Working In The Developing World
Part II: Peter Is Falsely Accused (Twice) And Threatened Some More
Fast forward about 5 months from Part I
My contract was about to end with SET. SET (Supply English Teachers) is essentially Hanoi's ESL pimp. I worked for them and they worked for people that needed teachers. They would send me to various schools and English centers and then take half of what my salary should have been.
But I was teaching a full schedule and a wide variety of different classes through them. Of all these, my favorite class was a business English class that I taught during the evenings for a large corporation. I had become friends with these students in a way that I hadn’t with any of my other classes. I regularly went out for dinner and drinks with them in fact. I was under the impression that the class would end shortly before the expiration of my contract. At least that is what their boss had told me.
One Thursday evening though, I came into class and they told me that they wanted to continue the class after the Lunar New Year (this 3 week holiday is called Tet) and they wanted me as their teacher. ‘So we will talk to the English center…’ they began but I had to correct them. As much as I loved teaching them, I would not be working through SET after Tet, at least not in the same capacity. They quickly responded with the suggestion that after Tet I sign a contract directly with their company and cut out the middleman entirely. I paused. Well, that’d actually be perfect. I needed to find some regular work for after the holiday anyway so why not? I shrugged my shoulders and said ‘Well… sure?”
When I got home that night I got a call from a girl that worked at SET. She said that something had happened with the class and that the manager was accusing her of telling me company secrets.
Company secrets? Like, really? Are you Coca-Cola?
Looking back, I go back and forth about whether or not this girl was looking out for me or just trying to elicit a reaction from me. She walked the line between stupid and manipulative like a pro. I was never quite sure what her angle was. She kept saying 'why are you worried if you didn't do it?' I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, at least not knowingly, but if you are on trial you are always going to be nervous.
Well, soon after this I received an email from my manager asking me to come into the office and talk to her because my contract was going to end soon. This same girl told me that when I came to talk to her I was going to be accused to emailing multiple of SET’s clients (including the aforementioned corporate English class) trying to steal them away via direct contracts. It was against the contract that I had signed with SET to ask their clients to 'go direct' with me while the contract was in force. Of course, these were utterly false accusations but supposedly they had some sort of evidence against me in email form. The girl told me that the manager was preparing documents so that I could be deported if she decided that I was guilty.
Deported? WHAT!? Can they even do that?
If you read Part I of this saga, you know that this is not the first time they had threatened me with this. And you also know that I the answer is 'no'. They do not even remotely have the ability to deport me. But I didn’t know this yet; I was about to find out.
But first, a little background: who were these accusers?
Alleged Accuser #1
The first one was the corporate English class that I had become such good friends with. I figured that what must have happened was that one of them had called SET to tell them that they would not be renewing their contract and the manger had jumped to conclusions. I didn't think that any of them had gotten me in trouble purposely; it must have been a misunderstanding. I would end up having to ask them to clarify to my manager that they had asked me, and that nobody had any intention of having me sign a contract with them while my contract with SET was still in force. But I would later find out that none of them had said anything about it to SET. They said that they thought that I had accidentally gotten myself in trouble needed them to bail me out, which they were happy to do. At that point we both felt confused. Clearly there was a mole who was feeding SET false information, but their identity remains a mystery, and not one that I care to get to bottom of.
ALLEGED ACCUSER #2
My second accuser was really out of left field. It was a company called E-Connect that provides foreign teachers to problematic public schools. These classes often had 40 or more 16-year-olds that would try their best to talk over you for the entirety of the 1.5 hours you got with them as a teacher. I would regularly lose my voice teaching for them. It is really the bottom of the barrel when it comes to teaching jobs in Vietnam, but I was doing my best. The T.A.s (teaching assistants) that work for them are all cool young people but very few of them like E-Connect either. They also don't pay particularly well, nor treat their employees particularly well. It really would have been an odd choice for me to break my contract on their account. But the manager claimed to have an email that I had written to them.
Needless to say, I was very curious to see this email.
Now back the present
After I hung up the phone with my informant I called a woman who had become something of a ‘visa consultant’ to me. She said that this was the ‘oldest trick in the book’ and that I shouldn’t worry. In her 15 years dealing with peoples’ visas, she had only heard of one person that was actually deported. And he killed somebody. She assured me that in order for my visa to even be cancelled they would need to have my passport in their hand, so as long as they didn’t have my passport (which they didn’t) I was totally safe. I breathed a sigh of relief. She continued that if I had any issues that I could always call her. She said that she would be glad to come support me by pretending to be my lawyer.
Let’s just pause for a moment to acknowledge how awesome that is. This woman was seriously my angel. I will include her contact information at the conclusion of this post so that you too can get your visa with her if you ever come to Vietnam.
So I scheduled the meeting with my manager. I scoured my 'sent mail' folder just to be sure that I hadn’t sent any questionable correspondence in my sleep.
Whatever evidence was waiting for me was going to be a genuine surprise.
As I mentally prepared myself for this meeting, I reflected. Why was I even surprised? Why had I signed this stupid contract in the first place? I played it safe. But the truth is that my existence abroad was far less fragile than I thought. I was seriously stressed, but let's consider the worst case scenario. I don't want to sound overly aware of my privilege, but the worst thing that could happen to me in most of these scenarios was getting sent back to my safety net in America… one of the richest nations in the world. Darn! I would feel like a failure, but I would be in an objectively better situation upon arriving home. And "Peter Gets Deported" would have made a great title for one my articles. #perspective
The Fateful Meeting
It lasted about 5 minutes. Maybe less.
I told her the truth: that I didn't do anything. Then I called her bluff and asked if I could see the emails that she was talking about. She said she hadn't seen them herself and that she would ask for them.
Seriously? You’re preparing documents to “have me deported” and you haven’t even seen these alleged emails?
Well here's a spoiler for you: I never heard another word about it after that meeting. It was all just part of the usual fear-mongering and bullying that goes on at SET. The meeting couldn't have been shorter, and then I was on my way. It was a bit anti-climactic, but the story isn't over just yet.
Stay tuned for the grand finale of this whole thing.
My visa angel
(SHE CAN BE YOURS TOO!)
I cannot recommend anybody more strongly than I recommend her. Hit her up.