Phone calls from Friends: Interesting Updates

I’ve just had a very enlightening conversation on the phone with Australian Geoff, concerning several issues of interest to me. I continue to troll the Internet to learn more details about the lift of the ban for returning teachers, but my most accurate information comes from those on the ground, in China itself. Geoff is one of them.

If you haven’t been following my site, here’s a brief introduction to this 70-year-old gentleman and his wife, Teacher Xie.

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In his late 50’s, Geoff came to Luzhou to be a teacher at a junior high school. He fell in love with a Chinese English teacher there (“Snow”, Ms. Xie), the two married (second marriage for both) with Snow’s daughter at that time being 16. The two planned their future, eventually wanting to spend Snow’s retirement years traveling the world. Retirement age in China is 55 for women; 60 for men. She was in good health, although she didn’t pay attention to her doctor’s warnings that her blood pressure was very high. That was her greatest regret. She was only 51 when she suffered a major stroke while the two were traveling in Africa, where they’d spent 2 years with the VSO (Volunteer Service Organization), considered the UK’s equivalent of the Peace Corps. After 2 years of extensive re-habilitation in Australia, Geoff managed to get her back to Luzhou 2 years ago, right before Covid struck. They have a small apartment in the city and don’t plan on leaving China anytime soon. Snow is confined to a wheelchair with some assisted walking mobility but not much. Geoff is her sole caretaker with Snow being the translator since Geoff speaks no Chinese.

Fortunately for both, Snow retained her English language skills despite the stroke that left her in a coma for 14 days. There was little hope she’d wake up or even be able to communicate, so this is a miracle of sorts that she can function as well as she does. It’s obvious the credit of her recovery must be given to Geoff’s excellent care of her, and the doctors in Uganda, where she was hospitalized until leaving for Australia.

Vaccinations Completing for Chinese Citizens; Foreigners are next

The goal of 20 million vaccinations a day continues and seems to be moving along at a very strong pace to reach the 70% vaccination goal by September. Most of my Chinese friends in Luzhou, a smaller Tier 4 city of 5 million, told me they’d had their vaccinations already. A few months ago, I read that schools can expect to have invitation letters approved more and more with a majority being authorized from October to December. However, what was holding me back on hope was the fact that the foreigners had not yet been offered the vaccine. Once the foreigners begin to be vaccinated, that would signal the tail end of the ban.

Geoff’s call the other day was somewhat uplifting.

He and Snow flew to the far north, the city of Qingdao, to visit friends this past week. While there, he was called by local Luzhou health officials wanting to know detailed information for what Geoff assumes will be vaccinations. He mentioned that in Qingdao, there is a large foreigner enclave and they had all been vaccinated.

He was expecting upon his Luzhou return to have more news about when his vaccination would take place, as well as that of his wife. Due to her disability, her doctors recommended she wait before being given her shots.

A Rather Hectic Arrival Experience

Interestingly enough, when the two landed at the Luzhou Airport in a plane of 200+ people, Geoff was immediately targeted as the one and only foreigner who might be bringing the virus into the city. The worried officials speedily shot onto the plane, beelined down the aisle toward Geoff and quickly took him off while others waited to disembark. The dilemma came when they discovered he was traveling with his disabled wife and they had no way of getting her off the plane in a hurry. Eventually, one of the health officials hoisted her onto his back and carried her down the steep stairs outside of the plane to get the two to a mini-van. The van shot them off to an isolated room where Geoff had to show his phone QR “Green” code, necessary for travel during Covid, and fill out numerous papers in English to show that he hadn’t been outside of the country, was a resident of Luzhou, and all the dates involved for his travel as well as his physical health.

Geoff mentioned this was the first time he’d been through such a thorough and panicked landing in Luzhou. According to later rumors, there had been a Covid case in Luzhou 2 weeks before and that was the reason for the strict monitoring system which the city government put into place.

The Chinese passengers, however, had no such interrogation and were able to disembark without any fanfare.His story is helpful to me, especially as I am certain such an experience is awaiting me upon my own entry into Luzhou City. However, mine will be more of a production. Although I will have a mandatory 2-3 week hotel quarantine upon entry into the country, there most likely will be another 2 weeks added onto that once I get to Luzhou. Hopefully, I ca do that in my school apartment but I honestly don’t know that for certain.

I will prepare myself. I’m sure there will be moments of anxiety on my part, perhaps even tears, when officials tag me as a threat and might want to send me back.

Noooo!!!!!!!

News from Shannon

Another phone call , immediately after Geoff’s, came from my Canadian friend, Shannon.

Shannon is the one who rescued Bridget (our dog) 2 years ago in Chengdu and contacted me about adoption. She found her under a park bridge near her apartment, thus the name Bridget. She had mange, was skin and bones, tied by a shoestring to a rock and living in her own feces. No food or water. Shanon said she looked both ways over her shoulders, no one in sight, and basically, stole the dog. I was put in touch with her by a rescue group after I said I was looking for a dog to replace the one who had just passed away, Little Lao-lao, that I brought from China 9 years ago. Thus it happened that Bridget came into my care.

Ever since, we’ve been in touch so I could share the wonderful life Bridget now has in America.

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Shannon’s call was one checking up on Bridget but it also was quite informative, about her situation the capital city of Sichuan.

Shannon teaches at a prestigious private junior and senior high school in Chengdu. This school enrolls those from wealthy families who are looking to send their children abroad to study at the high school and college level. All instruction is in English and follows the British system, which Shannon (being a Canadian teacher) is quite familiar with.

Since she didn’t leave for winter holidays, as some of us did, she’d been able to continue with her work at the school and live through all the China Covid lockdowns, virtual teaching stints and then the final opening up again.

Her report: Covid has wrecked havoc on the faculty and the enrollment. All those students who graduated last year and this year were not able to get visas to study overseas because a majority of UK, Australian, US and Canadian schools are not accepting them. At both the high school and college level, payment was asked for online coursework, something which was not desirable for the parents. Why pay all that money to have the child study in China, with online courses and no interaction with others?

Enrollment has gone down, according to Shannon, as wealthy Chinese parents try to navigate the effects of Covid on their children’s education.

The pressure of Covid has also caused quite a few of the foreign teachers to decide to end their service at the school. Shannon considered leaving herself but she’d already signed a 2-year contract. Also, her students will be graduating next year and she didn’t want to leave them after she’d been their homeroom teacher for 2 full years. Leaving them now would be heartbreaking!

Her news of vaccinating the foreigners in Chengdu had yet another positive report: They’d be getting their vaccinations in July, or so the administration had told them. I’m sure she’ll inform me next month if that happens or not.

What to do about the foreign teacher’s apartment?

Another call revealed great concern over the long wait our schools have had to have us back in our classrooms. Like me, we left our apartments full of things, with the thought we’d return in February, ready to start up the new school year after a month of vacation.

That was 19 months ago.

For myself, I live in the school’s faculty housing apartment building where no rent is needed. Leaving my belongings costs the school nothing. (See views of my China home below, on the 9th floor.)

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But for other schools, swanky apartments had been rented for the foreign teacher. Most leases are for a year, with schools paying $300 – 400 per month. Breaking the contract leads to fines. Ending the contract at the end of the lease obviously means vacating the premises

But since so many foreign teachers haven’t been able to return, meaning all their things are still in those rented apartments, this has created a huge dilemma. Some schools signed another lease for yet another year, not knowing how to handle a foreigner’s things and not wanting the hassles of dealing with another person’s stuff. Other schools canceled the lease and required the Chinese teachers to box up the foreign teacher’s things and store at the school. The greatest headache has been for those foreign teachers who rented apartments on their own with stipends from their schools. No more stipends as they aren’t working in country. Do they continue to pay for their apartment while waiting overseas? And if not, who is responsible for moving their things, storing their things, collecting their key money (money returned at the end of a lease if no repairs are needed) and signing the papers to close off their rental obligations?

If you have a really close and kind Chinese friend to do that, you’ve got it made. But if you don’t, what do you do?

Just Being Thankful

How fortunate for me that my school is so willing to keep me on, despite the fact I am not there at the moment. I am also sure there will be much paperwork, extra registration protocol, and many other headaches to deal with which is needed for someone overseas to work in the city. China is very strict concerning Covid.

My apartment continues to remain empty, locked up tight since I left it January 6, 2020. I did ask one of my colleagues to empty out the freezer of the chicken breasts I left there. I still remember one of my Chinese neighbors who left for 5 weeks on summer vacation and when she returned, the refrigerator had broken on her. The stench of what was in her defrosted freezer was unbelievable!! That smell lingered in the hallway and the elevator for a full day when she emptied the rotten contents into plastic bags to carry to the outside dumpsters.

That is one thing I do NOT want to greet me when I finally walk through my door, especially if I am required to quarantine for 2 weeks in my home. Living in stench for 2 weeks would certainly put a damper on any joy I had in getting back to my school.

Closing off for now. Here’s wishing you a peaceful weekend and a very happy upcoming July 4th.

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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