The Chinese famously invented bureaucracy. Even I do not think this is entirely a bad thing, as bureaucracy is said to make certain aspects of political corruption more difficult to pull off. But, it inconveniences everyone that it touches. I won’t complain about Chinese bureaucracy per se, I dealt with the Italian and American varieties a plenty, and didn’t find them to be in any way superior to the Asian counterpart. However, nominating it here is a good introduction to this story, as it helps create a thematic baseline.
Like all foreigners I have to have a work visa to be in China. This is normal and acceptable, and I would accept no government to merely let foreign nationals in willy-nilly. And after being here a year, I have to renew my visa. No complaints there either. My workplace even offered to have a guy help me do everything, at no cost. So far things are looking great. I am put into contact with the visa dude, and he tells me everything I need to get ready and by when I need to have it ready. It is the usual list of bullshit things they need to verify that you are doing things by the books in their country;
- Housing contract
- Residence Registration from the local police station (with official government seal)
- Work contract
- Foreign expert certificate
- 400 RMB cash
- 8 passport photos, with 2” x 1-7/8” dimensions, in which you are seated against a pale white background (the ones you already have where the white wall caught the afternoon sun and glowed beige, so faintly that even the most marijuana laced art student could not tell, will simply not do), looking imperceptibly slightly to the left whilst thinking about Barbra Streisand
- Your long-form birth certificate
- A copy of Mao’s little red book
- Eye of Newt
- Horn of Bison
- The souls of the unrepentant
- Your undying loyalty to the party.
Acquiring these was not that much work. I had many of them merely around the house. To make matters even easier, I came to find out that the first place I needed to go to (the foreign experts office) was actually fairly close to my house. I heard from the work contact that I needed to meet there, he gave me a time and date to meet him there and everything was looking great. All things consider, I felt pretty lucky. On the morning I was meant to go there I got up early, made a nice breakfast, put everything I needed into my bag, and walked the leisurely twenty minutes to get to the office.
And here comes my screw up, which is pretty much my only contribution to this adventure.
Being by my nature overly-paranoid about time, I got there with about thirty minutes to spare. I waited, hanging around the building and soaking up a whole lot of the early morning Hangzhou pollution, when it dawned on me to check to make sure I had everything I needed. Lo and behold, I had left my passport at home. I felt like the king of assholes, and now my appointment time was a mere five minutes off. What was I to do? Get home, get the passport, get back here as quickly as I could. I flagged down the nearest taxi and as luck would have it, this guy knew. I don’t know how he knew, but he knew. He had it worked out. He drove with the kind of wrecklessness that I suspect is some kind of secret national pride. In what I can only contemplate as a physics defying length of time, this man managed to get me home, and then in a miraculous feat of cross cultural communication I told the guy to pull over and keep the meter running. Then I ran to my apartment, got my passport, ran back, and had this driver get me back to where I needed to be. I was only about 7 minutes late.
So i got into the building and looked around for my contact whom I had never met before. Ten minutes go by and no one had come, so I asked the front desk where the office was. They didn’t understand me, as guards in China are not the most educated of all people, and so in that I was a foreigner, they sent me to the most obvious place I could need to go; an English school on the sixth floor. The receptionist at the English school didn’t speak English, and so didn’t understand me when I asked if this was the foreign experts office. So she had me take a seat until a manager could be found, but this one couldn’t speak English either, and so I was asked to take a seat again until someone came out who did speak English and I was told that no, this isn’t the foreign experts bureau but a language school that specialized in English. I had my doubts, but was given a business card and told to come back if I ever needed a job.
You can’t make this shit up.
Back in the lobby there still wasn’t anyone who looked like they were waiting for me. I knew that other teachers were meant to be here today, and so I assumed they had gotten here on time and were up in the office. I used the internet plus several apps to get the name of this office I needed in Mandarin then showed it to the guards. I was instructed to go to the fourteenth floor this time, and their i founded a corridor of empty offices. It was now about 45 min past the appointment time, and I was a bit concerned. I messaged my boss, who messaged her boss to get this guy’s phone number. I called him, and found out that he had emailed everyone yesterday and canceled the appointment. Except me. He forgot to email me. What’s worse, I would later find out that my buddy knew the appointment was canceled and could have mentioned it the night before, but hadn’t.
I was fucking furious.
A week later in the same place the contact was 45 min late to the appointment. But this time I was with all my proper documents, and knew exactly where to be and who to call if something went wrong, so I sat in a coffee shop and waited for the guy.
The following week I needed to meet with the same guy to go to a hospital to get a medical check up. This is meant to be done before a school day, and the hospital is extremely far away on the end of the city. So I talk to my scheduler and got my classes back loaded so that I would have a nice cushion of time with which I could go to work afterwards. It would be a pain in the ass, but it was just something I had to do. I got all that set up, and the morning I was meant to go to the hospital, the guy from work canceled. Turns out (i found out later, from other means) someone got an STD, and China finds that to be an expelling of fence.
Despite a lack of medical checkup, another appointment was made for the following week to go to the visa office and submit what documents there were. Again, I had to go to work afterwards, and this place was right downtown (my work on the other hand, was at the city’s periphery). Time would be tight, but if everything was well timed it could easily be done. Well, at the visa office I was informed that the police office had invalidated my resident permit. Apparently they came by the house one day with no warning to see if I lived there. Of course, they came in the middle of the week when everyone in the house was out at work or school, so they just assumed the I did not live there. If I did live there, obviously I would be waiting around on a work day to respond to their surprise visit. They didn’t call to tell me this afterwards. They just invalidated my resident permit. Because all of this makes sense.
So I left the visa office, scrambled home to get my housing contract, then scrambled to the police station to get registered.
The following week (this was week five, for those of you who lost count) I went back to the visa office, submitted my papers again, and went home with a receipt to pick up my passport from them in three weeks.
The next week I got an email from the guy meant to be helping me do all this. He had just quit his job.
Two more weeks go buy. I go back to the visa office to pick up my passport only to find out that it isn’t ready yet because I was missing a document that my work needed to supply. The following day I go to work write an email asking for said document. I don’t get a reply for about five days, but when I do finally get it there are so many ‘FW:’ and ‘RE:’ in the subject line that I am pretty sure everyone on the coast of this country had heard about my visa plight. I was given the document in time to take it to the visa office a day later.
And again I was told to come back a week later. Then, finally, I was given my passport back.
Now, here comes the plot twist. After all this nonsense I was informed by my work that, because health insurance is mandatory for foreign nationals, and because my company is switching insurance companies, the visa I have recently worked so hard for will expire at the end of Dec, a mere month after I got my passport back with the visa.
…the actual fuck?