July 10th, 2020

mom walk

and we're out

Yesterday was my last day of work. It was one of the more unusual last days of work i have had in my life, because there was no leaving drinks, no card or gift, no awkward speech, i just returned my laptop, gingerly shook hands with a colleague (first post-covid handshake!) and walked out the door.

I'm not sure if they didn't make much fanfare because i was very clear in my exit interview and exit survey the reasons for my departure. Specifically: the company enlisting employees to create party propaganda, the executives not making strong statements on Hong Kong, BLM or any important social issues of the past year, and me getting reported to HR and made to self-censor for publicly expressing my own lived experience in China. I have been open about my reasons with everyone who asked too. Maybe it's embarrassing and they just want me out.

Another take is that due to the utter decimation of the travel industry, the company is anyway bleeding employees - from the CEO down, lots of people have quit since corona hit - and they don't want to make a fuss. Right now the rumor is that another corporate restructure is coming, and a lot of people are scared for their jobs. Even still, it feels like a heel move to not even get a goodbye or thankyou email from my own manager.

But, whatever. Today i was planning to go to the bank to do my final cash transfer to Canada, but i've been thwarted by the bureaucracy. A couple weeks ago HR gave my passport to the police to cancel my one-year residence permit and replace it with a one-month exit visa. This is entirely unnecessary since i could have left the country on my residence permit just like every other damn expat does, but that ain't good enough for this stick-up-the-ass HR team. Anyway, because i don't have my passport back yet, i can't go to the bank to transfer cash.

I suppose it doesn't matter because yesterday i did go to goodbye lunch with a couple colleagues at some shopping mall restaurant, where i got noodles that have subsequently given me explosive diarrhea. Leaving the house will be uncomfortable.

I swear to God, every bourgeois motherfucker who complains about China being full of food poisoning should stop eating at Rich China restaurants and just eat street food or eat at plastic stool restaurants. That shit is far better for your botty as well as being far more delicious.

Anywho, yeah, so work is done. I still haven't packed anything, but i did give away my old tablet and leave one of my two woks outside for someone to claim. I am pretty sure that aside from kitchen stuff all of my remaining belongings will fit comfortably in my backpack. The biggest thing i still need to deal with is the very large stack of paperwork that i have collected over the past 3 years.

I was reading the woes of susandennis and her social security mix-up that was happily resolved within a week or two, and lordy i wish life was so simple here.

As mentioned, i have spent 3 years living in China, throughout all of which i have been eligible for Chinese social security - that is, some level of subsidized healthcare, and a certain percentage of my income going into a pension fund. In all of those 3 years, i have never been able to access the subsidized healthcare, and now that i am leaving China, i am not able to withdraw from my pension fund either.

It's not from lack of trying. In my first two jobs, they assured me HR would sort it out. I was told i would get a letter from the government with a social security card and all would be well. Needless to say that never happened. So when i joined my most recent job i specifically went to apply for the card, bringing all of my documentation and going through the typical hours-long dance with a bunch of bureaucrats who have never seen a foreigner before and therefore have no idea how to process our stuff.

Friends, i am still waiting for my social security card. I have gone back month after month, and each time there is another excuse. Oh, your name is too long for the system, we have to file it again. Oh, the system didn't accept your foreign passport number. Oh, the coronavirus means there is a delay. Oh, now your residence visa has been renewed, we need to refile from scratch. Oh, well, it just isn't ready, come back next month. Fucking hell! I'm lucky i haven't actually been very sick or injured since coming here because lordy.

This week i started the process to withdraw my pension, which as a foreigner you are allowed to do if you are leaving the country. Except after installing the phone app (without which you cannot sign up) and entering all of my personal details, and even seeing that it successfully linked my account into the government database (because it listed the fact that my passport was currently with the police)... It turns out that i am only level 0 and you need to be level 2 or higher to access social security details.

How to level up your score in the government app? Well, one way is to link your WeChat social media account. Except, i don't use WeChat regularly, and because i installed it 3 years ago before the government went full-blown totalitarian, i never went through the whole process of doing facial recognition and uploading scans of my passport to level up my WeChat to whatever degree of blue checkmarked bullshit is required to link it into government services.

I also tried to fill in some other personal details on the website that supposedly should've let me level up, but each time "an error occurred".

So my account is stuck on level 0, which means i have no access to actually do anything, and the FAQ says that to continue i should go into the social security office, and bring my passport (which i can't because it's currently at the police station) and my social security card (which i can't because i'm still waiting for it), and then submit an application which will take at least 5 working days to be processed.

My flight out of the country is in 6 working days.

So, dear Guangdong government, fuck you. 3 years worth of pension payments is not a big deal in the greater scheme of things, but it still pisses me off that i did my part by paying all of my taxes and all of my social security, but i got zero services. Meanwhile most other expats (and even some rich locals) get salary paid into a foreign bank account and make their employer pay for private health insurance. I was given that option when i started and i turned it down because i am not a selfish fucking asshole.

As it turns out, in China, the only people who make it are selfish fucking assholes. Don't believe the hype that this country operates with some kind of Confucian respect for the greater good. Modern China is a dog-eat-dog, consumerist society where pretty much everyone will happily sell out "the greater good" if it gets their family ahead of the Joneses. Doing things by the book will leave you exhausted and worse-off than the ones who cheated their way through.

Meh. It's really not worth the effort for me to continue fighting this bureaucracy. I'll print out all the paperwork i have, haul it back to Canada or wherever, and then maybe one day in the future i will pay some fixer to sort it out for me, or just forget about it. I know my mom was never able to consolidate all her pensions from different countries around the world, and i'll probably die with a bunch of lost cash too. Price of freedom, am i right?

This afternoon at 5pm i am allowed to pick up my passport. Then tomorrow i need to figure out the sublet/rent transfer. I guess going to the bank will have to wait till Monday. Then i am outta here. I don't know if i even have the will to go climb Wutong mountain or visit Guangzhou. I'm done with Guangdong, ready for the next stage.
mom walk

police loop and a goodbye to baishizhou

Following on from my last post, this afternoon i took a trip to Luohu District to pick up my passport from the police. It takes a little over an hour on the subway outside of rush hour.

Now, i've kept mum about the mask thing lately because most of my LJ friends are American and over there it's turned into some weird ideological battle where pro-mask people seem to treat anyone not wearing a mask "properly" as a murderer by proxy.

Personally, i think governments that enforce mask regulations are reminiscent of the world's most oppressive theocracies, which up until corona were the only places that had this garbage-fire law. I find it especially outrageous to police people's clothing in situations where there is no public benefit, i.e. any place where people are further than spitting distance apart from one another.

However. I also respect the people around me enough to wear a mask anyway when i am on public transport, inside shops or outside in crowded pedestrian areas, and i think it is a dick move not to do that.

So it was pretty embarrassing to walk into the police station and every single white person waiting for their passport had their mask off or around their necks. Like, what do you think you're achieving, dumbass? You're wearing the mask supposedly for the sake of other people, now you are crammed into a waiting room, in close quarters with a whole bunch of other people, sitting there for half an hour or more, and now is the time you're pulling it down? For fuck's sake. Expats in China make me cringe.

Anyway, after being accused by the police officer for not being me (it's not my fault my photo had to be Photoshopped to within in an inch of its life just to be accepted by their software!) and paying my fee for the new "humanitarian visa" (how is it "humanitarian" when i had to pay for it, and it gives me less rights than the visa i was just forced to replace?) i got the hell out of there.

I decided to go home via 白石洲 Baishizhou which is/was the largest urban village in Shenzhen. They've been threatening to tear it down on and off for years, and finally last year the government just came in and evicted everyone. The thing is, the redevelopment hasn't really moved along as quickly as expected, i think because some of the residents made enough of a fuss that the government relented and agreed to designate some of it as heritage buildings. Or something. In reality, it's now a huge neighborhood of mostly abandoned buildings that have been surrounded by steel fences, but there are still some squatters trying to eke out a living until the bulldozers come and knock it all down for real.

This is the future of my urban village, of every urban village in Shenzhen. 拆迁 - eviction and demolition. The working class tenements and wet markets and plastic stool restaurants are replaced by gated communities, shopping malls and chain restaurants. The local languages go extinct. Neighborhoods turn into a bourgeois dystopia, identical to every other suburban block in China. And all the people who used to live there are pushed out, to a lower tier city, or often back to subsistence farming, due to the hukou system which makes moving to a lower tier city less desirable than returning to the family smallhold.

I wish i had the time to stay here and learn more about this. Baishizhou and places like it are exactly why i came to China. The stories of the newly-urbanized, and the newly-deurbanized. The migrant workers and transient people that power the economy, the people who build condos they will never be able to afford, the ones who the party elites and property developers have declared to be low-end population and therefore not suited for life in the "civilized" cities of China.

The Reconstruction of Baishizhou

I left Bashizhou with tears in my eyes.

For dinner i went back to my own village, where sadly it turns out another of my favorite restaurants has fallen prey to the post-corona economic downturn. The government doesn't want to report on it, but anecdotally i can see the working class are struggling as exports drop and consumption drops, factory work disappears, migrant workers go home, the markets they shop at disappear, the restaurants they eat at disappear...

I went to a Hunan style place and got mapo tofu and a beer. Then went to a tongsui place to get a sea coconut, pearl sago and coconut juice dessert.

I will miss the urban villages of Shenzhen. I will miss the neon lights, the smoke, the smells, the water dripping from above, the rats and the roaches. Actually, i won't miss the roaches. But still. I will miss the grime. The maze of alleys. The local accents. The honest food. If i ever return to Shenzhen, i guess most of these places will be gone.