Sweatin’ it out in Suzhou

Despite the repressive heat and complete lack of rain (it’s only drizzled once or twice since I posted about it), the title is pointing more towards a different climate – the Olympic/visa climate.

I’ve been intentionally quiet lately because, to be honest, my stay in China has been resting on a bed of nails.

My visa was up on the 22nd, and until its replacement arrived in the mail the other day, I wasn’t entirely confident I’d be enjoying this sweltering Suzhou humidity much longer.

When Maggie called up the local PSB a couple weeks back and asked about the special travel/L visa issued to folks like me married to a Chinese national, or indeed issued to any foreigner visiting a close family member here, they informed her that it could only be issued for a 30 day period.

This was quite in conflict with what the Entry and Exit Bureau (I swear, I’m not making that title up – it’s printed in big letters on a likewisedly big building) had told us 6 months ago when we asked about the visa. Then they had explained that it would be no problem for us to get a 1 year multiple entry visa.

Understandably, Maggie asked the officer why the change, to which he replied, “Special Circumstances”. My wife, the smart jiaozi that she is, questioned the officer on whether or not the “special circumstances” had anything to do with the rather global sporting event about to take place in Beijing. He, rather stoically, and with no elaboration, simply stated, “No, just special circumstances – but it should be better after September.”

It’s enough to make a guy contemplate the amount of force required to drive a chopstick through his skull.

Later in the week Maggie paid a visit in person to the Entry & Exit Bureau and asked for more details. She was told by a very kindly girl there that it shouldn’t be a problem to at least get a six month visa, despite the “special circumstances”.

However, as we’ve recently moved to a new district, the downtown Entry & Exit Bureau is no longer where we need to go to renew the visa. Now out in the rather ritzy SIP, we need to go to the local office, which evidently exists in its own visa regulation dementia dimension.

The 笑里藏刀 of a woman at the desk grinned politely for the foreigner and treated Maggie like she just stepped off the slow train from Ningxia.

She basically told Maggie she had no right to request this type of visa for her husband because she had no right to live in Suzhou (Maggie, for those that don’t remember/know, is from the north-eastern part of China). Despite Maggie displaying that she had the proper identity card showing her registration in Suzhou, and despite the downtown bureau explaining that’s exactly what we would require, this woman wasn’t having any of it.

Finally, just a hair before Maggie ripped off the woman’s face and fed it to her, the woman caved and told us to fill out the application, maybe we could get a 30 day visa – and that we were lucky she was feeling so benevolent.

After filling out the application we had to wait for our number to come up, which was made confusing as there were two separate number systems going depending on what you were looking to accomplish – normally no problem, but in this case the numbers were running in the same sequence.

I passed the time watching another foreigner hopelessly try to figure out why the woman under the #194 LED was refusing to help him – despite is #194 ticket. Two booths over #194 came and went.

Eventually we got back up to the counter to submit our application to a young girl sitting right beside our Mao’er than thou application hander outer benefactor. The young girl seemed a bit confused by Maggie being from outside of Suzhou, but not at all as hostile as her neighbour. When she wasn’t sure what to do they looked it up in a book and made a couple of calls. Apparently it was entirely possible to get the visa we wanted, but only for a 3 month period – special circumstances and all.

In the end we left the visa office feeling good about things, but dreading what might change between the application being processed and the visa being stickied into my passport. Fortunately the visa arrived by courier the other day and I’ve 90 days before I need to worry about things again – just enough time to catch the opening ceremonies of the Special Circumstances, and then to watch as the whole event withers and fades, leaving everyone with a “what the fuck was the big effin’ deal?” look on their face.

10 Responses

  1. Glad to hear the whole visa renewal process went well for you. Hate to have you head home before you’re ready.


  2. God I hate petty minded bully bureaucrats. Just reading about that experience makes me angry! I am normally a gentle peaceful person, but I think I could probably support a policy of gratuitous and extreme violence to be meted out to bureaucrats. Just to reform them, you understand.

  3. @JohnG: Agreed.

    @Kim: I say we send them out to the countryside for re-education. And should any prove difficult to re-educate, well, I hear there’s a blossoming medical tourism industry on the go.

    @From TO: Not as difficult, but certainly far more condescending. The Canadian visa application may be more invasive, but it’s done with a certain level of respect. While applying for the Canadian visa, no one ever treated me nor my wife like we were less than equals.

  4. The confusion of the visa process in China…where even those in the know have no clue what’s going on.

    I thought there was some restriction on the family L visa–I’ve heard you have to go back to wherever your wife’s hukou is and you have to be married for a certain number of years (that last part I’ve heard varying numbers).

  5. Lucky for me my visa has just been renewed before the “special circumstance.” Now I would want my wife and daughter to come here from the Philippines but it seems I have to wait until the end of September.

    Also, our embassy informed us that we should always have our VISA and all the papers in our pockets during these “special circumstance” because the police may be checking for them every time.

  6. “While applying for the Canadian visa, no one ever treated me nor my wife like we were less than equals.”

    I think this must be a big problem with living in China. Surely not everyone there thinks this way, but it seems that, overall, no matter how long you live there or who you’re married to, you will always be waiguoren, always be loawai, always be an outsider. I think that’s pretty sad. I’ve never lived in Canada, but I’m fairly certain that Maggie wouldn’t have the same experience. I think at some point the label of “foreigner” would fade.

  7. @ChinaMatt: You may be right. We were told conflicting things on this – one office told us that it was fine if Maggie had the Suzhou permit and the latest story is that she’s not allowed. Chinese bureaucracy at its finest.

    @Kotsengkuba: Great advice about keeping your papers on you.

    @Stuart: Been a while m8! You’re absolutely right that no matter how long I live in the country, my white skin makes me a foreigner for life.

    I’ve often tried to explain the Canadian difference to Maggie, as she was quite worried people would down on her as “Chinese” or as a “foreigner” in Canada – and though there’s racism in every country, being “Canadian” means being a foreigner. Only something like 20% of the population is of original British decent, the entire country is a melting pot of cultures, and no one would assume she’s not Canadian.

    The problem at the PSB though wasn’t so much racism towards myself, but classism towards Maggie. Because she wasn’t a Suzhou local, and because she wasn’t working for a registered work unit (danwei) the woman treated her like she was some country hick, and though that too exists in Canada to some extent – class elitism here in China is much worse.

  8. Ryan,

    Did you use your amazing powers of whiteness to get the woman’s manager to talk with you guys? Maybe things are different in Suzhou, but in Beijing whenever people start acting like that, I totally utilize the white-worship of them or the people around them to embarrass the crap out of people in front of their boss. I love using face as a weapon, it’s pretty effective.

  9. Pingback: A Son of Dalian | A China Blog on Suzhou Expat Life | The Humanaught

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *