Now my father taught me well: never sign anything you have not read. This piece of advice went out of the window the moment I arrived in Beijing. Some documents presented to you will be in Chinese, and they will need a signature or stamp… and I have been burned very hard over this on two separate occasions. Now I hear you think, you signed another document you couldn’t read after the first time that it went wrong? Yes I did, but you get to hear both fun stories, and hopefully not make the same mistake.
The first time was six months after I arrived, and we were waiting for our shipment to clear. The shipment broker came to our new humble home and declared I had to sign this paper in order to get my shipment. At that point, we had already waited for eight months to receive our things. I blogged about this before; we were taxed on every single item since we moved things in my name. They had already opened every box and valued our possessions at far more than we paid for them.
But I left a funny fact out: the broker had a Chinese document to sign. I refused at first, as I could not read it. Under pressure he explained that the document said:
I confirm these are my belongings and I would like to receive them
Seemed fair, so under pressure of wanting our belongings, I signed. He had lied to me. The document said this instead;
I confirm these are my belongings and I promise to pay the tax valued by the government.
Being lied to happens sometimes for the sake of convenience, but I did not know this at the time. RMB 30,000 paid out of our own pocket, but at least we had all our belongings.
The second time was not so long ago. We changed schools and had to sign a contract. Funnily enough, this International kindergarten did not have an English contract. I refused to sign, but of course under pressure from the administrator I budged.
Other international parents have signed this too, it’s OK!
I never thought this would hurt me, but in the end, of course, it did. At one point a dispute about payment arose, over whether the school should be paid when my daughter only went to school four days of the month. I did not agree with the answer given by the school and got quite irritated. They informed me the rules were clear in the contract that I’d signed – the contract which was completely in Chinese, so I couldn’t read it. I was furious, firstly with myself for falling for this cruel trick for the second time. And secondly with the international school that is supposed to give parents great service, especially if you pay RMB 12,000 a month tuition.
The rules of payment are clearly explained in the contract you signed.
Lesson learned. Don’t sign Chinese documents… unless you can read Chinese, that is.