This is the third installment of my “Land of Flexible Truths” essay series. You might want to first check out Part 1 “It’s Very Clean But You Better Wash It First” and Part 2 “If You Can’t Beat Them Join Them”.
Take Advantage of the “Fake Foreigner” Job Opportunities
Many foreigners in China complain about the low salaries, especially if they work as English teachers. The teaching experience in itself can be quite enjoyable, but I suggest you don’t think of your English teaching job as a way to make money (especially if you work at a University), but instead view your compensation being the work visa and the ability to still have lots of free time. There are many ways to make extra money in China, but I will focus on what I dub the “fake foreigner job”, or what some call “face job” or “monkey job”.
It seems every week when a new Chinese restaurant opens up, I get offers to go there on grand opening night and eat for “free”. It is free, but the purpose of course is to hype up the restaurant in the eyes of the Chinese, to make them think “oh, if a foreigner isn’t scared to eat here, maybe the cooks actually wash their hands before touching the food and don’t use sewer oil.” I suggest never agreeing to these free offers unless they throw in at least a two or three hundred yuan compensation, unless you’re building guan xi. Going for these restaurant openings is a good way to get your feet wet in the “fake foreigner job” scene and also a good way to meet new Chinese people who will introduce you to more lucrative opportunities down the line.
For instance, in the last few years, drinking red wine of questionable quality has become fashionable in China with a new wine shop opening up on almost every corner. If it’s a nice shop, they will spend a lot of money for the grand opening party and will want to hire several white foreigners to stand around sipping wine. Same idea as before: make the Chinese customers think “oh, this wine must not be fake if the foreigner is drinking it and not grimacing.”
Some of the simpler gigs are just a few hours and require nothing of you but to dress nicely, which in China means not wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and just hang out. These opportunities are available whenever a new real estate development has broken ground on the project, completed its sales center and is now running a sales promotion. They will ask you to hang out in the sales center drinking the free wine or whiskey and munching on snacks while browsing brochures looking interested, all to give the Chinese purchasers the feeling of “well, foreigners are considering buying this condo, the quality must be good, maybe it won’t collapse.” If the project already has a model unit available, these gigs become a bit more involved and require you to perpetually join small tour groups of interested purchasers and “ooh and ahh” as the salespeople show off the accouterments of the apartment.
I should mention that these opportunities are more prevalent in the less developed cities, i.e. 2nd and 3rd tier ones. If you are working in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen or Chengdu, you won’t have as easy a time finding such “work,” but they are still available. But I think the more interesting and actually fun fake foreigner jobs are the “long cons”.
A Few “Long Con” Successful Fake Foreigner Job Success Stories
A Jewish English teacher friend of mine was paid 1000 yuan ($150) to officiate a shortened Catholic wedding mass, clerical collar included. Our “priest” pulled it off, spitting liturgies and wedding rites and even gave communion. Only the wedding planner, the bride and the groom were in on it. The bride didn’t care even though she was Catholic herself. She just wanted to make sure it all looked good.
Another case, this time a female American teacher…she was paid 2000 yuan to take part in a medical conference focusing on gynecology advancements. They wanted an eminent physician from America, but they figured an English teacher from America would be just as good and cheaper. So the conference organizers gave her a script to follow and she gave a presentation about new techniques for avoiding unnecessary C-sections. She was also invited to tour a hospital and of course posed for copious pictures which later were used to advertise the amazing obstetrics department at that hospital. I guess she got lucky there wasn’t a complicated birth taking place or they may have asked her to intervene.
One of the better experiences I had of doing such kind of work was when I was asked to act as the international lawyer for a Canadian partner in a real estate development to try to put pressure on the mayor to push through the stalled permits for a mall development. A Chinese friend of mine who had a contact in Henan needing some “fake lawyer” help organized it: For a fee of 2000 yuan ($300), and all expenses paid I took a train to a town in Henan province. When I met Mr. Zhang, the head partner in the development company, he didn’t think my suit looked good enough so the first stop was to the tailor to get me looking more formal. He also gave me a nice fountain pen and a moleskin notepad and told me to look severe and take copious notes (though I could write whatever I wanted, it was all for show). Next we got in Mr. Zhang’s Audi 8 and went down to the city government building. At first, the mayor’s secretary said he was unavailable but when the developer pointed out that the honorable Canadian attorney has flown in just for this meeting, the mayor found some time. We were offered tea and the negotiations began. The mayor pointed out that the development was halted along with all other major city government projects because the previous mayor has been imprisoned for taking bribes (this happened at the very start of President Xi’s crackdown on corruption). So now all projects have to be reassessed. Mr. Zhang countered that since that happened, he has already provided all the additional necessary paperwork and it has all been stamped by the various departments. The mayor, however, still felt more evaluation was necessary. A lot of back and forth ensued, and a lot of doodling in my notepad. Then the mayor said he was tired and perhaps they should continue over lunch. We then went to a fancy restaurant and Mr. Zhang busted out the Mao Tai (most expensive Chinese liquor—ranges from 300-500 USD a bottle) and we toasted many times to “international cooperation.” The mayor, having by now loosened up quite a bit, patted me on the back a few too many times, and then suggested that Mr. Zhang and I have dinner with the head surveyor and property assessor and perhaps this problem could get sorted out.
Naturally, we agreed and after an afternoon nap, the baijiu started flowing again with the lower level guys. This time they brought their wives and so did Mr. Zhang, but at the end of dinner the wives were sent away and the men went to KTV (karaoke) to party. Of course, at this kind of karaoke everyone gets to choose a girl who sings and dances with you, pours your drinks and takes part in other welcoming activities. I didn’t get to choose though because they immediately gave me the only girl that spoke English, since I was still supposed to keep up the “first time in China big shot lawyer” theme. The developer made sure the government guys got the hottest girls to accompany them in the karaoke and at the end of the night (as I found out later) pre-paid the girls to go to the hotel with them for additional services. But apparently there was a problem with my girl. The developer took her aside and had a heated argument with her. I couldn’t understand what they were talking about since they spoke in the local dialect, but I could see Mr. Zhang was frustrated. He finally waved the girl off, walked up to me apologetically and said: “Very sorry, very sorry, this girl says she cannot go to hotel with you. I told her we will lose face in front of foreign friend, but she says it is already after midnight and she has to go to school early in the morning. You know college entrance exams are coming up. They are very important. I hope you understand.” Ru xiang sui su. Of course I understood. Study comes first!
What about the development deal? A few weeks later, our mutual friend let me know that the government men were very satisfied, for the evening experience showed them that Mr. Zhang was a man who knew how to treat government officials with respect, so they signed off on the land deal, and I was even sent a 1000 yuan “success bonus.”
So there you go, don’t try to fight the culture of flexible truths. Since you can’t fight them, join them! Have a good time and get paid for it!
I hope you enjoyed this third installment of my “Land of Flexible Truths” essay series. Keep checking my blog for regular posts about my special brand of observations of China and the Chinese people. My upcoming post is for email subscribers only: “10 Topics That Will Get You Kicked Out of China”. Subscribe below.