I sat around doing nothing. Watch a DVD. Drink some tea. Recover. That’s usually the plan for Thursday mornings. No work until the evening, so it’s a nice break. The thing about my job is that yeah, it’s fun, it’s easy, and I get paid well – but I don’t get paid for breaks between classes, nor for time in the taxi (although Berlitz does pay for the taxi). So that basically means that from the time I leave the house to the time I get back, I’ve been gone nearly 12 hours and only get paid for around 5 or 6. Oh well. I make like four times what your typical college grad makes here so I can’t complain too much, but the problem is that it’s draining. I see that I will be gone in a month (my god, I can’t believe it!), so it’s easy to trudge through it. But yes, Thursday is the day to relax.
So I figured that I would take care of my Vietnam visa last Thursday. I took out my passport and flipped through it.
“Hm…” I thought to myself. “I wonder when my Chinese visa expires…”
I flipped to the page.
“November 26th,” it read.
I did some quick math. That left me with one day to renew my visa.
I snapped into action. I called Berlitz and barked begged them to have a letter saying I worked for them and a copy of the business license, both of which needed the official stamp, ready for me by the time I got to the office. I threw on my suit, flew out the door and off I went.
I hopped in a taxi on the street corner and when I said my destination, he said he had to eat.
“What the hell?” I thought to myself. Why the hell did he pick me up if he wanted to go get some food. I explained that I didn’t have time (was this guy asking me out???) and he let me off at the corner. I got another taxi and hopped on the “express” way with about a billion other people, which is why “express” is in quotes. An hour later, I arrived at Berlitz, got my letter, filled out my application and was back in the tax, and back on the “express” way toward the Visa Office. No taxi drivers seem to know the name of this place, so telling them where to go is always a challenge. Although I know very few words, I was surprised at how easily I was able to say “I want to go to this building but I don’t know the name. I know where it is and I’ll tell you when we get there” in Chinese. Trip out.
So we eventually arrived and I hopped in line with the other hundred or so foreigners trying to get a visa just like me. I’d done this before, so I was ready with everything I needed. Last time it was easy. Give the papers to the lady (I even chose the same one that I spoke with last time since she knew English), get the receipt and pick up the passport a week later. This time, however, was different.
“Umm…do you have a residency certificate?” the lady asked me.
“Well, I don’t want residency. I just want to extend my business visa,” I calmly explained.
“Well, you need to go register at your local police station. They will give you a certificate and you can come back,” she just as calmly explained.
“Is this something new?”
“Yes,” she replied.
My stomach turned. Once you start the paper chase, it doesn’t end in China, especially for something “new”. Undoubtedly, no one who was supposed to know about this would know about it. I would just end up going from place to place begging a bunch of people who didn’t speak English to have mercy on me.
“But my visa expires TOMORROW!” I begged.
“It’s no problem. Just go to the police station today and then come back tomorrow,” she explained.
“HAH!” I thought to myself. She might as well have just stabbed me and explained that there was no problem – I could just go to the hospital and put some bandages on it.
“What’s the fine if I go over my days on the visa?” I asked.
“500 yuan a day.”
“Where is ‘my local police station’?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied.
“Can you write ‘police station’ in Chinese on this paper so I can show a taxi driver?” I asked.
She did. I left. Alone. Confused. A little scared. A little dismayed. How the hell was I supposed to find the police station? And what was I supposed to do when I got there?
I walked from taxi to taxi asking if they knew where it was.
“Bu zhi dao!” they all replied. One after another after another. I was close to giving up. Then I found one.
He didn’t know exactly where it was (hmm..it must be in Beijing, he probably thought). We set off. He headed in one direction, then back another. Then back another, as though he were exploring the crevices of his brain with the actual taxi itself.
We got stuck in traffic and I wondered how I was going to do this. How many days would I miss from work getting this done? Who would teach my students? Am I going to have to fly to another country and apply for a new visa? Within 30 minutes of crawling through traffic though, he found it. I was at the police station. I hopped out and walked in.
Everyone looked at me. I looked a bit out of place. A woman at a desk barked something at me. I showed her the brochure they gave me at the visa office that said I needed this residency certificate. She barked something else at me and I stared blankly back at her.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Chinese,” I explained (in Chinese).
We were at a stalemate. We both stared at each other.
“Your passport. She wants your passport,” a young girl said behind me as she walked out.
“Ohhhh,” I said as I handed it to her.
She asked where I lived. Then explained to me that the landlord was going to have to come down and verify me. And so was my “district police officer”.
“What the hell?” I thought. The LANDLORD??? And who is MY district police officer?? Certainly there had to be a more convenient way. People can’t just drop everything and come down to say “okay” for every white guy in China. Maybe I could bring George Bush. Maybe Chairman Hu Jing Tao. What the heck, why not Bill Gates. They could represent America and China for me.
No, there wasn’t. She had to come down or she couldn’t do anything. George, Hu, and Bill wouldn’t need to come down in person though. So that was a relief.
I called my roommate who was away on business in another city. He talked to her and then explained to me that he was going to have to call the landlord and see when, or IF, she could come down.
I sat for an hour and waited at the police station. My feet were cold. The door kept slamming.
Finally Brad called me back and said he didn’t get a chance to talk to her because she was in a meeting. He would call me back later and let me know.
I headed to work. I called my boss, Val, and explained that I wouldn’t be able to make it to class the next day due to visa problems. She was very understanding and told me that it wouldn’t be a problem. She would take care of everything.
I taught my class for Bristol Myers and then Brad called. The landlady would be able to come down at 9:00am tomorrow. His friend Ray would come down to the apartment at 8:30 and find the contract in Brad’s room and we would head down together to meet this woman at the police station.
“Great. Hopefully it goes smoothly,” I thought pessimistically.
The next day, Ray showed up. We found the contract and headed down to the police station. We talked to lots of people. After walking up six flights of stairs, me, the landlady and Ray were interrogated by a permanently confused police officer.
“What do you need?” he asked in Chinese as he squinted his eyes and scratched his head.
“A residency certificate,” we explained.
“A what??” he asked.
This was going swell, I thought.
He wrote down all my info. All of Brad’s info. All the landlady’s info. I’m sure he made some stuff up too. He folded the paper up and went downstairs. We spent some time waiting around and finally someone started to help us. The looked at all my documents and I handed all my stuff over.
“You should have done this the day you arrived. You should have read the Chinese law,” she said to me.
“Yeah…” I thought. I must have missed the place that the guy with the CHINESE LAW RAY GUN at the airport when I arrived. You know, that guy that shoots you in the head and the knowledge magically appears in your brain? I slipped by him somehow.
It took me all of 10 minutes from the moment I stepped off the plane to the moment I stepped out onto the sidewalk when I got to this country. I like to learn. I really do. If there was a place that I could learn about the laws, I certainly would have done it. Assuming, of course, I didn’t have to learn Chinese to do so.
“Sorry. It’s my fault. Sorry,” I smiled and said respectfully. My tongue hurt from the pressure of my teeth as I bit it.
“You know, she doesn’t have to do this for you. She is doing you a favor. You should have done this when you first arrived. Make sure you thank her,”someone explained.
I made sure I thanked her. I would have given her a massage if it meant she would give me this paper.
So to make a long story short, after nearly two hours at the police station, I got my paper. I went down to the visa office and everything went over well. I pick up my visa in a few days. No fines. No worries. Just a nice dose of Chinese bureaucracy.
And that’s how it goes here. I couldn’t have done it without everyone who helped me out though. It really was incredible. I think I’ve got to be driving my roommate Brad crazy now. I’m like a little kid that goes and gets in all this trouble and he’s always gotta arrange a hundred things to bail me out.
That crazy Casey. What trouble will he get into next???
I am venturing into unknown territory nowadays. It’s a very strange land, Beijing – and even stranger, my attire. When I left the house yesterday, I was wearing: not one, but two pairs of socks, long underwear, two jackets, gloves and a huge scarf.
Scarf? Yeah. I’ve never worn a scarf in my life. As you can imagine, scarves aren’t all that necessary in nice and sunny Southern California. But there I am, every day, wrapped up like an ancient Egyptian mummy ready for burial. I feel like that fat kid you always see on TV whose mom always makes him wear like 9 times the amount of warm clothes as his friend and he just waddles around after his friends. Damn it…I am so that kid.
Yes, the heat is on. The little radiator in the corner of my room indeed radiates a semblance of heat and takes the cut off of the cold if you keep your door closed. Yesterday, I woke up to the sound of someone pounding on my door:
Upon opening the door, a middle aged Chinese woman drenches me with Chinese.
“Huh? Wo bu hui shuo zhong wen” (I don’t speak Chinese), I reply.
She looks frustrated. “AKDHFJKAHDFKJHASDJFJASDFJJAHDFJKHAJDS”????
I bring her a paper so that she can write down a note that I could give to my roommate and she rights down a flurry of Chinese and points at it while waiting for my response.
“Ting bu dong” (I don’t understand).
So she writes down some more and repeats the procedure.
“…..ting bu dong” (I don’t understand).
So she writes down some MORE and repeats the procedure.
“Wo bu hui zhong wen, wo hui ying wen. Ni hui ying wen ma?” (I don’t speak Chinese but I speak English. Can you speak English?”
So she comes inside my apartment and goes to the big heat pipe in the kitchen (yes, there is a big pipe that runs through all the apartments). She points at it, points down, and at the note.
“uhhh…wo gei wo de peng you zhezhang” (uhhh, I’ll give this note to my roommate).
She thanks me 20 times, bows five times and is gone.
What the hell that was all about, I don’t know. But hey, that’s life in China.
So what else is new beside crazy Chinese women attacking my heat pipe?
Well, it seems that there is a city wide effort to build little lattices over all plants on the side of the road. I couldn’t figure it out for the longest time until I saw the other day that they were putting tarps over the lattices. I guess the tarps protect the plants from the cold and the lattices support the whole thing.
And please tell me why ALL glass cups in China have chips in them? I can’t understand it. How do you chip ALL your glasses? I’ve never chipped one in my life. My friend told me a story about how her maid chipped all her expensive china cups that she brought from America (China cups from America in China, ironic, eh?), one by one each week until they were all destroyed. She just couldn’t figure out the concept of being careful while she was washing them. But you can still drink from them, yeah? That’s what’s important. Until you cut your tongue open, I suppose.
The other day, Maurizio and I were walking to the DVD store and after going inside, we heard a huge explosion and the outside lit up. The power went out. Everyone ran to the door to see what had happened. A HUGE transformer up on a power pole was black and smoking. It must have been as big as a wide screen TV. So we browsed our DVD’s in the dark. The power was out for the entire block and I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed that way for a long time.
Even funnier is how we got to the DVD store in the first place. From my apartment we hopped in a cab and started our 20 minute journey to the DVD store. The taxi did not sound like it was in good shape. It sounded sick. It was creaking, squeaking, shaking, rattling and the driver had to turn the wheel nearly a half turn before the car started turning. There was a large crack in the window. And the transmission sounded old and cranky. After we got off the highway came the problems as the driver had to start shifting. He grinded the gears with the skill of a noble warrior but two blocks before getting to the destination (and in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Beijing) I heard the most god awful noise I have ever heard coming from a vehicle. I heard the car die..and it screamed with the agony of the most gut wrenching and mind numbing grinding noise ever. It heaved and spat – and would go no more. The taxi driver looked over at us and sadly said “Sorry…” and we paid him and got out. I felt really bad. Taxi drivers have to pay for their own repairs here. I met a taxi driver who spoke pretty good English the other day and he said he wanted to improve his English so I invited him to dinner with some friends of mine. He seemed somewhat confused – first because he didn’t think I would call and second I don’t think he had ever been invited to dinner by a bunch of westerners before. But we all chatted, I helped him with his English and I learned quite a bit about the taxi life here in Beijing.
The taxi drivers make about 100 yuan a day (about 12 bucks), they work about 10-11 hours a day seven days a week and they have to pay for their own repairs on their cars. If they total their car, they have to pay 20%. China is decommissioning several thousand cheap taxis (there are three classes, cheap, middle, and expensive) to make way for new and more expensive taxis). Crazy stuff.
In other news, my Economist magazine this week had an interesting story about China. Unfortunately I was unable to read it. Why, you ask? Well, it seems that all four pages have been torn out. I looked in another. The same thing happened in all the rest as well. As much as I would like to believe that it was an accident at the printers, I suspect a bit of censorship going on. I spoke with the writer for Asia of The Economist the other day and he said that this is quite common – the Chinese government likes to hack out stories deemed inappropriate. So he’s going to email me the stories.
Ahhh, the crazy crazy life of living in China.
Hey, it’s time to go vote (if you’re a US citizen, that is)! If I could do it all the way from China, many more thousands of miles away from my nearest polling booth than you, you should make it down the street and:
VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!