Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Visa Woes part deux

Would you consider not being allowed to leave a police station until you pay a massive fine as being under arrest? If so, then I was under arrest by the Chinese police yesterday.

In the morning, Sophia (one of my staff) and I went to the Muping District police station to get my visa sorted out once and for all. We had gone the previous week (before my visa expired) to do this, but they sent us away with a list of forms we had to produce, many of which I was never issued in the first place. After many phone calls and running all around the city, we finally collected all of the forms we felt we needed.

It was clear from the second we walked in that the woman at the visa desk didn't like us. As Sophia was standing there, reviewing my documentation, the woman at the desk was glaring at her as if Sophia had just strangled her pet dog. You could practically see the hatred seeping out of this woman. Sure enough, when it was our turn the woman grabbed my documents, looking at each one for 2 seconds before yelling, "Wrong!" and throwing it back in our faces!

We explained to her that we had obtained every document on the list that SHE had given us just last week.

She explained to us that because my visa had expired since the last time we came in, I would not be allowed to leave the police station until I had paid a 500 yuan per day fine! 4,500 RMB is about $560 which I certainly didn't have on me, nor did I feel I should pay because we had been in the week before!

Sophia left me at the station, went back to our factory, and brough back our accountant Maurice (keep in mind, all of these names were give to our staff by my French boss, Max). If there is one thing that Maurice excels at, it is yelling at people. Within a few minutes he had caused a absolute screaming match, and I'm sitting in the corner sure that the Chinese officers are going to come barging in a formally place me under arrest and deport me!

After a few minutes of yelling, Maurice seemed to realize he had met his match. He changed his strategy and started apologizing, saying that we were entirely at fault. It is amazing how much effect giving someone a little face can have in this country. Before I knew it, the woman's temperment had completely changed and she said I could leave but we must come back later to pay the fine.

When I got back to the factory, I asked the Chinese upper management to help me. I've since been told that Lou, the Chinese president of our company, will "take care of it" and that I should not worry anymore. The fine would most likely be reduced drastically, and I will receive my visa extension.

Now, if some Italian guy named Lou in Northern Jersey told you that he would "take care of it", it would probably mean that someone was going to have some broken fingers or just disappear entirely. In this country, when someone powerful like Lou says they will "take care of it" it means that the head of the visa department will probably be treated to a banquet dinner somewhere and a KTV evening afterwards and the evil woman from the office will probably received some money at the next Chinese festival.

I was later told that the reason they gave me such a hard time was because they felt Sophia's clothing and manner was "inappropriate". Yeah, and that's a great reason to screw over a foreigner who is helping to bring significant investment to your community that will creat many jobs. That's just plain childish!