Six weeks into my time here in China and I am still finding myself sorting out the admin that comes with moving countries. One thing I have learnt very quickly is to always leave at least an hour to do any job that requires a bank, immigration or similar.
I have gotten to the point where quite literally nothing surprises me anymore in China. This story was one of those moments. In a final bid to get my residency visa I popped on the subway and made sure I arrived at 8.30am on the dot for my “two minute” interview which they assured me would only take this long. I was very anxious as I had class at 10am and a dictation test which I could not miss. Marks are deducted at Peking for absence and you have to officially request leave to have a class off.
As I finally found the place I needed to be, I approached the building feeling really good about myself. Firstly, for finding the place with Chinese directions only on Biadu maps and secondly, for making it perfectly on time. I found my way into the intimidating building, and was greeted by a very enthusiastic man. Holding my paperwork and passport that I submitted two days before, he was flashing it around pointing at my photo and me as if to say, “this is you, this is you!”. It was indeed me and so I smiled knowing I was in the right place and took a seat.
My appointment was scheduled for 8.30am. I realized they were running late when suddenly it was 8.45am and nothing was happening. I pulled out my books to study for said test. 9.00am approached and I knew something was up. Finally, some movement, there were now about 15 of us in the waiting area and we were asked to move to where the immigration officers were in their booths.
9.15am approaches and finally I was called up to a booth. The kind woman proceeded to ask me, “have you to been to China before?” and I answered accordingly. Then the cameras started going. I looked up as the woman stopped speaking to me due to the now apparent photoshoot happening of all of us lined up in the booths. I thought, “ok they must just be getting some photos for the website or something.” Then I looked around and there was a full-on film crew inside setting up the flashiest equipment I have ever seen. I was asked to sit at another booth with a kind lady who I asked, “what is going on here, I need to get back to class” she replied, “you’re an actress now!” with a small grin on her face. It was in that moment I just thought “omg here we go”.
To cut a long story short, I ended up being the new face of Chinese immigration without even realizing it. No one was speaking English, and no one asked me if it was okay. I just sat there trying not to laugh out loud, quickly making friends with sympathetic looks and smiles. A couple of guys asked if I was an actress and I proceeded to very quickly respond with “no!” and explained how I had also just come to get my visa. Everyone laughed. After multiple shots, I communicated that I had to go, and we wrapped up, leaving with a phone number to call. Explaining that I couldn’t access WeChat due to no internet is obviously an unimaginable concept for a Chinese person to get their head around.
I got back to class in time for the second lesson and explained everything. Luckily, I had my very kind teacher who is also generous enough to give us many lessons about Chinese culture. She called the officer back and explained to the class that being in public is like becoming public property in China. The officers thought I would feel honored being filmed, and in all honesty, I did!
I went home for the day and realized, I never actually had the interview and was told nothing about my visa. However, I was assured that “there would be no problems”. Two weeks later I have my passport back with visa inside and am now proudly one of China’s newest residents!
So, my biggest lesson to those looking to move to China, always expect the unexpected!