It’s for Your Own Good

On September 29, 2011, teacher Simonova Anastassiya Alexandrovna died of cardiac arrest while at work. Fernando describes what ensued after her passing and the valuable lessons he learned from this tragic event.

Ana, as she liked to be called, was a talented young Kazakh teacher whom our customers would often praise for her jovial demeanor and lively lessons. She was pronounced dead around 8 pm by doctors at Tung Hua Hospital. The police asked us for information to legally identify Ana but her documents had been misplaced during redecoration of the center, earlier in August. We led them to her studio apartment to search for her passport, and while we knew where she lived, we didn’t know who the landlord was.

Working in cooperation with the building’s security, we were able to contact the landlord. Unfortunately, he was already out of town for the holiday but granted permission to break in. We searched the tiny studio for more than an hour and could not find any ID. With what we saw in there, we all connected the dots but not a word was spoken. It explained her American boyfriend’s reaction, he had swiftly hung up on me upon hearing the news. The search ended when the officers received a call from another cop; he had been able to identify her from a picture taken at immigration in Shenzhen, where Ana and her boyfriend worked full-time.

We left the apartment and headed to the police station for our depositions. Not a single police officer spoke English so my assistant translated the entire interrogation, which was strange in its own right. Before leaving the station, well after midnight, the police tasked me with contacting the embassy to process the necessary permits for the cremation and repatriation of her remains. That was an onerous responsibility but it was nothing compared to having to inform her family. Before heading home, I went back to the hospital to collect her belongings. There, a doctor asked me if an autopsy was necessary; having seen the apartment, I signed a form relinquishing the procedure.

As soon as I got home, I called every number listed on the embassy’s website. I had hoped one of the numbers would be an emergency line, though I knew it was unlikely to reach anyone due to the upcoming holiday. Frustrated and worried about what this would mean for the process—a 10-day delay in informing the family—I picked up her, fortunately, unlocked flip-open phone. I went through the list of dialed numbers and wrote down the most frequently called one in her home country. Hoping with every ounce of my body that it would be the right number, I heard the line ring once. Twice. It rang several times. I had failed to anticipate the time difference. Right as I was about to hang up, a man picked up. “сәлем” he said, to which I sheepishly replied, “English.” This exchange happened several times until I broke into an uncontainable sob, realizing both the magnitude of what I was about to communicate and my helplessness in trying to do so. I hung up, trying to recompose myself. I opened Google Translate and typed an unambiguous message; “I do not speak your language. Please listen. Ana Alexandrovna has passed away in China. Please contact your embassy in Beijing.”

I broke into an uncontainable sob, realizing both the magnitude of what I was about to communicate and my helplessness in trying to do so.

My phone rang. It was him again, still speaking Kazakh. He sounded more alert, and there was a tone of desperation in his voice that required no translation. I placed the phone near the speaker and played the audio of the translated message to him. He kept uttering sentences over the recording, clearly frustrated and in disbelief. I played it again and again, in-between my sobbing and his, until I heard him say, “Okay.”

On October 10, the day the embassy resumed operation after the holiday, a Mr. Amangeldin and I went to the morgue to proceed with the two final steps. By 8 pm on the same day, he was boarding a plane for Beijing, the urn by his side.

Today, every person working for me fills out an emergency contact sheet including, among others, the phone number and email of an English-speaking contact in their home country, their landlord in Dongguan, a friend in China and some basic medical information. We keep two separate copies and a digital copy. Teachers must also agree to participate in random drug testing. Does your employer have this information about you? If not, give it to him/her. It’s for your own good. And consider this story next time you complain about biometrics at the border.