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Published: January 31st 2011
When you dance the Foreign English-Teacher waltz, there are various details that you get to take care of and there are things that the employer has gotta do. The prospective teacher is expected to pause his pathetic excuse for a life, wave farewell to a rapidly-diminishing set of loved-ones and get his butt on the plane while the employer is supposed to take care of the really important details, such as as dealing with the visa. The visa is quite an important detail that is mandatory just to hang around the country and work tending to the enunciation of China's youth.
Before I left the USA, I had to get a visa just to come here. China is one of those nations that doesn't have a “visa on arrival” policy, as does, say Canada.
You can't just show up expecting a nice lunch.
An “invitation letter” from the employer (with the requisite official red stamp), along with some forms, spiffy photographs, $140 in cash and an in-person visit to the nice people at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco got me a three-month business visa. But I was hoping to be in China for six months, not for three.
About a month ago, my visa was about to expire, and it became time for us to do the visa renewal dance. The visa requirements here are somewhat onerous, presumably to keep those darned illegal aliens from taking all of the English-teaching jobs that rightfully belong to the Chinese.
I surrendered my passport over to my boss and he drove with it up to Jining
, about two hours north of here. Jining is the nearest city with actual big buildings and a KFC. The idea was that he would present new paperwork on my behalf, pay the fees and everything would be hunky-dory for another three months. The Public Security Bureau
had other ideas. Vague reasons for refusal filtered back to me. All I knew for certain was that I would need to come up to Jining personally.
With new passport-sized photographs in hand, we visited several buildings, and waited in line for a chance for the unsmiling men and women in Police uniforms to repeatedly tell us “no”. Apparently, we didn't have the right form or forms or something. No matter what forms we came up with, apparently they were not the right forms needed to satisfy the unsmiling people in their neatly-pressed, navy-blue uniforms. I have no idea what anyone said and I am actually just guessing that they said “no”, though I am fairly certain that they were not smiling.
Running around all day and getting “no” for an answer takes up a lot of time, so while I was waiting for the next disappointment, I read stories by John Steinbeck, longed for camping with my dog in the Salinas Valley and maybe perhaps a new visa stamp. When the day was over, rather than bring me back to Weishan, they stuck me in a drab, businessman's hotel for the night. It was pretty standard, as far as businessman's hotels go. No mints on the pillow, but I was rewarded with a free plastic comb and an itty-bitty packet of conditioning shampoo. The only TV channel in English
reminded me how absolutely wonderful everything still is in China.
I retired early as I had just had a long day sitting, reading and being told “no”. Shortly after I turned out the lights, the hotel phone rang. A sultry woman's voice murmured something in Chinese which I interpreted as some sort of offer for temporary companionship. I didn't feel like sharing my Steinbeck novel with any strangers, so I hung up the phone. The next morning my boss and I immediately set out for another day rich in denials and somewhere during that time a new game plan was developed.
Which is how I found myself in yet another imposing governmental building, this one involving bloodletting.
In order to satisfy some governmental bureau somewhere, I was to be treated to a health examination. A thorough one. I visited many offices in the far reaches of a huge, scary building and each one wanted a little piece of me. I gave blood. I pressured blood. I stood upon a scale. My temperature was took. I coughed upon demand. I had electrodes clamped to my wrists and ankles. I had my belly smeared with alcohol gel, I received a sonogram and was informed that while I am not pregnant, I do have a fatty liver.
Despite my fatty liver and high blood pressure, I passed everything else and was rewarded with a document that looks like a nifty, small passport, complete with my photo, blood type and the official red stamp. And for being such a good sport, I was given a 30-day extension on my visa.
Now that the proper paperwork has finally been submitted and proper authority’s palms have been greased, soon I will also be in possession of a one-year residency permit that should keep my foreign butt out of Chinese jail. And by the time of this writing, I should have long-since been in possession of my U.S. passport (quite a handy little document should one want to travel somewhere). But I still don't have it.
My passport is still away in Jining without me, because now every government office in China is closed up tight for Spring Festival.
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