Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How I was Deported from China....

How I was deported from China…
I would love to be able to write that I did something heroic and that’s why I was booted out of China, but that’s not the case. This story may change my blogger rating from G to something else. And, my blog will probably no longer be able to be viewed in China:) This is kind of a long story so go get a cup of coffee, use the bathroom, and pull up to the computer!

I went to China on a Post-Graduate Fellowship program through my college. This was back in 1995. That summer, prior to leaving for China, I was diagnosed with Epilepsy and put on Dilantin which, two weeks before leaving, I had an allergic reaction to Dilantin and decided to go to China un-medicated (there were so many obstacles for me to go to China that I really think that God didn’t want me there and I was just being stubborn about going).

Anyway (I should warn you, the reader, that there may be a number of side stories off of the main, why I was deported story). I arrived in China in late August. I was assigned to a school that was outside of Chengdu in the Szechuan province. Chengdu is most famous for being the gateway to Tibet and, the actual “small” village where I was assigned to teach was at the base of the mountains where the Panda preserve is located. This small village had a population of almost 600,000 people (I don’t know about you, but when I think of a small village I think of Greece and my dad’s village, population 1200). This was a private boarding school where I would be teaching English to 4th graders. Most of my students were first year English students.

Getting a visa to enter China is a difficult process involving a physical exam, letters of invitation from the host (the school), letters from my college, etc. It took months to process and I actually had to mail my passport to the Chinese consul in San Francisco to get a special stamp in my passport that would allow me entrance into China. This entry stamp was valid for six weeks (so I had a six week time period in which to enter into China). This is important later in my story. Once in China, the school would help me to get a worker’s visa. They would be my sponsor. And this is so I could remain in China for the year that I wanted to be there. So I fly off to China with a year’s worth of stuff. I bought things like English children’s books, different teaching resources, clothes (but not too many as I would be hand washing all of my clothing), year’s supply of medicine (things like Benadryl and cold medicine that I would not be able to find in China), my own needles in case I had to have a shot or blood drawn, my own acupuncture needles (I was really, heavily into naturopathic medicine at this time in my life), and tons of things that my naturopath gave me to help fight crazy bacteria, etc. that I might encounter in food and water (I would mix this powdered stuff into water every day and drink it… I was the only Westerner at the school who didn’t suffer from diarrhea or other abdominal problems while I was there so it worked!). I also brought pictures, lots of mixed tapes of favorite music, some favorite books, just a few things to remind me of home (a camera, of course). It was a lot of stuff, but looking back I don’t think I overdid it because of how long I was going to be gone.

Getting to China is an adventure. I thank God that I traveled with a woman from my college who was teaching in a different part of China. We had a layover in Hong Kong and had to sleep in the airport with our luggage. We tied it to ourselves. It was very uncomfortable. The next day I was supposed to meet a guy from my college who was going to teach at the same school as me. He didn’t show up at the airport so I had to go alone. He ended up not being able to get his visa in time to make our flight, but he showed up a week later.

At the school, we each had our own room with our own bathroom. It was extremely humid and very hot when I arrived. There were other Westerners who were teaching English at the school. Most were Baha’i. There was one man who was married to a Chinese woman and they were Evangelical Protestant. There was a woman from Canada who was from a Christian organization. I sort of felt like the Baha’i were sizing me up for conversion. The Protestant man warned us about them. It was an interesting mix of people, that’s for sure. And we were the only Westerners in the whole village. We were on the receiving end of lots of stares when we actually went into town to go shopping or for bike rides. Andrew, the guy who was in my program, had almost a full beard. People really stared at him! I also remember getting on the bus and being taller than everyone else on the bus (I am a whopping 5’4” tall).

I do have lots of stories and memories of being in China from the five weeks that I was actually there. I even was able to teach my students for the majority of time that I was there. So, how did I actually get deported? The assistant to the headmaster of the school took all of us into Chengdu one day to register at the US consulate and to apply for our work visas. The application for the work visas required us to have blood tests to see if we were HIV positive or if we had Syphilis (thanks goodness I brought my own needles). So we had our blood tests, filled out paperwork and we went back to the school (which was a good 2 ½ to three hour drive… now driving in China is worthy of a whole different post). About a week later, the assistant (I can’t remember her name, now), told me that we had to go back to Chengdu to re-do my blood tests because one was positive. Ahem, yeah, right. So we went back. Not only did I have a blood test, but I had to sit in a room and face a panel of male doctors and a very young male interpreter while they questioned me about sexual encounters that I may or may not have had before coming to China and even, how many men in China I had infected with syphilis! They wanted to examine me and I refused because I just couldn’t believe what was happening (and I was a bit concerned that I was going to be carted off to a Chinese prison to spend the rest of my life). They rushed the blood test and, again, it came up positive so they gave me my deportation papers. I was absolutely floored. Imagine, having to call your parents at 3am (their time) and tell them that you tested positive for syphilis and that you are coming home (and saying over and over again, I don’t have syphilis, I don’t have syphilis). Imagine having to call the Dean of Faculty at your college and telling him that you are being deported because of testing positive for syphilis (and telling him over and over that I don’t have syphilis… he believed me… but it still was extremely embarrassing. Andrew, my teaching partner, said at least I didn’t test positive for AIDS. That was a little bit reassuring.

From what I understand, the school made an attempt to bribe the officials (not an uncommon thing to do) but they wouldn’t take the bribe. Most likely because at the same time I was in China, the United Nations was holding their Women’s conference in Beijing and even though we were very far from Beijing, I would be an example of Western women and how evil they can be.

So the school was very sad to see me go (no, really, they were). The Dean of Faculty at my college offered to re-send me back to China after I came home and cleared up any of this confusion but I pretty much decided that someone really didn’t want me to be in China and I just better not go back. So I left. But on my way out, at the airport, I was detained. It seems my entry visa into China hadn’t expired and they were concerned that I might try to come back in after leaving. So they were not going to let me get on my flight. I have one Chinese bureaucrat telling me I have to leave the country right away and another one telling my I have to stay. So I thought about this for about 5 seconds and decided to pull the hysterical-American-woman act. I cried. I wailed, actually. Anything to get me on that plane and back to the US. It worked. I came home and went straight to my doctor and told her to run a syphilis test on me to prove to the world that I do not have syphilis. She ran the more advanced test that actually looks for syphilis in the blood and it came back negative. In China, they did a syphilis screening test that can come up false positive. And a false positive syphilis screening is actually one of the signs of Lupus, which I was diagnosed with three years later (in 1998).

So this is my story of being deported. Some bonus China memories: two men who couldn’t speak a lick of English drove me to the airport (in Chengdu). We were early so I had to go to a restaurant with them for lunch. I was the only woman their. And one of the men was a soldier, sort of like my escort out of the country. The other man worked for the school. He was also the man who would deliver us our mail. But sometimes he wouldn’t give us our mail. No one received mail for a few days and so I went into the guard office where his desk was and opened it up and found a whole stack of letters. I saw him as a man who didn’t have a lot of control in his life, but by golly, he could control when and if we received our mail! I was in China for the moon festival. I ate some moon cakes. I went to a Buddhist temple in Chengdu and saw the absolute worst deformities that I have ever seen in my life. These were the beggars outside of the temple. And I imagine that here in the US these people would have had surgery when they were young to fix these deformities. There were the numerous Chinese people who came up to me and whispered in my ear that they, too, were Christians (I wore my cross when I was there like I always wear my cross). That is a big risk to take. I have always been fascinated with the Chinese culture (ancient and modern) and their history. In China, I heard from many people that they actually respect the Greek culture and history because of how advanced Ancient Greece was. So if someone found out I was Greek, they would ask me lots of questions about Ancient Greece. It was very fascinating. Our interpreter told me that the Chinese really think the rest of the world is barbarians except for the Ancient Greeks!
Ok that’s all for now…