Mailbag: Suzhou, home for cheats and liars?

Being that this blog has been around for a while now, and that it consistently lists at the top of the search results for many things “Suzhou”, I tend to get my fair share of e-mails from readers or random passers-by.

Most of these are e-mails from folks moving to Suzhou, or China in general, and are looking for a man-on-the-ground to answer some of the peace of mind questions the guide books don’t give you. I always try to answer these as honestly and as detailed as I can, as I also did this when coming to China and I remember the help it was (thanks again Dezza).

However, back at the start of February I got an e-mail of a different kind. A woman, lets call her Mary, contacted me looking for her ex-lover/partner, lets call him Ted. Ted had moved to Suzhou in recent months and Mary hadn’t been able to contact him. Her first couple e-mails made it appear that he might be in trouble, and I dutifully wanted to help in any way I could.

But as our e-mail exchanges went on it played out that Ted had “betrayed” Mary both romantically and financially, and she was trying to track him down for some finality to the situation – even looking seriously at the option of coming to Suzhou to find him herself. What at first appeared to be a concerned letter for a friend quickly deteriorated into a more and more desperate plea for me to help her covertly find this man.

It was then that I politely exited the situation. I explained I would happily offer advice on Suzhou or China, even going as far as saying I would organize a car to pick her up from the airport so that she could avoid having to navigate the all-Chinese shuttle bus situation, but couldn’t play a part in the rest of it.

An e-mail or two followed in the months after that 20+ e-mail exchange in February, but essentially it went quiet – until yesterday.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Mary‘s long-term friend “Beth“. Apparently in the intervening months Mary has become quite ill due to this situation and is off work indefinitely as a direct result. Beth, being the dutiful friend, has picked up Mary‘s cause and is continuing with it.

Here is the e-mail I received:

Dear Ryan,

You don’t know me, but you know my best friend, Mary. I am going through her few contacts in China, desperately trying to help her.

I have been with Mary in London for almost eight weeks. I came down from Cambridge at the end of April, because she had a fall and my plan was to take her home with me for a few days until she was better. I did not realise how ill she was and took her to hospital, where she spent almost six weeks, and where a lot of disturbing medical news have come come to light. She is really desperately ill, and although she is home now (for how long I cannot say), she is in a terrible state. In total, she has now been really sick for over five months. She has been diagnosed with a number of serious problems. I have known her for over 13 years, and I can hardly recognise her, neither physically nor emotionally.

I understand Mary contacted you earlier in the year about Ted. She told me you were kind to her, although you didn’t seem to hold out much hope for her ever finding him and making him see sense. It is Ted I am writing to you about, hoping you will be able to share your local knowledge with me. Please forgive me, but I will need to go into some detail.

You know from Mary that she loves the man (I have never met him) and cannot understand why one moment he wanted her to move to China with him, wanted to finish with the gold digger he had just shacked up with, and then walked out on Mary less than an hour later (I think she told you this).

My priority is to help my friend. Mary is a wonderful woman. She is generous and kind, lacks selfishness and is the most supportive person you could ever hope to meet. What she has done for Ted is amazing, and it makes me cry when I think how he ‘repaid’ her love and kindness.

The guy was in the gutter when they met. He had nothing, no money, no hope, no prospects. Mary got him out of the gutter and helped him become a human being again. She took him into her home, into her life, she paid his debts, she looked after him and supported him in all the ways someone who is down in the dumps needs. They were really happy together. She made is possible for him to go to China and get settled. She supported him throughout the first five months in China. Throughout all this, Ted promised he would come back to Mary and support her the way she had supported him. He never did – instead he shacked up with a girl half his age and, since then, has done nothing but destroy the foundations of Mary‘s life. He has not made contact, justified his appalling behaviour or tried to make amends. There was no way she was expecting any of this – the last time they spoke, he assured her he couldn’t wait to be with her!

You might easily say that a grown man has a right to move on and give his affections to somebody else, but I don’t think anybody has the right to destroy the person who helped them back on their feet and gave them a new lease of life.

As a direct consequence of Ted‘s betrayal (there is no other word for it), Mary has become seriously ill. Both psychologically and physically. She has been signed off sick since January and is now on a much-reduced salary. If she ever returns to work, her career will not be the same again, as her responsibilities have been taken away from her. She has to give up all her extra freelance work, and the cost of her treatment is astronomical (counselling, therapy, medical bills etc.). She is now having with about 40% of her original salary.

While Ted was living in London with Mary, she clothed and fed him. She bought things he needed, she lent him substantial amounts of money. Mary has little interest in material matters, but she is not made of money and was only in a position to do all these things for Ted because he had promised to support her in return (as you do in relationships – help each other through lean times). There was no way she was prepared to support him long-term. What she did for him, Ted called “an investment”, and he promised he would take care of her.

Now that Ted has disappeared without ‘honouring’ his side of the bargain, Mary‘s financial security has been destroyed. She has no money left and has had to put her flat on the market because she can no longer afford the mortgage payments. I am not sure how familiar you are with the UK property market, but now is not a good time to sell, and there has been no interest in her flat, although it has been on the narket for some six weeks.

Apologies for the detailed background of this human tragedy (that’s what it is!), but it is not right that somebody should get away with something like this, purely because they cannot stay faithful and are selfish.

A few days ago, we worked out that, in total, Ted has ‘cost’ Mary somewhere in the region of £25,000 (that is 350,000 CNY, I believe; an amount it would take someone on a monthly salary of 10,000 CNY three years to earn! I have used the figure of 10,000 CNY, because that is apparently what Ted was earning teaching for some college in the first semester.. Apparently, that’s an excellent salary – would you be able to confirm that?

So why am I giving you all this background? I have a few questions.

1. I have found out (by contacting the company Ted started working for in February) that he was fired from his job in May. He was fired for two reasons. One of them was incompetence, the other was lying about his qualifications. His former employer told me that they found out he did not have a degree from the London university he said he had completed his studies at. I have checked with the university, and they confirm this is fraud. From YOUR knowledge of business practise in China, would you say this a serious offence? Apparently, Ted marketed himself as a graduate and made himself sound ‘famous’. What can happen to a foreign national if they are found to lie about their qualifcations? In the UK, this would be regarded as a seriouss crime. What is the legal position in China?

My other question is: how important is a reference in China? I expect sacking an employee for incompetence and lying means that no referencce is isssued? Would it be hard to find a good job without one? I understand Ted is a computer programmer, but from what his former employer told me, there is very litte demand for Western IT support, as China has plenty of homegrown talent (cheaper, too, I suppose).

That leaves teaching English (certainly not what Ted had in mind!). Ted‘s former employer tells me that he thinks Ted has moved on to one of the many English Language schools in Suzhou. What qualifcations would a British national have to have to find a job in one of them? I assume some language schools are more reputable and professional than others (I read something on the net about one language school forging their tutors’ certificates – not a great recommendation …).

Do you know if it is easy to find work as an English tutor? And what would also interest me is whether the renewal of a foreigner’s visa is dependent on a minimum salary and/or minimum length of contract. In other words, if Ted find it difficult to lie his way into another job, will he be thrown out of the country?

How much, in your view, would someone have to earn to live comfortably (including Western-style accommodation, such as a well-appointed two-bedroom flat)?

Also, do foreigners have to renew their visa in their home country, or can they do it at the consulate? After what time, if at all, is a visa issued ‘open-ended’? Do foreigners have the right to move around China freely and find work anywhere, or are there restrictions?

2. I have been to see both the Citizens Adivice Bureau and a lawyer about Mary‘s financial losses. They were very supportive. The problem is that in order for any papers to be sent to Ted, they need a postal address. Mary has an address for Ted, but we don’t know if he still lives there. The phone has been of order for three weeks, although, according to Ted, he never moved from that address in January (although he told Mary he would). He sent her a brief email over eight weeks ago, saying they should talk. He asked her to call him ‘at home’. I called him for weeks, as Mary was in hospital, but most of he time the phone just rang and rang. Very occasionally, someone Chinese picked up, but as soon as I said “Ted, please?”, the phone was put down – someone clearly does not wish him to be contacted.

Ted claims that land lines in Suzhou are terribly unreliable. Is that your view as well? He says he ‘genuinely’ (his words) wants to talk, but has not made the slightest attempt. Between us, Mary and I must have called his landd line thousands of times.

Now it is out of order, and I cannot establish whether there is a fault on the line or whether nobody lives there. How long does it take to repair a faulty phone line in China?

Is there any way I can find out if this liar still lives there, or, if he has moved, where he has moved to? And his new phone number?

Let me assure you that I am not asking you these questions because I want cheap revenge. Mary doesn’t even know I am trying to make enuiries. The reason why I am trying to fnd out as much as I can is because this lying cheat has destroyed my friend’s health and happiness and he has ruined her financially. I don’t think he should get away with this – and I would feel the same if it wasn’t my friend who has been sobbing her heart out for months and is too ill to go to the toilet unaided. Although this is, of course, a very personal matter for Mary, it is also a moral and ethical one

Mary worked so hard to get where she was at the end of 2007 (buying property in London, a good job, staff and students respecting and admiring her, savings etc.). I know relationships break down, but what has happened here is cruel and nasty. The man is a cheat and a coward, he has no spine and no morals. Mary and Ted were in a loving, long-term relationhip and had made plans for their future. Ted was a nothing who had just gone bankrupt. He had the clothes he was standing up in. And then he meets someone who helps him turn his life around, helps him re-build his self-esteem and get a second chance (not easy in your early 40s). And he repays her by walking out on her without ever giving any indication. I don’t think this should go unpunished. I would just like to find out whether there is something I can do, and your local etc. knowledge would be much appreciated.

I would be grateful if you could give me any information you can think of. I will probably think of something else to ask as soon as I send this.

Thank you taking the time to read this.

Best wishes,

Pretty dramatic stuff eh? As with Mary, I’ve provided Beth with general information about Suzhou, cost of living, etc. But have once again stated my position that I wont get involved in the actual situation.

What I’d give to sit down with “Ted” and hear what he has to say. “Ted“, if by some strange reason you’re out there and read this, please feel free to comment.

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