Being An Employee Doesn't Mean You Are Their Servant [But There Is A Happy Ending]
I was 21 years old, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I left my small town in Canada to study abroad in Beijing and got an internship through the alumni of my university.
My boss was a Canadian entrepreneur wheeling and dealing some exciting ventures in China and I was young and naive and considered myself very lucky for landing such an opportunity. He made it very clear from the start that I was to work at his beck and call. He worked out of his home, no office, often in scrubby pajamas.
We had to regularly have "meetings" in his luxury service apartment which would reek of booze and gross parties with hired escorts from the night before. He had rubber squeezable boobies laying everywhere and would pass them to me mid-conversation because he thought it was funny. I would get late night texts and calls from him with orders to do various tasks for him, some work related and others not.
He would treat me like garbage, often belittling me and making me feel stupid, and then would offer up fancy gifts that I was to take as "bonuses".
My friend & I would often be invited to take part in business banquet dinners with other Chinese businessmen as the token foreign women. We were told to dress attractively and when we spoke up with our "business" opinions we were shushed. After one such business dinner, my boss cornered and propositioned me in his apartment where he had lured me under the guise of another "important meeting".
He was drunk and he told me I was giving him eyes the whole dinner, which I most definitely was not. It was the first time I felt truly scared of him. I never went back to his apartment after that and terminated my "internship" with him shortly after.
I pride myself on having built a career in advertising/marketing/consulting from nothing. I come from a small town in Canada, I was admitted to the business program but there was very little taught on marketing/branding/innovation.
I didn't have enough money to go away to college, I didn't have anyone who could guide me in the right direction but I would dream of one day being able to work for big brands and travel the world. One thing led to another and I found myself in China. After studying Mandarin for 2 years, I took the leap and moved to Shanghai by myself.
I barely knew the language, I didn't know a single person there and I didn't have a job. I ended up working at a research agency and one of my clients invited me to a fashion show. I thought this is my chance -- I saw a man there who seemed to be hob knobbing with everyone and after some chit chat, it turned out he was the Managing Director of a local ad agency.
I saw my in and I asked if he would be interested in meeting over lunch, as I wanted to learn more about the creative industry. He was flattered and I worried that he might think I was flirting with him, but I also knew it would open a door for me. And it did, he ended up hiring me as an Account Manager and I eventually became a Strategist which was the beginning of my career.
However, the more I worked with this man, the more I realized how deranged he was. I am fairly certain he is a psychopath but I was too young and ambitious to turn away from it. For a long time, I was the only other "foreigner" working at this Chinese agency. He would often "call in from home" and was frequently "sick" but I was to work unreasonable hours, often staying until midnight and being the last one in the office. He made me work by myself in the office on Christmas Day to put together a proposal all the while receiving angry texts, emails and calls from him telling me how stupid and slow I was.
Looking back, I can not believe I was still able to work, and do smart work, under these circumstances. I just kept telling myself it would be worth it in the end. As I gained more experience, I gained more confidence.
I saw him treat others the same way and I hated it. I eventually stood up to him, in the office in front of all our colleagues. And he hated it, he screamed and swore at me in front of everyone. I cried and he taunted me for it. But it felt so good to take a stand and I felt our relationship shift.
I left shortly after, because my experience had now opened a door for me to join a much more prominent creative agency in town, which eventually is how I met my now-husband, father of my son and some of the best friends I could ask for.