that isn’t so positive. Not a proper job, going to be a sex pest, a good job for a Mis-fit etc. I think all of these things are true for many that choose this ‘profession’. But for many others, it’s just a way to get by living comfortably in a different country.
The job was found on Gum Tree. Easy. Sent a CV off and in a few days the job offer came. EF Dongguan, China. Didn’t know where it was, actually didn’t really know too much about China, but it would be something new and I would have my own place, job, income and that. I accepted the offer and booked a one-way ticket to Hong Kong.
Not being a materialistic kind of person, I hopped on the plane with just a small suitcase containing a suit, previously worn in court, and an assortment of clothes. The foreign boss over there from Canada had previously rung me and given me instructions on how to get to Dongguan from Hong Kong. Then which stop to get off at on the bus and which hotel to meet at. It sounded fairly straightforward and really, it was.
I departed Manchester Airport with about eighty quid of my overdraft left hoping for an advanced payment when I arrived. The 10 hour stop in Dubai was torturous due to the ridiculous price of a beer, so I opted to shower numerous times as they have showers there in abundance.
Hong Kong. Everyone spoke English so getting the bus was effortless. Cross the border to the mainland, another bus to Dongguan. Done. Met a thoroughly nice Russian girl on the bus. She told me she worked in a factory in Dongguan, but seemed very cagey when I asked questions about it. After my time in Dongguan, I doubt her occupation was factory based.
I arrived at the hotel where I was to be greeted and the city looked as I had imagined. I genuinely had no idea of what this country would be like and did no research on where I going. Of course, people’s comments on China generally involved dog meat consumption and table tennis. It was a colorless picture waiting to be painted.
I called the boss from the hotel. It was around 3 in the morning and he sounded sleepy and pissed off. He told me a guy called Tom would come and collect me and take me to my apartment.
I don’t remember any strange smells or things waiting for Tom in that hotel. When I looked outside I saw lots of very high buildings and bright lights, but that was all. It seemed like any other place I had been to in Asia. Outdoor vendors selling late night food and many restaurants and closed shops.
Someone entered the door of the front entrance and approached me, he looked like a Chinese gangster, not a day over 15. I later found out from someone else he was in fact 27, had been divorced, and had a new girlfriend and a son. The first shock of an unimaginable amount I was to encounter in this country of beauty and madness.
I hadn’t been expecting a fanfares welcome, but Christ, I didn’t expect the welcome I received. He didn’t even look at me and I felt like a massive inconvenience. I went to shake his hand and he looked up at me with noticeable distaste and reluctance and responded with a very short handshake. His first words ‘Do you want to eat?”. Naturally I declined, owing to the awkward nature of the situation. We took a taxi and after a few minutes arrived at ‘Bamboo Gardens’. This was to be my paid for accommodation while I was over here. A years contract, then off to somewhere else to do something else was the plan. This would be OK for now. Three years later I’ve given myself one more year. Just one more…