Where the Hell I’ve Been

As the two or three of you who keep track of such things undoubtedly suspect by now, it has been rather a long time since I have posted. I believe I mentioned in my last post that I was leaving for China. And indeed, for the past fifty days or so– since 15 August 2018, to be precise– I have been in Ningbo, China.

My time at my previous place of employment had come to an end, and the parting was amicable. I was working as an annuities specialist, and while I was making progress in my role, I wasn’t progressing quickly enough for the company to maintain the level of customer service quality that they wanted. It was also thought that such a job was not the best fit for me. –Though to be honest, the best fit for me would probably be laying about, free to write my doggerel, to exercise once in a while, and have people regularly send me large sums of money just because I’m me. Well, we all have our fantasies.

As my job of eighteen months had been coming to an end, I had been in contact with an old friend whom I’d met when we were both living in Taiwan, back in the 1990s. We had met when I was lead teacher at a private kindergarten and English Language school, and he came in as one of our teachers. We bonded over a mutual love of music, and he had the classical music education that I wished I’d had (Alas; all I had was a good and appreciative ear). He stayed on when I returned to America (probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in the past twenty years). He married a local woman, our supervisor at the school, in fact, and went on to have a decent career in education, language pedagogy, and music.

Anyway, my friend told me that his wife was in Cixi City, Ningbo, in Zhejiang Province, helping to run a school. The school’s gimmick is to provide standard kindergarten curriculum, but in English. Further, the Chinese have something of an obsession with the Taiwanese style of education– they feel it is less stressful than the methods of standard Chinese educational system, and fosters creativity and independence. I was promised a generous salary, something like twice what I was earning at my previous place of work, and gratuities from the parents, and a low cost of living, help with taxes, healthcare, and so on.

And so, having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me in America, I thought I would take flight and see the East Asian part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the bank account. It was not an easy transition. I had to decide what to do with my house, which I owned outright, without a mortgage. There was my car. And many other little things that had to be taken care of. Including, where the hell would I stay until my flight left if I sold my house, and how would I get to the airport if I sold my car?

Well, first things first. With my limited savings, final paycheck, and generous severance package, I renewed my passport, applied for a visa, and booked my flight. These themselves, were minor adventures themselves. I began cleaning out my house. I rented a storage locker in a nearby town, about four miles away from my home. I tried to store as much as I could, which included nearly a hundred boxes of books, and about half as many of CDs and DVDs. It was a most difficult task because the house had been my grandparents’ house, and in addition to my own possessions, there was easily another lifetime’s worth of memories and junk in the place.

While cleaning out, I was checking out house-buyers, to see what kind of deal I could get for my house. According to the real estate databases, the average value of a dwelling in my neighborhood was about US$225,000.00, and my own house was valued at about US$115,000.00. Most of the house-flippers I spoke to gave me offers in the neighborhood of US$60,000.00; significantly less than I had paid for it. Half of my friends advised me to sell the house, take the loss, get what money I could, and be done with it. Half my friends advised me to keep the house and rent it out. At first, I was inclined to ignore the Renters’ lobby in favour of the Sellers’.

However, checking with a licensed real estate agent was most illuminating. First, I was told that the offers being made by the house-tossers were unreasonable; they simply wanted to buy something cheaply, and then sell it at the market price. I was told that apart from being old and worn, and in desperate need of a thorough cleaning, it was a good house. He suggested to me that the house could be made ready to rent within three to six months. This would generate passive income for me. And then later, if I wished, I could sell the house in ten years time for something like US$300,000.00. He made the case that as far as the market goes, it would be far better to hold on to the house, and allow the value to appreciate. He further let me know that he could act as a property manager while I was in China, and look after things for me.

When I made the case that I didn’t have enough money in a lump sum to begin such a transformation, I was told that I could make monthly payments, and we could work things out gradually. So, I signed a contract with him, after proper background checks, and that settled the house.

My car, I had to sell to CarMax. The blue book value of my car was set between three and five thousand dollars, depending upon the condition. Alas, the most I was offered for my eleven year old car was US$1,700.00. That was harder than I expected. It felt like selling off a personal space to strangers, and I was not only worried about how I would get around, but who would be getting my car, how they would be treating it, and using it. But, it had to be done. I could hardly keep a car while I lived overseas.

I stayed with a friend for my final week, and we spent our time visiting old favourite haunts and eateries. And then, on the appointed morning, I was taken to the airport to begin this new part of my life. Of course, in the month before this, while I was yet cleaning and packing, I made some visits to friends and family to say goodbye.

The flight itself was long and dull and uncomfortable. At the end of my twenty-hour journey, when I landed in Ningbo, I was met by my friend S. She had come with a good-sized van, and we headed off to our dwelling in Cixi City. I was utterly exhausted. I took about two days or so to recover from my journey and get over jet lag (as much as I could in two days), and then hit the ground running. 

Soon after the “summer session” ended, we began our regular semester. Honestly, I felt extremely rusty, not having taught or worked with children for something like twenty years; nevertheless, I pressed on, diving into the work. More of my actual work experiences in a later post. Currently, I have not yet received my work permit, and yet I have already, as a show of good faith, rescheduled my return flight for 28 January 2019. Unfortunately, my tourist visa’s current limit is reached on 14 October. Without the “green card,” I cannot open a bank account, nor can I access health care, and I have only just been paid, partially, in cash. How will this adventure end? I will reveal all (okay; “more”) next week. If I remember. I hope.

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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