Editor’s Note: We at Cookerly love a good blog post about business, marketing or PR as much as the next person. However, in the interest of a broader focus, below is one in a series of creative, storytelling blog posts from our staff designed to be a little different. Enjoy.
After college, I landed a dream job, working as a travel writer in Shanghai for a Chinese online travel agency. After a few months, I was feeling settled. I looked forward to grabbing a large dumpling each morning for breakfast from a nearby vendor and learned to enjoy the crowded commute. I became comfortable with my title as a “Western expert” for the travel agency that had hired me and one other American in preparation for the 2008 Olympics that were being held in Beijing. I was picking up Mandarin faster than I expected and still loved exploring my new hometown. Things were going quite well for me as a young college grad… until they weren’t.
On a cold day at work, sipping the unlikely cup of coffee in an office full of tea drinkers, three police officers walked into my boss’s office. After a few minutes, she walked out with them, slowly pacing over to John, my male counterpart and the only other Westerner in our 6,000-person office. They were too far away for me to hear anything, but my eyes were locked on them. Soon John stood up, following the three police officers who were now walking toward me. ME!? My heart was racing. I had no idea what was going on. Sally, the English name my boss had given herself, quickly shuffled over to my desk and said the police officers needed to speak with us about our employment status. But not here. They were taking me to the police station downtown.
I frantically tried to call friends and family but I wasn’t able to reach anyone. We arrived at the police station and waited for the English translator to arrive. John and I were taken into separate rooms for questioning.
“How long have you worked there?”
“When were you employed?”
“When did you graduate college?”
None of the questions the police translator was slowly relaying to me was particularly bizarre, and the police officers were quite pleasant, but still, how had I ended up in a Chinese jail? How was I suddenly being interrogated by the Chinese police?
A couple of hours later, we were released and asked to return the next day for further questioning.
The following day, the same routine: more mundane questions slowly relayed from the police officers to the police translator and then on to me. After several more hours, many phone calls with the travel agency and verifying my story with John’s, the police determined our company had hired us illegally in order to avoid the high taxes for employing a foreigner. And even worse news, I could no longer work at the agency.
I returned to my office, upset and exhausted. I spoke with the vice president of the company who offered to keep me on staff, and get paid under the table.
“Uh, no thanks.”
I decided to return home, a mere six months after starting out. I moved back to Portland just in time for the holidays, where I focused on learning how to make the dumplings I missed so much. And before long, I was able to land myself a new job in another mixed-up, foreign land: Capitol Hill.