I had it all figured out. I would move to China after graduation, learn to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently, teach English until I was in a position to start an import export company in Shanghai and ultimately become a millionaire. I had done my due diligence. I read multiple books that gave valuable information on starting an import export business in China and I still kept in constant contact with all the business agents I met the frist time I went to China during my study abroad semester.I was contracted by a lawyer to source different clothing factories to find a company that could help him launch a new clothing line to sell in America. I was confident I was going to be succesful. Many of the friends I made when I went to China the first time became very wealthy within that one year time span that I moved back to America to graduate. Fast forward to September 28th 2008 at 5:14 pm Beijing time. My plane was taxiing into the airport terminal in a very dense fog. I walked out of the airport and met with my contact who arrived 3 hours later from the agreed meeting time. As soon as my lungs "hit" the Beijing air I immediately realized that it was not fog I was witnessing, it was actually pollution. Unmoved by the realization that I was going to sign a contract to live in a place where I would be obligated inhale copious amounts of harmful fumes for a year, I optimisticly entered a vehicle which was hired to drive us to the school campus where I would live. When we arrived at the campus, I was handed the keys to my room and hastily opened the door. As soon as I entered my room I immediately felt like I was in a sardine can because the room was about the size of a walk-in closet. To make matters worse, my room accentuated an artificial light that could make the most optimistic person depressed within 19 seconds. After unpacking I heard a knock on the door. It was the school representative who wanted me to sign the contract. After reading through the contract I instantly realized that the contract was drastically different from the contract that they sent me through email to look over. They caught me totally off guard. I realized that they took advantage of my "foreignness" and redrew the contract to a one-sided win-lose situation to benefit the school. I signed the contract in duress from the thought of not having a place to stay if I did not comply. On my first day of school I met with the school principle. He was a short, stern, and foreign educated individual. He informed me that I was prohibited from teaching anything about God, Tibet, Xinjiang, saying anything bad about the Chinese government, and especially the Tian An Men Square massacre (Many Chinese isn't aware it occured).
Once I entered the classroom I realized that there were mutliple fixed cameras that could monitor anything we taught the children. I wanted to engage the students in interesting conversation so we could have a chance to bond with each other. Ironically, the first subject the children wanted to discuss was God! They were extremely interested in the concept of God and saw me as a messenger that could teach them the gospel. I reluctantly informed them that I was not allowed to talk about God. I felt really guilt about it but I feared what would happened to me if I crossed the line. Everything was controled by the government, especially the media. Chinese are not allowed to use surf youtube, facebook, or any other social networking portals. Google wasn't allowed to provide search results on the Tian An Men Square massacre or about Rubia Kadier who is a prominenr Uyghur advocate for the independence of the Muslim Xinjian Province which they call East Turkistan.
As time went on I started my sourcing work. Me and an export agent went out of city to the country side to look at some factories that could create the clothing we wanted. A Mercedez Benz picked us up from the bus station and we met with the general manager. After dicussing the designs he gave me a tour of the clothing factory in Chinese. He drew my attention to the potential materials we could use to create our clothing line but my real attention was fixated on the small children working and the horrible conditions his employees worked in.
As time went on and my spoken Chinese drastically improved I developed relationships with security guards, the fruit lady, and construction workers around my campus. They were all from poor parts of China who immigrated to Beijing for a better life. Some told horrible stories of how they were not able to use any water because it was all poluted by waste from big factories.Others told stories about not recieving salary after three months but had no choice but to keep working. Their stories exemplified how the Chinese government puts the needs of industry over the livelyhood of poorer individuals.
When the Chinese New year arrived, I decided to take a trip to Thailand. According to the contract, the school was obligated to provide a travel stipend and I readily noticed that my bank account increased accordingly. When I returned to China I was supposed to recieve salary but their was no increase in funds after checking my bank account. They told me that the money they gave me before vacation was actually this months pay which was clearly a breach of contract. After meeting with several school officials nothing changed. I started to realize how helpless the people must feel without any very human rights and agency. To make matters worse, the school did not provide facilities for us to cook for ourselves. Over the next months they paid me on the most inconvenient and irregular schedule possible. They paid me at the begining of one month and at the end of next month. I literally had to stretch my already low salary over two months consistently. I went from eating at restaurants to eating street food everyday in unsanitary conditions. I remember being huddled with 10 Chinese people in an alley eating out of one pot everynight for dinner. I even had to borrow money from Chinese people who made less than me on paper. I single handedly ruined the mystique of Americans when they saw me eating street food which is restricted to low level laborers. I finished the year learning a hard lesson about explotation and what its like not to have workers rights. I supported myself by teaching English lessons on the side and selling bikes that repatriating american students left as they went back to America.
This experience helped me discover my calling in life. I realized that helping others would be more fullfilling than starting a business and becoming rich. I decided I wanted study international human rights law. I want to give hope to the exploited workers everywhere by holding governments and businesses accountable for their people. Me, being an American, have opportunities presented to me that many people in foreign countries do not have. I plan to use these opportunities to help others in the world who have no rights.