Friday, March 28, 2008

Fun with Visas

The local police have taken an interest in our Chongqing sublet of that famed (within China) teaching brand, Aston English.

Last weekend, I was disturbed to notice that Walter, our new Chinese manager, was closeted in the managers' office with about four policemen. Later, I discovered that they were inquiring about any teachers we might have teaching at our school who didn't possess the proper residence permit and work visa. Since I have that documentation for myself, and our new contracted teacher Tony should have his soon, I didn't worry too much about it. Of course, we also had a part-time teacher from New Zealand.

Today I was awoken by Walter who was in a bit of a panic. It seems that this morning the police came back, and they were specifically looking for a Kiwi teacher who didn't have the proper visas/documents.

Now some background on this Kiwi fellow: He's quite nice, excessively gentle. He sometimes likes to proclaim his Christian values, but at other times demonstrates a bit of hypocrisy in that regard. He's forty. He has/had a Chinese fiancee living back in NZ whom he recently dumped for a 20-yr-old spicy girl who doesn't speak a word of English and works in a bar.

I had made an apparently prophetic statement that China would devour this poor fellow alive. China isn't perhaps a wise destination for overly-gentle, passive, foreigners who come here on a whim and a mid-life crisis. Cynical, Machiavellian foreigners who come here on a whim and a mid-life crisis do much better. It also doesn't help that this fellow's ex-fiancee is a Chongqing local with very good connections to the city's government (including, I imagine, the police), businesses, and universities. I can't honestly blame the unfortunate lady.

This particular SNAFU does highlight, though, the difficulties of living here and providing such language services, tourist spending, and foreign investment as the Chinese people have come to expect. The visa situation--which has involved at least a half-dozen of the damnable things gobbling up space in my passport over the past two years--isn't good to begin with, but special visa controls have been put in place for the year of the Beijing Olympics. My friend and sometime roommate, Jon, recently realized this difficulty when he finished his contract and embarked on his planned vacation journey across the length and breadth of China. His journey (more of a sojourn, actually) only took him to Hong Kong, however, after Chongqing's visa service told him that they'd only provide him a visa that lasted as long as his proveable funds (he has to prove he has the ability to spend $100 USD every day he spends in China... ridiculous!). In Hong Kong the news was not much better: the only tourist visas available to him would last a few months at most, and would require him to get the visa reissued each month.

It seems that the PSB (Public Security Bureau, China's version of the KGB) wants to keep tabs on the expected inrush of Olympic foreign visitors, and have instituted the aforementioned visa controls. Boy do I feel glad to be on a work visa/residence permit valid until after the Beijing Olympics are a soot-stained footnote in the annals of history.

In any case, let us send our best wishes out to Jon, the Kiwi, and all the other would-be travelers of China this year. With the troubles in Tibet and possible boycotts whispering on the wind, I expect that we're in for a rough year even if all the t's have been crossed and i's dotted on innumerable visas and proof papers.

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