Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Of jobs and visas

After figuring out where I was going to live I had to figure out what kind of job I wanted.
My main goal was improving my Chinese, so I wanted a job that would give me a lot of chances to speak Chinese. I applied to some translation jobs, but my Chinese wasn’t good enough yet, and I didn’t have experience or qualifications. I wasn’t sure what else I could do other than teach English, which to me was a last resort. So I spent most of the month after I got back to Beijing (last November to December) searching for other non-English-teaching jobs, procrastinating and writing this blog.
After a couple of weeks an English teaching job fell right into my lap. The annoying Chinese guy I met on the bus from Garze to Derge a month before called me and told me that a friend of his in Beijing was looking for an English teacher. It was a part time job, which would leave plenty of time for me to study Chinese, so I agreed to do an interview and see what I thought.
Their offices were in northwest Beijing, a little over an hour away from Terence’s place. The company turned out to be a sort of school that prepped Chinese nurses who were moving to the US, and they wanted someone to teach the nurses English. The pay wasn’t great, and the location was even farther away from the city center than their offices. On the other hand, as every male friend I have pointed out to me, it involved teaching young women in nursing uniforms.
What was more troubling than the pay and the location was that the school didn’t know anything about Chinese visas. I was still on a tourist visa and needed a work visa before my current visa ran out, in mid-December. They called a friend of theirs and found a visa agent in Beijing, and had me visit them.
Legally, foreigners can’t get a work visa in China; they have to go back to their home countries. In reality no one cared, until recently. Luckily for me Beijing has numerous visa agents who have ways to get work visas. I later heard that they use shadow companies that have (supposedly) received foreign investment to apply for the visa, and use bribes to smooth over any problems. The work permit has the shadow company’s name, but unless the holder breaks the law the police don’t need to find out that the permit’s holder doesn’t actually work there.
The company I visited looked legit enough- it was an investment consulting company that worked with foreign firms, and had a pretty good-looking office. (It was a bit hidden though- it took me two tries to find it.) I later checked out their website, which looked decent as well. They took advantage of their connections in the government and contact with foreigners to run their shady visa business on the side. I decided that I would be comfortable giving them my passport.
The problem was the visa’s cost- 5,500, or about $700. The nursing school refused to pay, because I would only be part-timing for them and could get other jobs. I wouldn’t have to try hard to get a better deal from an English school than that, so I turned down their offer and returned to my routine of procrastination and bumming around.

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