Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fighting to Stay Where I Don't Belong

August 20, 2010

Today's Chinese Lesson:
麻烦 mafan: trouble; troublesome
tai: too (much); very; extremely
一点 yidian: a bit; a little

I fear today I'll be writing the kind of entry that is the cause for many (uncensored) internet blogging sites to get blocked in China. No matter how small the reading audience or how innocuous the entry, most criticism or dissent is silenced. My American friends may be surprised that I don't find this infuriating. I'm not angered because my Chinese friends seem mostly unconcerned. These days, Chinese people appear content to bask in their new found wealth and development rather than kick up a fuss about civil liberties. How long this will last, one can only guess. I see a lot changing here and quickly, but some attitudes and system are inevitably hard to break.

Two particular issues in which I'd love to see reform are the educational system and (government) corruption. I was born in a country where "Anything is Possible" yet I now find myself in a place where anything is possible with money and the right acquaintances. No time do I feel this more than applying for a visa. I'm not sure what the problem is exactly; applying for a visa in a developing country should not be this difficult. As the Chinese say, "Tai mafan." The only two reasonable explanations I've come up with are this:
1.) Visas are seen as a means to make money off of supposedly "rich" westerners.
2.) China really isn't all that interested in having us here.

Last year I failed to write about the verbal raping I received in my attempt to secure a visa at Chengde's Public Security Bureau (PSB, the brach of police that take care of foreigners' visas and residency permits). I had just been released from the hospital after my appendectomy. To my surprise, I received no sympathy from the newly appointed female officer who was to take care of foreigners' matters. Instead of the usual smile and politeness, she promptly interrogated me on my travels, my marriage, and my work. She even questioned me for not having children. In the end, she agreed to grant me a 3 month visa for the astronomical price of 1000 rmb ($150). The previous year I had received a one year visa, no questions asked, for the same price.

I was both enraged and baffled. Why just three months when the last woman in her position gave me a year? I so stupidly asked. Clearly questioning her authority would be no way to win over her favor and reason. A nice carton of cigarettes and some flattery would have been a better strategy. Naturally, my question was met with malice.

"Why should I give you so long? I can give you three weeks if I wish. If you have a problem, take it to Beijing!"

Me, never cool under pressure, replied with a curt "Fine, I will," and walked out the doors. Very badass. . . that is until I proceeded to have a complete meltdown on the sidewalk outside the PSB. My mind was spinning down the spiral. My visa will soon expire. I'll have to leave the country. Maybe I won't come back. I won't come back. . . EVER. I'm so sick of dealing with this. DAMN. THESE. PEOPLE. 

But, no fear, Ming's Kiwi boss recommended me to a visa agency in Beijing.  I sent my passport to them and they arranged a one year visa for me for 3500rmb ($500!!). Yidian mafan.

This year, I thought it would be just as simple, but of course nothing in China ever remains the same. It was plain foolish to assume it would. While the price for securing the visa had since decreased, the process had complicated itself significantly. I won't get into the details of the ordeal, as I haven't had enough distance from it yet to fully step back and laugh at the situation (maybe when my next visa crisis passes I will finally be able to come to terms with this one). Put simply, a day in Beijing turned into three which included multiple trips to both the visa agency and various PSBs and one stop at the American Embassy. Another journey down the spiral, angry internal voices and all. But I am now nearly recovered from the incident and my passport with newly attached visa will soon be in hand. The things I do for you China. Tai mafan.

P.S. I'm not sure you are worth it.

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