A Puzzle Piece From A Different Picture



Gawker ran a series of stories about unemployed Americans and their struggles to find employment in their community. Unfortunately I found this blog two years too late because the series ended in 2013.


I wish they would continue the series. If they did here is what I would submit.


After living for ten years as an English teacher in China I returned home long term.  During those years I would return to Hawaii for the summer before going back to China. I always had a job in China to return to.


But in 2005 I returned home long term.


I embarked on my job hunt with a church friend. We drove to the hotels because one of them was hosting a job fair. We both dressed in business attire. I wore a blouse with a camisole and slacks while my friend wore a business suit.


When we arrived at the hotel ball room it had been converted for the fair. We first encountered a long line of applicants many of them wearing t-shirts and slippers. We were waiting for computer terminals to open up so that we could sign in choose the jobs we were interested in.


One of the jobs I signed up for was at the international inquiries desk. They were looking for a Japanese interpreter. I had studied Japanese. I had lived in Japan. But I had spent more time in China than in Japan. I had forgotten my Japanese. If I tried to speak Japanese, Chinese would come out. I thought why are the hotels still looking to cater the Japanese when their economy is faltering? Why not have a Chinese translator at an international inquiries desk?


I took my application and my resume and went to my first American job interview. The woman asked me only one question.


“Can you speak Japanese?”


“No. But…”


“Sorry. But we really need someone who can speak Japanese.”


And with that she just got up and left.


I had also applied at several stores in my hometown for even the lowliest positions. But there were always other applicants who were more qualified than me. In the end I ended up going back to China in August of 2007.


In the summer of 2009 I returned home thinking that I had already tired of China. Once again, I applied to various places in my hometown only to leave for another teaching job in China in February of 2010.


Why? What does China have that I can’t find in my own hometown? Why is it easier to find a job in China than in my own country?


There is a joke among foreign English teachers in China. The joke is that there will always be English teaching jobs. When Chinese try to compose something in English for foreign tourists they always come up with some gems like No Somking, Shanghai Waddles with Scallions, or my personal favorite, Fuck Vegetables. They think they are writing in English like a native. But to many native English teachers like me, Chinese really speak Chinese English or Chinglish.


It is very easy to get a teaching job in China. I don’t have to have a teaching certificate in the professional sense. All I needed was a bachelor of arts degrees and a clean background check. To get a job all I did was to go online to the myriad of ESL job websites and apply like crazy. I would e-mail my resume and passport information to interested schools. Interested schools would send me a letter of invitation. I then would fill out a visa application, purchase my airline ticket, and have either my travel agent or my passport agent get my visa. What is the time frame? From my initial search to my landing in China it takes about three to four months.


Compare that to the average eighteen months it takes for the average American to find a job. Three months vs. eighteen.


Once in China my employer provides me with either a monthly stipend to ret an apartment or they would provide on campus housing. They also reimburse me for my air ticket and, in some cases, provide me with a driver to take me shopping. They also provide me with medical insurance and even reward their teachers with a travel bonus. American employees can’t beat that.


So why did I come back this time? Family issues. My father was terminally ill. He passed away in 2014.


I’ve also wanted to be a published author. I had a manuscript ready but it’s not easy getting feedback from trusted friends when you like in a country where native English speakers are few and far between and where the majority of the people speak Chinese. Plus there is a good chance that if I e-mailed my manuscript it would be intercepted and censored. The safest way for me to have Banana Girl published was to return to my home country.


But returning home also meant I would have to find a job. Writers don’t make a whole lot of money unless I have an agent who can set speaking engagements for me. I can’t even afford an agent.


I have to start somewhere. Once again I started filling out applications and sending out resumes to various businesses. I was at it on and off from September 2012 to April 2013. All I got was a temporary tutoring job. It was temporary because I was hired in April but school ended in May and there was a change in the contract between my company and the school they serviced. I started the job application process once again, sending out resumes and going to interviews. This time I got lucky. I applied for a job at as a security guard at a local high school which also happens to be my alma mater. I was interviewed in late October and started coursework training and first aid certification in November. I started January 2nd, 2014.


Unfortunately the school was having budget problems. They didn’t have any students living at one of their campuses so there was no need for an afternoon guard. My boss gave me notice that my hours were to be cut so I gave my two week notice. I left in March of 2015 and started re-applying for the umpteenth time. I applied at restaurants and stores. I applied at payday loan centers. I applied for independent contract jobs as a mail courier. I even applied to be a teacher’s assistant at several local schools. All for naught. One interview lasted only ten minutes. The drive to the interview lasted longer than the interview itself.


The thing about this whole process is that it is humbling, even humiliating. I come from a prominent family. My parents were successful business people. Everywhere I go in my hometown people ask me about my parents.


Then they sometimes ask how I’m doing and what I’ve been up to. I tell them that I’ve lived in China for fourteen years and that I’ve written a book about my experience.


But as for being unemployed I only tell people who I trust that I’m looking for a job. How is it that a local girl can’t even find a job in her hometown? I don’t know the answer to that question.


One thing I do know is that rejections have a way of playing games in my head. A few days ago I walked into our local supermarket as a customer. I had a problem with a gift card. I had to go to the customer service desk to get it sorted out. On the counter there was a sign that said “customer service clerk wanted part-time”. I had applied for that job several times. A couple of thoughts ran through my head. My first thought was why wasn’t I hired? My second thought was why is this store having difficulty in finding a clerk?


Another thing I tend to do is every time I see an interviewer, especially one who didn’t hire me, I tend to avoid them. If I have to face them I avoid making eye contact. After all, I have nothing nice to say to them. If they were to ask me how have I been what should I say?


Job hunting is like a jigsaw puzzle. Everyone has seen the image of a puzzle in which there is a lone piece that doesn’t fit. Well, I’m the puzzle piece that fits but I’m the wrong color. This is my hometown. My shape fits because of that. But I feel like I belong to a different puzzle because I’ve been abroad. I have a different skill set. I speak a different language. I have a different perspective. I fit because this is my hometown. But I am a puzzle piece from a different picture.


For more information on Gawker’s job unemployment series go to http://gawker.com/unemployment-stories-vol-40-the-final-installment-559930038.


And happy hunting!


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