Friday, June 29, 2007

Not breaking visa laws

Going back to December last year…

My main problem after getting back to Beijing wasn’t getting a job, but getting a visa. I was on a tourist visa that would expire in mid-December. I had enough money to survive in Beijing for a while. But there were other (quasi-legal) ways to get visas.
The best way, I thought, would be to get a Chinese company to write me an invitation letter for a business visa. All I needed for a 6-month visa was a stamped letter, so it seemed easy. I wouldn’t legally be able to earn money but if I freelanced as an English tutor and got paid in cash no one would notice. The catch was that I didn’t know anyone who could write me a letter.
However, Lily had a friend who owned her own company, who she said would certainly help me. I didn’t want to impose on someone I didn’t know, so I didn’t follow up. I didn’t realize it, but that offer began a chain of events that turned my life in China into a tragicomedy that is only just ending.

A week later Lily’s friend had a dinner party, and Lily wanted me to go. I agreed to go even though I’m never comfortable at Chinese dinner parties. Chinese people can never get over my non-Chineseness, watch my every move and note every faux pas. For my part I have to tell them what I think of China and the US without offending them or saying something they disagree with. An American girl I met once put it this way: “I bet Chinese people are very normal when they’re with each other. But when they meet a foreigner they lose their sense of logic and go crazy.” Finally, men always drink baijiu (“clear liquor”), a gasoline-like alcohol that the Chinese love.
Lily’s friend, named Zhang Ziqin, owned a small logistics company. It would have been perfect except she had no idea how to write an invitation letter. If I was going to play with visa laws I didn’t want to do it with someone who didn’t know what they were doing, but I agreed to meet Ziqin at Beijing’s visa office to see if we could figure it out. Ziqin was eager to help, because she wanted me to help her study English.
However, things looked harder and harder at the visa office. First the visa officers said Ziqin needed to apply with the local labor bureau to get the stamp for the letter. Then they told us Americans had to leave China to get change visas. I had no way of telling if that was really the law- Chinese visa officers sometimes like making things difficult for foreigners.
I decided to back out when Ziqin wanted me to fill out an application form on which I would have had to make up an American employer for myself. If I was going to lie on an official form I wanted to know what I was doing.

No comments: