The title itself of this entry probably clues you in to a lot of interesting upheavals before I landed in America on July 3. I can’t help but give you the update on these as they were so “You’ve got to be kidding!! What else could go wrong?” Here goes.
The Visa Renewal
Foreigners’ work visas need to be renewed every year.
The initial process for first-time work-visa application is always a big production. It must take place outside of China, applying in your home country’s Chinese embassy nearest you. I always had mine done in Chicago. The visa can be done from Hong Kong, in case someone wants to transfer their 3-month tourist visa into a year long work visa, but it’s a bit of a hassle to get there and go through everything by yourself.
However, after that first-time visa is done, it’s easier for schools to re-apply after that because your name is already in the system. Yes, there are tons of documents and paperwork that still need to be provided and submitted, but it’s easily do-able from the area government office. No need to leave the country.
For my visa, which expired June 26, my foreign affair’s director at the school (Mr. Liu) merely had to put together what was required and drive the two of us 1 1/2 hours away to Chongzuo for application at the government visa office. After 1 week, the visa (stamped into the passport) is completed for another year and I’m legally able to work for the college another 12 months.
However, Mr. Liu ended up being gone out of the country for 10 days, attending to our school’s student exchange program with a college in Thailand. He left my documents in charge of a woman at our second campus (in Chongzuo) to complete everything for him. After he returned, the visa should be ready to go.
As you can imagine, this person didn’t do what she was supposed to do so when Mr. Liu returned, thinking all was settled, nothing at all had been done. The poor man had to scramble putting together more documents, zip us both over to the Chongzuo government office and talk to the head guy in charge to rush my visa application before I left. Because the passport is needed by the officials for a week to get this done, it’s impossible to leave the country until you get it back.
Mr. Liu had a pile of specialty Longzhou gifts in the back of his van, which he then bestowed upon the leader as an incentive to help us out. Longzhou is famous for cutting boards (very heavy and thick ones made of a rare wood) and a sweet, glutinous drink that comes in powder form. These two items, along with a very big bottle of whiskey, were given behind closed doors while I hovered outside in the visa waiting room to see if we could get the process started.
When Mr. Liu emerged from the office, he seemed a bit more at ease but he spent the entire weekend worrying and stewing that my passport and visa wouldn’t yet be returned in time.
Fortunately for us, the gifts seemed to speed things along as the usual 7 days was cut short to only 2. Everything was ready by Tuesday, 6 days before I was to leave for Chengdu.
Hiring the Van To Nanning
When the passport was in hand, it was time to begin thinking about my travel to Nanning, where I’d be flying out with Little Flower to the capital city of Sichuan. There, LF’s sitter would take care of her while I was gone in the States for 2 months. I also had planned, before I flew to America, to meet up with my Sichuan friends to enjoy a few days together and reminisce about my past years in the province.
Nanning (the capital city of Guangxi and where the nearest airport is located) is 3 hours away from Longzhou. Of course, there’s taking the convenient long-distance bus for $10, which is what I usually do, but with the dog, there was a slight problem. By bus rules and regulations, all animals ride underneath, in the luggage compartment. I think you can imagine what it would be like under the bus the highway’s 100 + degree pavement radiating upward on our vehicle for 3 hours — Death sentence for any critter under there aside from a cockroach.
I definitely wasn’t going that route so the next plan was to hire a private car or taxi to take us there in air-conditioned comfort.
Such private vehicles are located in the town’s center. They line up and wait for citizens to bargain with them for a trip to nearby cities or tourist destinations. Nanning is a favorite city for such ventures. Quite a few in our area hire these vans, taxies or private cars to take them around.
I was about to join them.
Mr. Liu was concerned about me getting a good price, as well as a good driver, so he sent one of our English teachers, whose English name is Margaret, along with me for the bargaining session. For both of us, it was our first time to experience this. We had a basic idea of the cost so we did have something to start with. $100 is the usual charge but we both figured with so many to choose from, we could probably do a lot better.
Since I am the only foreigner within 100 miles, I usually gain quite a bit of attention for anything that I do. That includes shopping in the markets, walking along the streets, and (in this case) bargaining for a taxi.
I was used to such star status. But Margaret was completely taken back when the little grannies nearby began to follow us about on our visits to each of the drivers lined up along the roadside. We had a following of 3 of them, who were quite fascinated why the foreigner was going to Nanning, what price I was willing to pay, how I’d communicate with the driver and all the other details of my trip.
After talking to several car owners, I settled upon Mr. Ling, a very nice young man with a new van. Not only did he have a business card for his services but there was plenty of room for all my luggage, including the dog and her large airline carrier plus her carry-case. And he was cheap! For $80, he would pick me up at my apartment at my desired time, drive me directly to Nanning and drop me off anywhere in the city I desired.
It was settled, then, with Margaret and myself quite pleased and relieved with the choice we had made . . . until the Chinese grannies began talking.
“Don’t choose that man,” one of them whispered to Margaret. “He’ll steal her money and leave her by the side of the road.”
“Prostitution!” another one piped up. “She’ll be sold and sent into Vietnam.”
“Yes, yes,” the third affirmed, nodding agreement. “Careful! Careful!”
Our driver just pooh-poohed them, shooing them away with a wave of his hand, but too late. The seeds of doubt and anxiety had already been planted.
Margaret was in a panic that she’d perhaps sold me into the sex trade by allowing me to make a deal with this guy. I, meanwhile, had visions of me thurst into some seedy brothel located who knows where with the dog thrown into the Ling family cooking pot for dinner.
To ensure no such thing would happen, back at the college, Margaret hustled me to see Mr. Liu. He promptly collected Mr. Ling’s business card and called him immediately. It was all pleasantries, confirming my pick-up time and other small details, but you could tell that the underlying purpose of this was, “This is our beloved foreign teacher. No funny business better take place or we’ll be after you. I’m watching you!”
As it turned out, no funny business was in the works from Mr. Ling. He arrived right on time for my pick-up and delivered me and the dog to our usual hotel in Nanning without any problems at all. In fact, we ended up talking most of the way, giving me a good feeling about the guy.
If ever I need another private trip to Nanning, he’s definitely the first one I’m calling.
More to Come
I’m off to Springfield for yet another church visit so please stay tuned for more roller-coaster-ride stories yet to come!
Ping An! (Peace)