After last week’s “Microcosms” I decided I like the idea of doing a mini-series of articles, so I’m starting another irregular one I’ll add to from time to time portraying “foreigners who ruin it for the rest of us.”
For a brief period of my life I’d rather forget about, I worked at a private English academy in Nanjing. These places have a (frequently deserved) reputation for milking every dime they can out of students and teachers alike, putting profit ahead of any sense of ethics or honesty. These places are also notorious for taking nothing but skin color into consideration when hiring foreign teachers. So naturally, some interesting characters end up there.
When I started, there was another teacher who was single, in his 50’s and so obese that he had trouble walking. He insisted on being called Dr. Lowe (because apparently a Ph.D in trumpet entitles you to that prefix). Of course I wondered what the hell he was doing teaching English in China. He clearly didn’t come to enjoy the scenery. But I didn’t think too much of it. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing people in China with that exact description and have learned not to pass judgment. A lot of them have just struck out with women or careers back home, but there are actually a fair amount that genuinely have a (non-sexual) interest in China.
However, another teacher who had been working with the man for several months sensed something was up by the way he interacted with some of the younger students. He ran a search on the US national sex offender registry and sure enough:
The good doctor had been convicted in three states of sex crimes against minors and child pornography. The teacher who discovered this immediately alerted the boss – who quickly sprang into action. And by that I mean she did nothing for over a week until that teacher threatened to inform the police.
When I first came to China a foreign friend told me a saying that floats around in the expat community: “Foreigners who move to China are either looking for something or running away from something.” I think we can safely assume Dr. Lowe was doing both. He taught kids as young as seven at the school, and even worse, tutored several children unsupervised in his home – which explicitly violates parole rules for sex offenders.
Places like China and Southeast Asia are very enticing for people like this. They can easily get teaching jobs with no questions asked and escape the stigma of their home countries where they’re publically announced as sex offenders. But most disturbing, China offers a much safer venue to commit their crimes. In most cases, if a child is abused, their family doesn’t dare tell anyone about it. The stigma of sexual abuse leads many to see the kids as “damaged goods.” And even if the family does want to go public with an incident, hush agreements with cash payment are often made to keep families and media quiet.
Besides the obvious heinousness of the crimes themselves, what bothers me is that in the eyes of most Chinese a foreigner is a walking embodiment of his country, or of “foreigners” in general. I take my coat off, and it’s “Ah, I think Americans must like the cold,” according to a former student.
So when there’s a disproportionate number of these creeps coming into the country, they strongly reinforce the idea that we westerners are all depraved sexual deviants. I think it’s only a matter of time before the Chinese media latches onto a case like Dr. Lowe’s and creates a nationalistic shit storm like what happened in South Korea in 2007.
And what’s the solution? Private schools can’t be trusted to weed out these people and miss getting their hands on a genuine vanilla face. So basically that leaves background checks for foreigners when getting their visas like South Korea started shortly after its 2007 incident. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s another layer of bureaucracy when trying to get something done in China.
So Dr. Lowe, that’s why you’re one of the foreigners who ruin it for the rest of us.