The Road to China
The Al Capone of Jiangxi
This is a true story. I have changed the names and other details to make sure it never gets pulled up from a search engine. And for the time being, this will not be publicly available from the web site, which means if you're reading this, it's because somebody sent you an email. You'll see why very shortly.
There are many events and people involved in this story. It is so complex that Jim has written a 10-page manifesto going into great detail about what happened to him and the events that lead up to it. It is not a good read, and so because I feel this story needs to be told, I will relate to you an abridged version, without comment or judgment, in diary form from Jim's point of view.
August, 2002 - I don't want to retire in Hawaii just yet. Why don't I look into teaching English in China (one of the few countries I haven't taught in yet)? Hey, here's an ad for an upstart school in Jiangxi! Their qualifications look good, and their correspondence with me looks professional. "Hello, United? One round-trip ticket to China, please!"
September, 2002 - Hmmm... no school, no teachers, no classrooms, and no house like I was promised. And the people I communicated with by email had misrepresented themselves as well! That's OK; the school's leader, Mr. Carr, said he was still raising money for the venture, and so in the meantime he will farm me out to teach at another school. That would have been OK except I was thrown into a school auditorium with 100 children or more, all expecting me to teach them English!! Not an efficient ratio. What made it worse is that I had been scheduled to teach 25 to 30 classes like this a week!
That's still OK; for I am not a quitter, and I believe in the vision for the school! I continued to develop a methodology to teach in this environment effectively; and before long the student's spoken language skills were measurably improved. Now if only I wasn't working 18-hour days, 7 days a week!
January, 2003 - So this is what my typical teaching day was like: I would get up at 6:30 in the morning, prepare my materials, take a shower (if there was hot water; which was officially supplied for 1 hour a day), dress and leave for school. I didn't bother with breakfast as it tasted so bad - it was even worse than the other meals. We would come back for lunch, then I'd spend an hour creating teaching materials for the staff and then go off to another school to either teach or go with Mr. Carr to promote the school and give demonstration lessons. I also spent a lot of my free time creating materials and letters for him for PR and marketing. After dinner, I would always have meetings with either him or the teachers. About 10:00 or 11:00 P.M. I would retire, only to wake up at 2:00 in the morning to do all my creative work while it was serene and peaceful, and then retire again at 4:00 AM. Saturdays and Sundays were the same except during the day I was at his beck and call, usually for PR and marketing. He promised us (there were other teachers here, too) that if we do all this extra work, he would open the college courses, have classrooms and give lessons by April.
It's hard to make friends here because there's no time. Between classes Mr. Carr has been carting me around from school to school to give free "intro" lessons in hopes of signing up more customers. Mr. Carr has been so pleased with my work that he offered me a substantial raise if I signed a 5-year contract. I reluctantly signed, and then I was told the payments would be split - some now, and the balance at year end. I trusted him.
April, 2003 - SARS hit China. The schools were closed and I had nothing to do. I bought (with my own money) educational materials for use with the classes, thinking he would reimburse me when he found how useful they would be. (I DID worry that I was the only one spending money on the school itself - that includes Mr. Carr! He kept complaining that he didn't have the money now because he spent it all on bribes to government officials.) In the back of my mind, I started to worry, but I like looking at the glass half full, so I forced myself to trust him.
May, 2003: Mr. Carr told me that the major income from the business will not be teaching, but laundering money for high officials to keep the school afloat during the SARS crisis. I first thought it was drug related and objected, but he assured me it was just a way of saving money for everyone concerned. I still didn't understand. He is a glib talker.
Not wanting to squander the downtime, we agreed that I should go to the United States to recruit more teachers. "Try for about 100" he said. (I think even HE knew that would be impossible.) We discussed a two-month budget and I showed him several tentative budgets up to $13,000 US Dollars, depending on whether things go as planned or not. He said he hoped $6,000 could be enough, and asked me to front the money and he'd reimburse me later. (Yeah, right!) I refused his terms and cancelled the trip.
A week passed before he finally gave in and promised to give me $6,000 dollars for me to begin recruiting. He then begged me not to stay in the U.S., for the school couldn't survive without me. (A master manipulator, he!!) I told him not to worry, I gave him my word, and promised that I would return. "Great!" he said, and handed me $2,500 for the trip. "I'll send the rest later!"
June, 2003 - I did everything I could to recruit in America, including giving seminars, talking to government officials, handing out flyers and posting to ad boards, and commissioning a web site to increase our credibility. I ran out of money after only a few weeks, and had to rely on friends to keep me afloat. The total bill for the 2-month period came to $13,000 dollars - just as I had feared.
July, 2003 - The trip back was horrendous. I brought many more of my educational materials and my computer with me on the return trip. And when I arrived, not only had Mr. Carr not mentioned reimbursing me for the money spent on his behalf, but nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, was done while I was gone. No school or classrooms. No new schools to sub out to. And he had fired 4 out of the 6 teachers we had while I was gone! (It is much easier for him to fire foreigners without cause...) I felt concern for the 12 teachers I was able to recruit who would be arriving next month. And Mr. Carr was annoyed that I had claimed $13,000 worth of expenses on my trip, but only presented $5,000 worth of receipts. Things are not going well between us.
August, 2003 - The last straw for Mr. Carr came after doing some PR work for him at City Park. I pointed to the Foreign Affairs Office building and said I have to go there later to visit a friend. When I returned from the visit, he gave me a strong letter of reprimand. He wrote it was "Illegal" for me to visit the government office without HIS permission. In the future I was not to leave the hotel without his consent and I must tell him where I am going, who I am meeting and how long I will be gone. He intended to keep me prisoner!!
Two days later, I returned to find Carmen and Calvin, two of the remaining teachers, in my room, apparently going over my personal files and downloading things. They left the room at my request, but within the next week I found many things from my room missing, including some of my personal documents. How are people getting into my room? Is it the maid? Later I concluded that it was Mr. Carr or one of his cronies who took them. I'm now concerned that I had given Carmen the passwords to my computer and my email account.
I was beginning to distrust Mr. Carr's intentions toward the school and the teachers, so I posted a notice advising all the new Americans to register with the Embassy by website. I knew they probably would anyway, but it was a nice gesture on behalf of the school. For some reason he misunderstood my intent and became furious. From then on he looked for reasons and excuses to find anything against me. I felt he was trying to get me to quit, so he wouldn't have to pay me what he owes me. I was so depressed and sorry that I returned to China -- I had turned down some good job offers in L.A. for the sake of loyalty and honor and to keep my word to him.
That night I went to the office and he and Carmen started yelling at me and calling me names. Totally inappropriate and unexpected. She and Calvin appear to have replaced me, but they knew nothing of education or business management. In one minute, Mr. Carr fired me, said he owes me nothing, and that I must leave immediately. I was personae non-grata, and he started threatening me. I immediately walked out since I don't see any reason to converse with people in that frame of mind.
The next morning I went to my friend Wang Xi's house (who had been one of my students the previous semester) and got advice from his parents and a law student friend of theirs. I tried to enter my Yahoo email Account, but couldn't -- someone had changed the password! (It must have been Carmen, since she was the only one who had my pass code.) I was devastated because all of the school correspondence, Mr. Carr's email, and my personal documents were on it. I sure hope they don't try to do anything evil with the email account...
When I returned to my room, my computer was missing, along with many other items -- documents, gifts, prizes, supplies, texts, cameras, voltage converter, white board supplies, Chinese studies, personal and business documents, materials and papers I prepared for the school, a 40-year collection of teaching and educational ideas, etc. This happened even though I locked my door, and taped the keyhole shut with a sign saying DO NOT ENTER.
Immediately, I took my empty suitcases from the office balcony, and began packing some of my things to take to Wang Xi's house for safe keeping. Mr. Carr came charging into my room in a fury, calling me names, pushing me, choking me, strangling me and hitting me. And all the time yelling at me for bringing "trash" back from Hollywood instead of the young good looking actors he wanted as teachers. Needless to say, I was shocked. He was about an inch from my face and I saw the fury in his eyes. I'll never forget that look. I almost passed out. I said, "Who do you think you are, God?"
I yelled for Help. No one came. I was devastated. In my 62 years, no one has touched me in anger. Mr. Carr held me hostage for over 3 hours. I was afraid for my life. The man was crazy. He wants me to leave but he won't let me leave. Now I knew he was violent and I already knew he had lots of government officials in his pocket. What do I do? When he finally left I tied two sheets together and threw my green bag with all the leftover documents, Chinese studies, budgets etc. out the window, three floors down to the ground. I was ready to jump. If I die, I die. It is better then living under his dictator-style control. But Mr. Carr's cronies saw me and stopped me, AND TOOK MY GREEN BAG.
About 40 minutes later some people came to the hotel, distracted him and I escaped for my life. I went to Wang Xi's house with my clothes all ripped up, (his mother washed and sewed them), my face, arms and legs battered and bruised, my throat swollen and barely able to talk and my neck and collar bone throbbing with pain. The family was afraid for me, but they were also afraid for themselves. (Apparently Mr. Carr has a reputation in this province.) But I thank God they had the courage to help me.
We called the Foreign Affairs Office. Mr. Li, the friend I had visited just last month, said to come over immediately. I spent more than two hours there and they told me I had four different issues:
Assault and Battery / Attempted Murder
Kidnapping and Hostage taking
Financial: The money he owes, etc.
Theft: My computer, documents, supplies etc.
But the Foreign Affairs Office couldn't help me because it only deals government to government. They recommended another agency, but the law student that accompanied us said she thought it would do no good. "Mr. Carr has the city in his pocket," she said.
As we left, we saw Mr. Carr at the gates. (How did he know where I was?? Someone from the FAO must have called him to come over! Hmmm... some friend!) Mr. Carr threatened Wang Xi and Jill (the law student advising me) for helping me. Now, I was afraid for their lives. Wang Xi's father has a good job as a university professor and his mother is a math instructor. Could Mr. Carr ruin their lives as well?
We went back to their house in my ragged clothes. Soon the police called the family. (The FAO must have given Mr. Carr their number as well!) Now I was afraid for them and they were afraid for me. They forced me to go to a neighbor's house to hide temporarily. Early the next morning Wang Xi disguised me and gave me a cap to cover my blond hair, and Wang Xi's mom hired a car with shaded windows to take me and Wang Xi to the train station and off to the US Embassy in Beijing. Wang Xi's mom, meanwhile, stayed at another friend's place, fearing Mr. Carr and his associates' arrival at her home.
Wang Xi's father met us in Beijing and we went to the US Embassy, who were expecting us and were very helpful and understanding. They realized I was nervous, shattered and broke. They lent me some money from their "citizens who are down and out" fund, which was highly appreciated and reimbursed within 2 months. My friend Gary had wired me some money as well. I had escaped from Jiangxi in one piece!!
September, 2003 - Time passed. I landed an excellent job in Beijing which included room and board. A thousand times better than what we had in Jiangxi. The administration appears honorable, ethical, and the staff and students are friendly. And to thank Wang Xi's parents for saving me when I was bruised and penniless, I have begun the paperwork to adopt Wang Xi, which will allow him to study in my new school and later go to college in America. Wang Xi's a smart kid.
I also found Ling, a young lawyer just starting her law firm. She started working on my lawsuit against Mr. Carr diligently, but everything changed after Mr. Carr came to Beijing to visit her. One night she called and insisted I come down right away, and when I entered her office, there was Mr. Carr sitting there! (I'm SO glad I hired an ethical lawyer so I wouldn't have to face that man again!) Ling's behavior changed dramatically after that night. Two days later she sent me a settlement document not at all in my favor and said "Sign this or I quit!". I didn't sign and she quit. Friends insist that she was bought out, which is a common occurrence here. I don't know what to think.
November, 2003 - Just like the tail end of a James Bond film, the bad guy never completely goes away. Let me tell you about what's happened since Mr. Carr met with my attorney:
Wang Xi's parents received a lengthy phone call from him trying to convince them NOT to let me adopt their son. (Hmm… I wonder how he knew I was going to do that? Oh, yes, that's right… MY ATTORNEY TOLD HIM!!)
Wang Xi's parents were later contacted again, saying "You can have Jim's computer. Please stop by so you can pick it up." When they arrived they were treated to a pornography show, playing video files that were allegedly found on my computer. "See what the man who would adopt your son does for entertainment?", he screamed. They came back empty-handed.
Someone has been sending rather nasty emails with dirty pictures to some of my friends from Jiangxi who had helped me earlier; these emails came from my compromised Yahoo account. In most of the emails my name is signed, in some he signs the name of my friend Gary who accompanied me on one trip to Jiangxi and helped me recruit earlier. None of the recipients realized that neither I nor Gary sent those emails.
One night I walked into my school's office, only to find one of the administrators crying horribly after getting off the phone. "I can't give you your VISA to stay in this country!" she managed to say. "Mr. Carr has threatened me, and he refuses to hand over your employee release certificate. I am so sorry!"
Clearly Mr. Carr's strategy is to have me discredited so that I am forced to leave Beijing, and therefore the lawsuit (which I am still pursuing) will have to be dropped. Fortunately I will be able to get my working VISA through other friends, but I am concerned that these dirty tactics may go on for a long time. This story is not yet over.
I am not a vindictive man. I do not seek revenge, as I believe you can't get ahead while you're getting even. However, this man seems focused and determined to derail my career. Given all that has happened to me, I feel that my story must go out before something awful happens.
Until next time...
"Yours Truly, Gary Friedman"
December 9, 2003
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