Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Visa

For those who don't know, the word visa has been on my mind for the last 14 months. In order for Ming to come home with me, he needs one of these little things. 14 months of waiting for a 3x4inch sticker. But what exactly is a visa? Since many people don't know, I will explain. First, however, I must admit that I don't fully understand what it is, but I do know it is a huge pain in the ass to get one to the United States.

A visa is usually a sticket that goes inside one's passport and allows that person to enter the country from which the visa is issued from. Usually people get them at that country's embassy, but some are granted it on arrival at customs. There are different kinds of visas (working, student, tourist, etc.) for different periods of time (30 days, 90 days, indefinite). What kind of visa a person can get depends on many factors, but the most important probably being one's nationality.

Americans, for example, can go to most European countries for 3 months, no visa needed. For a Chinese person it usually takes a lot of hoop-jumping and months of waiting to get such a visa, and many people don't even get it. In fact, the only country Chinese people can go to without a visa is Burma. Burma, that's it. It is not easy for the Chinese to travel abroad and it's even more difficult for them to live abroad.

Even for Americans it's tough get the appropriate visa that allows them to live in foreign countires. If it's your dream to live in Paris, than I suggest you find yourself a French husband (or wife), because otherwise, forget it. I'm lucky because (until recently) staying in China has been pretty easy. Previously, either I or my work would pay a few hundred bucks and I could get a new 6 month visa without even leaving the country. But with the Olympics just around the corner (Beijing 2008), the Chinese government has decided to make things a bit more difficult.

The past few months I've been a bit of an emotional wreck, having little control over Ming and my future. If he didn't get a visa to America I would have to find a way to stay in China legally. I would most likely have to return to teaching English, not my profession of choice. Not to mention I'm China'd-out. I think I've nearly reached my breaking point with the the air pollution, squatty potties, spitting, and over-crowding.

When we went to Ming's first interview in August, I was nervous. I was butterflies in my stomach, want to throw up, nervous. We couldn't even go through the ordeal in Beijing. Ming applied for a K-1 immigrant visa and the interviews for those are strictly held in Guangzhou (pronounced "Goo-wong Joe"). The trip from Beijing to Guangzhou takes almost a full day on a train. In terms of distance it's probably comparable to Chicago-New Orleans. Normally I find it exciting to travel to new cities, but on the eve of a life altering decision I would prefer to sleep in my own bed.

The result of the first interview was not as we hoped, but pretty much what I had expected it to be. He didn't get the visa. We were instructed to come back to Guangzhou in a month to submit additional documents to 'prove our relationship.' Prove our relationship. That's the whole point of the interview, yet they wouldn't even let me go into the interview with him. Next to an explicit video, isn't that some of the best proof out there? Here we were, together, in Guangzhou, hundreds and hundreds of miles from Ming's hometown and several thousand from mine. But they would only talk with him.

This past weekend we went back to Guangzhou and on Monday Ming went to his second interview. He submitted his passport and the requested documents and he was told to come back on Wednesday. But come back for what? That wasn't made clear and there's no one to ask. This is the ever-so-mysterious American government we are talking about. Was he getting the visa? We came back at the designated time, 2:30 on Wednesday. We actually arrived 40 minutes early, but there was already a sizable line forming outside the door. A little panic set in. Our train for Beijing was departing at 5:25. How long was this going to take? Of course, there was no way of knowing.

I left Ming and grabbed a coffee and I waited. . .and waited. . .and waited. 4:10 came around and I couldn't wait any longer or I'd miss the train. It would take me at least 30 minutes to take the subway to the train station, plus I'd have to try and return his ticket for a refund. This barely left me with enough time to board the train.

It was time to hussle, which is never fun in 95 degree weather. I must give credit to Guangzhou metro for being air-conditioned and surprisingly uncrowded for a large Chinese city. About every other second I looked at my cell. This was truly one of those why-isn't-he-calling-me moments. There was no point in calling him though. His phone was surely left with Operation Homeland Security outside of the American Embassy. 4:40 and finally, finally, finally my phone rang. At that moment, I hardly cared if he got the visa. I just wanted to know where he was.

"I GOT IT!" He exclaimed. Well, I guess I did care, because relief swept over me.

"Great. Where are you? Can you get a taxi to the station? Meet me in the ticket hall." I barked.

"Ok. But I have to pick up my passport on Friday. I can't leave Guangzhou now." He explained.

Nearly 5:00 and I arrived at the station, completely saturated in my own perspiration. The place was, in typical Chinese train station fashion, swarming with people. Imagine, if you will, a funnel with an extremely narrow neck. That was the situation I was looking at to get through security. Two doors, one person at a time, over a thousand people pushing, trying to get through those doors. But first thing was first, I'd have to get a refund for his ticket.

The ticket hall in most Chinese train stations is huge and also packed full of people. There are often over 30 ticketing windows and the Guangzhou station is no exception. I was going to have to figure out which window was designated for ticket return. I made an educated guess, which turned out to be wrong. But no worries, as Ming had arrived and could sort it all out.

There was no time for us to share in our joy. Only time for me to wipe the sweat off my face, give him his ticket, and dash out of there. I did make it on the train with several minutes to spare.

So tomorrow Ming will get his passport back and inside will be that sacred little sticker that will allow him to come to America to live. The only catch, we must get married within 90 days of his arrival. Come mid-Novermber we will go, together, to a great and wonderful place called the United States of America. Soon after, we will get married.

No comments: