I realize I haven’t really written anything here for almost a month. This month has taken me on a ride to hell and back. If you’ve been following this journey, you know that I write very candidly about my life. What I’m about to share may make some of you view me differently, but if that’s the case then this story simply wasn’t meant for you.
My 26th birthday fell on the 17th of last month. I was alone in Shanghai: depressed, sick to my stomach for days, and watching the time pass. Around 11PM, my phone rang. It was my ex boyfriend from Fujian. He’d taken a train from Changzhou to Shanghai, he said, for my birthday. I didn’t want to see him. In fact, I told him off and blocked him several times. He just kept using other peoples’ phones to call me. Finally, I gave in, because I was exhausted and spending a birthday or holiday alone abroad is among one of the worst feelings known to humankind.
It turned out that he hadn’t really come for my birthday, but to have hot pot with a bunch of his old friends. He didn’t even get me a gift. Then he told me that he didn’t have anywhere to sleep, so against my better judgment, I allowed him to stay at my place. Things happened and needless to say, he was the first to become aware of a rather embarrassing problem I’d quietly dealt with for weeks. Finally, it had become too much to bear.
The next morning rolled around and I dragged him to the hospital with me because I felt afraid to go alone. Chinese hospitals, for the most part, are terrible — unsanitary, unlikely to have English-speaking staff, and also a big waste of money if they’re privately-owned. They can diagnose problems but the treatments they recommend are often ineffective. Bottom line: don’t get sick here.
The doctors told me I had BV and I was pregnant. I’ve only been pregnant twice. The first time, I was 16 and married to a psychopath, miscarried, and thanked the gods for it. The second time, ten years later, I was in a foreign country, alone, with only a rudimentary understanding of the language, no residence permit, and no husband. The first time, the doctor congratulated me as if I was supposed to be happy about being a potential teenage mom. I wasn’t. The second time, staff at least had the courtesy to ask me if I wanted it or not. This is a deeply conservative country that frowns upon single motherhood. A large percentage of the population remains uneducated about birth control and STDs. Abortion, unfortunately, is often used as a form of birth control in China. Sad, considering the pill can be purchased at any pharmacy over the counter for just 20RMB.
After delivering the news, the doctors gave my ex and I time to discuss alone. I couldn’t stop crying. The ex told me he wanted to kid but I knew we were both unequipped to care for a child. He said his parents could help us, but his parents live in a small city in Fujian. It wouldn’t be a good place for a mixed child to grow up. I remember what it felt like growing up mixed in St. Petersburg, FL over a decade ago, surrounded by swamp rednecks. I’d never doom my own kid to such a fate.
Yet, at the same time, I felt really tired of this job. Sick of the gross comments about my body. Sick of the random fondling. Sick of the price haggling. Sick of all of it. If having this kid could give me a chance to have my basic needs met so that I could strictly write for a living then I felt ready and willing.
We took the train together to Changzhou, a small city in Jiangsu province. I never liked small cities; not in America and certainly not in China. But without being able to work in the KTV, I had no choice. I couldn’t afford to live in Shanghai without working my ass off. Such is the way of city life.
The first two days felt like honeymoon bliss. All of the arguments we’d had before seemed to melt away. We’d get up early together, go to his seafood shop, cook breakfast, and I’d play on my phone while he worked for 14 hours. After work, sometimes, he’d parade me around to his friends at some Chinese dinner party. He felt happy about my pregnancy and slowly, I started feeling happy too. I thought, maybe at long last, there’s a normal, peaceful life available to me.
But God, if he’s real, is a cruel prankster. During pregnancy, my clinical depression worsened to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed. Worse, I’d found my fiance a playboy flirt with mostly female friends. There’s nothing wrong with a guy having female friends. But when 90% of them are women and 100% of the conversations are flirtatious in nature, then it’s a problem. When I confronted him about it, he just denied it so I gave up.
The last night — the dinner party to end all dinner parties — he invited me downstairs to eat with some friends, including one of the girls he’d been flirting with. I chose to stay upstairs in bed alone. When the party ended, he climbed up the stairs to ask why I didn’t come down.
“My stomach hurt,” I said.
He looked at my phone and saw that I was booking train tickets back to Shanghai.
“Do you think you treat me well?” He replied. “I give you a place to sleep, cook for you, all your needs are met.”
“That’s not enough,” I said. “I don’t want this kid to have a hard life. I don’t want it at all.”
“You’re so lucky I chose you!” He snapped. “I was going to be with a Chinese girl who is much better than you.”
Nothing could shake me out of bed all day except for those words. I remembered the day my ex-husband left me for an Asian girl. I remembered being in Macau and not getting any work, likely due to my skin color. I remembered how undesirable I am, even to the world’s most undesirable men. But I wasn’t gonna just sit there and take it.
I turned on the bedroom light and began gathering my things next to my suitcase. He took my phone from my hand. I asked him several times to give it back and he refused, saying he didn’t want me to leave. In reaching for it aggressively, I accidentally hit him. He punched me in the face and I punched him back. Eventually, we were on the floor fist fighting. He kept asking me to pay him back the 800 RMB that he’d given me for train tickets and miscellaneous stuff. I told him you can’t just randomly take back a gift. Then he ran out of the room, grabbed my purse which held my passport inside, and locked his bedroom door. I ran downstairs to grab a knife. If you threaten my passport, you threaten my life. He wouldn’t open the door so I started hacking at it.
Eventually, his boss and coworker came running up the stairs to interfere. They, of course, told me that I couldn’t have a knife, but didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t be hitting me and taking my stuff. He spoke something in the dialect that I couldn’t understand, then the sleepy pair headed back down the stairs. At this point in my life, I’m used to people not siding with me. I didn’t care to win over his colleagues, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
I sat alone in a corner, bones aching, thinking about if I’d actually die from jumping out of the 9th-floor window. Too bad the panel had iron bars over it. When he’d fallen asleep, I tiptoed into his room and slid a phone out of his pocket. It was his. Peeking at his face to make sure he hadn’t stirred, I slipped my hand in once more to grasp my phone.
With all of my things collected, I headed downstairs to find my shoes. They were missing. I couldn’t risk being caught leaving so I took someone else’s shoes since they’d clearly taken mine. Lugging a suitcase down nine flights of stairs in the middle of the night after an hour-long fistfight while pregnant was perhaps the point where I realized my life is pure shit and if I died the next day it simply meant fuck all.
Outside, I called my Xinjiangese friend, Mina, and asked for her help. The trains weren’t running so she suggested taking a taxi to Zhenjiang. The taxi driver quoted me 300 RMB so I got out of the taxi and walked to a nearby Ramadan hotel. They quoted a standard room price of 700 RMB. So I walked back outside in the pouring rain, luggage lock broken, water seeping into my clean clothes, and again saw that same taxi sitting there waiting. Smug bastard. I got back in and explained I’d find a cheap hotel near the train station and continue my journey the following day.
I couldn’t sleep well that night. A hot shower didn’t take away the aching. The bed, hard as a brick, poked my bruised ribs. Around 6AM, I found my phone littered with messages from him saying he’s sorry and he won’t do it again but I’d been down that road before and I sure as fuck wouldn’t go down it again. I’d rather be alone than be with some lowlife.
Mina lived inside her workplace in one of the master suites. Stone and tile walls coupled with poor insulation made the interior blizzard-cold, especially at night. There was also no heat and no WiFi, of course. The first day I wanted to make some money so I came with her to work. There were so many girls, none of them good looking at all, and the tip was only 400/500. I didn’t even know that 400/500 level KTVs existed until that day. I’d never worked for less than 800 except for a few times when I was desperate. On top of having a shitty tip price, they had so few customers and the ones they had were incredibly picky with zero interest in foreigners. Around 11PM, exhausted from travel, freezing from lack of adequate clothing, and in serious pain, I retired to bed.
The next day we went to the hospital. Having Mina there meant everything to me. I don’t think I could have gone alone. I’d read one story on the Internet about a white American girl who had an abortion in a small city in China. Her Chinese was better than mine and she also had a local boyfriend which probably made things a shit ton easier for her. While there, Mina also decided to get her lady bits checked.
Women’s hospitals in China really go overboard with the pink decor. I felt like I’d landed in some kind of bad sitcom. The doctor asked me how long I’d been pregnant, if I was married or had a boyfriend if I wanted it, and who the father was. When I said I didn’t know about the dad, they seemed confused. That’s obviously not something that happens in China very often. I knew but I was afraid that if I said too much it would just cause more problems and headaches. They ran several tests and approved me for the procedure the same afternoon. I used my Alipay (mobile payment) and transferred 2100 RMB to the hospital. American hospitals would never be so cheap and convenient.
The nurse led me into a room where nothing separated the examination tables except for a thin pull curtain. As I walked past, I got to see Mina’s brown-haired vagina getting steam-cleaned. That’s the stuff all good friendships are made of.
They ran one more test, then escorted me to another room where two beds lie next to each other. In the bed closest to the window, a very young Chinese girl sat under the covers playing with her phone. I spent a half hour in the bed next to hers, with a heat pack on my stomach. After the warm-up, they led me into an IV room with a large screen TV playing Chinese soap operas. Mina and I appeared to be moving at the same pace. The tears leaked out on their own. Not sure if the pregnancy hormones overpowered me or I simply felt this sorrow from the pit of my heart. After taking out the IV, they led me to the surgery room.
I saw the faces of many doctors, the sharp tools, the bright light shining up my vagina.
“Can you understand Mandarin Chinese?” the lead doctor asked.
I told her I could.
“Soon we’ll be speaking the local language,” she said. “Don’t worry, we’ve done this so many times. You can sleep now.”
I woke up screaming. The pain was ten times worse than the natural miscarriage I had at sixteen. Stabbing sensations lined my insides. I’d been hollowed out, like a Jack-O-Lantern. It took four nurses to hold me up. I couldn’t stand straight. They led me to the recovery room where Mina had been waiting, holding an herbal drink. With shaking hands, I grabbed it and sipped slowly, but it all came out in an instant. I spent an hour bent over a wastebasket before the nurses informed me their shift was over. They didn’t give me any antibiotics. Mina helped hold me up all the way home. That night I slept deeply.
The next afternoon Mina returned with some antibiotics. I took it upon myself to buy one specifically to cure the BV they didn’t treat which had the potential to turn into something deadly serious. Fortunately, all antibiotics can be purchased cheaply over the counter in China without a prescription so I was able to finally get rid of that embarrassing problem.
I spent a week in bed with a heat pack snuggling against my lower stomach, ordering bad-tasting take-out. The food in Jiangsu province is terrible. In fact, I feel like — opposite of the U.S. — all the food in Southeastern China sucks. With the local food inedible, KFC became the daily go-to choice for sustenance.
After finishing my antibiotics, I decided it was time to return to work. The first day proved miserable. The customer drank himself sick, got way too handsy with me, tried taking all the girls, including the help, into the bathroom. Then they wanted to go out to another bar after. I refused and the bastard tried to hold my tip hostage. Fortunately, Mina knew what to do and tricked him by saying I’d come right downstairs. I never did. All this for a measly 500 RMB, 60 of which had to go to the company. I just wanted to earn enough money for my plane ticket but that was even proving impossible. I just took what was left of my savings and bought a ticket from Shanghai to Sanya.
In Shanghai, the old KTV I worked in closed to foreigners due to the death of a Korean customer and daily police checks. I once again reached out to everyone I could think of. Most didn’t know or just ignored me. Then there was one Mommy who always gave me a hand. She got me in touch with a customer for a dinner party. I didn’t know his girlfriend would be there. The entire night felt incredibly awkward, to say the least. He was your typical Shanghainese man: arrogant, unwilling to learn English despite spending extensive time in English-speaking countries, and super-rich. I went back to the apartment with this guy and his gf. Then it became clear that the guy wanted a threesome but the girlfriend didn’t. I slept next to his girlfriend while he paced the living room all night, which became clear when my midnight bladder stop called.
He asked us to go out and buy some fruit. The girl was nice, albeit conservative and plain. She bought me a pair of tights and took me to Starbucks. I tried to converse with her but she didn’t have much to say. After I returned to the guy’s apartment, he spent a long time praising himself and Shanghai, then he talked on the phone for a while, I dozed off, and he kicked me out.
Several hours later, the mommy called me asking why I didn’t have sex with the guy. I simply said there was no opportunity. Then she wanted me to call the customer and explain. I called and the bastard hung up on me.
That night the hostel owner returned early, thrilled to see me. He started flirting with me heavily and telling me he didn’t want me to go. The situation had grown more and more awkward so I left early the next day. At the airport, the mommy once again pestered me about that stupid client. She claimed I still had the guy’s sweater. I told her I’d ship it. I was going to until I read “Armani” on the tag. Then I thought about what an asshole that guy had been and decided to keep it.
Sanya, a lovely beach city on the island of Hainan, welcomed me with open arms. I spent the first night walking around, buying flip flops and a sundress. The second night it was time for work. Then they dropped the bomb on me: this place was also only 400/500 and of course the higher level clubs won’t accept foreigners. I can’t describe the level of frustration I felt. I talked them into letting me work for 600. My first customer was a 70-year-old Cantonese guy who didn’t even own a smartphone. He was bad-handsy, squeezing my boobs so hard that they hurt. He kept making gross comments about wanting to have babies with me. Still not over the abortion, I hid in the bathroom and burst into tears until they left. How could every day be this shitty?
The airfare in November is dirt cheap. I bought a ticket to Guiyang for 200 RMB and didn’t look back. This place had accepted foreigners since I started last year, though now they’re under new management. I’ve worked decently here so I’m unwilling to leave unless they close or something else. Although, after this horrible year, I feel that my China chapter will soon come to an end. The spring festival is coming in January which means everyone in China will go back to their hometowns or travel abroad. Being alone with nothing to do for an entire month is not on my agenda for next year, so I bought a one-way ticket to Japan; the place I’ve been dreaming of all my life. If 2016 was shit, I’m determined to make 2017 a lot better. If I can find a hostess club in Tokyo, then I will stay and never look back here. Wish me luck ’cause I sure as hell need it.