Beijing Diary, Nov. 2021

As the more perspicacious of you may have noticed, I have not updated my blog in some time. Things on my end have been less than ideal, so I shall attempt to catch us all up, and attempt to henceforth maintain at least monthly updates with tales of my adventures and endeavours.

In April or May, my agent had called me with news of a new position at another school, with the promise of a far greater salary than my current school could afford to pay me. Now, at first, I resisted; I was comfortable where I was, and my comfort and convenience are more important to me than money. However, I was worn down by her pleading. She went on about how good I was, and that she promised I would at least do the interview. And, she said that a young man is supposed to be ambitious, and if I passed up the chance to improve my position, I would lose respect, and so on. –Never mind that I am no longer a “young man.” So, I felt bad about it and accepted.

The initial school she had found for me was a start-up with which she herself was involved. The interview went well enough; the owner was a former principal who dealt with other schools both here and in New England back home, and he even made a number of bullshit promises about pay and position, and assisting to run the business—Er, I mean, “school.” Of course, I could at least still remain in Dongcheng District, in the middle of town. There was enough in the deal that I liked that I decided to accept the deal. Especially with my agent urging me on.

Alas, that deal fell through, when even after the contract was signed, it had been decided that the project was not sufficiently “stable.” But, not to worry—my agent insisted on continuing to try to find another situation for me. There were a couple of interviews, but the offer that I ended up accepting was one offered by a school in Shunyi District. Accepting that deal was one of the larger mistakes I have made over the past two or three years.

As I read through the contract I had so eagerly signed in June, looking for loopholes, I am astounded at the provisions I simply accepted without carefully reading through. Many of their terms were vague and undefined, and definitely gave the advantage to the school, allowing it to use its teachers as resources to squeeze dry. I certainly will not make that mistake again.

But, sign it, I did, and on July 1st, I packed up, leaving the dorms in the Fensiting Hutong for a new flat in Shunyi. And that in itself was just as much a part of the whole unpleasant adventure. Much like the contract I signed without having first thoroughly examined its provisions, my new flat would also prove adequate, but of much less value than I had at first been led to believe.

The new school, to which I was going did not directly get involved or help me out with this one (more about that later). They did refer me to a real estate agent they said they regularly worked with, and it was someone my employment agent knew; so I thought I could trust her. I was shown photos of what looked like fairly nice loft apartment style accommodations. However, when we showed up to move in and sign the lease, neither the real estate agent nor the landlord were immediately available; so we had a bit of a wait that afternoon—and the movers were anxious to get going, because they had another job scheduled that afternoon.

When the agent and landlord finally made it out to the place, it was a relief, and a big rush to get everything off-loaded and taken up to the apartment. It was in a gated community of ten apartment buildings, and there was a fairly welcoming plaza in front, full of restaurants, convenience stores, small grocers, and a couple of laundering services, and a bar or two. Later, I would find out that many had been left empty of tenants in the aftermath of the initial Co-VID wave back in 2019.

The first thing I noticed (after the lease had been signed) was that there was no washing machine in the flat, despite the photos sent to me indicating otherwise. The next thing I noticed was that the “bannisters” fencing in the loft area bedroom, and acting as the railing up a small spiral staircase to that sleeping area, were not actually supported by anything solid. They were simply large, thick sheets of plate glass, used more for ornamentation rather than function—let alone safety. Then, I noticed that the steps installed for access to the “upstairs” area were dangerously narrow and inefficiently designed.

The bathroom was cramped, barely containing a shower stall (enclosed by the same unsupported plate glass as the loft and stairwell), a sink and medicine cabinet and toilet. The toilet was at least a Western style toilet, but the shower door opened the wrong way; inward. And the gasket was flimsily connected, occasionally coming off the edge sufficiently often to inflict gashes on unclad feet.

One mitigating circumstance of the apartment was that, bring next to the Shunyi regional airport, I was regularly treated to watching passenger jets taking off throughout the day. It reminded me of my grandparents’ old house, close to the Philadelphia airport. It wasn’t as close as my apartment now is, but as a child, I regularly watched planes coming in and going out—and nearby, in a local schoolyard, was a radio mast with a blinking red light at the top. It was a friendly presence during my childhood.
All in all, though, it has thus far proved to be a relatively adequate shelter, though by no means overly comfortable. I remained ensconced in my new quarters throughout the month of July. And then, work began during the first week of August….

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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