Sunday, March 8, 2009

Small price to pay for a sick day

Here in Taiwan things aren't always as clear cut as they are back state side. I found this out on Saturday when I pulled, what I thought was, a pretty routine ploy, something that has become a staple in our American culture....from way back in the days of elementary school, to whatever shitty job we may be working now. The plot line for countless teen dramas, movies and probably a dozen Saved By the Bell episodes;........Calling in sick.

As American as steroids in baseball, or purposely mismanaging hedge funds,...calling in sick is part of our dishonest history. A widely accepted lie that is told by the lowliest worker to the manager and other higher-ups. Calling in Sick is the most basic yet widely accepted form of out right dishonesty, with fewer side effects than taking 'Roids. The boss knows whats going on, and when you return to work they'll always ask how you're feeling, but we both know the deal.

I ask you who has not pulled off that magical early morning call into work, "I'm sorry but I won't be able to make it in today"; perhaps accentuated with a perfectly timed fake cough or sniffle.
I personally have called in sick when I was 1. hungover 2. wanted a four day (instead of 3 ) weekend, 3. to go to a casino and finally because it was a nice day and I wanted to sit in the park and read....all legitimate fake sick days...

...but Taiwan apparently hasn't gotten the memo. Unlike the US, vacation and sick days are UNPAID (Shocking I know). Not only that but apparently we English teachers are such commodities that if (in my contract anyway) we call in sick less than four hours before our class starts, we get fined double our hourly rate. Basically if you have an unexcused absence, for say the four hours I was supposed to teach, I don't get paid and OWE the school 8 hours of my pay.
You think the UFT would put up with those rules? Not bloody likely....

It is in this context that I decided to call in sick Saturday. I was up late Friday night, and it was pouring when I woke up to go to work. Now bear in mind I haven't called in sick at all since I started working in July. In fact I only have taken 3 total days off...(even working Christmas and New Years Eve). So one would assume my loyalty would have some influence. Not so here in Taiwan...
I called my boss when the school opened at 10AM. I told her I was throwing up all night and just threw up and couldn't make it in to work ( a pretty standard excuse). Instead of concern for my safety, she asked if I could come in and teach my 3 hour TOEFL class. Well no, I just threw up (rule #1 of calling in sick is don't get caught alla Zach Morris at the LA Dodgers baseball game)...and there'd be no way I would be well enough to make it in. I'm sure the students would understand.
Her response:
"well you know we'll have to fine you, I mean rules are rules. And since you didn't give us enough notice that'll be 9 hours of pay."
Me: "well technically I gave you more than 4 hours notice for my class that starts at 3 o'clock, so it will only be 6 hours of pay, and I'm planning on going to the doctor later on too"
Her: "Well you'd better have a note, or you'll be fined. Good bye."

Well thanks for the sympathy.

SO I headed over to the traditional Chinese medicine office on my corner. Filled out forms, described my symptoms to the sympathetic doctor. He took my pulse, told me to drink the Taiwanese equivalent of Gatorade, take some medicine and take it easy. Thanks Doc, but one more thing before I go, (and here I was scared I'd be found out) "I need a note for my job, can I get one here?" "Of Course I'll tell the nurse".

Note in hand, some funky powdered Chinese medicine, and a smile on my face, I headed back home to make the most of my sick day.

When I got the note translated from Chinese to English.... it read as follows:
"He should rest for three days. He is very seriously ill and should not under any circumstances work for the next three days"
Sweet. Thanks Doc. Like Screech to Zach Morris, or that goofy looking guy who followed Ferris Beuller around, every fool proof sick day needs an accomplice. Someone who is willing to keep the lie up. This person is usually a little nerdier (as to lend some credibility to the claims) than the protagonist, but the best case scenario is to get someone to help you out who has an air of authority (as with my wonderful Doctor). The nerdier, more prestigious the accomplice, the better. Doctors are pretty good, government officials slightly better.

....and thanks to my health insurance it only cost me the US equivalent of 6 dollars. (3 for the visit and 3 to buy the powdered medicine)

It's good to know Traditional Chinese doctors still adhere to the fake calling in sick policy. Perhaps this idea is much more pervasive and ancient than I had thought. Perhaps the tradition of calling in sick originates from Confucius himself.

Tomorrow (Monday) is the day of reckoning though, note in hand, smile on my face, I'll march into the office and make my case. We'll see how it goes...



kev said...

you've watched too much saved by the bell

Daniel said...

awesome entry..


looking forward to more exciting narratives..