Last month I began a little story about China and student loans (of all things...). I decided to include the full story today. It's kind of an odd thought, being forced to work off your student loans in a Chinese factory. But the way things are going these days, it wouldn't be the strangest thing that's happened... So, in honor of current events, I present:
CHINA DAZE (COMPLETE)
By Scott Taylor
As Max entered the bathroom he hit his head on the low doorframe. A dull thud echoed in the musty air. Max swore through gritted teeth being careful not to wake his sleeping wife. Lisa Thompson, Max’s wife, worked the swing shift at Chin Do and Max was assigned graves. The couple had hoped they would at least get to work together on the same shift when their contracts were called up three months ago. They knew working together would be a pipe dream, but they still hoped, that is, until they arrived in China and were given their assignments, the work schedules they were guaranteed to work for the next six months with no chance of any change.
Max entered the bathroom and turned on the small, yellow incandescent bulb that hung under the stained and faded ceiling tiles while he rubbed the rapidly rising bump forming on his forehead. He quickly looked in the mirror to see the extent of the damage caused by the low frame. With any luck his hair would cover up any bruises. One of Max’s co-workers showed up the week before with a black eye and the company cut his pay almost in half. Any signs of violence—no matter the reason—were highly discouraged by management. And though they almost never fired an employee, the company could make working for the Chin Do Corporation so bad, an employee would welcome immediate dismissal. Luckily Max’s thick black hair hid well the mark on his head.The lukewarm shower failed to lift Max’s spirits as he looked into the mirror and wondered how on earth he ended up in China. Life back in Boise seemed like decades ago, but really it was only months. He and Lisa were living the American dream since they got married three years earlier. Neither of them followed the news and if someone told them that America’s dependence on foreign investment was undermining the foundation of the country’s economy, they wouldn’t have cared. What did it have to do with them? They each had college degrees and good jobs (and student loans in the hundreds of thousands…). So what if China was owed literally trillions of American dollars? Max stared at his tired face, his blue eyes piercing his soul and wondered if he had to do it all over again, would he have done anything different? Probably not, Max admitted to himself, and this knowledge hurt worst than the throbbing pain in his head caused by the low doorframe in the dank bathroom on the 15th floor apartment he and his wife shared with two other helpless debtors and 10 million other people all trapped in the city of Chongqing, China.
Dressed, Max opened the door to the apartment and ventured into the ill-lighted hallway. A small window near the elevators gave Max a view to the outside world. The lights of the city were dimmed by a blanket of pollution that hovered over the city like a specter, choking (literally) the city’s inhabitants. The corrupted air attacked Max’s healthy lungs from the day he exited the airplane that brought him and his wife to the world’s most populist country. He knew the pollution was killing him, but what could he do, wear one of the ridiculous-looking surgical masks like many of the locals? No, he wouldn’t do that—at least, not yet. The elevator door dinged and Max entered the aging and rickety space. The door slowly closed behind him.
As the elevator car descended Max reflected on his situation, something he tried not to do. His surroundings demand he do otherwise. Student loans, all this over those stupid student loans. It was only a month after Max was laid off after the company where he worked was sold (ironically to a different Chinese corporation) that Max received the notice that his student loan was called in—all thanks to a new law which gave the U.S. government (the holder of the loan) the right to call due all loans at their discretion, which meant whenever they wanted. Lisa had not yet found full-time employment after graduation and even though Max’s income was good, paying back Lisa’s loans payments were taking their toll. Once Max lost his job, it was evident the couple had no way to pay on any of their loans. They were given the choice—either pay the loan immediately or enter the country’s newly instigated student loan recovery program. Since neither family could raise enough cash to cover the debts, the Thompson’s had no choice. A cousin of one of Lisa’s friends worked for the federal government and when they received the notice, they contacted him in D.C. On the record they were told that couples in their situation were picked at random and the Thompsons were just unlucky. Off the record, the friend’s cousin told them that they were chosen due to their age and their medical records—information also held by the government. The Thompsons were health nuts who regarded exercise and physical fitness as a religion. They were told the Chinese government had increase their demand for young healthy married couples and when they asked him why, they were told that since China’s one child policy had been in place for almost two generations, China was in desperate need for workers to replace the aging Chinese citizens too old to continue working—the younger and healthier the better. Being married was a bonus. They were also told that they had no legal recourse for the government’s decision and if they refused to either pay the loan or work in China, they would be reprimanded to the Chinese authorities to begin a prison sentence not in America, but in China. No one ever chose prison…no one.
The elevator car stopped its descent and the doors opened to the building’s main floor. It was time for Max to leave the tall beige apartment building he now called home and wait for the bus to transport him to Building J at Chin Do Corporation’s main campus. The cool October air hit Max in the face and he doubted his decision to leave his heavy jacket back in the apartment. He knew the winter would bring temperatures as cold as his hometown of Boise but he wanted to wait a little longer until he broke out his winter clothes. Plus, he was told American clothing fetched big ¥ on the black market and he was worried his ski jacket would be stolen. If so, he’d be issued a Chinese coat. He had seen several Chinese coats and he questioned their effectiveness to keep out any cold weather. The thought made him shudder as he patiently waited for the bus to arrive. On this particular night he stood alone. Usually a few unfortunate souls, co-workers at the Chin Do Corporation, joined him on his personal trail of tears, but not tonight. If they were calling in sick, they had better have a physician’s note or they would not be allowed back until they got one from the Chinese physician who also worked for Chin Do. If any American thought their own healthcare was bad, they had no idea what bad was.
Cars, motorcycles and even bicycles passed the solitary American as he waited for the bus. The smells of mechanical and human propulsion filled Max’s nostrils. Many drivers and riders looked at the once proud American and smiled to see how far he had fallen. Max looked at no one. Only five years, Max thought hoping the words would add comfort to his tormented mind. He unconsciously lifted his hand to his head and rubbed the spot where his head hit the doorframe. Good, he thought. The swelling had receded. Only five more years…