Friday, October 12, 2007

Toil and Trouble

Double, double toil and trouble:
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
as taken from Macbeth

There is a wonderful lack of true toil and trouble in my life at the present moment, and for that I am intensely grateful. I am thinking about this because a few of my friends and acquaintances in Shanghai are currently experiencing double helpings of toil and trouble. The thing that separates me from them is something over which I have no control or influence. A little blue passport.

You see, in China, my little blue passport opens numerous doors. It even opens doors that my brown skin and curly hair would otherwise ensure were locked shut. That little blue passport makes it easier to get a job, change money, get a visa...all essential elements of living in Shanghai. As I witness the things that others without the blue passport (or a few other colors, European countries) experience, I am often saddened.

Although I would never encourage using fake documents, I now understand why people use them. I know people who have fake everything, the passport is fake, the birth certificate is fake, the visa was gotten through a connection (and a bribe), but they are here. And I also know people who try to do things legitimately and above board, and they get denied visas, denied residence permits, and sent home.

A friend of mine just married a man from a certain African country which shall remain nameless. Although his country does not have the best of reputations, he is an honest guy, who lived abroad and doesn't really know the "backway" to get things done. Theoretically, he should have gotten a Chinese residence permit thorough his wife. They followed all of the rules, provided the documentation, went to the Chinese embassy in his country, only to be told by her job, "sorry". The basic reason, wrong passport. If he was the citizen of a different country, it wouldn't have been a problem, but for him, it is a problem. And, to make matters worse, the school employee kept his passport, and waited until his visa had already expired to inform them that he could not get the residence permit. Overstaying your visa is a big deal in China, subject to large fines and/or imprisonment, and they enforce it. So, the next day he went to immigration to plead his case. They gave him a 7 daysextension and told him to "just go home". If only it was "just".

And yet, I know others who do all kinds of interesting things that boggle my mind and rarely run in to problems.
(I will not go into detail here, not tryin' to blow up anyones spot.) I have seen passports that have different names, birth dates, sometimes even the country of citizenship. Yes, I have seen people who had never left Africa before coming to China and yet are the proud owners of European passports. I have listened to conversations where people are discussing which schools give everyone a visa (for a fee), which points of entry are lax (or can for enough cash), and which countries are the best for their particular situation. And as the technology gets better, it gets harder, but people adapt.

One of my friends got a "work" visa for a job that did not even exist, through one of his contacts. He needed to stay in China a little longer, but his visa was going to expire. So, he asked around, and found out how he could stay longer without a "legitimate" reason, according to the Chinese government. As it turned out, he was able to extend his stay, for over a year. Because he had the little blue passport (and a little cash) he didn't run into any problems getting the visa, residence permit, or leaving the country. Smooth sailing, aside,perhaps, from a little anxiety on his part.

Sometimes, I just wish things were different.

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