Okay, so I’ve been MIA for 2 weeks, and there is a good reason. So what's happening?
I’m no longer in Qingdao
I woke up to screams at 4AM one morning. It was week 3 into my Au Pair job and every things was perfect until that morning. I didn’t know what to think. Was the nanny/maid being abused? Did something go horribly wrong with my young student in the middle of the night? I didn’t know, but being a guest in someone’s home, people can keep up with appearances for so long. Before I go any further, I just want to note that my host family has been very good to me, they paid for all my meals, encouraged me to explore and rest during the day, and they were so impressed with my teaching that they even offered to pay for my yoga classes. I’m thankful for their hospitality and sharing their home with me.
Well, that morning I didn’t go back to sleep and I didn’t know what to think, so I got ready and went downstairs to eat breakfast. Downstairs on the couch, I saw my host mother and student, perfectly happy and laughing like everything was fine, I talked with the nanny/maid, who is my age and from the Philippines, she didn’t look distress, and I thought ok, maybe someone just had a bad nightmare. But, for the rest of the day, I carefully observed everyone to see hints of distress, abuse, or signs of trouble, and I found nothing.
Things become weird: text messages, my safety, making plans to leave
The following week, I received a text message from my host mother asking “Do you feel safe in China?” Now we have had some interesting conversations about different levels of Taoism and Chinese philosophy. But around week 3, my host mother was not getting enough sleep because she expressed she was “thinking.” I was worried, why would she ask me such a question? And why was she not getting enough sleep?? It’s okay to think and read all night, but sleep deprivation can cause the mind to be irrational. I talked with the nanny/maid and asked her what was her thoughts, given that she has been with the family for 2 years, she said she had no idea. And then, into my 4th week my host mother’s mother started coming to the house to help out. I met her before over dinner once, but now she was coming everyday to watch her grandson in the mornings, in-between my teaching hours, and stayed until dinner time. And my host mother’s sister also came as well on the weekends, I thought, okay, maybe she needs extra help and I’m happy that her mother and sister were there to help.
Things became a lot more clear in my last 3 days. The text messages I received from her became really irrational: talking about Donald Trump and how happy she was about the election, my safety in China, wanting to meet me secretly without her family’s knowledge to talk about freedom (We never really talked about politics, I know what China does to spies and people spreading ideas that aren’t consistent, so, are conversations were light). On Friday, May 12 after not seeing my host mother for about 1 day (I usually see her in the morning) she returned home, with friends, yelling and screaming (I don’t know what about, but I assumed it was me) and stopped, to politely ask me to return to my room. I started to pack my stuff, I’m not dealing with this, whatever “this is” and throughout the night I lightly slept hearing yelling until the early hours of the morning. Most of the night, I was thinking, what am I going to do? Where will I go? And most importantly, I need to get paid, I don’t care how crazy it gets, I need to get paid. So, 6AM Saturday morning, May 13, I woke up to more screams and heard stuff being moved and thrown around near my door. I didn’t panic, I got out of bed and continued to pack the rest of my things, took a shower, and remained calm and prepare for what was outside my door.
Sings of mental health problems
I slowly open my door, and saw a pile of books, baby toys and clothes before I saw the nanny/maid. I whispered: “What is going on???” She said, she has no idea and just doing what Ma’m asked of her. Also, she told me that she didn’t tell the family how I lost the turtle the other day, and I should go to the mall to buy a new one before they noticed. I agreed, and slowly made my way downstairs, exactly hearing my host mother ask: Where’s the turtle??” The nanny/maid stutters and right on time I explained that I let it outside and she suggested we all should go find it. I semi-panic because usually when I let the turtle outside it doesn’t go too far, but yesterday this little creature just simply disappeared! Looking at the physical condition of my host mother, I could tell she had not slept and suffers from mental health problems. How had I miss this?? By some miracle, my host father found the turtle and I looked at the nanny/maid with relief as she mouthed to me “where did he find the turtle????”
After this awkward family event, I quickly got a bowl of cereal and thought I will go to Shanghai to figure things out. In my thoughts, I was interrupted by my host mother, who had a crazy smile on her face and started asking me about the text messages she sent me (of course I didn’t reply) and asked to see my phone (the family gave me an iPhone) to double check. I agreed, and relieved that I didn’t text anything to the nanny/maid!” Then she inquired about my safety in China (again) and there was no way of ignoring this question any longer, so I politely said, yes I feel safe, and kept the rest of my answers short and sweet. She tried to inquire further and, her husband came by, explaining in his best English, to excuse his wife, she is a bit drunk (I knew what he meant). I gave him a sympathetic look and my host mother quickly states that she is not drunk, she doesn’t drink, and asks me with a challenging look what does drunk mean? I look at the husband, I look at her, and didn’t say a thing (honestly what can I say?) and he walks away. Even worse he put on his shoes, took 2 coca colas, a pack of cigarettes, and left the house. And, my host mother went back to the TV like nothing happened. I quickly finished my breakfast and got my stuff to leave.
Sunday, May 14: Mother's Day and last day
Sunday, May 14, Mother’s Day I wake up to more screams. I no longer have to guess who it is, but my bags were packed, and there is only one thing on my mind. Get paid, and go to Shanghai to find work. I took all my stuff, looked back at my clean and empty room, and closed the door to what started as a great adventure that had an unfortunate ending. I slowly walked downstairs with my stuff, and saw my host mother sitting on the floor, looking out into the backyard, and mumbling to herself. I feel sorry for her and hope that she will get help. I looked for the nanny/maid and asked her what was going on? She had no idea and said that I should talk to “Sir” if I want to get paid. So I go back upstairs, knocked on the bedroom hoping to an explanation, and leave with my salary. I had to knock about 5 times before he came to the door, and in my most simple English I explained I need to get paid and I will go. He goes to put his shirt on, and we both go downstairs. He goes to attend his wife who at this point cannot communicate and asks me to write down how much is my salary. I write down a number and he sends the nanny/maid to the car to get the cash.
Last day: getting outta here!
Now, what I never understood about my host family was that no one was working, they explained they owned a business and had to shut things down because it wasn’t doing well. So for the last 4 weeks my host father stayed home all day, my host mother also stayed home all day, and they lived in an upper-middle class suburb, beautiful condo with the latest appliances, and backyard (very rare). The American Dream! So, when the nanny/maid came back with a bag full of cash, there had to be about 50,000RMB, I tried to keep a straight-face (for those that know me, I have a lot facial expressions) I calmly watched my host dad count my salary and apologised to me about what was happening. I told him, I’m sorry and took my salary and left.
New Adventure: Shanghai, job interviews, business, Orthodox Jewish Community
My time in Qingdao was wonderful and unfortunate experience that I don’t regret. I learned enough to be familiar with the basics of Mandarin, Chinese idiosyncrasies, and how much I value my freedom, so when things go sour I will remain calm, have a plan, money, and resources to move (or escape).
That Sunday I went to my favourite cafe, booked a flight, found a hostel, and reconnected with my Shanghai contacts on WeChat to prepare for the possibility of moving to Shanghai. Initially I was planning to go to Shanghai in August to find work but I guess sooner is better than later! I gave myself 1 week to get my own Chinese number, wire money to my US account (I don’t like traveling with a lot of cash), line up job interviews on Skype and in person, meet with my contacts, attend professional and social meet up events, see co-working spaces and the startup scene, attend some aerobic classes, envision how I would operate Healthy Hair Asia, and see how I would fit in with the Jewish community in Shanghai. All very important factors if I will move to a new country.
My week in Shanghai
Within 1 week (quite exhausting), I accomplished all my goals. I received 2 job offers, one at a language centre in Shanghai that I visited, and 1 in Shenzhen public school. I also went to 2 meet up events and met some interesting people, I went to a yoga class at a co-working space, a very beautiful space not too far from the centre of Shanghai. I even had time to walk along the Bund and take a few pictures. I did a lot of walking on Nanjing Rd and finally got accustomed to the subway and my neighbourhood.I met up with a friend that I met in Hong Kong in 2015 after I left Israel, and I went to the main ICBC branch to wire money, something I thought would be difficult, but was quite easy. And most importantly, I found a local Chabad within 15 minutes walking distance from my hostel so I spent Shabbat, Friday evening and Saturday morning, with the local Jewish community.
Shanghai is a great city, it fulfilled almost everything on my checklist, except I don’t want to start all over again. And, it’s a mature market, to operate Healthy Hair Asia it would be too expensive and take too much time to learn how to sell on WeChat, let alone deliver products all around the city! Perhaps, in the future when Healthy Hair Asia has a team and more established SE Asia (the wind of opportunity is there), I will return back to the city.
What’s next: traveling in Beijing and back to BKK
After a week in Shanghai I decided I wanted to travel to Beijing. So I took the bullet train, 4 hour ride, to spend a few days in Beijing. Now, I don’t have exact plans for Beijing, I’ll definitely hike the Great Wall and go to some museums, before I make my way back to Bangkok.
I would love to go back to teaching English in Bangkok, but the pay for English teachers is low and I don’t think I will be so lucky to find a job that will provide housing (like my last job), so for now I’m just a nomad. Returning to Bangkok, I look forward to seeing old friends, reconnecting with my Jewish community (I’ll be attending my first Jewish wedding!), and back to doing what I do best, making hair products!