A Marvelous Experiment on Honesty

Mark Rober made a fun video on how often people in different towns or cities return lost wallets. You’re sure to be surprised by the results like I was.

The Idiot

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Ayako and Kameda, the Idiot

Kurosawa’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot blew me away with its depth and complexity of emotion. Many years ago I saw David Schwimmer in the lead role in the play at The Lookingglass Theater. That adaptation left me cold. I still recall how bored my friend and I were. In spite of this bad experience I was curious what Kurosawa might do with the story.

In a nutshell, The Idiot is about Kameda, a man who due to an injury during the war is rendered an idiot. His particular cognitive “deficiency” is that he’s somewhat mentally slower and also sees the worth of every person and thus loves every individual. When he returns from the war to Hokkaido, he stays with a family and the feisty daughter Ayako, against all her wished, falls for him.

In the same home is another boarder, Mr. Kayama who though he loves Ayako, has agreed to marry a kept woman famous for her beauty, Taeko, for 600,000 yen. Taeko’s photo is up at the train station and when Kameda and Akama, another man returning to the city, see it they’re swept off their feet. Taeko and Ayako both despise Kayama for valuing money over love.

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Both Taeko and Ayako fall for the idiot, Kameda, because he’s the only person in the story who’s honest. No one has met such an honest, perceptive person. Although these women are at their most genuine when they’re with Kameda, you know that they’ll corrupt him and that no healthy relationship is available for him. Still Kameda is thrust into a confusing web between these women, his friend Kayama, Ayako’s parents and Akama. While the film has several grasping, selfish characters, we see that they’re grasping at a virtue that they value but will also corrupt. There are no villains, just people who can’t make up their minds and whose indecision and schemes are lethal.

The Japanese actors, all Kurosawa regulars, were masters of emotion which this story requires. It’s a long film at almost three hours (cut down from over four), but Kurosawa kept me interested.

The Job Hunting Problems Continue

Must confusion and anxiety be such a big part of job hunting?

March 8th a university offered me a job in Macau. I emailed them with two questions:

  1. Is there housing for the teachers?
  2. Is there insurance?

A day later I this reply:

Dear Susan,

Thank you very much for your enquiry.
I would suggest you to read the attached document concerning the medical scheme of UM. Yes, we will arrange on-campus accommodation for oversea recruited staff.

Should you have more questions, please let us know.

Okay, sounds good. That’s what I wanted so I accepted the job.

Time goes by and getting final approval for the job is taking longer than I expected. While a colleague told my employer I got another job, I write to my current employer, who only needs 3 or 4 teachers in the fall, to ask if I can return. I’m told all the spots are filled. Well, I’m still excited about the job so that’s no skin off my teeth.

Well 10 days ago I got an email from an assistant at University of ___ asking me when I was going to arrive in Macau so that she can arrange – wait for it – my temporary housing. I reply asking what she means by temporary housing. She refers me to personnel and they don’t respond for over a week.

A couple days ago I learn that there is no campus housing. The planned move to a new campus is postponed. Why they didn’t know this in April boggles the mind. The newspapers reported that the campus was in the inspection stage. I learned that the 108 new teachers who were promised housing now get 60 days of housing. Then maybe when the new campus opens in January, we will get campus housing. (Some will. Some won’t.) Between October and January, you’re on your own for housing. The school will subsidize housing with about $200. Apartments range from $800 – $1200 per month. So I’d be making $12,000 less a month.

As learning to negotiate is one of my goals, I emailed the director. I wrote:

Dear E.,

I’m very excited to start teaching at University of M, but I’m also very concerned about the uncertainty with the housing. As the email below shows, housing and insurance were my two main concerns when I accepted the position. In fact, I turned down an interview for a job that had both because of Ming’s response (below)*.

I understand that things change, however, there should be a way for the university to live up to Ming’s response, whether it’s extending the temporary housing till the new campus is ready or some other convenient solution.

I’m starting to have doubts about my decision, to be frank. When I was invited to interview, I was told my travel expenses would be reimbursed. I immediately replied saying I was flying from Cambodia to Macau then back to Jinan. No one told me that would be a problem. I was very open about coming from CAMTESOL. Then the school refused to reimburse my flight from Cambodia to Macau. Had I known that would have been denied, I would have used frequent flier miles for the first leg of my trip.

So you might be able to understand that I’m worried that the employee will bear the brunt when problems arise.

Can you see about a better housing option?

Regards,

Susan

I got this response:

Dear Susan,

I can understand your frustration. In fact, many of the current staff have anxiety over housing issues as well, since we have no idea when the new campus housing will be ready to move in.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem easily solved.+ Currently, on this old campus, I am on the only person who lives on campus. Everyone else lives off campus in apartments around M and T. which range in cost from 6000-10,000 MOP per month. Some of the live with other teachers so as to reduce the costs. The housing subsidy is 1,650 MOP (I think) for Senior Instructors, so even with the subsidy, they have had to come up with a significant portion of the rent out of their own pockets. However, considering that the salary is much higher at UM than most places, especially universities in Mainland China, this is to be expected.

With the new campus, we feel sure that housing will be provided for teachers who were recruited from overseas, as M said. The housing is based on a point system, so that foreign teachers with families get priority over single foreign teachers. Local teachers or teachers who own housing in M are not eligible. Therefore, since the ELC mostly recruits from abroad, I feel confident that you will be offered an apartment on campus ……….. The problem is when the on-campus housing will open. It may be August, or it may not be until later (even next year perhaps). In the meantime, we can provide temporary housing at least for 60 days if on-campus housing is not provided.

Please realize that the other 8 new teaching staff at the ELC as well as over 100 new teaching staff at UM face the same problem.

If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

We will keep you informed about housing just as soon as we know something.

Take care.

To her credit, I think the director does wish she could do something. My problem is that I’ve worked for good directors in situations where they had no ability to change anything. The teachers were expected to deal with horrible or substandard situations. Now that may occur in any field, but it happens 99% of the time in (EFL) teaching. I’ve been told that we should be able to teach on a desert island, with no resources by someone who never taught a day in her life. Whether we should be able to do so, is an arcane question. The question I find more pertinent is Why? Particularly when the needs were known months ago.

While I have a good impression of the director, I’m not swayed by the fact that 108 professionals who probably were promised housing won’t get it. That just shows me that the school doesn’t care about its teachers or that they’re so overwhelmed that they can’t handle problems so they foist them on to the new staff.

What makes the whole matter worse is that I was told there’d be housing. I accepted the job and stopped interviewing and applying for others based on that information. Now there’s no action resulting from my stating that. There was no update on the housing once it was known that we’d be denied this benefit. Why should I trust what the school tells me? Why should I move forward with a job when there’s no trust and consideration?

I’m going to give the school another chance to come up with a better option. I’m going to put together another email and hope for a better outcome. I don’t like that the decent salary is made to sound like a king’s ransom just because other places pay a lot less. What does that have to do with the tea here (in China)? The market for my skills is not just Asia.

Needless to say I feel duped and miffed. I keep remembering all the times I’ve landed in bad jobs. I saw some red flags, stayed positive, and went ahead against my better judgment. Hell always followed. I won’t let that happen again. I’m going to try to get something better, but if that doesn’t work out, I won’t move forward. It’s been my experience that when I hold out for what I’m worth, I get it.

I realize not everyone gets an apartment with their job. That’s beside the point. My concern is that I asked a straightforward question and got a clear, simple answer, now they’re backing off their response.

When you discount your worth, people walk all over you.

*Such redundancies bug me. I should edit better!