Jul 26, 2013

forced from the nest.

There's many reasons I haven't been blogging regularly in the past two semesters.

Reason Number One: "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say it at all."

I felt that if I couldn't bring a story around to the bright side or find a sliver of hope or wisdom in an experience, then I shouldn't send that story into the e-universe to be absorbed. You didn't need to hear me complain about being called fat to my face for the zillionth time or hear about how I cussed out an entire line at Walmart because a woman reached into a shirt I was buying to check the size and then announced it to the line behind her while laughing. You didn't need to know how I felt massively frustrated by my work environment. You didn't need to know that I stopped going to the gym because I was sick of having my picture taken while I was on the treadmill.

It was like my patience quota for life just ran out. I found myself retreating away from Chinese culture because I was increasingly offended rather than trying to look for good around me.

But I'm trying. I'm really trying. And I'm hoping a blog come-back will help me to find the good. Because it's there. Just hidden under hardship. And hardship and blessings both deserve to be discussed, shared, hashed out because they are all shared experiences. Am I right?

So, with that long, drawn out intro and acknowledgement that I'll be discussing the messy(er) parts of China life, I give you...yesterday's events.

It was like any other summer day. I woke early for a sunrise hike on the mountain overlooking campus. Because our highs have been in the 110's, I've been trying to get my outdoor quota for the day done by the time the sun is high, and then retreating to my dorm room for the rest of the day.

I did some work on my thesis (ugh) and then met my good friend "Y" for lunch. "Y" is a masters student at my school and has been once of my best friends in China for years.

After lunch, we went around the 'hood doing some errands, visiting the veggie market, adding another month of internet at the telecom store, and stopping for gallons of water. (Tap water is not drinkable here). When we finally reached our dorm, we were sweaty, not thinking straight, and exhausted. That's what walking around outside in the afternoon during 106 degree heat will do to ya.

We walked into the dorm and the dorm worker who was on duty banged on the window and called her over. "When are you leaving the dorm?" he grunted in his farmer Chinese accent. "My scholarship is over next March," she replied kindly. "Y" had applied for an extension to her master's program. Because of circumstances beyond her control (like everything else), she was unable to graduate this past semester like she expected to. Extensions have been common and her advisor told her to extend, so she just did it, granting her another several months in the dorm.

Well. What was expected because of precedent turned out to be false.

"Y" was told by the dorm worker to visit the head dude in our dorm, who told her to check her email. She found within her spam folder, an email sent on July 22nd, informing her that no extensions were granted to masters students and that she had to start paying tuition (we go to school for free and are given a small monthly stipend), that her stipend would end, and that she had to leave the dorm by the end of the month. 9 days later.

"Y" had been on a vacation and did not receive the email until yesterday, July 25th. 6 days to move out. No more monthly scholarship money, and an unexpected tuition bill looming.

I was shocked. How could what seemed so sure a few months ago just come crashing down? It was never explained to the masters students who were filing for extensions that they might not receive them. It was just assumed. Because of years of precedent.

I sat with "Y", stunned that this was happening, and scared for my own self. What will they do to me? I know no one who has gone through the experience of school in China without some major catastrophe happening. I am hoping my catastrophe is behind me (the changing of my major incident of 2 years ago) and that this coming year will go well. But I'm prepared for the worst after witnessing this happen to my friend.

The dorm leader told her to call the international office to ask for a one-week extension in the dorm, just to sort through her things and figure out a place to go. So, she called the office and the conversation that happened surprised me, even after 5 years of communicating with Chinese people.

She kindly yet firmly said, "This is very short notice to be told we have to move out." He replied, "Ask your parents for help." I gasped when I realized this man who works in the international office has no idea about foreigners, he was assuming the situation would be dealt with in the Chinese way. Chinese college students are 100% dependent on their families as it is frowned upon for students of any age to work (or have relationships/internships, etc). A Chinese student's job is to sit in the library and memorize things, while a student's parent's job is to provide for their every need. This in turn is a sort of advanced payment method because there is no social security in China. A parent puts into the child's education so the child will be able to care for the parents when they are aging.

This of course, does not pertain to my 28 year old independent friend, whose single mother is unemployed and struggling to care for her other handicapped child who lives at home. Being told, "Ask your parents," was a slap in the face. Then it got worse.

She replied that she could not be told to, "ask her parents," because the man knew nothing about her family's economic situation, She stated again that this was short notice to be told that everything was being taken away. To which he replied, "Your economic status is fine."

"Excuse me? You don't even know me or my family," she said as her tensions began to rise.

"Well, you should be comparatively better," he said. (The conversation took place in Chinese, and this statement when translated to English does not have the same harsh effect as it does in Chinese). FYI.

I was stunned. She was stunned. This office worker was telling her that the circumstances should not matter to her, because her finances should be fine (they are not) because she is an American.



She said something along the line of, "You people do not know how to treat people," and hung up.

I can't imagine a large, prestigious university in America (my Chinese university is one of the best in this nation), kicking out a foreign student with 5 days notice and revoking all privileges without any warning. This just wouldn't happen. There are organizations and programs and groups of people that form support networks for people like us in the States. Not here. There's no where to turn. No grievances are heard by any level of any office, and stating your opinions only gets you into more trouble. Even as a foreigner. Because when in China, you play by China's rules. (like anywhere else in the world).

I'm not sure if this comes across as shocking in text form as it did in person. I am ashamed for that worker that he would state those things to my friend, especially in her time of surprise and need. A simple, "I am sorry this situation has occurred and I wish you the best of luck," would have been sufficient. Rather than assuming her financial status is high because of her nationality and not hearing her when she asked for a tiny bit of grace. Just one week to decide her next step. Just a tiny amount of decency would have made the situation more humane - but alas, decency doesn't seem to be rationed by the Comnst. Party.

I'm worried about my friend.

I'm worried about me.

What will come this year? I am already anxious about invisible and unknown obstacles. It's going to be a big year of lots of decisions and changes. It's my senior year round 4: high school, undergrad, graduate degree, and now doctoral years. It's a familiar feeling of, "where to go from here?" Admittedly, my big life choices up to this point have come easily. I'm expecting the next step to be the same (I am working towards a goal in mind). Yet, along the way there will be China curve balls.

"Y" will be fine. She will find a place to live and then will figure it out from there. She is smart, she is adaptable, this will all be a funny story in a few years. But for now, it really sucks.

I appreciated something she said while we both stared into space after her conversation. Both too stunned to move and wrestling with what we had just heard. She said, 'I have been holding back figuring out where to go, and now I am being forced from the nest." 

Hmmm. There's a positive spin. That's a perspective I could learn from. There's the sliver of hope I was looking for, and thus thought, "hey - I could write about this!" :)

Please keep "Y" in your thoughts. Please send good vibes over here to us in Chinatown. We need it. Even us filthy rich Americans.

walk slow. xoxo.


agapelife said...

so glad to see a blog from you! I've been missing them, and you.

I will keep you both in mind, particularly Y, as she navigates her situation. xoxo

Miss Lynda said...

Hello our beautiful Jessica! I agree with Agagelife...we have missed hearing from you. Don't know if you check these or not, since you are not blogging, but wanted to wish our awesome goddaughter an official Happy Birthday. Looking at my time, I know that your birthday is officially done, or perhaps you are still out and about, celebrating, (we won't tell Mom)
:-), but we wanted to let you know that we did not forget...
Happy Birthday honey! Love you, Miss Lynda and Mr. Al

RS said...

Golden Trangle
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GypsyInShanghai said...

Oh Honey,

You and I are having similar moments in Shanghai, thank you for sharing. It gets very lonely when people don't understand how degraded, annoyed and antagonized some foreigners are in Shanghai - a proclaimed international city. My facebook statuses oscillate from outrage to outrage. My wechats too. Hang in there sweetie.

Echo said...

So long ...