We were at the office today during Typhoon Day (hey, the last one was a total false alarm!), and one of my employees was late because the subway was running extra slow during the typhoon. She handed me this 致歉信 (letter of apology):
This was interesting to me, because I’d never seen something like this before. It’s pretty standard at many Chinese companies to require an official doctor’s note if you ever call in sick. But I wasn’t aware that there was a way to make the old “subway breakdown” excuse official. (Note that there is a serial number, a date stamp, and a hotline to call for verification. Super official!)
From a pragmatics standpoint, it’s interesting to me that it’s called a “Letter of Apology” when it’s clearly meant as an official form of “work tardiness excuse validation.” Now, if there were only a “my bus was late” letter of apology, we’d really be in business…
I recently took a look at my passport and discovered that my student visa was expired. Long expired. It had expired on September 15th, 2006.
As you can imagine, I kind of freaked out a little at first. My wife is here. My home is here. My job is here. What if they bust in and drag me away, kicking and screaming, for my egregious visa overstay? Seemed plausible.
I was kinda pissed at East China Normal University. They handle my visa. They never even mentioned anything about visa renewal to me. I talked to them, and they claimed they had called me and/or e-mailed me about it (they did neither), and that if I really never heard from them, then maybe I somehow slipped through the cracks when they switched from the old system to the new networked system. I suspect me being one of the few foreign grad students played a factor as well. Anyway, all this was kind of irrelevant, because at the end of the day, I alone am responsible for making sure I have a valid visa. It’s right there in my passport. I may be busy, but I must watch that expiration date.
So how was it resolved? The school wrote a letter for me saying I was a great student and to please be lenient when fining me. They gave me the form with signature and seal that I needed for the new study visa. They also told me that I was facing a maximum fine of 5000 RMB. (That’s about US$644.)
The other day on the way home I checked my mail. There was no real mail; it was mainly just flyers for satellite TV installation. There was also a little booklet which was quite clearly unrelated to satellite TV, however. It was a Changning District propaganda handbook issued by the government. “What do you want that for?” my girlfriend asked. “Just throw it out.” She doesn’t really get why I would find something like this interesting.
What I find most interesting is that the government still goes to such trouble to even publish something like this. The little booklet is obviously very professionally printed. It’s glossy, in full color. How many people were involved in its publication, and how much money was spent on its production? Was it distributed to all residences in Changning District? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the government is clearly still putting a lot of money into traditional forms of propaganda that seem ineffectual to a new generation of Chinese.
I’m not about to read the whole booklet cover to cover, but it does have some amusing sections. I recommend the Q&A section (30 questions) and the Slogan section (50 slogans). Be sure to click on the “ALL SIZES” button at the top of the photo to see the pages in a readable size. I find Chinese propaganda particularly difficult to translate, so I’m not going to bother. If you read Chinese, have a look. If someone wants to put up a translation, that would be even cooler.
The interview appointment time was 8:30am. We were both nervous, worried we’d forget something, worried all the work would be for nothing. Here is our checklist of things to take:
– The four forms, two with attached photos
– The receipt for the 830 rmb application fee
– Her passport, national ID card, and official employee identification
– The “proof of intent to return to China dossier”
In addition, I had to take my bookbag so that she could give me her purse, cell phone, and watch before going in. You’re not allowed to take in bags, cell phones, or cameras, and the less metal you’ve got on your body, the simpler it is for you when you go in.
We got to the Isetan building on Nanjing Xi Road at about 8:10am. The building was not officially open, but one of the side entrances was. It had this sign in front of it:
Leading up to the sign (see it at the left?) was a really long line:
It didn’t take long to figure out how the system worked. The “appointment times” did not need to be kept at all. They were simply a means of distributing applicants throughout the day. Those with an appointment at 8:00am arrived the earliest and got in line. Whether they had their actual interview at 8:00am was irrelevant.
Everyone had to wait in line outside because there were too many people to wait inside. It wouldn’t be worth the Consulate’s time to argue with each person that they’d arrived too early, so they simply make all applicants wait outside and come in on first come first serve basis. Who comes first is indirectly controlled by the Consulate through appointment time. You have to wait in line outside because without the special card that you receive from the guy at the head of the line, you can’t get into the Consulate.
We waited in line from 8:15 am until 10:00 am. Fortunately it wasn’t too hot.
We were at the front of the next group to be admitted, so my girlfriend didn’t have to wait in the second line outside the Consulate on the 8th floor. It was there that I said goodbye and wished her luck (I wasn’t allowed to accompany her). Since she had submitted her form online and had the barcode already on her form, she was admitted immediately.
While I went upstairs to the movie theater lobby to study for my exam, my girlfriend was waiting in yet another line inside the Consulate. It was a pretty nerve-racking wait, but the longer I waited, the surer I was that she had gotten it. Applicants that pass the interview are then passed on to the visa issuing line, which obviously takes even longer. She came out at 12:15 pm.
I hadn’t gotten much studying done while I was waiting. Deprived of her cell phone, my girlfriend didn’t have a way to locate me when she came out, so I was waiting near the exit almost the whole time. As soon as I saw her come out, I did the “did you get it?” face and hand gestures. She tried to pretend to be dejected, but she couldn’t help smiling.
I asked her about the interview. I had been told it could be in Chinese if the applicant prefers. She said the guy spoke to her in English, but let her reply in Chinese. (Sounds kinda lazy.) What was she asked? Basically, he wanted to know how she met me, how long we’d been together, and if we were engaged yet. Then he wanted to see the documents related to her job. Aside from that, he wasn’t interested in any of the “proof” we had meticulously compiled. I think the multiple trips to the United States she has already made for her job was all the proof he really needed to see.
She also said that it seemed like most of the applicants were being granted visas. She had heard on the inside that it’s way easier to get a visa now than it was six months ago.
So, was she a shoo-in all along? I still honestly don’t know. I do know that her job (which allowed her to make previous trips to the USA) counted for a lot. I’m not sorry we went to all the trouble of preparing all those documents — it made it all the sweeter when she was granted the visa.
We already bought our plane tickets. Right now all we have to worry about is a fun two-week itinerary for Florida in July.
Last Thursday was my girlfriend’s appointment with a State Department official here in Shanghai about getting a tourist visa to the United States. Fortunately, she got it. For the benefit of others who might be in a similar situation, I’ll describe the process we went through.
My girlfriend had a pretty big advantage from the start: she has been to the United States quite a few times on business. Every time it was to L.A. for a few days. The fact that she has never run off and become an underpaid dishwasher when she had the chance is a big plus.
Still, that’s far from a guarantee. Preparing for this interview in the past few months I’ve heard quite a few horror stories. It seems nothing guarantees a visa.
But let me start from the beginning.
When we decided we wanted to try for a visa, we went straight to the Visa Services page of the US Consulate in Shanghai’s webpage. The page is available in both English and in Chinese, but it’s not well organized at all. It’s downright confusing. After reading through the different sections several times, we got the gist of what we needed to do:
Obviously, Chinese citizens will need a personal passport. There is a fairly simple application procedure to get one issued by the Chinese government.
Buy a CITIC Industrial Bank pre-paid PIN card for 54 rmb, good for a measly 12 minutes of titillating conversation with the Visa Information Call Center.
Use the card to schedule a visa interview appointment with the US Consulate. Expect the interview to be about a month from when you call.
In the meantime you have some things to get together. Download the four forms (DS-156 English, DS-156 Chinese, DS-157 English, DS-157 Chinese) you need from the Visa Services page in PDF form. To make the process go as smoothly as possible at the Consulate, the four forms should be filled out in three different ways:
DS-156 English: Fill it out online and submit it to the system. It will process the form, generate an image file with a bar code, and insert it all into a handy PDF file. Download this PDF file right away. (If you wait too long it’ll expire and go away and you’ll have to do it all over again.) Print it out. Don’t forget to sign it.
DS-157 English: Download to your computer, open (Adobe Acrobat required), and fill out. Save and print out. Don’t forget to fill in the Chinese name by hand (the form doesn’t support Chinese) and to sign it.
DS-156 Chinese and DS-157 Chinese: Print out and fill out by hand. The PDF form doesn’t support Chinese input yet.
Note that if you don’t have a printer, you may have a little trouble finding a place to print it for you that (1) has Adobe Acrobat installed, and (2) can print out a quality copy. I ended up at the Portman Ritz-Carlton on Nanjing Xi Road paying an outrageous 10 rmb per page because I had already failed at about five print shops. Most didn’t have Adobe Acrobat and couldn’t even download it because they had no internet connection. I’m not sure if they would have been willing to install it if I had thought to bring the install file. The one shop that was able to print out the form produced such poor quality that I couldn’t use it.
Attach a 2 inch by 2 inch passport photograph to both the DS-156 English form and the DS-156 Chinese form.
“Each applicant must pay a non-refundable 830 rmb application fee at an authorized branch of the CITIC Industrial Bank before coming to apply at the Consular Section.”
You will also need to get together proof of employment. “Every applicant must be able to prove that he or she works in and/or is a resident of our Shanghai consular district, which includes the Shanghai Municipality, and the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.”
Finally, the really important extra credit: “In addition to the above requirements, you are advised to present documentation and other evidence establishing social, economic, and other ties that would compel your departure from the United States after a temporary and lawful stay.“
It’s pretty much impossible to prove that you’ll come back, but you’ve got to give it your best. The way I saw it, we had to demonstrate three things:
Our relationship was real.
My girlfriend had good reason to return to Shanghai.
I had good reason to return to Shanghai (i.e. the two of us hadn’t decided to go live in the USA).
In order to “prove” these three points, we put together a big thick file:
With all that information, good organization was essential. The visa officer wouldn’t have long to do the interview, and he’s certainly not going to sift through a big mess of loose papers. The file contained the following:
0. Handy table of contents, in both English and Chinese.
1. Letter of Invitation from me on behalf of the Pasden family, and three pictures: (1) the two of us, (2) her with my sister Amy, (3) my family picture (“proving” that the girl in picture #2 was, in fact, my sister).
2. My girlfriend’s proof of employment, proof of decent income, and employer’s written permission to make a short trip to the United States.
3. Proof of her Shanghai home ownership and mortgage.
4. Proof of her car ownership and driver’s license.
5. Proof of her prior trips to the United States and other Western countries in the form of visa photocopies.
6. Proof of her financial security in Shanghai (certificate of deposit).
7. Proof of her ongoing pursuit of higher education.
8. Proof of my long-term residence in China (photocopies of passport, visas, work permit).
9. Proof of my residence in Shanghai (lease lasting through the end of 2005).
10. Proof of my financial security in Shanghai (account statement).
11. Proof of my Chinese ability (HSK certificate).
12. Letter from the administration attesting that I am currently finalizing enrollment in a graduate program in Applied Linguistics at East China Normal University.
Whew! That’s a big heap of information! The thing is, none of it guarantees anything. In fact, we knew from the beginning that the visa officer would probably not look at much of it at all. But we still had to take it to strengthen our case. So with all that going for us, we still didn’t feel confident going into the interview.
P.S. I declare this entry the listiest Sinosplice entry ever!
Note: This is my last entry published with Movable Type. I should have the new WordPress blog up in the next 24 hours, after which comments will be back! The weblog URL will not change, but the RSS URL will change.
It’s no secret that “clean air standards” are not real high in China. Some people complain of sore throats when they first come to China, just because of air pollution alone. Dust is no longer that distant, mysterious substance that accumulates in remote places afer several weeks. Oh, you become very familiar with dust here. I find myself not opening the window at times for “fresh air” because fresh air also means fresh dust. Dust accumulates fast here.
So the air quality is pretty bad here, by Western standards. Hanghzou air is not as bad as some places (such as Beijing), but it’s also not the “pristine garden city at one with nature” that it would have you believe. That said, don’t let your imagination go completely wild on you. I mean, if the air quality was really intolerably bad I wouldn’t still be here. One reason I’m here in Hangzhou is that the air quality is pretty good, relatively.
Now to my story. ZUCC is located at the north end of town, in a newly created school zone. Unfortunately, the north edge of town was formerly designated an industrial zone. (That means factories are officially allowed to pollute even more out here.) You can see smokestacks to the north of our campus. Usually the pollution doesn’t really seem any worse here than anywhere else in the city, but around the end of April/beginning of May, those smokestacks went to town. In the afternoon we frequently saw lots of thick smoke pouring out of the smokestacks, sometimes even accompanied by a raging flame atop the smokestack. Naturally, a lot of people at ZUCC became concerned.
The school made a formal complaint but was worried that it was being completely ignored, as pollution is often treated as business as usual here. Hangzhou, however, is a popular tourist destination with a reputation for natural beauty, so it has a little more to lose if the pollution gets out of hand. Still, as ZUCC “foreign teacher liaison,” I decided to act on my own with regards to this issue. Sometimes foreigners’ voices can have a special impact here. I wrote a polite letter to the mayor of Hangzhou requesting that actions be taken. 13 foreign teachers from ZUCC added their signatures to mine. The letter I wrote is below:
> I am a foreign teacher of English at Zhejiang University City College, located on East Zhongshan Road in Hangzhou . In writing this letter I represent a small community of foreigners from New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, all of whom are living and teaching here.
> I write to you out of concern for my health, the health of my colleagues, and, indeed, the health of all those around me. In the past several months (April, May 2003) we have all witnessed incidents of thick smoke emitted from the smokestacks of factories to the north of our campus. Sometimes the smoke is accompanied by a large orange flame, other times it is smoke alone. When the factories emit this smoke, the air around our school becomes hazier and heavier, and a bad smell of burning permeates the area. We have photographed said smoke emissions and include the photograph with this letter. [see picture above.]
> In addition to health concerns, we also feel that this pollution will harm the development of Zhejiang University City College in that foreign visitors will be given a very poor impression of the school when such heavy pollution is evident so close to the school grounds.
> We know that China is working hard at developing its industry, but we believe that this is a serious case of air pollution that cannot be ignored. Our health, as well as the health of all the Chinese students and citizens around us, is at risk. We humbly ask that the government please take actions to curb such blatant air pollution in this area, and that it inform us of what actions have been taken.
> Thank you very much.
It may seem silly and futile to write this letter. More than one teacher who signed felt that it would do absolutely no good, but signed anyway. That’s why it’s amazing that only a month later, I learned of the actions taken by the government.
As the author of the letter, I was invited to a meeting at ZUCC along with the college vice president of general affairs and director of human resources, a regional and a municipal representative from the Chinese Bureau of Environmental Protection, the municipal foreign affairs representative, and several representatives of the factory in question. What went down is basically this.
1. Everyone got introduced.
2. Everyone got tea.
3. The Chinese EPA guy explained that during the month that the incident in question occurred, the factory actually exceeded its emissions limit and failed its inspection for the first time. As a result, it is being forced to buy and install 1,500,000 RMB (about US$183,000) particle filtering equipment. Non-compliance will result in stiff fines.
4. An account of the history of the factory was given. It is the forging plant for a motor manufacturer. It has already moved once. Hangzhou’s industrial section is being moved to the south, across the Qiantang River toward Xiaoshan, so it’ll probably have to follow suit, although this factory is not technically completely under Hangzhou’s jurisdiction.
5. Kind person gives John a simpler Chinese verion of what was just said, as it was really long and complicated with difficult vocabulary, and the guy giving it had horrible putonghua.
6. Tea refills.
7. John is asked to say something. John expresses his appreciation and pleasant surprise at having been promptly and seriously responded to.
8. Our school’s VP gave an impassioned plea for that factory to please get the hell out of here.
9. The factory spoke in its defense, saying zero pollution was impossible, the factory had a right to exist, and there was nowhere good for it to go right now.
10. A few other random pollution issues were discussed.
11. The mayor’s foreign relations representative stressed that the mayor takes environmental issues as well as foreign relations issues very seriously, and that our letter was translated and acted upon immediately after it was received.
12. The EPA guy stressed that Hangzhou takes environmental issues very seriously, and that the matter will continue to be investigated, with proper actions taken. EPA guy also passed out his card and gave us the number for a 24-hour pollution report hotline, adding that anything reported would be investigated within 30 minutes of the call.
13. Meeting adjourned, in less than an hour!
So, basically I’m surprised that such prompt action was taken. Were the actions sincere? Will anything change? That’s hard to say. But I’d say if serious actions were really to be taken, then the meeting I attended would probably be a part of it. I have hope.