Okay, I suppose that the title sounds a little more exciting than the actual story. But it’s still true. Yes, I was kicked out of China. I must say that this experience has showed me just how much beauracratic hell the millions of immigrants, workers, and exchange students have to go through in my own country everyday. I am comparatively lucky, I suppose. Have you ever heard of a Chinese person overstaying his VISA in America? Of course you haven’t, and I’m sure his family never heard either.
Foreigners in China hold a somewhat priveleged position regarding the law. Now, I am not advocating that you should pick up an axe, head to China, and start hacking people’s heads off. But for the most part, we can get away with a lot of shit by scratching our heads and pretending that we don’t speak Chinese. Your average foreigner (outside of Russians and Filipinos) are not coming to China out of desperation. Most of them are coming to hang out, study Chinese, teach English, or make millions exploiting the country for vast, faceless international corporations. I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess which category I belong to. Nevertheless, the government considers it’s foreign guests to be a necessary, even a beneficial ingredient to its own economic success. There is limitless demand for English speaking, and the people here are very self-conscious about their accents. Keeping all of this in mind, the government doesn’t want to cause a lot of troubles for the foreigners that come here, because there are plenty of other equally lucrative countries right next door.
Some of us just aren’t so lucky, though. Chinese people say that the law exists only on paper, not in practice. And if someone with connections doesn’t like you, you’re fucked. I’ll admit that I have a bit of a problem. I’m a loudmouth jackass, and if I feel that somebody is doing injustice to me, be it a friend, colleague, or boss, I’m not afraid to let them know. I guess I let the wrong person know. Monday morning, I woke up to a loud banging on my door. I tell my girlfriend to see who it is. She comes back a minute later explaining that it’s the police and she’s let them in. Well, now I’m fucking furious. Why the hell would you let the police in my apartment? She explains that unlike in America, the police here don’t need a warrant. Fucking great. For a moment I wish that Mao had killed twice as many people as he had, but this is no time or place for irrational anger. I think back to the night before? What the hell did I do? I had a lot to drink, but I don’t remember doing anything particularly stupid.
The officer informs me in good English that he is from the immigration department and that he needs my passport. I lie and say that I’m getting a Vietnamese VISA processed. He says he’ll have to search every inch of my apartment if I don’t give it to him, so I relent and give it. He tells me that we have to go to the Immigration Bureau, so I send my girlfriend home before she gets in any more trouble. I don’t go in handcuffs or anything, we just walk out together. HE won’t tell me anything on the ride there, but he keeps asking me about my ipod, how much it costs, if it plays video and crap. This is important later. Finally, we get to the immigration bureau, and like any good government office I sit around twiddling my thumbs for a couple hours. Finally, he comes back out and tells me that my VISA has been cancelled, even though it’s valid until July 15th, and that he’s supposed to take me to jail until I can pay the exorbitant fee attached to this. I don’t have the money, but he says that he will let me out for three days to get the money together and to come back Thursday morning.
Well, I had no idea how I’d get the money. I make a decent salary over here, but I’m not doing this for the money, and I spend most of my cash on alcohol and other frivolous things. Anyway, I talk with some of my Chinese friends, and they say that he is obviously looking for a bribe, not for me to pay some nonsense fee. I have no choice here, as I don’t have my passport. I call the American Embassy and they inform me that they can offer no assistance in the matter. Fucking bastards, unless I want to adopt one of these fucking kids here they don’t give a shit. So what the hell do I bribe this cop with? Then it dawns on me. The bastard wants an ipod. And not just any ipod, he wants the same ipod I have. An 80GB ipod video. Well, I can afford that at least. So I go to the electronics market in Beijing, purchase a nice new ipod, get it wrapped up all pretty-like, and sit around waiting until Thursday.
I walk into the immigration bureau Thursday morning and he brings me to a small room off to the side. He asks how I’m doing, a bunch of nonsense chitchat. Finally, I get impatient and I take out the package, hand it to him and tell him thanks for all of the help, and I’d appreciate if he could tell me who cancelled my VISA and why. He says he can’t do that, but we do get up at this point. We walk up the stairs into a large hall filled with hundreds of other people all waiting for VISA issues to be processed. He takes me to a counter labeled “overdue VISAs” and I fill out a couple of forms explaining why I overstayed my VISA. OF course, I had no idea I even was overstaying an invalid VISA but this doesn’t matter. Just write anything, he says. So I do this, give the lady behind the counter 300RMB, and I have my passport back in my hand with an exit VISA with the date February 8th on it. He informs me that I must be out of the country by this date or I will be forcibly deported.
The best part about the whole thing? I am in no way barred from re-entering the country again. In fact, I could go down to Hong Kong on Monday, get a new VISA processed, and be back in China Tuesday. For the gift, the cop even offered to get my VISA fixed so that I am in control of it and it cannot be cancelled again. Fucking ridiculous! So now I am waiting again, train ticket to Hong Kong in hand, for Monday. Will I come back? I still haven’t decided that yet, I have a lot of things to think about. When I set out on this trip, I told myself I would not stay in any country longer than one year, and I’ve already broken that promise with China. But on the other hand, I’ve developed a lot of close relationships here, and my job is pretty sweet too. Regardless of what I decide, I’m pretty sure I can pick up at least one girl back in the States with this story when I finally return. Dear Mr. Policeman, I hope you’re enjoying your fucking ipod.