I really hate job hunting. Really, truly hate it. Thing is, here in China you’ve got this weird bit of strangeness thrown into the whole humiliating, dehumanizing process of prostituting yourself in front of possible future employers. My experience last weekend is a good example of that.
I put a couple of ads online last week and got a few responses- mostly rubbish as per usual. But amongst these responses was one that sounded like it might be reasonable. So I sent him my CV and waited.
Then on Friday I was at the pub watching the Hurricanes, thanks to some South African sports channel which is somehow available in Tianjin. At halftime, my cellphone rang. It was this French guy who taught French at the school I’d just sent my CV off to, but who for whatever reason was in charge of finding a new English teacher. He asked when I would be available for an interview, and I said Saturday afternoon would be good. He tried to ask if half past three would be alright, but he couldn’t remember how to say half past three in English, asked if I spoke French, I said yes (or more likely, oui), and the conversation continued in French.
So on Saturday afternoon I went looking for the school. It wasn’t very easy to find. First of all, the taxi driver was a bit of an idiot. Then I discovered the numbers on the buildings were entirely different from the address I’d been given, so I had to keep asking the security guards for directions. But I got there.
But then the building itself was a bit weird. It was all shiny and new on the outside and in the lobby, but when I got in the lift, it looked like the lift itself was still under construction. Either that or some bright spark had decided to tear all the paneling out The school itself wasn’t much different. From the outside, it looked like your regular private training centre in an office block. On the inside, it looked kinda grungy. The notice boards looked like they’d been made by the staff themselves from scraps of wood left over from construction sites and bits of sack cloth.
So I asked for this guy who was supposed to interview me, and they sat me down in the office to wait. There were a variety of textbooks on the shelves, mostly for teaching English, French or Chinese. But otherwise the office looked pretty much like the entrance to the school- kinda grungy, not the slick, professional kind of place most such schools are.
Well, I guessed from the sound of his voice that the guy I had to meet was fairly young. In walks this young lad, maybe in his mid-twenties, close-cropped dark brown hair, olive skin, narrow face, prominent, very “French” nose, cigarette hanging out one corner of his mouth. He was wearing a black German army surplus jersey and rather old, worn-looking navy blue cargo pants. Obviously this really is not your regular language school. After Friday afternoon’s phone call, I really didn’t know what to expect: Would the interview be in English? French? Chinese? All of the above in some crazy mixed up mess? After the usual pleasantries, the interview began:
“Have you taught English to foreigners before?”
“Uh, what do you mean by ‘foreigners’?” (Thinking: Are they going to have me teach Koreans or Russians or something like that?)
“You know, people who don’t speak English.”
“Oh, right. I’ve been doing that for six years now.” (Thinking: Did he read my CV at all?)
“Yes, all in China.” (He really didn’t read my CV! Great!)
Anyway, it continues in that vein. As it turned out, his English was good enough to conduct the interview, but even so, there were quite a few Chinese and French words sprinkled in to the conversation.
Well, I’m still wondering exactly what kind of a job he’s offering. Eventually he says something about how he’d forgotten whether we’d discussed “les choses concretes”. I said, “No, that’s what I’m waiting for.”
“Well, what do you want to know? Ask me a question.” He says.
“Well, just tell me.” I reply.
So then he finally gets down to the nitty gritty. It was all a bit disappointing, really. In exchange for 80-100 yuan per hour (I assume, per hour of teaching), I would teach between 20 and 27 hours per week and help out with marketing and recruitment. They have plans to expand and start offering a range of new services, like a bar, movies and the internet, but they were still trying to get the office next door and set that up for all the extra things, meaning they couldn’t yet offer half the stuff they claimed on their advertising. I tried to ask for all the details of how this would work exactly, and what I was told was that the school would not provide accommodation, but they would switch me over to a business visa (and pay for that). This weird French guy then told me that in fact, none of the Chinese staff had contracts, but he had insisted on one. He’d been working there five months since the school opened, and, or so he claimed, he’d basically built the business up from scratch, so that if he left, the place would collapse. Then he told me he was paid only 4000 yuan per month, despite working 12 hours a day six days a week to build this business. Funnily enough, none of this inspired any confidence on my part.
So experiences like this give you a few good stories to tell, but thrown into the mix, and far more numerous than the weird or off-beat stuff you can laugh about over a few beers with your mates is the large number of idiots.
Most of the responses I’ve had to my ads have been for jobs I just can’t do: The first came with a phone number prefixed 0315, or something like that. Not 010, forget it, I need to be in Beijing. Others have completely ignored my very clear statement that I am currently in Tianjin, or even after receiving and in theory reading my CV and hopefully noticing that I am currently working in Tianjin, offer me part time work or an immediate start in Beijing. Because obviously I have my own private helicopter and can commute very quickly and easily between classes here and classes in Beijing, or if I am looking for a job now, then obviously I must be available immediately, because nobody ever plans ahead in this world. Still, so far it hasn’t been too bad. I have, several times in the past, posted ads stating very clearly that I was looking for a job in China, only for every response to offer me a jobs in Indonesia. Because Indonesia is a province of China, right? Fucking idiots.
But by far the most frustrating thing so far is the lack of suitable work in Beijing being advertised right now. See, I don’t need a teaching job. I wouldn’t be averse to moving into publishing. I just need to be able to see where the opportunities are. So far it seems my only hope is to do a shitload of the email version of cold calling or door knocking or kicking doors in in the hope I can make an opportunity. This is not something I’m looking forward to, but for the time being it seems like the only choice given the drought of suitable job ads.
And the follow up to last weekend: Weirdo French guy called me this afternoon to ask why I hadn’t gone to meet him on Saturday. WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!? I said, “Yeah, I was there.” He seemed a bit confused for a bit, and then seemed to fake remembering Saturday, then said something barely coherent about making a decision, maybe sending me a contract, maybe phoning or emailing later this week. This inspires still more confidence.