Where has the month gone?!
After arriving in China, the weeks just whizzed by in preparation of the school year. Here’s a look at how those weeks sped onward , beginning with becoming legal in China by getting my resident permit, the 1-year visa that allows me to work in this country.
Visa Worries Once Again
This visa business is always an anxious affair for me, mostly due to two years ago when I was told I couldn’t renew my work permit without a 1-year break.
That sent me spinning headlong into frustration and then plotting various schemes on how to deal with the situation. I ended up spending the year in Chengdu, studying Chinese (again) in order to stay in the country as a student, not an overseas worker. This allowed me another 5 years to teach in the country, but I still need to re-apply for the visa every year.
This is always a tricky affair.
There are applications, school approvals, official documents, specialized stamps and other prep-work involved in getting a work visa, but since this was a renewal (not a start-from-scratch), all thought it would go fairly smoothly.
Well, it seems the provincial government of Sichuan, just this year, has turned over one small duty to the local city government for visa application. This was the foreign experts card, which I already had and just need a signature and stamp for 2015-2016. In the provincial capital city, it takes a very short time (perhaps 1 hour) to wait in line and get the signature needed after paperwork is handed in. But in Luzhou, the process being new, the city worker in charge was not at all knowledgeable about the procedure, nor did he seem too interested in finding out what was needed to approve a foreign experts card.
When my school representative, “Bruce” Liu, went to the city office on Monday, he was told the person in charge wouldn’t be back until Tuesday. Tuesday morning, Bruce went again (armed with my card and accompanying paperwork) to find the distraught, overwhelmed worker surrounded by people at his desk, all wanting something done. He was very upset and not at all helpful when Bruce pushed his way forward to hand in my things.
He glanced at them quickly, muttered that something else was needed, and sent Bruce away.
Bruce went back to the school, proceeded to get another school document stamped and signed which he was told he needed, and returned Wed. morning.
Once again, the worker was inundated in unhappy people shoving papers at him. Bruce joined the fray and the person glanced at his documents, then snapped that all the papers had to be printed in color, professionally done, and placed in a tidy booklet with a heading of what they were. Ridiculous!
This was never needed at the provincial level.
It was obvious this person didn’t want to deal with a new procedure which he hadn’t read up on like he was supposed to. This request for specific, fancy-paper copying was most likely a stall tactic until he really could go over what was required.
At this point, my current visa was about to expire. The school and I were concerned I’d have to leave the country or be considered an illegal, which would place me on the black list.
Being on the black list in China, I can guarantee, is nothing good.
It came down to one feisty young woman at our school, Foreign Affairs Director Yin Ying (Catherine). Bruce’s frustrated reports of all the hassles he’d been getting had Catherine on the phone. She called the big boss in the city government office and really chewed on him concerning the management of that one particular office which was giving us a hard time. She said she was coming in on Friday morning and expected all to be ready to go, no fancy booklet requested, because their foreign teacher needed to get her visa and it was the duty, the obligation, the sole purpose, of that disgruntled, unreasonable city worker to get it done.
Friday morning, in a matter of 5 minutes, Catherine and Bruce had the foreign expert card signed and dated (Took about 3 seconds for the stroke of the pen).
At 10:30 a.m., Bruce and I then high-tailed it to the visa office to submit all the documents for my 1-year stay in China. Everything was carefully inspected, I handed over my passport, received my 1-week pick-up date for the visa renewal and now I am officially safe (at least until Aug. 13, 2016) to continue my teaching in China.
Phew! What a fiasco.
An Empty Campus Ignites with Students
During this time of visa renewal, I was free to roam the school in complete quiet and solitude for almost 2 weeks. Peacefulness prevailed until the students finally arrived Aug. 28 – 30, with upperclassmen beginning classes on Aug. 31.
The newly arrived 1st years, in the meantime, are having 2 weeks of military training to complete before their classes begin on Sept. 14., this coming Monday.
Military training, if you’ve read past blogs, is a requirement of all freshmen in China for high school and college level study. Students wear special uniforms (usually khaki T-shirts, olive green sneakers and army fatigue pants) and spend their days under the direction of the local soldiers in the district. Everyone is divided into platoons according to their majors. The soldiers march everyone around all day, give them instructions about how to live independently in a school environment, and how to build camaraderie and pride among themselves. The “big brother” soldiers also listen to their troubles and help the newbies adjust to a life of study away from home.
It’s not so much military training as unit training, in my opinion: how to live together as united students, as a class, as a school.
Since I teach the freshmen, as well as the upperclassmen, my schedule for these past 2 weeks has been a light one.
Upperclassmen Return to My Classroom
I have already had classes with my 3rd years, all English education majors who will be entering the teaching world after this semester. Our class is called Activities in the Classroom. My task is to arm them with as many lessons as possible to create enjoyment among elementary and junior high students, whom they will be teaching in the future.
I make my own textbook, which takes several days to compile as I add more materials or take away those which I deem a waste of time from previous years’ inclusions.
The original pages went off to the copy shop last week and came off the presses within 2 days. The cost is $3.00 each but I only charge the students $1.50 to save them a little money. The remainder $1.50 is paid for from numerous Christmas gift donations that UMW units have sent me over the years. It’s such a great way for Christians within the United Methodist Church to add a little something special to our year’s study together. I always enjoy telling my students their books are partly a gift from caring friends in America, wishing them a great year with Connie. That’s why their cost is so low.
This goes for the freshmen as well, whose textbooks will be ready this weekend for our very first class together, starting Monday. This is always an exciting time because many have never had a foreign teacher before. I’ll be their first!
We are all in for so much fun this year. I can’t wait.
Holiday Upon Us; My Chengdu Visit for Convenience
If you’ve kept up on the news from China, aside from the economic crisis, you most likely will have heard all about our sudden 3-day holiday, grandly titled: “The Commemoration of the Seventieth Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War”
Quite a mouthful, even in Chinese, commemorating the end of WW 2 for the Chinese.
While all schools (elementary, high school, college) dismissed classes for Sept. 3, 4, and 5, our school decided to give everyone only 1 day. I, however, had no Friday freshmen classes because they were still continuing with their 2-weeks of training.
I had originally thought to stay in Luzhou with our new Peace Corp Volunteers, mostly to get to know them better. Jackie (23, International Relations major and Chinese minor from Cleveland, OH) and Garett (27, lawyer from NYC, a Brooklyn native) had just landed in our little Luzhou. They were still exploring and fitting into life in a small city. I really wanted to show them around BUT . . . as a matter of convenience, I left.
Why do I say “convenience”?
For the past year, unbeknownst to me, my toilet and sewage pipe in my bathroom area have been dripping down upon those living below me. The school had tried several times to fix it from my neighbor’s end so as not to inconvenience me but it was clear that this wasn’t solving the problem.
I was contacted by Foreign Affairs Director Catherine to be informed that the school had no other alternative but to uproot my toilet, tear up tiles, re-inspect pipes, put new ones down if necessary, reseal everything and leave me in peace.
“I’m so sorry for the inconvenience,” Catherine said hesitantly. “Perhaps it will be very dirty. You won’t be able to use the toilet for 2 days.”
Yes, I am fully aware of that situation as it happened 7 years ago.
I remember it well. The workers hauled in a new toilet, bags of dry cement, water buckets to mix it with and basically destroyed my entire balcony area, where the toilet is located, while doing their plumbing repairs. It was a messy affair, including no ability to use the water (turned off) or cook (the kitchen area is also on the balcony).
I waited it out in my former Amity colleague’s apartment upstairs because she hadn’t arrived yet.
No such choice in this time as I have no Amity colleague to crash in on. Thus I went off to Chengdu for the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.
As it turned out, not such a bad idea.
This truly pleased Catherine to no ends, knowing that no trouble would be given the poor foreign teacher since I planned not to be around.
Pleased me so I didn’t have to deal with the plumbing/toilet nightmare a second time around. (Once in a lifetime is enough!)
Pleased the neighbors below, soon to anticipate living in sanitary conditions once again.
And pleased our Peace Corp volunteers because I could load up in the capital city on whatever they wanted, from butter to cheese to cheap necessity supplies
Thus I received a nice mini-vacation of sorts, a little down time from the visa scare. I met up with Chengdu swimming pool buddies, enjoyed the neighborhood surrounding the room I rent, and had the company of dogs on a daily basis with our canine lovers’ 3 p.m. doggie playdate at the Sichuan University Campus.
Plus upon returning, I found the balcony area cleaned and tidied, the toilet ready to hold its own for the entire year.
Closing Off Updates
And that, folks, has about caught you up on all the happenings from China. I’ll close with Ping An (Peace) for your day until next reports from Luzhou Vocational and Technical College grace these pages.
While I’m a little slow with my response to this most recent update, Connie, it was read and enjoyed as it is each time. The paperwork shuffle was so real as I read your account of your visa permit….remembering our own knock on the door and hours spent at the FPD trying to get our resident permit when our school official didn’t complete his duties in a timely manner. Oh, and the toilet renovation experience…..ours was not so involved, but I so could visualize the experience. Thank you for introducing your new PC volunteers……may you enjoy their friendship/fellowship in the days ahead.
You are off to bed as we begin our celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival minus mooncakes. We do plan to watch the Super Moon eclipse tonight and remember all those like you who helped to make our China experience one of warmth/funny memories.
Have watched CNN hour on hour the last few days as Pope Francis has inspired and encouraged ALL to lead in their community and world. What an amazing Shepherd!
Wishing you a beautiful Fall in the led up to Halloween,