Despite giving my passport to my ‘employer’ to get a work visa two weeks prior to its expiry, I found myself sitting at the Personal Security Bureau (PSB) in front of a stern but friendly enough immigration official questioning my intentions for the following 30 days.
‘Why do you want to stay in China?’, ‘What is your schedule for the next 30 days?’ ‘You have already been here for four months…that is enough for most travellers, what is there left to see?’ Hardly the entrance exam for Cambridge is it? And, under normal circumstances his questioning would have been a breeze.
However, the small flaw was that I didn’t really want to stay, my remaining schedule was teaching business English to Chinglish speakers who didn’t want to unlearn the mistakes they were fluent in. The only reason to stay was for the money and to work…but I wasn’t allowed to say that, as I was ‘working’ for a corrupt, unscrupulous liar who wasn’t true to his word on any of the things I had been originally told.
It turns out his usual Government contact who passes visas for him was on leave, so we had to go through the ‘official’ channels, which meant concocting a story of how we knew each other and what delights I had planned in TEDA, Tianjin and Tanggu for the next month (and if you’ve been to any of them, you know that is a tall story in itself). He came out of his interview saying under his breath ‘You know Peter, an old colleague of mine, he is your friend, we are friends.’ And then, in an audible voice “Your turn to go and speak to the immigration officer”
The preceding two days I had spent going from one branch of PSB to another, been ushered into a car with three Chinese men and driven around the city trying to get a residents permit, been forced to open a Chinese bank account whilst photocopies of my bank details, passport and most important travelling documents were strewn around willy nilly and given to complete strangers without explanation. At one point four people were all telling me conflicting information (in Chinese) on how to complete a bank form and telling me that I could withdraw my money (or not) in a number of different ways…so I dealt with it in the mature, calm and collected manner befitting such a situation and burst into tears!
So, already on edge, a little fractious and mortified with myself that I didn’t have the strength of character to say ‘stick your job up your…’ and walk away, when the immigration officer said “So how do you know Mr X?” and “What are your plans to invest here?” and the lie fell out of my mouth I felt corrupted, unclean and very alone – not my finest hour!
After waiting a few minutes I was granted a 30 day extension. It all turned out more than OK in the end, but a lesson to anyone else thinking of teaching English in China – check out your visas, get honest recommendations about your employer from other teachers in advance and if you are not comfortable, don’t be afraid to move on!