Joe is a fellow teacher and expat in Chengdu. Sometimes we have conversations, like normal humans. In this one, we talk about the widespread uncertainty following news of the coronavirus, deciding to stay or go back home, and our unorganized training in Shanghai.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Damion: That was the moment when I knew, “shit, we’re fucked.” At first, I figured it’s just one week. We can try again next week. Then EF was like, “hey, we’re going to train you on how to teach online.” That’s when it hit me: I’m never leaving this apartment. This is it.
Joe: Good thing I came to China! Couldn’t we be doing this back in the states? Aren’t there online teachers for China back in the states?
Damion: I was pissed! I was really upset because I went through too much to get over here. My place isn’t even that big. I don’t like my place enough to stay here and work.
Joe: That is fair. I didn’t mind as much. It was okay. I’m an introvert, so staying at home?–I can do that. I can even enjoy doing that. My apartment is pretty decent.
Damion: Your apartment is pretty decent.
Joe: And there were only three days where Chengdu was like, “you cannot leave your complex.”
Damion: Did we have that? Oh yea, you’re right, we did.
Joe: That was early February with the Lunar New Year.
Damion: That’s right! I forgot about that.
Joe: It’s weird with the transition from holiday to forced holiday.
Damion: I remember we had almost a week off because of where the holiday landed. We had a long time where we weren’t going to work. Then somewhere in the middle of it, Paul (my manager) hit me on Wechat like, “Hey, listen. Don’t know if you know what’s going on right now, but we’re going to stay home a couple more days.”
I’m like–shit–no problem! I get two more days to be in my new apartment. I was already getting acclimated to cleaning, cooking, using the television, understanding how a VPN and internet works, and all this stuff. Then two days later, he hits me again: “Hey, so listen … I don’t know when we’re going back to work.”
Joe: That’s the thing with the managers: they were all in the same boat as we were. They were just hearing from their managers … who were also in the same boat as we were. Everyone is getting the news down the line at the last minute. “No work tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next three months!”
Damion: I knew it was bad when Paul asked if I was thinking about going back to the states. I wasn’t, but I started thinking about it after he asked. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on.
Joe: Everyone was messaging me from home. Are you gonna come back? Are you worried? I wasn’t planning on coming back for a year anyway.
Damion: I thought about it practically. If I go back, I don’t have a job, a car, or a place to live because I gave up my apartment. What am I going back to, exactly? I had already spent money on things here, so I chose to stay. If things got worse, then fine. I would’ve gone back home. But at the time, it didn’t seem like the apocalypse. Just seemed like we couldn’t leave our apartments as often.
Joe: I would’ve had to go home if they didn’t do the online teaching. I wouldn’t have been able to afford anything. I’m very happy with our company for getting that set up quickly or else I would’ve been like, “Welp, this was interesting. But I’m headed out now.”
Damion: I did enjoy being a teacher for five days.
Joe: That was the other thing. A lot of people asked why we were starting in January since there was a vacation immediately after. I didn’t know! That’s when the company told me to come. I didn’t mind a holiday at the beginning, but everything was so rushed.
Here’s Shanghai. Here’s your training. Now you’re in Chengdu. Except we had those weird days in Shanghai where we had nothing to do because everyone else were looking for apartments while we were waiting to fly to Chengdu. Then we get here and it’s like quick, quick, find your apartment! You have three days to find it. Then you teach for five days. And then you’re not teaching at all.
Damion: It was really bizarre. And in Shanghai, they had us set up our cell phones and bank accounts. Looking back now, they should’ve waited until we got to Chengdu to handle that.
Joe: They could’ve. Because there were so many of us in Shanghai, they should’ve. They had one lady handling bank accounts in Shanghai, and she had to go around and ask her colleagues to take groups to different banks because there were too many people.
Damion: I didn’t understand that part.
Joe: And what was the training, really? It was just a “Welcome to China!” A lot of the training was more relevant to those staying in Shanghai than it was for us who were leaving to Chengdu. Instead, we could’ve had a more relevant training and orientation in Chengdu.
Damion: As much as I appreciated meeting new people and eating the free breakfast at the Holiday Day Inn Express, all I remember were stories of shit not to do in China. Like, “don’t get so heavily drunk that you fight your taxi driver.”
Joe: Yes, that was one of the stories. One of them was “don’t be a drug dealer.”