Another Side of China

Indian visa

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When I taught in Jinan, I had an F visa, one for visiting professionals. Since we weren’t employed by the Chinese university and we only were hired for a few months at a time this made sense. In Guangzhou, we can’t do this. The teacher last year, who has the same contractual relationships and does the same work for the same length of time, had an F visa and the police came here and took her to the station forcing her to get a Z visa.

I can’t help but wonder if that was a shake down.

So we have Z visa’s and get a first hand experience of China at its most bureaucratic. Three weeks ago we got health checks and that process took several hours and was ugly due to the transportation problems we had. Then a representative from the school picked up our completed health forms. We now still needed the blessings of the Foreign Expert office and a Residence Permit office.

October 1st is a big holiday and this year I don’t work from Sept. 30th till Oct. 8th. It’s our only chance to travel farther afield. Yet we need our passports to do so. To check in at a Chinese hotel, you need a passport. Some of my colleagues hoped to travel overseas so they definitely need theirs.

We were originally going to go to these offices on Friday. Yet since the teachers who arrived before us and started this process earlier still don’t have their passports back, I was losing hope. A Chinese friend and all round angel stepped in and emailed our principal in Chinese explaining the problem. If I wait for the people around us, who’s job it is to support us, I might wait till December as I’m waiting for them to do a host of academic tasks. The motto of our staff seems to be “That can wait.”

Anyway, after my email to Mr. Chen was sent, the plans quickly changed. My colleague and I were told at 11am that our afternoon classes would be moved to the evening so we could go to Guangzhou to process our paperwork. Amazing.

First we went to the office of Foreign Expert Permits. They also offer a range of services, such as “One Stop Service for Returning Chinese Overseas Students.” I wonder what that’s about.

We were the first and only in line after the lunch break. It was basically in and out.

Then the van took us to the Foreign Residence Permit Office, where things came to a screeching halt. First you have to buy special passport photos. (For some reason the one’s they told be to purchase in the US are never good enough.) I will say the photographer was so pleasant. He works carefully and was actually polite, a rarity in Guangzhou.

While Chris and I got our photos, Billy, our liaison, got a number for us. I naively thought we were cooking with gas.

When we were called, a young, stern woman with white gloves accepted our paper work and went through it. Though this was an office that only served foreigners, she only seemed to speak Chinese. She abruptly said something to Billy and thrust the now disorderly papers back at him. An exchange ensued and it was a time when I really wished I understood Chinese. She was rejecting the papers because there was a new policy enacted Sept. 9th. Mind you we started the process 10 days prior. Billy was upset. It seemed we’d have to give up and I think all we needed was a letter from the school. Yet the school had filled out and signed some of these forms. Obviously, they wanted us to teach.

We urged Billy to call Mr. Chen. In the past, his influence has worked. Well, he was out of the office. Emboldened, Billy went to another counter and somehow we got the desired ticket that let us go upstairs for an “interview.”

We had a card that let us pass through this gateway and Chris and I went up stairs to wait, and wait, for what we thought would be an immigration interview. We were 206 and were eager for our turn. When we arrived the numbers went from 194 towards 206. We were full of anticipation, yet concerned because some numbers would be skipped. It seemed to jump from 197 to 201. God knows why.

Of course, we were skipped, but eventually it was our turn. The clerk looked at our forms and stamped them. There were no questions, so I wouldn’t call it an interview. Like the first woman this guy was quite officious. He finished with the papers and told us to pick up our passports October 8th. We asked if there was a way we could rush the process, and he told us to talk to the boss.

We went with our papers and lots of hope to “The Boss.” A few people were ahead of us. The gruff guard told us to sit down. He knew only how to say “hello” so he pulled Chris’ arm to get us to move. We told him in English, since we don’t know Cantonese, that Clerk No. 5 told us to wait here with the other people.

Eventually the boss spoke with us. Our choices were keep your passports and travel or submit them and start this whole process again. Defeated, we went back to Clerk No. 5 and submitted our papers. Billy offered that Mr. Chen will see if he can speed things up. I’m hoping he has that pull.

2 thoughts on “Another Side of China

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