A Week Teaching Remotely, After Evacuating From China, On A $31,761 Salary

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Today: a preschool teacher who makes $31,761 per year and spends some of her money this week on a wedding dress.
Editor's Note: This diary was written before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic and current CDC guidelines about social distancing and travel restrictions were put into effect. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
Occupation: Preschool Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 26
Location: Chengdu, China (currently teaching remotely from CT)
Salary: $31,761
Paycheck Amount (1x/month): $2,700 + $1,000 (face-to-face ESL tutoring) +$240 (online gigs - editing and online tutoring)
Gender: Cis woman

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $400
Loans: $0
Utilities: $50
Cell Phone/TV/Internet: $30
Chinese Income Tax: $275
Monthly Bank Transfer Fee: $30

Day One

8:30 a.m. — I wake up and hunt for my phone, which is usually under my pillow or somewhere near my head. I've been displaced for about six weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak. My coworkers and I were told by our school admin to "go where you feel safe." For many teachers that meant an extended holiday elsewhere in Asia. For me, it meant going back to the US and living with my dad on the east coast — I've been here since the end of January. I continue to pay my rent and usual monthly expenses back in China. My fiancé, V., is in his hometown in the south of China, safe, but bored because everything is shut down. Every morning, I wake up to messages and notifications from friends in China because of the 13-hour time difference. I check everything out, keep my eyes peeled for info from school (supposedly we will be back in the building March 31st), and see that I got paid $45 for online tutoring. It's nice, but I haven't been able to take as many classes because I'm in a different time zone. I get out of bed and start getting ready for church.
11 a.m. — My dad and I get home from church and I am really hungry because I only had a coffee (at home, free) for breakfast. I look through the fridge and heat up some leftovers. We have like four bags of chips and a ton of candy in the pantry, so I make my dad promise not to buy any more junk food on the next grocery trip. He laughs and agrees. I tell him I'll bake for him instead.
12 p.m. — We go on the daily dog walk. My dad does this no matter what, and I try to go just to get my 10,000 steps. I was VERY active in Chengdu (super walkable city), but out here there's not much to do unless you have a car and I don't. So, we walk and my coworker calls me. He had been in Japan, but ate through too much money, and decided to go back to the states. We're all confused about when we should expect to be back at school. We discuss how the online teaching has been, compare complaining parents, and whine about the vague updates from the administration. It's good to hear from a friend.
3 p.m. — After getting some lesson planning done, I start to look at wedding dresses online. We are supposed to get married in Thailand in July, a small mostly family wedding, but I'm really anxious about whether or not it's going to happen. The way things are now, we can't get a refund on the venue deposit, and many of my family and friends have expressed fear of traveling to Asia. I find a really tempting dress for $400. It's a little over my budget, but my sister wrote me a check for $500, gifting me a dress. It was so sweet and generous and I spent it on bills (terrible, I know). But this is still within that budget? I decide to sleep on it before making a purchase. I need to buy a ticket back to China this month and I have no clue what kind of a dent that's going to put into my bank account.
6:30 p.m. — For dinner, I have sauteed mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kielbasa, and scrambled eggs. Kind of weird, but it's yummy. My dad isn't hungry so it's a solo meal. Afterward, I decide to make good on my promise and make my aunt's brownie recipe. YUM. At 8, I tune in with my students to kick-off classes for the day (it's Monday morning in China). I send in my Word of the Day video and we converse with voice messages. It's really cute to hear three-year-olds' voice recordings! Throughout the night they will send in photos of their completed assignments for me to evaluate. It's crazy to teach this way, but we've gotten into the routine. The night ends with our daily documentary. This time my dad picks Hands on a Hardbody. Such a weird nugget of Americana. Love it.
Daily Total: $0

Day Two

7:20 a.m. — I wake up and start to get ready for our weekly department meeting. I don't have dental insurance and went for a cleaning in December, which was quite the wake-up call. They were horrified at my teeth (my gums were receding, yikes!) and now I'm pretty intense with cleaning them. I brush (electric), floss, and use mouthwash at least three times a day. That's what I do before putting on a shirt and leggings and going down to the kitchen. I make myself a coffee and set up my computer for the conference call. Something is messed up on my end and no one can hear me until the end of the call, which makes me feel embarrassed. We go over how we're going to do evaluations and I follow up the meeting by calling my coworker to make sure I understood the new evaluation process.
10 a.m. — I spend a few hours cracking on work, going over student submissions, and drafting out my letter to parents about evaluations. I make a to-do list on a sticky note and stick it to my keyboard. I find it difficult to be organized with all this sudden online work. I miss my desk, folders, calendars, schedules, and contact lists back in my classroom. Thankfully, my landlord is giving me a discount on rent this month. V. kept telling me to ask for one but it didn't feel right. Finally, I caved and gave her a pity story about being displaced. To my surprise, she gave me $100 off and let me pay late. I really appreciate it and send her the $$$. I get back to work and snack on this and that in the kitchen (pickles, chips, nuts, toast with cheese).
12 p.m. — I go to the supermarket to help my dad knock out the shopping list. I haven't chipped in on food, but I've been cooking for him. I make a mental note to pay for our next grocery trip because I'm feeling like a mooch. I grab Neutrogena make-up wipes and a can of the new Coca-Cola energy drink, Energy. I am a sucker for advertisements and this was all over the Oscars and the Superbowl, so I want to give it a shot. My dad won't let me buy my two items separately, so I shove $10 into his pocket. He says he will feed the money to the dog but I refuse not to pay. I drink the Energy at home and it's gross. $10
5 p.m. — Wow, that Energy WORKED! I feel really motivated and knock a ton of things off my list. I film my Word of the Day video, email classroom parents back, and go for a walk/jog because it's gorgeous out. I hit my steps goal and take a break. I decide it's time to pull the trigger on the wedding dress and shoes. I order the Andi Lace dress from BCBG and strappy heels from Michael Kors and tell V. and my sisters right away. The wedding-ness of it gives me butterflies — or is that the caffeine? $480
6 p.m. — I cook pasta and make a huge salad for my dad and I. We eat and he makes us a few cocktails. Dad goes down to work on organizing his clutter in the basement (a lifelong task) and I get a little tipsy while sending in my class assignments. The vodka doesn't hit me quite right so I switch to water because I feel a headache coming on. I check the brand to make sure not to drink it again, sorry Stolichnaya, we are not friends. Our documentary of the night is An Honest Liar. 6/10.
Daily Total: $490

Day Three

8 a.m. — I wake up and get ready (i.e. get coffee) for "movie night" with V., which is actually movie morning for me because of the time difference. We both set up a Swedish film that he chose, A Man Named Ove, and spend the next few hours with a video call next to our laptop screens so we can have our running commentary. The trickiest part is getting synced up so I'm not hearing the reverb from his end. It's a sweet movie but my battery dies at the last minute! We text a little before he calls it a night and I finally get out of bed to start my day. Same as the last few days of work.
5 p.m. — After knocking out my work for the day, my dad and I decide to cook dinner together. We accidentally both put carrots in the shopping cart yesterday, so he is on carrot dish duty! He sautés them with ginger, brown sugar, butter, and pecans. Meanwhile, I make mini meatballs and a huge salad. The dinner is perfect. He has a cocktail, but I pass because of yesterday's unhappy drink. After dinner, we do our work-y things (my classroom video/chat; his basement cleaning) and we reconvene for the doc of the day: 20 Feet From Stardom. Honestly, I get bored near the end and distracted by a work email. Admin says once the local government gives us the green light, we need to wait three weeks to resume face-to-face classes. UGH. It really bums me out. I think about whether I should go back even if school won't be in session. I envision being held up at the airport or forced into quarantine. No thanks.
3 a.m. — I do something very out of character, and stay up until 3 a.m. I feel weirdly guilty for doing this on a weeknight. You may be wondering what kept me up... I binged half of Love is Blind. I promise myself that I am going to get a book from the library tomorrow because I am getting WAY too much screen time.
Daily Total: $0

Day Four

9 a.m. — I wake up feeling a lack-of-sleep hangover and brush my teeth. I go downstairs in my PJs and make a coffee. I feel really off and have a looming list of things I need to crank out before people in China wake up. I tell my dad I stayed up watching a reality show and he laughs and says I should get a job. I tell him I do have a job and then continue to mentally go back and forth between staying or going back. I check out tickets and see a one-way flight for $280. I go back and forth with another teacher who feels similarly, she plans to go back to China in three weeks, whether or not school is allowed to resume.
12 p.m. — I kill this day by making a to-do list and doing NOTHING on it, then spend the afternoon finishing Love is Blind in the bathtub. I'm a mess, clearly. I promise myself AGAIN to go to the library tomorrow and get a good book. I turn down my dad's offer to go on a dog walk and heat up some leftovers and make another salad — arugula, spring mix, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, with a balsamic vinaigrette. It's yummy but I know I'm avoiding my work.
7 p.m. — I go on a walk around the neighborhood and go back and forth with my sister about Love is Blind. When I get to 10,000 steps, I feel like I've actually been a human for the day, and finally sit down to do some work. I'm fairly successful with my to-do list and make myself a cheese sandwich. I also polish off the carrots and hummus that I have been snacking on throughout the week (but not writing about — oops!). I do my daily video/chat with students and get the idea to have them send in a "weatherperson" video every day next week. It will give me a better idea of how to assess their language development. I get everyone signed up for a day and send an email to classroom parents.
8:30 p.m. — To change it up, we don't watch a documentary! Instead, it's Into the Spiderverse which is a ton of fun. I keep checking on updates about the virus and start to stress not about the safety status in China but about the outbreak over here. Ugh.
Daily Total: $0

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — I wake up and get right to it. Finally, my motivation is back. I make my coffee and start cranking it out at the kitchen table. It's nice to be able to focus and I get my lessons planned for the next two weeks. I draft my weekly newsletter and send individual feedback to students who seem to be struggling. I email the head of school about choosing a flight to return to Chengdu and how to get reimbursed for it. Breakfast/lunch is coffee, cheese sandwich (toast/fresh mozzarella/Boar's Head cheddar), carrots and hummus, and almonds.
1 p.m. — V. calls me to tell me he went to the hospital! I start freaking out, but he says it's just because he got a fishbone stuck in his throat while eating dinner. It was quite an ordeal for him because his mom didn't want him to go to a hospital because of the coronavirus. He went on his own because the bone wouldn't go down and was causing him discomfort. The doctor pulled it out with long tweezers and I laughed when he said the whole visit cost $6. We hang up and my side-gig client has sent me documents to edit. I get paid $40 and switch from lesson planning to editing.
4 p.m. — I go on a dog walk with dad and start to think about what to make for dinner. He says he doesn't want to eat tonight, so I know I'm on my own. My mom died almost exactly a year ago, and I know that my dad has his own ways of coping with it. It might not be directly related to his eating, but I feel a little worried about him. The good thing is, even when he says he doesn't want to eat, if I cook something yummy he usually gives in!
6 p.m. — I make roasted veggies, a cabbage dish, and chicken soup. Dad's up for it! We mix up some cocktails and have a nice dinner together. He was doing yard work most of the late afternoon, so we talk about what to do with a fallen tree in the backyard. I suggest turning it into a bench and we plan out a little DIY project. I don't know if it's really gonna happen, but I think it would be fun. We have a big backyard and a big family (though everyone's grown up), so I think a big tree trunk bench would be fun for family photos! Maybe the project could be my gift to him. I read online about the tools I would need and doubt that I am really capable.
9 p.m. — It's a double feature night for me! We watch Sour Grapes, which was 10/10 and then I have another movie night date with V. and we watch Marriage Story. I think Adam Driver played his role superbly. I fall asleep at midnight while listening to This American Life.
Daily Total: $0

Day Six

9 a.m. — It's Friday! I send out my newsletter, next week's assignments, a reminder about the videos the kids need to make, and organize the photos of student work that I received. Around 11, I go on a dog walk/hike with dad and we swing by the library on the way home. I wanted to get Educated, but all copies are checked out. Instead, I come back with three memoirs and start on A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It's tragic and humorous and hits a little too close to home when he describes his mom's battle with cancer. Reading feels refreshing after a week of screentime.
1 p.m. — I eat the last of the brownies that I made on Monday and toast a bagel with cream cheese. I eat two bowls of cheerios and keep looking for food. Nothing really sounds good so I get back to my book and finish the first few chapters. I distract myself by reading the news on my phone and get a message from my uncle in Washington, saying that he thinks his daughter's school is going to close. I tell him not to worry but it gets my worries going. Will I be able to fly back to China? Will we ever get back to face-to-face classes? I think about V.'s birthday coming up next week and ask some friends and families to send a happy birthday video clip. I'm planning on making a compilation video since we aren't going to be together on that day. It's not much, but from across the globe, I'm not sure what else I can do.
5 p.m. — I make a salad for myself and eat it alone. My dad isn't hungry but I see that he's making cocktails so I ask him to make me one. I've been back for six weeks but haven't visited my only friend here, my former employer, R., so I decide that I'll visit him tomorrow and bring him cookies. I look up "chocolate" and "cream cheese" which are two things we have and find a recipe for cream cheese-filled crinkle cookies. I get right to it and while having a few cocktails (gin, fresh lemon juice, sparkling water, bitters, Grand Marnier, and Vermouth), I really enjoy my Friday night in. The cookies come out perfectly and I ask my dad if we can visit the farm tomorrow to take them to R. I don't have a car and don't usually ask for rides anywhere, but I feel like this is a good reason since R. has been wonderful to me over the years since I worked for him.
8 p.m. — We round off the evening with American Factory, which might not have been the best choice. Dad and I bicker about American/Chinese culture and I see myself taking the Chinese side, which doesn't usually happen. I've lived there for almost four years, and it's strange to find my worldview changing. I fall asleep listening to This American Life at 10.
Daily Total: $0

Day Seven

8 a.m. — It's Saturday! I feel a little icky today from the four drinks last night so I'm going slow this morning. I clean my teeth and make my coffee. I read while eating two bowls of Cheerios and at about 11 a.m., we grab the cookies and drive to the farm. Unfortunately, R. isn't anywhere to be seen, so I leave the cookies and a note. We walk around and see two baby lambs and two baby calves. They are adorable. On the drive home, R. calls me and says kind things, and thanks me for the cookies. He always wants to give us free stuff — milk, eggs, meat, maple syrups, and veggies, so he tells us to come back soon. I think he knows it's about a year since my mom died and he feels empathetic towards us. Everyone's always asking how my dad's doing. It's sweet.
3 p.m. — We get home and I make an egg scramble thingy. For the cookies yesterday, I only needed yolks, so I saved the egg whites for a scramble today. I add onions, garlic, cheddar cheese, and tomatoes. It's yummy. Dad snacks on nuts and dried fruit.
5 p.m. — I make a veggie soup with pretty much everything that's left in the refrigerator. Of course, a big salad goes with it (have you noticed that I like big salads?? I should think of some better adjectives). We eat and talk about next week. My sisters and their husbands are coming here to remember my mom on the one year anniversary of her death. I offer to get the guest rooms ready for them and we go over the groceries we need. I'm going to make some tofu dishes because my sister is a vegetarian and I love tofu.
8 p.m. — We watch Born Rich and call it an early night. In my room, I call V. and we talk about our future plans. I hit the lights and fall asleep to This American Life around midnight.
Daily Total: $0
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